By Lakshmi Menon
The next day dawned with a promise of hope. Pavithra was very much worried about her stepdaughter. If she didn’t cooperate with them Pavithra was sure that Anu and she would be thrown out.
Seeing the joyous face of his daughter, after the arrival of a stepmother and stepsister, Venu was extremely happy. Summoning courage, he made an attempt to earn Anu’s affection. Pavithra was rather disappointed in Anu’s indifferent behaviour and hoped she would get over it soon. She was all the time clinging to her mother. Indu called her to join her in play. After a lot of persuasion, Anu agreed to this, but all the time kept looking at her stepfather as if he was a stranger or an enemy. She was also jealous of him talking to her mother.
After having made the breakfast ready, Pavithra wanted Anu to call her stepfather to the dining table, to establish a rapport with him. He was busy doing something in the front room. Patting Anu’s shoulder, Pavithra asked her to call her stepfather, but she refused without a second thought. As Indu was busy playing, Pavithra went to call him. She couldn’t believe her own eyes! He was removing the wedding photo which had caught her attention for some time when she arrived in this house the previous day, and which he had so far preserved with much love and regard, just because he brought another woman as his wife.
“What’s this, Venu?” she asked him with great curiosity. He simply smiled, then said painfully, “Now this is not be the place for this photo. I’ll keep it in the cupboard.”
Without understanding why he should remove it from the wall, Pavithra stood there staring at him. After all Soumya was his first wife and he still loved her so much and Pavithra knew about it, for which she was not angry with him. However, she did not have the slightest idea of winning him completely for herself and she didn’t want it as well. Though today she was legally his wife, mentally she still belonged to Anand. She would like to be only a platonic companion to her ew husband.
Why should their wedding photo be removed? All the time this question came up in her mind. Was it done because of her arrival?
If so, wasn’t he doing injustice to his beloved wife? Pavithra told herself that the presence of their photo on the wall wouldn’t belittle one jot of her relationship with him.
“Venu, please don’t remove this photo from here,” she pleaded. “This photo gives me some sort of an inspiration to live with you and Indu.”
With a throbbing heart, she gazed at him. She didn’t want that photo to be removed from there. In fact, she wanted Soumya’s photo left there as it was before. It would always remind her that Venu was still Soumya’s husband.
Venu at once turned to her and laid his hand upon her shoulder. “Please try to understand me, Pavithra. If I see this I will always remember my Soumya. Now you’re my wife. Now it’s my duty to love you.” He was choking as he said this.
“No, Venu…. Never. I don’t expect you to love me more than your dear wife, Soumya. Yes, I mean it.” She slowly removed his hand from her shoulder.
“You know I will never be able to love you as much as your Soumya did. Likewise I know you won’t be able to love me under any circumstances as you love Soumya. Did you forget that we are married merely for the safety of our children and not for ourselves? We should never forget it, I feel. ”
He stared at her sympathetically for some time and went out. When he turned back she smiled at him from the open window like a close friend, who could understand each other’s mind.
“Did I hurt him?” Pavithra asked herself. “No, I have absolutely no intention of hurting him in anyway. I have told him only what we had said during our first meeting.”
Pavithra took a comb and called the girls. She neatly combed their hair and put two ponytails for both of them. After applying a light shade of powder on their faces she planted sticking bindis on their foreheads and a little kajal on their eyelids. Both of them almost looked like natural sisters. Indu giggled and went out to her neighbour’s house, saying that she would be back soon. Anu refused to accompany her even though Indu called her.
Sunlight filled the room. As Pavithra wound her long straight hair into a tight knot she watched Venu standing by the gate, looking at the yellow cassia flowers. The tree was in its full bloom.
“What’re you thinking about so seriously, Venu?”
“See those flowers. How beautiful they look! These flowers add to the beauty of Bangalore. There are two more types of flowers like this, which are commonly seen here during this season. They are Gulmohar and Jacaranda flowers. Nature has blessed Bangalore with these types of beautiful flowers”. His voice suddenly lowered, “My Soumya used to love these flowers. She used to come and wait for me admiring the beauty of these flowers”.
