“Amma, why do you buy for Shanthi the same good quality and design of dress materials as ours for every occasion? She is after all our cook’s daughter,” questioned the two daughters Rohini and Chandra in chorus their mother Raji.
“I am greatly disappointed with your attitude. Do not be petty minded and jealous. She is also of your age living with us in our premises. Her mother has been working for us since the day I got married. I consider them a part of our family,” replied Raji with slight irritability.
Not mollified, the eldest Rohini said, “We are not petty minded. Only you seem large hearted in equating Shanthi with us. Hereafter we will select our own dress materials. You can buy anything that pleases you for her.” When Raji did not respond, they left the room in a huff. This was the first time she spotted their jealousy for Shanthi.
It was only then an earlier incident came to her mind. Shekhar was not in town. It was a Sunday when all of them were having breakfast, she noticed the two girls Rohini and Chandra were whispering to each other and giggling at Shanthi.
“What for are you both giggling staring at Shanthi? It is bad manners. Come out with your answer and till such time we will stop eating our breakfast,” Raji said in an irritated tone.
When they did not answer, she said “I am giving one last chance to tell me truthfully why you both smirked at Shanthi. If you do not come out, I would no more share the table with you two and would prefer to eat alone.”
Shaken by fear, Rohini blurted out, “We were wondering at the audacity of Shanthi although the Cook’s daughter taking the seat on the table even before we took ours.”
Raji flew into rage and told them curtly that Shanthi too was like the other two girls for her and that she would no more tolerate such silly behaviour from them.
As she lay in the bed recollecting the harsh words from the girls and the earlier incident, she could not resist the flashback of the initial years of her marriage with Shekhar. Her father had died leaving her mom and herself, a baby then, in penury. It was a struggle for the young woman to bring up the child though her brother was supportive to the extent he could afford. It was only after Raji completed her inter that she could get a job in Sundaresan’s, an auditor, office. Being intelligent, she learnt her job quickly and managed his office and files well. The auditor, a distant relative, used to wonder how quickly she had picked up the tax laws and efficiently presented the draft returns of the clients for his examination. He relied on her more than on his qualified assistants and article clerks. He gave her good increase in salary to enable her family live in comfort. He treated her with dignity and affection as if she were his own daughter.
Though Raji’s mother wished her married, Raji was not interested as she was apprehensive if her husband would at later date refuse to keep her mother with them. Years went by till one day auditor Sundaresan paid a surprise visit to her apartment on a Sunday. The driver came inside and left a large basket full of fruits. Flustered by this unexpected visit, Raji dusted the chair with her sari and requested him to be seated even as she called her mother. After the introduction and pleasantries, Sundaresan turned to Raji and said,” I have come to discuss some marriage proposal for you with your mom. I do not mind, rather I would prefer, your sitting here to listen.”
Turning to Raji’s mother, he said “I have my cousin’s son who is a lawyer in the city commanding good practice. He will be five years older to Raji. An unexpected tragedy struck about two years back when his wife died suddenly in an accident leaving behind two girls. She was a social worker working in a NGO for protection and upliftment of destitute children. She was also an honorary secretary of an orphanage that was run very efficiently. She was a very kind and generous lady. The loss left my nephew shattered and he struggled to bring up the two small girls. My cousin could persuade his son with great difficulty to marry again as it was difficult to bring up the girls without a woman in the home. I can testify to my nephew’s character and suitability as a match for your daughter. Your daughter would be well off and I do not foresee any objection from him to your continuing to reside with your daughter. Since I am interested in the wellbeing of both Raji and my nephew, I made bold to make this request to you,”
The lady kept quiet for a couple of minutes before saying,” Raji is very fortunate to have you as her mentor. Personally I have no objection especially when recommended by you but would leave it to Raji to decide. I can only persuade her but not prevail upon her,” and turning to Raji told her, “You have heard uncle and you know he is your well-wisher. I feel that this is godsend and we should not let go. Tell him your view as it is most important.”
Raji was silent for a long time and finally spoke,” Amma, I will go by what you and uncle decide is good for me. I only wish for an assurance from the lawyer that he would allow you to stay with me even after marriage. I have no other demands.”
Shekhar turned out be an extremely affectionate and warm person and took special care that all comforts were given to Raji’s mother. Being a high profile lawyer, he could afford to employ a mami (lady cook) and relieve the old lady from the chores. He had no objection in Raji continuing to help his auditor uncle as she was used to.
The two young girls got attached to her easily. Everything was hunky dory and she had no care in the world except that she had no baby of her own. It was then Shekhar confided in her that the two daughters of his were actually adopted from an orphanage as his wife could not conceive. He also let her into the secret under strict confidence that the two baby girls were generously adopted without any reservation by his wife despite their rescue from a brothel when their mothers deserted them. Raji was initially shocked to hear this news but wondered at the good nature of his first wife and easily reconciled to the fact that she was blessed with two daughters, what if adopted from whatever source. On her part, Raji took under her care the cook’s girl also as one more daughter.
Back from reverie, she decided to broach about the peevish behavior of the two daughters to Shekhar. Surprisingly Shekhar returned from office early that day and was resting in the bedroom in the first floor.
“Are you not well or what? Why unusually so early?” she asked him even as she ran her palm over his forehead.
“Nothing. I am quite fine. There was no work and I thought fit to spend time with you. How are things at your office? How are the three girls who are all at the same time into their teens? Must be a taxing responsibility to oversee them,” he said laughingly.
“They are never a burden to me Would you like a cup of coffee to refresh you?” she asked and shouted from the staircase” Rohini, get papa a cup of coffee from mami”
She then related the day’s incident and the earlier unsavory behaviour about the two girls to him. She never expected that this would infuriate him as he started shouting at the top of his voice, “What do they think themselves to be, Princesses or what? I have been wanting to break the news about their adoption from an orphanage for a long time but kept quiet keeping in mind your wish. If this was their behaviour, I would even tell them their real source…” when Raji put her palm on his mouth gesticulating him not to talk.
He pushed her hand and was about to continue talking when they heard a gentle knock. It was Rohini who entered with coffee cups in the tray. Her face was taut and Raji noticed from the opening Chandra standing outside. Shekhar did not talk to Rohini and started drinking coffee.
“Go and tell mami that we would be there in 15 minutes for dinner. All of you be there,” said Raji softly though she suspected that the two girls must have overheard what Shekhar was telling her.
When they went down, Raji was surprised to see the two girls set the table with Shanthi sitting on her chair watching them silently. It was Rohini who broke the silence telling, “Amma,we are very sorry for our rude behavior. It will not happen again, we promise.” Chandra was then seen standing behind Shanthi putting her arms on her shoulders.
Raji said, “It is fine and I appreciate you both for this apology.Do not worry. To me and your dad all the three of you are the same and apples of our eyes.”
Mami who was watching them from the kitchen wiped her moist eyes.