The Second Choice - Chapter 6
by Lakshmi Menon
Dawn was already beginning. The train reached Bangalore Cantonment station.
Indu was extremely happy. “We reached Bangalore… We reached Bangalore.” She shouted merrily, as if she had landed in her own hometown.
As far as Indu was concerned Bangalore was her hometown. So she had every right to feel thrilled over her return.
Anu was clinging to Pavithra evidently amused. She looked out at the new place and new people as Pavithra stared out at the view thinking about the new life they were going to face.
“The terminus is next. Bangalore City Railway station”, said Venu pampering his daughter. “We have to get down there.”
They had coffee on the train. After ten minutes the train moved with a great jerk. Pavithra started wondering what would be in store for her in this new city. Though she had tried her best to calm her mind, uninvited memories haunted her one after another.
It was hardly six years back when she had landed in Bombay Victoria Terminus station as a shy village girl with thousands of dreams. Anand had held her hand tightly and said, “Be careful Pavithra, darling. Bombay is the busiest city in India. You’ve to be bold and alert all the time here.”
She was shocked to see the big crowd moving around. Entrusting everything to Anand, she had walked with him like a chick going behind the hen. Pavithra was ready to go anywhere with him. As long as he was with her she had nothing to worry.
Suddenly she realized that Anand’s thoughts brought tears to her eyes. Wiping the tears with a handkerchief without Venu’s knowledge, she prayed to God silently, not to bring back the old memories, which would only open old wounds.
It was six O’clock when they reached Bangalore City station. Holding Anu with the left hand and Indu with the right hand, Pavithra walked behind Venu who was following the porter, with an apprehensive mind. Standing in the long queue for an autorikshaw, Venu said, “We’ve to wait in the queue.”
Pavithra smiled and nodded. She wanted to tell him even in Bombay they had to wait in queues, but she didn’t want to disappoint Venu when he said something enthusiastically. She was trying her best to cope with her new husband and make him happy.
When their turn came they got into the autorikshaw. On the way, Indu told her about the places and buildings that they passed by.
“Auntie, this area is called Majestic.”
Venu gave her an affectionate warning look. “She is not your auntie, dear. You’ll call her mummy now,” he corrected her with a naughty smile.
She suddenly became red faced, not remembering to address her step-mother correctly as her father had tutored her earlier, and looked at her as though requesting her pardon.
When Pavithra pampered her with a smile, she smiled back shyly. Anu gazed at her, and then at Pavithra, perhaps wondering how Indu could call her mother “Mummy” when Pavithra was not her real mother.
The driver of the autorikshaw was watching the fun in the mirror fixed in front of the vehicle. What would he have thought of them, Pavithra wondered? Did he understand their language? If so, he would have suppressed a smile. Indu was cheerful again after a moment.
The auto stopped in front of a small house after a twenty minute journey. When they got down they found themselves surrounded by a small crowd. As everybody’s attention was focused on Pavithra, she felt embarrassed.
Venu paid the auto driver and sent him off. He came and stood in front of the house with some luggage and searched for the house key. He opened the door with a sigh.
With a short silent prayer, Pavithra stepped in. Suddenly a thought ran through her mind. Nobody was there to receive her into the house. For a moment, her thoughts raced back. When she entered the one-room apartment belonging to Anand in Bombay for the first time as a bride, he had said, “Maharaniji, keep your right foot and enter my palace.” What happened then? She had never failed in following the customs and conventions of her folk. Then why did she lose her Anand so soon in her life?
Indu was running all over the house with excitement. Anu stood totally like a stranger in her look and behavior. She kept blinking at everything. She was thinking it was Indu’s house and why had they come there?
It was a small, but neat house. The front room was quite neat and tidy. The walls were pale blue and so were the curtains. Only essential articles were there – one sofa-cum-bed with two single sofas and a small teapoy; a small table used as a dining table with two chairs, some books were kept aside on the table. There was a corner shelf where a tape-recorder and timepiece were kept. Hanging on the wall was the wedding photo of Venu, in which Soumya was looking very pretty to the extent that even a woman could admire her. There was not only charm on her face but also serenity of a lily flower that attracted everyone – her simplicity. If Celopatra had a sexy beauty Soumya had an innocent beauty as that of a lily blooming, which would attract anyone.
Pavithra stood there for a while, forgetting everything else, looking at the photo of the person whom she had heard a lot about and known for a couple of hours only.
“I’ve come here to take your place.” Pavithra thought to herself with an apology. When she turned with a heavy heart she found Venu standing behind her like an embodiment of sadness.
Pavithra was led to the bedroom. Two single
beds were put together as a double bed, covered with an attractively embroidered bed spread.
“Such a nice bed spread!” Pavithra exclaimed, trying to divert Venu’s attention. Seeing her excitement Indu said proudly, “This was done by my mother…. Auntie.”
“Sorry… Mummy”, she immediately corrected herself with a grin. All of them laughed at the innocent look of Indu.
Venu gave Pavithra a curious look. “It’s really a marvellous work.” She told Venu who was proud of his wife’s handiwork.
Shortly, he left the room with a faint smile leaving his new wife and his stepdaughter with his daughter.
“My mother had knitted one sweater for Daddy which is in the cupboard, I’ll show you later,” said Indu, pointing at the steel almirah in the corner.
“I had two sweaters,” she added, “which mother had knitted before I was born. When they became too short for me Daddy gave them away to our ayah’s grand-daughter.” She giggled.
The little girl was so glad to praise her mother’s talents. Pavithra was really surprised. Anu felt a pang of jealousy and looked at her mother to boast about her talents; to show that her mother tooo was no less talented. Since she had no courage to speak out of her own in a strange place, she pleaded with Pavithra to talk, by pressing her hand.
By then Pavithra’s attention was already focused on the enlarged copy of their wedding photo hanging on the wall. Venu was looking very handsome and proud to possess such a pretty wife. Next to the wedding photo was a medium sized photo of Indu sitting in her father’s lap. As Pavithra stared at the photo, Venu sighed and his hands dropped to his sides. He looked very exhausted.
Indu led Pavithra to the kitchen, followed by Venu holding Anu’s hand. All the things were placed in such an orderly manner that only the experienced hands of a woman could have done it.
“This was a present for our wedding from Soumya’s auntie” Venu said pointing at the gas stove.
“Isn’t this also your wedding gift, Daddy?” asked Indu giggling, showing the pressure cooker, like a grown up girl. A wave of pride had come over her as she spoke about her mother and paused as though for a comment.
“Yes, my dear. This is your mother’s intimate friend’s present.” Without shifting his gaze, Venu replied.
For a while, he was silent, recollecting his good old days. Then taking a deep breath, Venu continued with a lower voice, “Here, for each and everything there’s a story to tell about her mother.”
Unable to stand there any longer he went to the next room asking Indu to call for the ayah.
“Now there’s no need of an ayah here. I can do everything myself.” Pavithra intervened.
They had some bread and butter for breakfast. She made a delicious lunch with sambhar and aviyal which, she was told by her mother-in-law, Venu liked a lot. In addition to that she had fried some papads also. Venu was quite pleased with her first culinary venture. Indu also enjoyed her way of cooking. Pavithra felt happy.
With a satisfied smile Venu left the room, but not before patting Anu kindly on the head, which she rejected. .....................to be continued