Radhamadhavpur was a scenic town set amidst hills with a lovely stream meandering through its landscape which was richly endowed with the most exquisite flora and fauna. Beautiful cottages with well-kept lawns and gardens; adults and children attired in colourful garbs merrily traversing down undulating rocky roads towards their own destinations spoke of a contented lot living in empyreal bliss.
Raghu Poddar was an affluent merchant who lived in one of the most magnificent cottages in the town and was looked with reverence as a notable denizen. In his youth, he married a demure and comely young lady who gave birth to two cherubic children in quick succession – a daughter and a son. During the delivery of her second child she died of a fatal wound. Raghu was devastated by her untimely death. He mourned for days refuging to speak to anyone or eat or work. His friends expressed their condolences and advised him not to neglect his children as they were now left motherless with no one but him to look after their wellbeing. They arranged for a governess who now acted as their nanny.
Time heals all pain and Raghu gradually recovered from his traumatized trance. Like before he attended to his duties, came home and enquired about his children. During holidays he played with them and took them out for occasional picnics and joyous trips around the countryside. All was well and his daughter, Megha grew up to be a pretty girl of six and his son, Bajra , a robust boy of five. He admitted them to a local primary school.
Raghu often went out on business tours to adjoining provinces and towns. While on one of his tours to Champakpur he met an elderly merchant who invited him to his house for dinner. Sreedhar Talukdar was a prosperous old man who spent years in business which made him wise and clever enough to amass great wealth and developed in him a peculiar insight in gauging people and opportunities. He truly believed and advocated that money could buy one everything in this world.
A huge marble temple was constructed at front of his palatial house where idols of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi took place of pride. Every morning and evening, the priest offered prayers with a lot of fanfare and pomp and it was made mandatory that all family members and staffs were present.
Sreedhar raised his only daughter with a lot of love and care and pampered her with whatever her heart desired. As she grew, she became very vain, stubborn and ill mannered. She knew she was precious to her parents and they could never afford to hurt her or lose her. Shilpi, her mother couldn’t control her and the attendants were constantly terrorized and tormented by her. Sreemati who was closest to her father, complained against them when he returned home and he in turn rebuked and even handed out punishments through her. Sreemati was a girl who had neither “Sree”(true beauty) nor was she “well- intentioned” as her name suggested.
She grew up to become quite an attractive woman and her lavish upbringing gave her a stately bearing. Her parents were in search of a suitable groom for her for quite some while. They even declared a handsome amount of money as reward to be given to anyone who would provide them with necessary information of a suitable boy. In fact anyone who would marry her would inherit great fortune and with it a ‘princess’. But unfortunately nobody in their province could even think of marrying off their sons to this infamous shrew. So their search ended hopelessly.
When Sreedhar first met Raghu he instantly struck a chord of friendship with him. He found him to be genial, suave and of course wealthy. They sat for hours discussing business and later Sreedhar wholeheartedly invited him for dinner at his house which he couldn’t decline.
When Raghu reached Sreedhar’s house he was ushered in by one of his attendants to his large and well decorated living room. Within a few minutes Sreedhar walked in cheerfully and embraced him. After exchanging pleasantries he stood up to show him around the house. It was truly a remarkable house and Sreedhar prided on being its owner. A huge staircase on the living room led to a running balcony with four gigantic bedrooms. In addition there was a study room which looked like a small library with racks full of books, a gym and a music room. At the back of this palatial building was a huge lawn and a servant’s quarter.
When they returned to the living room they found Shilpa sitting with her daughter “Sreemati” by her side. ” Namaskar” they said with folded hands raised in greetings as Sreedhar introduced them to Raghu. Sreemati looked fetching in a beautiful dress and diamond jewellry. She had been dressed by her mother with a lot of care and it was evident by the way she looked. His attendants brought in trays full of various kind of snacks and drinks.
“My daughter is a good painter.” said her doting father.
“Oh , is that so , that’s very nice to know ” said Raghu smiling.
” Mamoni , please show him some of your painting.” he said looking at her adoringly.
” Do I need to Papa?” asked Sreemati , a bit annoyed by his request.
” No , no, you needn’t show me if you don’t want to .” said Raghu, a bit embarrassed .
” That’s not done . It’s bad manners Mamoni. And you are such a talented girl and this shouldn’t be kept undercover.” he replied.
With reluctance she went to her room to fetch some of her works.
None of them were great works of art and they were mostly very amateurish and immature. But he seemed to be blind to all his daughter’s follies; his huge affection for her made him overestimate and admire anything produced by her.
“Quite impressive, nice,” said Raghu as he flipped through her paintings and sketches.
