Vandana finished packing her clothes,locked the suitcase and put it in the front room.
“Auntie ! Are you leaving today? “ twelve year old Pujitha asked Vandana in a tone that was full of pain, as she entwined both her hands around her aunt’s waist and put her face on her aunt’s tummy.
Vandana’s eyes filled with tears.
“ I have to go. You know it.” She said in cajoling tone.
“ Are you still angry with my mom ?” Pujitha looked into her eyes.
Vandana was shocked.
“ why do you feel so? Why should I be angry with her?” As Vandana embraced the girl, her eyes filled with tears and two drops fell on Pujitha’s head.
She felt that her sister in law, looking at her from the photograph of her’s kept on the corner table , was asking that question .
The flower garland that decked the enlarged photograph of her sister in law swung to the breeze of the fan.
“ Auntie! if everyone goes away how can we stay in this empty
house ?” Pujitha asked looking at her mother’s photo with her eyes reddened by crying.
Though the girl directed the question at her, Vandana felt that the little girl was longing to question her departed mother.
Her motherly instincts moved her.
“Today we should not see the evening lights in this house. I will come again and take you with me.” She spoke in a patronising tone.
“Are you sure you will come?” Pujitha’s tone expressed disbelief.
“ In a short while dad will bring a new mother for us. Then you and another auntie will not come to our house at all. The other mother will not love us. How can a a step- mother have any affection for us?” Eight year old Revanth who came from the kitchen ,asked Vandana , rubbing his teary eyes.
Vandana was shocked to hear this.
“Who was talking this rubbish in the earshot of children?” She was angry with this thought.
Vandana felt heavy- hearted as these two little birdies, who should be relaxing in the protective shade of the mother bird, now were looking at her with perplexed looks, like wounded doves.
“Why did you leave them all of a sudden Sumitra? “ Vandana looked at the photo of her sister in law.
Sumitra looked beautiful in the blue silk saree, with a necklace around her neck and her eyes bright with khol. That photo was clicked on the day they celebrated house- warming function.
“At the prime of her life, which promised a beautiful future, how could she imagin this sudden death? She must have felt terrible leaving the much loved kids motherless.” This thought wrenched Vandana’s heart. She embraced both the children and said “ Don’t say such things.”
“ Auntie! Are you really coming back to take us with you?” Pujitha asked.
“ I will comeback for sure.” Vandana’s voice shivered.
Only last year she took a vow not to ever step into her brother’s house but had to come with in a year.
Vandana closed her eyes as she remembered Sumitra’s angry burst out at her, a year ago.
“ From today onwards remember that you have none from your mother’s side. I take an oath on my life that you should never step at our threshold . There is no relationship between us. Remember.” The image of Sumitra shouting in utter anger with her eyes wide open, hands swaying and her voice full of hatred was unbearable to Vandana.
Whether it was the way she was brought up or the influence of things happening around, Sumitra developed hatred for her sisters -in -law from day one after her marriage .
After the demise of their parents, her husband’s sisters started treating their brother’s place as their maternal home and visit him once a year. Though they stayed there only for a day or two, Sumitra would ill treat them as if they came to demand money from their brother.
Ramakrishna never checked her inspite of his affection for his sisters.
Vandana looked at the interiors of the new house.
Sumitra spent a lot of her time and energy in choosing the matching colours for the walls and doors and selecting the marble for the floor for her house. The house is there but the owner took final rest as if she had enough of stress and strain.
Vandana looked at Sumitra’s photo and begged her silently to forgive her for having stepped into her house disregarding her oath on her life.
Vandana and her sister Madhuri, when ever they visited their brother, used to buy clothes for all the members of his family and gift household articles to them. But Sumitra never acknowledged their gesture.
Once when Vandana came to their house, Sumitra who was busy talking to her sister and serving her home -made sweets , deliberately neglected Vandana for a while.
Vandana who was tired after a long bus journey just sat there with nobody to welcome her.
Sumitra took her time to see her sister off and then casually greeted her sister in law.
Vandana waited for her brother and his children to come home and then handed them the eatables she made specially for them. Sumitra served her the same .
Pujitha innocently asked “auntie! Have you tasted the sweet prepared by mom?”
Sumitra pushed her aside and ordered her sternly to go into the room and complete her home work.
Ramakrishna’s entry into the front room brought her out of the reverie.
“ I am thankful to you and my brother-in-law for coming here without carrying any ill will about the past. I don’t know how I am going to carry on with these children single handed.” Ramakrishna said sitting beside her.
“How can difference of opinions among family members break the relationships?” Vandana sighed.
“All the time she was dreaming of owning a house and worked hard to realise her dream . But she was not lucky to live here at least for a year.” As he uttered these words Ramakrishna became emotional .
“We get whatever we are destined to get. What can we do? “ Vandana mused philosophically.
She remembered How openly Sumitra expressed her displeasure when she visited them.
“ Every year these sisters compel themselves on us. If whatever we earn is spent on them, how can we plan for our own house? “ Sumitra complained to her neighbour in the presence of Vandana .
When Ramakrishna planned to build his own house, Vandana’s husband helped his brother in law in getting the house loan,selecting the plot for the house, preparing house-plan, and fixing the contractor.
Still Sumitra was angry with her husband Ramakrishna for buying expensive pure silk saris for his sisters on the occasion of their house -warming ceremony. Actually Vandana and Madhuri spent more on buying the silver ware they presented their brother on that occasion.
The private bank in which Vandana’s husband was working was closed because of losses and his so called friends pressured him to repay the loans he had taken from them .
So, Vandana who had never asked her brother for financial help was forced to do so.
On that day Sumitra came home from the office earlier than usual and heard her sister -in- law’s pleadings.
Sumitra was enraged and started shouting at the top of her voice as if she was possessed.
“ You can’t bear to see us happy. You grudge us because both of us earn. How long will you people suck the blood of your brother? If you have any self respect don’t step at our threshold for money next time. When we face trouble we never asked you for financial help. How dare you approach your brother in my absence? If you have any decency you should be ashamed to do so. This is the last warning. Don’t step into my house as long as I live. Take it that you have no relatives on your maternal side. I take an oath on my life that you should never step at the threshold of my house. Remember there is no bond between you and us.” Sumitra raved and ranted non -stop.
Vandana was aghast at this insult and was in tears . Ramakrishna stood there without a word.
With in a year Vandana had to step into the house for the last rites of her sister in law, Sumitra.
Vandana , looking at Sumitra’s photo, enlarged for this occasion, felt guilty.
Though they were prohibited to come there, visiting the house now, in the absence of Sumitra, did not look right .
Ramakrishna could read the thoughts of his sister. He went into the bedroom and came out with two silk saris.
“ I know this is not the occasion to present you clothes. But Sumitra bought them to gift you and Madhuri on the eve of coming New year (Ugadi ) . She wanted to invite both of you for the festival and give these saris to you. “ saying so he gave the saree to Vandana.
Vandana who was feeling guilty for stepping into Sumitra’s house against her will, felt relieved.
When Ramakrishna looked at his wife’s photo as if to ask her to forgive him for lying, he felt Sumitra was looking at him gratefully.