Pavithra was at a loss of words. She moved towards the kitchen.
Two minutes later, she called him for breakfast. She had thought that he might not come immediately. But he came in and went straight to Anu. “Come, dear. Let’s have our breakfast together.”
Anu turned her face as though he was her greatest enemy. She craved for a father’s affection, but shyness and anger kept her impulse dormant. Somehow, Venu coaxed her to sit with him and searched for Indu.
“She had a quick breakfast and went to meet her friends.” Pavithra informed him before he could enquire about his daughter.
Pavithra had made chapathi and egg omeletes. Venu liked her cooking. He felt very happy that there was someone cooking for him, which he had missed all these years. He conveyed his feeling to his new wife.
“I’ll just go out for a while and come”, said Venu, after his breakfast and asked Anu to come with him, but she refused with a shy smile.
Pavithra and Anu stood in the veranda. They could see the empty road where Venu was the only person walking. They watched him till he went out of their sight.
A bright sun was shining, warming them through and through, yet they felt cold and desolate with the solitude of the house. Anu went and closed the door with a grin and happiness shone in her eyes for being left alone again with her mother.
Pavithra had to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, but she wanted her daughter not to be left out in a new place. She decided to leave the kitchen for some time and spend her time with Anu who was feeling out of place. Placing her on the lap, Pavithra sat on the chair, glancing at the shuttered windows of the neighbour, and stroking her hair with love. She wondered who the occupants of that house were.
As she was chatting with her daughter she was startled by a sharp knock at the door. She thought at first that it was Indu returning after meeting her friends after the holiday, but as she went to open the door she heard loud laughter and whispers outside.
Suppressing her anxiety, she opened the door to find Indu with a group of women, both young and old.
“Mummy, these are my friends and neighbours here. They would like to meet you and Anu,” said Indu, inviting them all inside. She was very much excited to introduce them to her new mother.
Pavithra received them heartily. She smiled and asked them to sit in the available place, pulling out the chairs for them. They were about ten in number. Still some of them had to stand as the chairs were insufficient to accommodate them.
As they stared at her, Pavithra went inside to bring some halwa which they had bought on their way from the railway station. Though she wanted to give all of them tea she realized that there wasn’t sufficient amount of milk in the kitchen.
“Where’s your daughter?” asked a young woman, clad in red sari.
“She is very shy, and is hiding in the kitchen after she saw you.”
In the meanwhile, Indu went to the kitchen to call Anu.
“Indu is such a nice girl. Please look after her well,” said the old lady, looking sympathetically in the direction of kitchen.
“She’s the apple of her father’s eye”, said the young woman who spoke first.
“We never thought that her father would marry again after so many years. When Indu wanted the tender care of a mother he never bothered to bring a wife in spite of our repeated requests. Now we don’t know what made him marry you,” commented the woman in red sari, whose suspicious look Pavithra disliked from the moment she set eyes on her.
Pavithra felt uncomfortable in their company. She wanted to give all a quick reply and send them, but one by one they kept on talking, without giving her a chance to open her mouth.
As she was trying to maintain her dignity before them a stout woman, in advanced stage of pregnancy, came forward and asked authoritatively. “If you were alone you could have given her your full love and attention. But is it possible when you have a daughter of your own here? Why did you bring her with you?”
Pavithra couldn’t shut her mouth any longer. What were they thinking of her? How cheap they could think of her?
She wanted to chase them immediately. Was this the way the neighbours should treat a second wife in the neighbourhood? What would Indu think of her? What would Anu think? She wanted to ask them back, but only said; “I married Indu’s father mainly for being a mother to his daughter and to get a father to my daughter. So I have come here to give her full protection and love of a mother.”
Did her voice raise a bit? Her guests were startled and looked at each other and some of them closed their mouths, suppressing a smile.
“You could have left your daughter with your parents”, suggested Vasanthi, the bejewelled young woman in red sari.
Why should these people dislike her? She felt ashamed of herself for being the victim of their criticism. She eagerly searched for Indu and earnestly hoped that she had not heard her well wishers’ comments.
