Rekha is in a hurry. She missed the bus she daily catches from her office and she will be late. That made her worry even more. She thought about her children, seven year old Rohan and five year old Ramya. Not old enough to be left alone. Every day she makes it a point to be home before they arrive from their school. But today is one of those days when nothing went as planned. It’s not that she does not have any help, there is a girl -a distant relative of her in-laws, who came to their home to help Rekha in the house work. Her parents pleaded with Rekha to let her stay at home till they find a suitable groom for her and Rekha agreed as it will benefit her also.
For some time everything seemed well. But these days she changed, making Rekha to do all the work herself and get the children ready before the Auto comes to pick them up for school. Her husband Rakesh is no real help. Even though he leaves for his office later than Rekha, she has to prepare everything for him before she leaves for office. This day Rekha just hoped that Rani gave the kids snacks and milk after they came from school. But she had a presentiment that the children are hungry and that made her run towards the apartment block she lived in.
When Rohan opened the door, she knew that they are not fed. “Mummy, you are late”. There is no accusation in her son’s voice. He just stated a fact. “Yes, Rohan, I missed the bus”, saying that she wondered what else she missed along with the bus, missing her children’s laughter? Missing their growing up, missing their hugs after school? The job! is it worth it?
“Where is Rani?”
“Don’t know mummy, she did not even give us milk and when we asked she just went away saying that she was already late.’
Rekha’s whole body shook with anger. What is this girl thinking of herself? A real queen? I had to talk with her today, no matter how late she comes. With that resolve she went into the kitchen and made snacks for the children. After eating Rahul jumped up suddenly and said, “Mummy, grandmother from the next flat asked you to come their house”.
“What, whose grandmother? You should call her Auntie” scolded Rekha.
“We did that only mother. It’s she who asked us to call her grand ma” Both children said in a sing song voice.
There is much work to do in the house. Dinner should be prepared and she had splitting headache. But Rekha liked the elderly couple living next door, even though she is not acquainted with them. She kept rice in the rice cooker and made herself a hot cup of tea. She felt somewhat relaxed. There is still time for Rakesh to return from office. So, she went to the next flat wondering why she asked her to come. Maybe she did some Pooja and want to give her Prasad.
“Come in, Come in” invited the old lady, Sumati. “Please feel comfortable” she told Rekha. Sitting down, Rekha looked around. Everything in the flat is pleasing to the eyes. All the furniture is neatly arranged. Rekha could not help but think about her own home which is identical to this. With small children her house is always in a mess. She said that aloud, on hearing the old lady said smiling, “Look, the neatness of the house is no compensation to the children’s laughter”. With that Rekha realised how lonely the couple are feeling.
After giving Rekha some snacks, Sumati asked about Rani. Rekha fell silent and thought that perhaps Rani did some mischief and Sumati is going to complain about it, but aloud she asked, “Auntieji, did Rani quarrel with you?”
“No, Rekha, and don’t call me Auntie. I am of your mother’s age. Call me mother”
Usually Rekha does not mix freely with people, but her heart went out to this elderly lady, so she said cheerfully, “Okay, mother”
Sumati seemed satisfied with that assurance. She asked Rekha to come into the bedroom. Entering in Rekha found a full length photograph of a beautiful girl. The girl has unmistakable resemblance to Sumati. Rekha thought, maybe this girl went abroad, most youngsters nowadays are doing that leaving their parents behind, to lead a lonely life.
Sumati noticed Rekha’s look and said , “This is Swati, my daughter”
“Is she abroad” asked Rekha.
“We can look at it that way” she answered handing Rekha a cup of hot coffee. Then she asked, “who is Rani?”
Rekha is again disturbed. Certainly this lady asked her to come only because of Rani.
“Is she troubling you?” she asked.
“No, in fact I do not want her to trouble you”
This perturbed Rani very much.
Then the conversation turned to Swati. “Will she come and meet you often?” asked Rekha. “No, she never. In fact she could not” came the reply.
“Why? Doesn’t her husband allow her?”
“You can say that! He made sure, we never meet her”
Sumati’s eyes filled with tears. Rekha felt very bad. “Please, don’t feel bad. People can change. Some day he may relent and then you can meet your daughter”. She tried to give solace to the old woman.
