By Lakshmi Menon
Before going to bed, Pavithra wrote quickly a short letter to her father stating that their mixed family was quite happy with the new set up. When she was writing the address on the cover she remembered to write a letter to Soumya too. Soumya had told her to write about all the news here in detail. She would be anxiously looking forward to read her letter, thought Pavitra and watched the girls playing merrily in the room.
She took another paper from her bag and got ready to write to Soumya. Suddenly she wondered what to address her husband’s first wife.
Pavithra tried to recollect the heroines of the stories of films she had seen and the novels she had read where any character of her position had been there. She remembered about some women writing angrily to her husband’s first wife. But her position was not that. Her opponent was not her enemy. She could think of her only with compassion and love.
She got up from her chair and went over to the window, drew back the heavy curtains and stood for a moment staring across the grass. It was a quiet still evening. Her old memories flashed in her mind.
Anand never used to allow her to write letters in his presence. ‘You write letters when I’m away. Don’t waste your precious time writing letters in the evenings when I’m around.’ He would take away the incomplete letter and pen from her and wouldn’t return them to her until the next day morning.
“I forgot to write in the day time. Let me finish it now. I’ll come within five minutes.” Pavithra would say. “Nothing doing, I said. You’ll not write now. Your evenings are for me. When you’re alone, you can write any number of letters. I have no objection.”
He was very stubborn in his words. He would put off the light. Soon she would be in his strong arms. Without her knowledge a smile danced on her lips at the very thought of her sweet memories.
Several minutes had passed silently. Slowly tears pricked her eyes, but she controlled herself when she saw the unwritten letter before her and the question of addressing Soumya. After a frantic search she reached at a conclusion that she would address her as her sister.
“My dear sister,” Pavithra began her letter. Soon she found herself again struggling for words. She was lost in her thoughts for some time. She felt the presence of someone behind her. It was Venu. He stole in like a cat, when she did not notice.
“Are you writing letters? Did I disturb you?” asked Venu sitting next to her in another chair. Pavithra smiled faintly. “Can I see the letter, if you don’t mind?” He waited for her reply. Without answering, she handed the letter to him, which he read loudly, and stared at her in disbelief.
“You said you’ve no sisters or brothers, and you’re the only child. Didn’t you?” Pavithra laughed at him leaving him in suspense for a while not answering his question. Then she became quiet and slowly found that there was a bit of amusement in his eyes. “I had no sister before. But I’ve now –Indu’s mother.” She grinned.
Venu sat with a far- away look. Taking a deep breath, he said: “I was also planning to write to her. She will be anxiously waiting for my letter. I prefer to write after the children sleep. Both our letters can go in the same cover.” His face whitened as he said. He sat lost in thoughts holding that unwritten letter, recollecting his short happy married life. A dark cloud enveloped his face.
As his second wife gazed at him painfully, he said, “Pavithra, I cannot forget Indu’s mother. Please forgive me. I know very well I shouldn’t talk to you about her like this. But I can’t help it. I’ve a lot more to talk about her.”
“It’s alright Venu. Go on.” Pavithra encouraged him.
Focusing his attention on the beautiful bed spread, he continued, “My Soumya was an expert in embroidery work. It took only a month for her to complete her masterpiece in spite of her uneasiness. I just can’t forget those days. I don’t know why. I even feel why’d I make the mistake of marrying you when I was fully aware that I wouldn’t love you as your late husband did. Soumya has taken my heart within such a short period.”
After a pause, he continued, “Many times I felt that I love her more now than before. I’m very sorry for bringing you into such a messy life with me. Please forgive me. I hope you understand me.” He was hysterical and breathed heavily.
She stood there stunned watching him talk. She couldn’t move a step forward, felt all the colour drain away from her face.
“Soumya was as charming as Anarkali. She sparkled like a diamond among the jewels. I thought I was the luckiest man in the world, blessed with such a beautiful and loving wife.” After a pause, he continued again, “I was eager to see our offspring. I had a great passion for babies. One fine morning Soumya told me to take her to the doctor when she missed her period to confirm her doubt. When it was confirmed she was pregnant I was overjoyed. On the way itself I picked up all kinds of fruits and medicines needed for her……” Again with a sigh, he began, “Throughout her pregnancy she had hell of a time. No sooner she fell sick than I felt guilty for being the sole cause of her trouble. When I saw her suffering from morning till evening with nausea and vomiting and without eating anything, I forgot the forthcoming pleasure of seeing our child. Those days I was even ready to pass all my life without being a father for the sake of seeing my Soumya healthy again.”
