By Lakshmi Menon
As Pavithra was packing their things in the morning, Venu said, “Our train is only in the evening. Do you know why I said we have to leave in the morning itself?”
Pavithra looked at him in surprise.
“I want you to meet Soumya, Indu’s mother before starting a new life with me.” As he said this, he was observing her secretly.
He saw joy in her eyes. She was also very much looking forward to meeting her. Pavithra wondered whether he would have liked the idea if she had expressed it. She was very careful from the beginning of her new life with the man whom she hardly knew and his daughter. She did not want to strain their unusual relationship by interfering with his tender sentiments. It was not a usual husband-wife relationship. She had to be careful with a man who still loved his wife and for whose sake he had agreed to marry her. She had now entered into a life where there was a strong bond between the father and his daughter in the absence of a mother. Something in her mind had told her to be extra cautious about each step she was going to take in this adventurous journey of life.
“Do you mind, Pavithra?” asked Venu politely, but with apprehension.
“Not at all, Venu. In fact I’m very eager to see her.” After saying that she really wondered and wanted to ask, “Won’t she hate me inside her mind?” But she kept it to herself, and did not utter the words aloud.
Pavithra was wondering how Soumya would see her husband’s second wife, who had now taken her place when she was still alive. Any wife, however invalid she might be, wouldn’t welcome another woman into her husband’s life, on any grounds. She might hate the very sight of the second woman in her husband’s life. She might even have nightmares of her daughter being ill treated by her stepmother. Whatever the case may be, she had decided to face it since there was no other alternative.
Preoccupied by her own thoughts, Pavithra went and stood by the window. In the neighbour’s house, she saw an old man throwing away some grains on the ground for the pigeons that cooed near his window. The happy birds swarmed around him, freely ate the grains and later they fluttered away in the air.
Venu could read her apprehension on her face. “Pavithra, Indu’s mother is a woman of rare character. I don’t know why God was so cruel to her. Will you believe me if I say that she was the one who changed my mind to marry you? She was begging me to enter into a second marriage soon after she fell ill. She knew she can’t have a normal life again.” He said softly and relapsed into silence.
Seeing his sad face, Pavithra knew how much he still loved his first wife even today. She wanted to console him, but she found no words to speak and stood like a statue before him. His love for his wife was so deep that in spite of her disability he had not changed his mind or fallen in love with another girl at an age when he was at the prime of his youth and longed for the company of a woman. Soon she realized that he was seeing a friend in Pavithra.
Her memories of Anand came to her mind. She used to sit beside him laying her hands over his shoulders in time of grief and console him. But here…… she felt completely helpless. Her thoughts were groping for an answer to Venu’s sensitivity for his wife. It was more than seven years since Soumya was bedridden and what could he expect from her any more?
Holding Anu’s hands, Pavithra walked out, leaving him alone. After a while she returned to his room with a hot cup of coffee.
“Did I hurt you by talking about Soumya?” While sipping the coffee he asked with a guilty look. “Please forgive me.” Pavithra tried to smile. She was not hurt. His feelings towards his living loving wife were natural. Pavithra was not jealous. She felt sorry about her inability to console him in his grief. She felt she had failed from the start in her duties as his wife.
They reached Soumya’s house in the scorching sun, after walking for ten minutes from the bus stop through a paddy field. The way was very narrow, only one person could walk at a time. They walked carefully and slowly, holding the children’s hands. Venu took them to a small tiled house, situated one furlong away from the main road.
One fragile looking lady, clad in mundu and blouse, was drawing water from the well, at the backyard of the house. Seeing them, she hurriedly finished her work and came to greet them.
“This is Soumya’s mother, and this is Pavithra, whom I married yesterday.” Venu introduced them to each other.
She gave Pavithra a welcome smile filled with sorrow and escorted her inside.
Indu did not make a move to see her mother and behaved totally like a stranger.
“Indu, don’t you remember your grandma?” asked her grandmother patting her hair fondly. “Your mother has always been asking for you, dear”.
“This is your daughter, I suppose.” Looking at Anu, she asked, “What’s her name?” Only then Pavithra realised that she had not introduced Anu to her. Even Venu felt bad on his part for forgetting to introduce his stepdaughter.
“Yes, Mother. She’s my daughter and her name is Anu,” said Pavithra with an apologetic smile.
“We earnestly hope now that Indu and Anu will be lucky children. Indu has got a mother and Anu, a father,” said Soumya’s mother looking at her son-in-law and then at Pavithra, with a warm smile.
She led them to a room where the pungent smell of ayurvedic oil was all around. A cot was lying in the corner, the legs of which were missing. A fragile looking, pretty, young lady was lying in the bed. She wouldn’t be more than twenty-seven. It was too hard to believe that she was an invalid. Her face was still looked bright. Her curly hair was left loose. Few tendrils of hair like springs were scattered over the forehead, as though they disobeyed the clips and comb. She was making an effort to sit up as soon as they entered.
“Soumya, my dear… How’re you?” asked Venu helping her to sit up.
“Now I’m very happy Venu, ……..at this very moment. ……….Thank you so much for …….. marrying Pavithra,” she said feebly. Her face looked an embodiment of sadness. But there was a ray of happiness in her weak eyes, seeing her husband back to life again.
