She was inessential, like some dusty, old, unwanted, broken article. She was a valueless appendix in the impecunious household of eight. It did not matter to anyone if she smiled more or appeared to be a lot more worn-out, weighed down by poverty and unthinkable hard work. But to me, she was a pink lotus floating in the pond- rare, soothing and precious. She was a girl. Her name was Sunita.
My earliest memory of Sunita goes back to when we were around 11. She would accompany her mother to our house. Her mother worked as our domestic help. Both the daily visitors, Sunita and her mother, were extremely polite, humble and good-natured.In our very second meeting, sunita had coyly handed over colourful toy marble balls to me in her characteristic generous spirit. It did not take us long to make the muddy front yard our preferred playground. The evening lantern and the sound of my mother’s holy conch shell announcing nightfall would take us back to our homes like a flock of birds in the evening sky. Sunita and I would help each other clean up our begrimed hands and feet, taking turns at pumping the arduous tube-well until we felt decent enough to enter the house.
We would play the “teacher game” in the porch. After a few zealous “play sessions”, Sunita had accomplished the skill of aligning the alphabets to write her name. She had chortled like a baby, jumping for joy. My mother had suggested Sunita’s mother to send the eager learner to the village school. “I feel too drained out to take care of the domestic chores at home and the routine chores in other houses where I work as a maid, single- handedly. Besides, education is for rich girls. I would have to start looking for a suitable groom for Sunita, soon enough.” Those unvarnished words had dispossessed my mother of the power of speech.
When we were around 14, I came face-to-face with the shocking revelation of Sunita’s marriage. My mother had tried to convince Sunita’s family to postpone her marriage till she was ready but had miserably failed. It seemed impossible to imagine Sunita shouldering responsibilities of an entire household at her tender age. I wondered whether she would live in a tiny hut with a battered thatched roof and tottering clay walls, whether she would be fortunate enough to never have to skip a meal, whether her husband will earn decent enough to spare her the need to toil hard in another’s house as a maid. I felt so pitifully helpless, a mute spectator to all that might befall my dear Sunita. I prayed for her- the only plausible salvation for us.
Sunita looked beautiful, draped in the red and gold saree , on her wedding night. I don’t know why I felt that I might never see her again. Teardrops rolled down my cheeks, unknowingly. I said a prayer for her happy future as I hugged her and the tears embraced.Sunita was such a big part of my days . Now she would be no more. She had told me “Didi, please visit my home “. She must have meant her husband’s home.
My father’s job took us to a new place . I continued my education and came through with flying colors, pursued higher education in a reputed college, got professionally qualified to teach in colleges after years of hard work. I got married at a reasonable age to a man who respects and appreciates me for who I am. Along the journey with various turns and events leading to my present, my thoughts have from time to time connected me to the dear girl named Sunita. Her selfless affection, loyalty and quiet dignity make her one of the finest human beings, I have ever come across. “I am sorry, Sunita”, I whisper in my mind as it carries me two decades back to the porch in our village home, my dear Sunita and I giggling away with the merry alphabet song.