“I used to take her regularly for check up. She never had any problem other than the morning sickness. There was absolutely no indication of a danger either with the child or her life. She wanted a son, and I wanted a daughter with the same charm of my Soumya. But…..” His voice became lower and lower. Suddenly he looked tired and his eyes were clouded with secret thoughts.
“Venu, I think you need some rest now. Let us put off the light.” Pavithra did not wish to continue the conversation.
He obeyed like a five-year-old boy and switched off the light. Both of them slept on the two edges of the bed, with the children in the center.
Pavithra tried hard to sleep. Her thoughts went back to her father. He would receive the letter after two days and read the short letter with excitement. She was sure her father would be upset reading such a short letter, unable to know anything about her new life.
When she wrote her first letter from Bombay how descriptive it was. She had written four full pages in her first letter about the life in Bombay and with Anand. She had no patience to wait for her father’s reply to come for the long six days. After two days she would write again another letter. Those days writing letters was one of her passions.
“You would prove to be a good journalist or novelist,” said Anand once, reading her lengthy letter.
“Are you joking?” appreciating his idea, she had asked seriously. “I’m not joking. If you’re interested I will send you to learn journalism. Then I can tell my friends that my wife is going to be a good journalist.” “When will you send me?” a bit of impatience had crossed her words.
“Any time you want.” Anand pinched her soft cheek.
She had planned to join the course after admitting Anu to kindergarten. Unknowingly Pavithra’s hand touched her cheek for feeling Anand’s pinch. Slowly she fell asleep with her precious memories.
Next morning the milkman came and rang the bell. When she opened her heavy eyelids she found Venu and the children fast asleep. Without letting them know she was out of the bed and made her way to the door.
When Venu got up with a yawn, his steaming tea was ready on the table. He had missed such a luxury for more than seven years. By then the newspaper was already there waiting for him. He enjoyed a lavish breakfast with his favourite dosai and coconut chutney with the children and Pavithra. When Soumya was with him she used to make almost every day such a breakfast for him knowing his passion for dosai. Pavithra was also as good as Soumya in her cooking, he thought.
Indu had put on the radio. Some hilarious music was going on. It took Pavithra back to her memories again.
“A guy is a guy, wherever he may be .” That was Anand’s favourite music. He used to enjoy such English songs in the evenings.
“You’re a pukka country girl. No interest in the good music,” he would say, if she wanted to change it for some Hindi songs. He would also dance like a drunkard carrying her in his hands.
As she was immersed in her sweet memories she didn’t realise when Venu came and changed the radio station.
“Pavithra, what’re you thinking in the morning?” His question suddenly brought her back to the present. She felt guilty for living in her old memories even after becoming another man’s wife. She realized with a heavy heart that the more she tried to forget her past, the more she remembered Anand and immersed in her own thoughts.
“Daddy, when will you take us to Cubbon Park? I want to take Anu there. She’d love to travel in the toy train and play there. Why don’t we go there today itself?” Indu was anxious to take her stepsister. She laid both the hands on her father’s shoulders to persuade him.
He grabbed Anu in his hand and said, “We’ll go there on Sunday. Today I’ve to go to office. Okay, dear?” He planted a kiss on her forehead. Indu was little disappointed for not being able to take Anu to the park..
He remembered that he had told Pavithra, but not told Indu about his plan of canceling his leave and rejoining duty from tomorrow. When he went out the previous day he had seen his boss who had asked him to rejoin duty early, if possible, since he was finding it extremely difficult to manage the office without him. Venu worked as an Upper Division Clerk in an electronic firm. Since Pavithra was at home he gladly agreed to rejoin duty immediately canceling his further two days leave though he had expected to see Indu’s dimmed face. Mr. Mehta had been always very kind to understand his problems and helped him generously. When Venu was a bit relieved of his motherly duties he felt obliged to accept his boss’s request without hesitation.
Venu soon explained his situation to the children and promised to take them out on the following Sunday. Hearing that conversation, Pavithra appeared with two glasses of milk and handed them to the girls. He had told Pavithra a lot about his good boss. His boss was a man of few words with much concern for his staff. It was only because of his virtue Venu had all the privileges with which he could bring up his daughter without a mother’s love and care and discharge the dual responsibilities at home. So he owed him a lot. He believed that it was very difficult to find such a boss these days, who cared a lot for his staff.
“Don’t worry about Indu any more. I’m here to take care of her. You can spend your maximum time with your work. In a way I’m happy to see you always occupied with your work so that you will not have to brood over your past.” Pavithra had told him yesterday evening winding her long hair when he had mentioned to her about the necessity of canceling his leave.
She repeated the same words in front of the children which was appreciated by Venu with a grateful smile. With a twinkle in his eyes he picked up the paper and left the room.
To be continued