Indu could have hardly heard them. She was busy persuading Anu to make an appearance before her friends. Pavithra could not tolerate their wicked looks and humiliations any more. She was very upset with their nasty remarks and questions. Losing her patience she said, “I’m also a mother. I know what a child needs. I have full confidence that I can love Indu as my own daughter. She will always be my elder daughter and Anu, the younger.”
The woman glanced at others and laughed hesitantly. They got up from their seats. Looking at Indu in a pathetic way, as though she had fallen into the hands of a cruel stepmother and her fate was going to be horrible, they left. Something inside told Pavithra that these so-called friends of Indu would turn to be her foes soon. Didn’t they have a thought in their minds that they would see her again?
Shortly after they left Pavithra called her stepdaughter with much concern. “Why don’t you have some more breakfast, Indu? You didn’t eat properly when you left in your hurry.”
“I had my breakfast in auntie’s house. Auntie gave me idli and chutney.”
Pavithra was very annoyed, but did not want to show it. Perhaps she wouldn’t like it.
“What’s your aunt’s name where you had breakfast?” asked Pavithra politely, swallowing her anger. “Vasanthi auntie. The one in red sari.” replied Indu gladly. “How’s she, dear? Does she like you very much?” “Yes, mummy. She would comb my hair and put powder on my face and put bindi for me.” “How many children does she have?’ Pavithra’s question amused her. Indu just laughed as if she heard something funny. “Aunt Vasanthi has no children. That’s why she likes me so much.” Pavithra changed her tone. “What did she ask you today?” “She asked me about you and Anu?” “What did she ask about us?” “Whether you’re arrogant or affectionate”, said Indu with a mischievous smile. “What did you say?” “I said you’re a sweet mother. My mother liked you very much and you love me like Anu. I’m so lucky to get a mother like you.” She came and hugged her stepmother.
Indu’s words gave her immense pleasure. Pavithra laid her hand affectionately on her shoulder and kissed her. “I love you Indu. You’re such a sweet daughter one could get.”
Anu stared at them with a pang of jealousy. “Don’t be jealous, Anu dear. I love you too.” Pavithra consoled her. “This is your elder sister. Both of you are my daughters. Hereafter I have two daughters, not one. Okay?” Pavithra’s answer amused the children. They giggled. For sometime Pavithra forgot the incidence of her neighbours’ visit.
“Anu and I are sisters now.” Indu said loudly, holding Anu’s waist.
She took Anu to the terrace and began to explain about the things and buildings seen from there. Anu listened to her patiently. She couldn’t understand half of what her stepsister said, but nodded for every single thing, which made Indu very happy.
“That’s Vidhana Soudha” she said, pointing towards a huge building seen far away, where the Chief Minister’s Cabinet met. “It’s so many miles away from here. Our Government is sitting there and ruling our State of Karnataka. There’s Lal bagh,” pointing in another direction Indu continued, "One day we will take you there. You must see that place. It’s a beautiful place. Twice a year they arrange flower shows there- once for Republic Day and another on Independence Day. Many varieties of flowers and vegetables are exhibited. I’ll tell Daddy to take us there.”
Indu treated her as a younger sister and explained each and everything to the little girl with excitement whether she could understand it or not. She was only happy to have got someone to listen to her patiently.
Anu was still enveloped in her world of wonder. She did not ask Indu any questions. She was simply listening to her sister and blinking at the vast and beautiful city.
“See Anu, there is another park called Cubbon Park. That’s also a fine park. There are many things for the children to play. We will go there one day. I had been there several times.” After a pause, suddenly remembering something very important, Indu came closer to her and whispered, “There’s a toy train in the Cubbon Park. We can sit there and it will go like the train we came yesterday. But it’s a small train.”
Poor little Anu was like Alice in the wonderland. She hoped she would be soon seeing many things and places in Bangalore. Now she was happy for having come to Bangalore. For once, she felt that she liked Indu and her father. Now she wouldn’t mind to go and talk to her stepfather if he called her again.
To be continued.....