Not knowing the difference between week days and week ends the alarm clock kept ringing continuously as set at 5 am. Sreeja at first felt lazy to get up as it was a Saturday and her day off from duty. But she had to send her children for tuition. These days tuition class coaching was more captivate than regular class and students more indispensable for that. So breakfast was ready at 8 am. While nibbling slowly at it the elder daughter who was in her college age expressed her distaste in a different method. "Mum, why can't you prepare Channa curry as Sudharma aunty does." The interrogation came as though from a person who has procured doctorate in Taste Therapy. Sreeja kept silent as her mind was drifting to her 14 year old daughter Suma who was bed ridden with high fever. Sreeja said, "Common Sindhu, hurry up, you are going to be late, I have to take Suma to the hospital." Immediately Sindhu replied, "Had Sudharma aunty been here she would have taken Suma to the hospital." While serving hot porridge in bed to Suma, there rose another enquiry. "Mum wont Sudharma aunty come back". Sreeja replied, "No, I don't think so." "Why?" next question was asked by Sreeja to her daughter. Suma cleared her mouth after gulping the porridge and said in a feeble voice. "Sudharma aunty makes good porridge." Oh goodness! Sreeja wondered. How many times she has to hear the word Sudharma in a day. After returning from the hospital and tending the medicine dosage, tired Sreeja finished off some fast cooking of lunch and stretched herself in the grandfather's chair in the Balcony.
The roof-top garden mostly with coloured leafy shrubs too brought Sudharma's memory. As some of the shrubs were contributions of Sudharma. Yes! Sudharma was unforgettable. She was so warm with her children. Sreeja's glance once again fell upon her roof- garden. Of the two concrete moulded Crane one had its neck bandaged with a tape. It happened when Sudharma caught hold of the neck when she was about to slip and fall from the balcony while cleaning.When did Sudharma capture a prime spot in the hearts of Sreeja and her Daughters? How could she waft such influence in their lives? A delightful squeal from the neighbourhood home, interrupted Sreeja's thought for a minute, the child next door was so happy to see the pretty dress gifted in advance for Onam by her aunty. Festival Onam was fast approaching. Sreeja recollected, it was during last Onam season Sudharma vanished from her life. Though Sudharma has spent only 2 Onam season with her it seemed like two decades. Sudharma's two daughters had joined with hers to lay the traditional floral carpet. Sreeja could still remember the day Sudharma stepped into her home for the first time; she heaved a deep sign and positioned herself in a more comfortable way in the Grandfather's chair. Being transferred to capital city and stationed there, the week end trips made by Sreeja to her home way quite tedious. She was on the look out for a maid-servant. It was at that time Sudharma stepped into her home. A short women in her forty's with a child-like face and soft voice. There were several marks of injury and surgery around her neck, face and arms. Seeing my quizzical scrutiny she said, "I can do all house hold work." As the urgency was immense I nodded and asked her to come the next day.She was residing in a small thatched hut behind Sreeja's flat. Little daughter Suma overheard the granting of permission to join, she came with a lengthy wail of compliant, "Amma don't let that Aunty work here as our maid, her daughter Soumya is my classmate". It was really embarrassing. She checked this with Sudharma. She pleaded, "Please don't take that seriously. I want to groom my children in a better way, as I am staying just behind this flat, I can take care of them also and my children don't have their father. So Sreeja explained to Suma, "Look don't consider her as our maid, why not look upon her as your Aunt.