It seemed as if she did not need an introduction to Pavithra. She beamed a hearty smile and said, “I’m glad to see you, Pavithra. Today my prayers have been answered. Now I can leave this world at any moment peacefully. I’ve no regrets.”
After a moment’s thought, she added, “Thank you so much for agreeing to marry Venu. ………This gives me immense satisfaction.” Tears of joy rolled down her cheeks as she spoke, which Venu wiped away affectionately with his handkerchief.
Pavithra asked for her blessing to begin her new life with Venu. While blessing her, Soumya shed tears of gratitude. Then her attention was diverted to Indu.
“Indu, my dear child. Come nearer to me. Let me touch you once. Why are you standing away from me?” asked Soumya sadly.
It seemed as though Indu wasn’t delighted to see her own mother. She was holding her nose to avoid the strong smell of medicated oil. Venu called her nearer to her mother.
Holding her daughter’s hand, Soumya said, “Pavithra, I’m handing over my precious daughter to your tender care….. I could never give her a mother’s love and attention. I was never a practical and useful mother to her. God made me a wife and a ….. mother too, but ….” After a pause she continued. “He didn’t give me a chance to do my duties and enjoy the pleasure of being a mother. Now I hope you will fill the vacuum left by me, the role of a wife and a mother….. Venu never got a wife’s pleasure in his life sufficiently…” she sobbed heavily.
After some time, she composed herself and resumed talking. “Ever since he married me I was sick……I was a wife only for the name sake…. But… I could never do my duties….. Please see Venu as your once-lost husband who has returned to you, with another daughter.”
Soumya’s voice became lower and lower. She was trying hard to control her emotions.
“Soumya, darling. Be calm,….. Don’t strain yourself too much. Take rest. Haven’t I fulfilled your desire much against my wish? Don’t you understand that?” Venu whispered, leaning towards his beloved wife with his lips pressing her eyes gently. “We will be writing to you very often. Whenever possible I’ll come to visit you.”
Soumya smiled faintly and glanced at her daughter hopefully. Unwillingly, Indu allowed her mother to fondle her. As Soumya kissed her daughter, a look of pain crossed her fragile face. A lot of unspoken words were there on her lips and she was silent for a while. She called Anu with a sign of her hand.
Anu was watching the whole scene twisting her mother’s sari palloo into knots, standing behind her like a frightened deer. She came forward when she was pulled gently by her mother. Soumya held her right hand and kept it in Indu’s right hand. “From today both of you are sisters. Indu dear, take care of your younger sister hereafter.” Unable to sit further, with a faint smile she relapsed into silence and showed her desire to lie down. Venu gently helped her to lie down.
After a minute or so, Pavithra decided to leave the scene, allowing Venu to spend time alone with his first wife. Holding both the girls’ hands she came out of the room. She felt sympathetic for Soumya’s condition and wondered how she could help her later in her life. One or two stray teardrops fell on her cheeks.
Indu invited her stepsister to catch a butterfly, which was sitting on the rose plant beside the gate. As her hand carefully and slowly reached near the butterfly, it flew away to the air.
As there was nothing else to do, Pavithra picked up a conversation with Soumya’s mother about the type of treatment and its progress.
Venu sat at the edge of Soumya’s bed. Taking her hands slowly and gently he planted a kiss on them and talked to her for some time.
Soumya smiled. She realised with a heavy heart that she has lost her husband forever from this moment.
“You’re a wonderful husband one could have. So loving and so understanding!!” Soumya spoke slowly suppressing her sorrow. She meant each word she had said. “Pavithra seems to be a very good lady. Please give her all the happiness which was denied to her by cruel fate. I don’t think I will live much longer…. to hurt your feelings. .. And I too don’t want to live long like a vegetable….Now any moment I’m ready to go. Forgive me, Venu. I won’t ….” He put his fingers over her lips preventing further talk. He made her face rest on his lap and consoled her.
“Soumya, my darling. Please don’t tell me like that. It’s a great relief for me at least you are still there in this world.”
Sighing heavily, he left the room. Traces of tears were still on his face.
Though Pavithra had noticed it she didn’t say a word. Once again, she went to Soumya’s room with a very heavy heart. She didn’t know how to begin life again with her new husband and stepdaughter.
“Don’t worry about your daughter and husband”, taking Soumya’s palm into her own, Pavithra assured her sincerely. “From today onwards Indu is my elder daughter and Anu the younger one. I will never give your daughter an opportunity to shed tears. It’s a promise. Please do trust me.”
A ray of hope in the sparkling eyes, a dimpled smile on Soumya’s tired face proved that she believed Pavithra.
They had lunch together and she spent a couple of hours with Soumya.
The time for parting came all too soon in the evening, and they all looked regretful as they said good-bye to Soumya and her mother. Pavithra was almost heart-broken as she took Soumya’s hand before they left for Bangalore and squeezed it with a thousand questions written on her face. “Will I be able to keep it up?”
For the first time, Pavithra knew that parting was inevitably painful even with a woman she had hardly known for a couple of hours.
On the way to the railway station Pavithra realized that she had developed a high regard and respect for Soumya.
Would she be able to keep the promise given to Soumya? A fearful question haunted her throughout their journey.
to be continued.........
I have been reading your novel from Chapter1. I'm waiting to see how the unusual relationship is going on. My heart goes for Soumya.