Sita did not answer for a long time. Ramya was fuming from within but managed to keep her thoughts to herself. How easy it was for these intruders to subject her dear aunt to this sort of emotional black mail. Would all those years lost in solitude ever come back? Finally Sita spoke.
“I’ll accompany you to your place but on one condition.” She said. “Your father should not try to get familiar with me as long as I stay at your place. He is a stranger to me and will always remain so. I have often thought over the joke that my marriage turned into and tried to assess in my mind as to what went wrong. For some strange reason I never felt like blaming your mother. If her troubled mind would find peace on meeting me, so may it be. But my compassion for a dying woman should not be mistaken for any weakness of character. I am well past my youth and it would not harm me to spend the rest of my life with my brother’s family. You are right in a way. If you had not accompanied your father with your personal request I might have found it difficult to believe in the gravity of the situation. Just give me five minutes to pack. We can leave immediately.”
Sita’s brother could not bring himself to send her alone with two men who were practically unknown to her but Sita had no such problem. The three of them left by car and reached Hyderabad early next morning. Hari’s wife Lakshmi was in very bad shape. But her eyes lit up on seeing Sita.
“Akka” she said in a voice that was barely more than a whisper, “I knew you would come” Forgive me for having taken your place in this house. Believe me, I was not aware of your existence at the time of my marriage. In our times we girls were kept out of the negotiations that precede marriage. I often thought of you but could not bring myself to ever meeting you in person.”
“Hush, Lakshmi do not strain yourself” Sita said. “Please do not blame yourself. You must to forget the past and concentrate on getting well.”
“I will Akka” smiled Lakshmi in spite of her pain. “I do want to spend sometime in your company. I want to see you take your rightful place in this house. Only then will I feel forgiven by the almighty.”
Unfortunately Lakshmi’s desire remained unfulfilled and she passed away that very night. Everyone who came for the last rites including Lakshmi’s parents urged Sita to stay on. Hari could not look at Sita in the face much less request her to stay back. Arun was wary of saying anything to the effect lest his intention be misunderstood. He was full of respect for the woman who could have made life hell for his mother but carried herself with a dignity that was difficult to describe. She seemed close enough and yet maintained a distance. She got involved and yet stayed aloof. It was as if she had drawn a line between right and duty and stuck to her duty but never crossed over to claim her rights.
Finally the day came when Sita’s brother who had come for the ceremony to return.
“Pack your things Sita,”he said “let us return home.”
“Let me remain here for a few more years Anna” Sita said “I’ll return once Arun gets married and a daughter in law takes charge of the household. Lakshmi would never forgive me if I left him alone in his grief. He is already twenty three and has taken charge of his father’s business. We can get him to settle down in a year or two. I don’t need to stay here after that.”
Sita’s tone ruled out any further discussion in the matter. At the risk of sounding like the script writer of a Bollywood commercial film, I have to add that Arun did marry Ramya and Sita spent her remaining years fussing over them like a mother hen. She never ever spoke to Hari who in turn respected her wish and accepted her silence as punishment for his conceited indifference towards her for no fault of hers.
It may appear that I was influenced by your inputs to thus end the story. Not at all. This story is based on real life incidents and I have tried my best to report it as such. My question is ‘Was Sita’s decision to accompany Hari and Arun and to continue to stay there even after Lakshmi’s death a sign or weakness?' How would those of you who subscribe to feministic views react to this story? Please remember that all this took place more than 50 years ago.