Shanti lifted the folds of her sari, tucked them in her waist and hurriedly ascended the flight of stairs to the first floor. She rang the doorbell, pushed the partially opened door and headed straight towards the kitchen. “Ma’am,” she called out.
Malini was on the roof terrace of their two-storey building, cutting some stems of flowers that she had planted in several large flowerpots. She heard the doorbell ring and Shanti’s loud voice calling out to her. She came down through the narrow stairs slowly and entered her house through the door which Shanti had left fully open. “You’re late today,” she said.
“Actually Ma’am…” Shanti tried to give an explanation but Malini interrupted, instructing her to carry on with the regular household chores because she knew that some sort of excuse would blurt out as usual.
“Ma’am,” Shanti called out again after sometime. “I need your help once more,” she said in a pleading tone, as she washed the utensils kept in the sink.
Malini understood that she needed money in advance. “What’s the matter, Shanti?” she asked.
“A proposal has come for Rupa and I will arrange her marriage at an earliest possible date,” she replied in a serious tone. Rupa was her only daughter who recently took admission in a college.
“That’s nice, but why do you want to hurry?” Malini asked, placing a crystal flower vase decked with colourful gladioli in the centre of the dining table.
“In fact, I don’t want to take any risk, Ma’am,” she replied.
“What kind of risk? You should let Rupa complete her graduation,” Malini advised.
After finishing her work in the kitchen, Shanti went towards the grilled balcony to get the broom that was lying in a corner. She picked it up and entered the living room. “Ma’am, can you kindly lend me twenty thousand rupees for Rupa’s marriage?” she made a request.
“Alright, I’ll help you. So, the pressure must be from the bridegroom’s side I guess,” Malini said, as she flipped off the fan switch and began to open the windows of the room one after another.
Shanti shook her head. “No Ma’am, nothing like that.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t want the same mistake to happen again,” she mumbled.
“What do you mean?” Malini asked, hearing her faint words though.
Shanti’s eyes became moist. “Ma’am…” her lips quivered.
Malini understood that she wanted to tell something. “Yes?”
“Ma’am, Rita’s fault made me lost faith,” she said in a low voice.
“Who’s Rita?” Malini asked, looking straight into her eyes.
“She is my elder daughter, Ma’am.” Shanti could hardly speak.
“What! But you told me that Rupa is your only daughter,” Malini said, perplexed.
“Not only to you Ma’am, but to everyone after I disowned her,” Shanti said, trying to hold back her tears.
“Oh! But why did you have to do that?” Malini asked anxiously.
“It is a bitter episode of my life, Ma’am,” Shanti said, covering her face with her hands.
Malini did not know whether she should ask any other questions further but simultaneously she wanted to know what happened between Shanti and Rita and what could be the reason behind the disownment.
“Ma’am, you have never refused me whenever I was in need of money. I should not have kept lying to you at least, by saying that Rupa is my only daughter. I am sorry,” Shanti said after a while, with feelings of guilt. She continued, “Today, I will tell you the truth and about the trauma that I had to go through.”
She sat down and began to narrate the distressing chapter of her life.
Decades ago, Shanti’s husband died in an accident. Her two daughters, who were five years apart in age, were very young then and hence she had to work hard to make a living. She took up part-time jobs in many houses so that she could send Rita and Rupa to a school. As they grew up, she made them efficient in cooking, embroidery and doing all the household work as well.
In due course of time, a suitable proposal came for her elder daughter and with her consent, Shanti made plans for the wedding. She borrowed money from all the houses where she worked and promised to return the cash gradually, by accepting only half of her earnings from the following month.
All the necessary arrangements were almost ready, but on the day prior to marriage, Rita eloped. Not even once did she give a hint to her mother or her sister that she was in love with a boy from their neighbourhood.
Shanti was in utter dismay. She did not know what to do. Rupa was dumbstruck. She began to weep. “Don’t shed tears for that selfish one!” Shanti shouted in rage. “Neither did she care to think about me and nor about your future. She had evidently seen how much effort I had put into the preparations and managed everything all alone with my hard-earned money, yet she kept quiet all along. If she wanted to get married to that particular boy, then she should have told me the day itself when I had asked for her consent. Why would I disagree to her choice? Now, what shall I say to the bridegroom and his parents? And how shall I face the guests whom I had invited?”
Shanti screamed angrily in such a manner that one by one, soon the neighbours gathered to enquire what was going on in her house. They tried to console her but Shanti just could not control her frustration. She continued yelling, “Everybody come and see the consequence of my affection towards my offspring. I raised her with great care and never did let her feel the absence of a father, but still I fell short of my expectations.”
Rupa went and hugged her mother. After a long time, tears rolled down from Shanti’s eyes. She wiped them quickly and said in a stern voice, “Henceforth, only Rupa is my daughter and I disown that wretched girl who betrayed me. Listen all of you, from now on, no one should ask me about her.”
Hearing Shanti’s words, there was commotion among the people present there. They expressed their sympathy for her and concurrently rebuked Rita for leaving her mother in a state of shock and heart-broken.
The crowd dispersed eventually and the news of Rita’s elopement spread wide. With immense discomfort, Shanti set out to the bridegroom’s house to inform them about the shameful incident and to seek their forgiveness. They were equally shocked to hear the disgraceful fact and thus humiliated Shanti to a great extent, as they also dreaded facing embarrassment from people.
Shanti returned home with much disappointment. She sat still in the verandah. The harsh words said to her by the bridegroom’s parents kept coming in her thoughts. Bit by bit, her wrath towards Rita began to increase.
Rupa felt unhappy seeing her grief-stricken mother. She came and sat beside her. “Mummy,” she said and held Shanti’s hands. “Please calm down. I can comprehend how you’re feeling but nothing can be done which has already happened. You have to acknowledge the circumstances anyway. It won’t be easy for you I know, but try and forgive her…”
“No, I will never forgive her. Don’t keep pursuing me,” Shanti interrupted adamantly. She continued, “You are still young and so you are not able to understand the agony of a mother. I know, it would be tough for anyone else too, to accept such a situation.” Then, shaking her forefinger, she asserted, “Mark my words. The one who hurts a parent will also get hurt one day, sooner or later.”
“Mummy, I hope your words would not turn out to be a curse. I know that she will not get your blessings because what she has done is a big blunder indeed. But she is your daughter after all and I wish you shall not keep holding a grudge against her forever.” Rupa tried to pacify her mother.
Malini felt sad hearing the account. “Don’t worry, Shanti. Everything will go well this time,” she said, giving her a cup of tea and a sandwich.
Shanti heaved a long sigh. “After a very long period of time, I have spoken about this topic,” she said slowly. “Believe me Ma’am, my heart feels much lighter now.”
Malini smiled at her. “God bless you and your daughters! Have faith in Him always,” she said.
[Published in May 2018 issue of ‘Indian Ruminations’, a journal of Indian English Writers]