By hiring her we are helping your friend Soumya ok". From that day onwards Maid Sudharma turned out to be Aunt Sudharma.Initially Sreeja was hesitant to leave the whole house open to that lady but slowly her trust increased as not a pin was stolen. The house was kept spick and spotlessly clean. Kids fed well with rare delicious dishes cooked by her. Good at kitchen economics too and not a spend thrift. She listened to every tale of the office. Slowly she entered the hearts of everybody in that house. It was Saturday morning while seated sipping cold lemon with Sudharma, Sreeja viewed her injury marks and asked casually, "Why Sudharma the doctors has woven a necklace of stitches around your neck." "Oh! That was a sort of cancer and it was removed" "What about the marks in your arm" "My bones are weak, hence I get fractured often, now a metal rod is inserted within. I have palpitation problem too." No sooner had she revealed this than the next week she fell down and broke her leg. It was a slight fall but the fracture great. For 6-8 weeks she was in plaster. But still Sreeja didn't look out for a new maid instead a substitute was appointed who was supervised by Sudharma. There were several occasions when Sudharma and her daughter got hospitalized and caused inconvenience for Sreeja but still Sudharma was not eliminated.Slowly Sudharma started to re-open the various chapter of her life. She was abandoned by her husband when her younger daughter was just 1 year old. She almost starved trying to feed her fledglings. Seeing her pathetic condition kind hearted Sukumaran came forward and take care of her family for 12 years. But then he too vanished, may be due to constant pressure from his parents who were against that relationship. Sudharma kept waiting for her dear Sukumaran's return and as expected he came to her life once again. Sudharma would often narrate proudly "It was Sukumaran who supported me when I was at the verge of ending my life; my husband has given me so much suffering. Being a drug addict, would often never return home and spent days together at some doorsteps. Since she was born poor her mother was not capable to pay for a suitable groom. Her politician father left with another political partner when Sudharma was quite small. So Sudharma started to live happily in the small hut once again with Sukumaran but it was short-lived.
The twist of event began initially when her mother came to stay with her in that small hut as she couldn't cope with her younger daughter. Really strange was when her father who left home decades back retuned with a teenage son presented as per partnership deed of the political partner. Kind hearted Sudharma welcomed to her hut, her illegimate brother too. Unpleasant noise could be heard from the hut especially from Sudharma's dear Sukumaran and shortage of money too caused disruption. But again fortune struck Sudharma; she got a placement as a part-time sweeper in a Government hospital. Sreeja was very happy hearing the news, but then suddenly she paused, "Who will take care of my children." Reading her mind Sudharma immediately added "Don't worry; I will finish all the work before I leave everyday." The date of joining arrived and on the eve of that day something unusual happened. It was getting dark and Sudharma bid goodbye to Sreeja and left, within minutes a thrashing sound was heard followed by a painful cry. Curious Sreeja knowing that it came from the front gate, moved slowly to find out. She saw Sudharma weeping bitterly into her palms as she was covering her face. And Sukumaran was standing beside shivering with rage. Sreeja asked loud, "What's happening here" between her wails Sudharma replied "he is not letting me take up that job tomorrow" "But why?" Sreeja retortedimmediately.Sukumaran left without answering and he never returned henceforth. The total loss was for Sudharma, she didn't take up the job fearing he might harass her further and lost Sukumaran too. Just as the saying goes "Strange are the ways of nature" Sudharma's husband returned with a Bundle of repentance but Sudharma stood stern. She didn't want another name-sake family life which was onus. She had already learnt that this dependency was more like a liability than an asset. Problems never left Sudharma, her parents had some disagreement with the land lady who asked her to vacate. She shifted off to a far off place but still managed to come by bus to assist Sreeja. But the arrogant land lady insisted that Sudharma being an expatriate need not survive by serving the people of that place. Sreeja finally had to depend upon the local police for aid to protect Sudharma and things became peaceful. But one fine day Sudharma left without informing anything.
Sreeja went in search of her everywhere but the search was in vain. Sreeja waited patiently till that day the wait was futile. But she never gave up her hopes. "Why did Sudharma leave? Where did she go?" it was after several months that Sreeja came to know certain things from the Passer-bys. Sudharma had left that town because her two daughters had got into some teenage trouble which made Sudharma difficult to face the public. Another person informed that Sudharma had gone abroad to work as a maid. Sreeja prayed "Sudharma wherever you are, whatever you do, I strongly wish that you should prosper and come up in life. Never let yourself to be withdrawn into a shell. You with your goodness do make many happy indeed. So dear Sudharma I always express my sincere wishes and good luck foreve!Drawing back the curtain to her thoughts, Sreeja moved towards Suma's room to serve the second dosage of medicine.
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