It was over dinner that Sreedhar finally encroached upon the subject of marriage.
“So tell me something about yourself. Are you married? “, he asked him.
“Yes, I am “, replied Raghu. ” But seven years have already passed since my wife’s demise. I have two lovely children, a daughter and a son. They are the ones who have made my life meaningful and they provide me the impetus to carry on” he added solemnly.
Sreedhar was taken aback and speechless for a few moments and nodded his head gravely. It was as if cold water was poured on his plans. That evening he didn’t further engage in that topic. He needed to first of all discuss it with his wife before carrying out his plans further and if required employ people to get him more information regarding Raghu. Obviously, he liked Raghu and so couldn’t dismiss him totally.
Every month Raghu had to come to Champakpur to carry out certain business transaction. So after dinner, he thanked the Talukdars’ profusely and promised to visit them next month.
In the meanwhile, Sreedhar employed private detectives to inquire and learn everything about him. He found out that he was a responsible, generous, and understanding man; someone who was ideal for his impulsive and cantankerous daughter. The search further revealed that he was righteous and well established too and looked upon with great regard in his hometown. The Talukdars were overjoyed at their findings and prepared to welcome him grandly when he arrived next month on his business trip.
Next month when Raghu arrived at Champakpur he was wholeheartedly welcomed by Sreedhar and his family. This time they resolved to put forward the marriage proposal without further delay. Their daughter was growing older and it was getting difficult to find a suitable boy for her.
“Hello, Raghu , my son . How are you and how is life?” asked Sreedhar.
“Very well, Sir. How do you do?” replied Raghu.
“Good” he said . ” My wife has asked me to invite you today evening to our house for dinner. You had promised us to come over last time when you visited us, remember”, he reminded.
In the evening after spending sometime chatting idly Sreedhar asked Raghu,
“How do you find my daughter, Sreemati? ”
Raghu who was ignorant about their plans thought that it was an innocent query made by a father who was very affectionate about his daughter .Sreemati was looking pretty in a dark red sequined saree. “Sir, you have a beautiful daughter,” he said.
“I am going to ask a favor from you and I hope that you won’t refuse.” he said tentatively. “My family is very fond of you and I personally feel you are a great chap with a lot of integrity and character.” he added.
“Thank you, Sir. I feel honored. It’s your magnanimity” he replied humbly.
“No, I really mean it, my son”, he continued. “I would love to hand over my daughter’s hand in marriage to you.” he said.
Raghu was stunned and taken aback by this sudden proposal. After a brief pause he said,
“Sir, you know I am a widower with two young kids to look after. I have never thought of re-marriage. Your daughter is a lovely young lady and you can easily get her married to an eligible bachelor.”
“Yes, but its tough nowadays to find an eligible groom and we find you suitable in that respect.”
“I can’t give you my word now. I have to discuss with my family and friends.” he said.
After returning home to Radhamadhavpur , Raghu called his friends to discuss about the marriage proposal.
“Raghu, you have a long life ahead of you. You are young and need a companion. The children will also get a mother to look after their emotional needs. We think you should remarry for your own and your children’s well-being”, they advised.
Raghu’s wedding was celebrated with great aplomb, gaiety and fanfare. Nearly the whole town was invited and their house was decorated with lights; colourful stalls were erected from where various cuisines and drinks were served. Lot of fireworks took place and a live band was hired to play music. Everyone joined in the merry making including Megha and Bajra.
A person’s true nature can’t be kept hidden for too long. Within a few days after marriage Sreemati started throwing vicious tantrums. She would go into fits of rage if her tea and food weren’t served on time; if her garments weren’t kept in place all washed, pressed and tidy. All the servants and attendants were literally kept on their toes and even the children’s governess, Mary was visibly petrified by the presence of her new mistress. The environment became tense and vile in the house.The children weren’t even spared. They were constantly reprimanded on the slightest of pretexts and called undisciplined, callous and spoilt. Sreemati was jealous of them especially because they were loved and adored by their father. So long she was used to getting all the attention and love and so didn’t like any contenders. She wished her husband would pour all his love and attention towards her only. Furthermore, she wanted everyone in the house to be at her constant beck and call. Raghu soon realized that Sreemati wasn’t that ideal woman he had thought her to be. He was now badly trapped in a marriage wherefrom he couldn’t escape nor be disloyal towards his children. Moreover, Sreedhar was an affluent and influential man who could spoil his business interests and life if he left his daughter. So he was left with no other option than to tolerate her vicious attitude and temperament. He tried to keep the children out of her range as much as possible but met with little success.