But what she said in reply shocked Rekha.”No Rekha, we can never meet Swati, she is no more”
Rekha is at a loss of words. She did not know what to say.
Then Sumati wiped her tears and started to tell about Swati.
“Swati was our only child. A meek and gentle girl. Always dreaming and smiling. When she finished her education, we started looking for a suitable boy for her. We found Sekhar and thought he is the one for her. Well educated, well mannered, good job and good family. So without delay we performed their marriage. Swati was very happy, even though they were living in another city, we often met her.
We were all elated when we found that Swati is expecting her first child. But the joy did not last long. Swati suffered a miscarriage. I rushed to her house as soon as we were informed. Her in-laws are already there. They brought with them a young girl to look after Swati and do work in the house. I have to say, they all loved Swati and wanted to help her in every way possible. They went away while Swati was still in the hospital. I used to be with Swati at the hospital, while the girl, Rajani looked after the work at home” Tears rolled from Sumati’s eyes.
“Why, what happened? Didn’t Swati recover from the miscarriage?” asked Rekha.
“At first everything is okay but while I spent most of the time at the hospital with my daughter, Sekhar developed a relationship with Rajani. But unfortunately, I never realised it at that time. After Swati recovered, we brought her home. Now Sekhar was a changed man. He used to get angry for everything. Even then I could not guess the real reason for his anger. I thought perhaps he needed privacy with his wife and so I came back leaving back Swathi. At first may be Swati too could not guess the reason for Sekhar’s displeasure with her, but being a wife she might have realised that her husband preferred a robust healthy woman to her. How it might have hurt her! She being a gentle, caring nature! Unfortunately she never told anything to us. If she confided in me things might have been different. She just faded away. She could not come into terms with the fact that her husband did not care for her love and gave preference to bodily pleasures. By the time we came to know that Sekhar is not treating well her, when one of her neighbours informed us, it’s too late. She lost the will to live and just wilted away” Sumati concluded, the tears dried on her cheeks.
Rekha felt very sorry for her. “Please forgive me, because of me you have gone through that agony again”
“No Rekha, it is my duty as an elder to warn you. I don’t want any woman to suffer as my Swati did”.
For a moment Rekha could not understand anything. What? What is this woman saying? Like Swati? Then her husband and Rani? – she could not think beyond that. Looking at her pale face, Sumati said, “What you are thinking is right, your husband and Rani– you leave the house early to catch the bus and later your children too go to their school. Before your husband dropped them at school and went to his office, nowadays I am seeing that they are going by auto. Because of this arrangement your husband and Rani are spending close to one hour alone daily. Anything could happen at that time. Mostly I engage Rani with some gossip or ask my husband to go and talk with your husband. But how long can we do this?”
Rekha’s head swam. The image of her husband and Rani danced before her eyes, bringing tears to her. Sumati watched sympathetically and said, “Look Rekha, a woman should never give her husband any chance to be close with another woman. It’s not that your husband is bad or Rani is enticing, but circumstances play an important role. They change a person. You are just like my daughter, but you are older than her and much more intelligent. I am sure you will find a solution to this problem” Having said that, she went into the kitchen and brought out two lunch boxes. I know you can’t cook after this revelation. I made the curries and also some rotis. Now go home and think about what is said with a clear mind”
Rekha came home as if she is in a trance. She felt as if her world is collapsing at her feet. She could not help her children with their home work and stared blankly at the TV. She kept thinking how the situation at home changed drastically in the last few weeks. Earlier Rani was dependable. She looked after the kids well and had been a lot of help in the house. Once she even advised her to pursue her discontinued studies so that she could get a decent job. But all she wanted was to get married and have a home of her own. “I will be here only till my father finds a bridegroom for me” she often said. But, nowadays she is behaving strangely. She neglected the children and started citing various reasons for not helping in the kitchen. And what hurt her more was, her husband defending Rani when she is scolding. She never gave it much thought as he does the same when she is scolding the children. But now she started to look at it in a new angle. Her heart is heavy with grief. Is this what Rakesh is giving her after ten years of marriage? If he succumbs to the charm of a young girl, what is the meaning of marriage? But Rekha knew that marriage is built on mutual trust. She can’t come to a conclusion without sound proof. Rakesh came home while she is feeding the children. She quickly went into the kitchen and made tea for him. Taking the cup, he asked, “Where is Rani?”. With those words Rekha’s heart boiled. “Why? Don’t you want to have the tea prepared by me?”