One day when Raghu returned from work in the evening he found out that Mary had been sacked.
“Where is Mary? Why isn’t she found around the house?” asked Raghu.
“I have fired her.” declared Sreemati . “She was just a burden. The children have grown old enough to look after themselves. They can do their own work and there is no need of a governess to attend to them”, she added gravely.
Radhamadhavpur’s Foundation Day was celebrated every year with a lot of pomp. All distinguished citizens along with commoners assembled together at the central park of the town to set the carnival rolling which continued till midnight. Musical concerts, dramas, dance recitals and various other acts were performed by the inhabitants of the place .Spectacular fireworks took place at night to end the festivity. This time Sreemati was also looking forward to attend the carnival. She wanted to look the very best and so hired the services of a renowned dressmaker to stitch her the most fabulous and expensive dress.
Suzie’s Tailor Shop was owned by an old artisan and his wife. They were a childless couple. Over the years because of their great workmanship their shop had become very famous. Its name spread like fire and even distinguished people from other provinces ordered dresses to be made by them. Sreemati knew about them even before her marriage and got quite a few gowns stitched from here. Radhamadhavpur Foundation Day was a very special occasion where different distinguished men and women from other provinces as well as theirs would be invited and present and there she wanted to look outstanding. She placed her order a month before the celebrations and told the old artisan that her dress should be the very best amongst all he made this season.
Megha and Bajra were also happy that the foundation day celebrations were nearby and they looked forward to attending it like every year. Like every year they hoped to wear a new dress to the carnival .They approached their father to seek permission to order dresses for themselves like always. Raghu without a thought said,
“Yes, my children, go and give your measurements at Tailor uncle’s shop and tell him that I said that he must make fine dresses for my kids.”
So happily they went to Suzie’s Tailor Shop to give their measurements for their dresses to wear for the carnival.
After a few days, Sreemati also went to the shop for a trial of her dress. It was a beautiful ghagra choli full of embroidery and sequins. When she put it on she looked beautiful. Mahesh, the owner of the shop told her that she could come and collect it next week and that of her step children’s too. Sreemati was surprised by this information. She never knew that both the children were also getting new dresses to wear to the carnival. She felt extremely annoyed and offended that she wasn’t consulted. How dare they order dresses from the same shop she thought. She went home called her attendants and ordered them to bring both Megha and Bajra before her.
“So how’s your studies going?” she asked.
“Good , ma’am”, both Megha and Bajra answered in unison.
“So, you are both looking forward to attending the carnival, I suppose?”, she asked.
“Oh yes, ma’am, said Bajra excited.
“And tell me children who gave you the permission to order new dresses without my consent.” she said agitatedly.
“Papa did” replied Megha frightened in a tremulous voice.
“Didn’t I tell you before that nothing can be done here without my approval.” she said sternly.
“But every year we get new dresses ” said Bajra defensively.
“I don’t like children talking back to elders. You won’t attend the Foundation Day celebrations this year and that is my order”, she screamed
“Please don’t do that. We are sorry.” cried Megha.
But Sreemati was adamant as ever. She turned her back towards them and said, “Stop all this nonsense and go back to your rooms and study.”
That day both of them didn’t have lunch. They wept and waited for their father to arrive from work. Their plight didn’t move Sreemati. Undeterred she went about her own way. When Raghu returned home both the children ran to him complaining .He was very annoyed with Sreemati’s behavior but was incapable of taking a severe stand against her.
“Don’t worry, my dear children , I will fetch those dresses for you to attend the carnival secretly.” consoled Raghu.
The children were relieved and happy again.
On the foundation day of Raghumadhavpur Sreemati dressed up in all her finery. She looked stunning in her new ‘ghara’ and ‘choli’ and the ornaments she wore heightened her beauty. The children waited for their step mother to leave. As soon as she left an attendant came and took them to Suzie’s tailor shop, where Mahesh and his wife Rina were waiting for them.
“Come my children, I have your dresses ready. Your father has told Rina and I to take you both to the carnival with us .I have sewed your dresses with a lot of care and I am sure you two would look wonderful in them.” said Mahesh.
All dressed up they proceeded towards the carnival; both of them looking fabulous in their attires. At the carnival Sreemati caught the attention of all as she proudly moved around the place talking to all the dignitaries that assembled and greeted her.
“You are looking stunning” said the Councilor of Haridevpur’s wife. “Where did you get your dress from?” she asked.
Sreemati smiled and gave her the information.
“I saw your husband but haven’t your children come?” asked the councilor’s wife.
“No, they aren’t well and had to be left home,” Sreemati replied dismissively.