Rakesh was taken aback. “Usually Rani makes the tea, so–“ he stammered.
“That princess went out before I came back from office. I have no clue when she returns”. Having said that Rekha started arranging the dining table.
Rani came well after 10pm. Rekha hated even to look at her, but asked where she had been all till this late at night.
“Went to a film with my friends”, was her reply.
“If you behave like this, I will send you to your parents” warned Rekha. For that Rani only smiled mysteriously, as if Rekha has no power to send her away.
“Let go Rekha, she is only a young girl enjoying her life” intervened Rakesh. Rekha kept quiet, not wanting to create a scene in front of children. Soon everybody is sound asleep, but sleep eluded Rekha. Her heart is in utmost turmoil. Even then she wanted to keep her cool, and think about the future.
What is the course of action to take if her suspicion turned out to be true? Can she confront Rakesh? If it is true then all will be over between them, but if it is only a false alarm, then can she ever face Rakesh again? Won’t there be an unbridgeable gap between them that will be hard to mend?
To Rekha there seemed two possible solutions to this problem. The first option she had is watch Rakesh and Rani for a few days and if her suspicion turned out to be true, she can calmly leave her home and file for a divorce. But in her heart of hearts Rekha does not want this to happen. What will happen to their children? Can she bring them up singlehandedly? If the children are with Rakesh, what will be their life with a stepmother? As this thought entered Rekha’s mind she hardened her stance. Why should she go away from her own house and spoil the children’s future?–She began to think again. In all their married life, Rakesh never gave her any problem. He is always sympathetic towards working women and most importantly never pestered for the money she earned. If now, he yearns after a young woman, maybe in a small way she too pushed him towards temptation. Lately she stopped taking care of her appearance and also put on some weight. At that time she resolved to tackle her weight.
After thinking hard the whole night, Rekha decided to call her mother the next day. Next morning she woke up early. Did all the cooking, not even glancing at Rani. She got ready earlier than usual and went out as if going to the office. She talked with her mother, told her the problem she is facing and also told her what to do. Later she called her office and took leave for a week days. She is sure her mother will find the solution within those days. Slowly she came back to her house.
Rakesh is surprised by her returning and asked her why she came back. “Do you mean I should not come to my own house whenever I want to?” Looking at Rakesh’s pale face she quickly added, “For quite some time I am not keeping well. Today while going to catch the bus, I had a reeling sensation and though it better to return home and take rest” Saying that she retired to the bedroom. Rakesh came in and said,” I too will take leave. Let’s go to doctor”. Rakesh panicked as he had never saw Rekha this way before. “That’s not necessary. All I need is rest. Please go to office. If there is any necessity I will call you or will take the help of Rani”. She decided not to give a single moment of togetherness to Rani and Rakesh. This is her home. She built it with love and care and in no mood to allow anyone to enter it by back door.
Two days passed. Rakesh daily insisted that they should consult a doctor. But Rekha managed to make him agree to take rest. “That’s what I need. My body is tired”, is what she told him. On the third day much to everyone’s surprise Rani’s parents came from their village, saying that a good match came for Rani from Rekha’s town and they are insisting on early marriage. Rakesh and Rekha asked them to stay for a couple of days so that they can visit the tourist spots. But they declined, saying that there is too much work to do for the marriage.
They are ready to go within an hour. They said that they will be eternally thankful to Rekha’s mother for taking the initiative for their daughter’s well being. They asked Rekha to attend the marriage. “Ofcourse, I will definitely come”. Promised Rekha.
That evening Sumati came for a visit and Rekha told her what happened. “Thanks to you and mother everything went smoothly”‘ said Rekha. “You see Rekha, a mother always strives for her child’s well being. And I know you will definitely find a solution”