Like their step mother, both the children were also creating a stir. Although the carnival was huge and crowded it was impossible to remain hidden for long. Known faces would come and greet you and news spread fast by mouth.
Sabina, the doctor’s wife of Radhamadhavpur told Sreemati that she had met both their children, half an hour ago and they looked well and wonderful. Sreemati was taken aback by the news .She was aggrieved and infuriated; she had to teach them a lesson for not obeying her and embarrassing her amidst all. Her good mood was spoilt.
When she returned home she called for the children who arrived home an hour before.
“So children, what have you been doing this evening? ” she asked.
“We were in our rooms reading books”, said Megha nervously.
“I see you have learnt to lie.” shouted Sreemati. “You were at the carnival. Everybody has seen you. How dare you disobey my orders and go there without my knowledge and permission.” she said seething with anger.
“But Papa gave us the permission.” said Bajra defiantly.
“Shut up “, roared Sreemati .” I am the mistress of the house and you are to obey my commands only.”
The children both frightened started to weep.
“You will stay locked in your rooms for three days and if I see you outside I will give you more severe punishments”, she roared.
On the third day Bajra decided to escape from this miserable existence at home. So when the maid came serving food at his room he pleaded her to allow her once inside his sister’s room. The maid who had been working at their place for long felt pity.
“Okay, but you must return soon. I will escort you there” ,she said.
When he reached Megha’s room he whispered her plan to her sister and both fled out of the room hand in hand while the maid was laying the table of them.
They ran as fast as they could till they finally reached Suzie’s Tailor shop. Both Mahesh and Rina were astounded to see them. They narrated their sordid tale and begged them to give them shelter.
They were a couple who had lost their only daughter a few days after her birth. In fond remembrance of her they had named their shop “Suzie’s Tailor Shop”. Their business went well; they were well off and were more than pleased to keep them as they would fill the void left by Suzie. But it was impossible and illegal to retain them without their guardian’s approval. They rang up Raghu and told him all about what had happened.
Raghu was surprised and distressed at the news. He at once left for the tailor shop. The children were happy to see their father but refused to go back home. Raghu understood their condition but was hapless. He told them that he would get them both admitted to a boarding school. At this juncture, Mahesh said pleadingly, “If you don’t mind, Sir, we would love to keep them with us. You know we are childless and their presence would fill our void. By the grace of God, we are considerably well off and it wouldn’t be a burden to shelter, feed and look after them. Please allow us this privilege.
“But this isn’t right…….” said Raghu wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.
“Nothing is wrong, Sir”, he replied.
The children were also delighted by the proposal and continually coaxed their father to agree.
Finally Raghu relented.
“Okay, but you have to accept an allowance from me every month for their upbringing”, he declared.
Finally Raghu relented.
Megha and Bajra presence in the lives of Mahesh and his wife seemed to come as a blessing in disguise. His business grew steadily after the carnival. He received huge orders from not only his own town but from other localities and for that he hired more artisans for his flourishing business. He expanded his factory so that he could produce more garments and build his own brand name.
Raghu was heartbroken after his children left home. He couldn’t concentrate on his work and his business declined with his health. In the meantime, Sreemati had discharged quite a few of his old servants and hired a couple of new ones. Home wasn’t the same. He was trapped and couldn’t do anything to mend his wife’s ways .Everybody came to know about Sreemati’s vicious temperament and most of the servants and workers were unwilling to work under her. Gradually Raghu’s business hit its lowest ebb and he became a very depressed man. He told his wife that he won’t be able to fund her lavish lifestyle like before as he was on the verge of bankruptcy. But Sreemati wasn’t willing to accept his husband’s misfortune. Aggrieved she left home for her father’s house.
Mahesh came to know of Sreemati’s departure and Raghu’s bad times. He offered to help him with loans to come out from his present state.
“I will accept your help willingly but under a condition, my brother”, said Raghu.
“What is your condition?” asked Mahesh.
“I want my children back at home.” he said.
He and his wife had grown very close to the children and considered them as their own. And Raghu understood his predicament.
“My brother, you are most welcome to visit the children anytime and the children would be allowed to visit you anytime. I will remain forever grateful to you for taking care of them. I need them beside me as a father now”, he stated.
Mahesh remained silent for a few seconds and then thought that the children had the right to be with their father. So, he finally agreed.
With the children at home, Raghu business gradually picked up and happy times came calling once again.
It’s hard to mend one’s actual nature. Sreemati went about in her old cranky and obstinate ways at her father’s home too. Both Sreedhar and Shilpi were growing old and they weren’t able to tolerate her tantrums like before. News had also come to Sreedhar that Raghu’s business was regaining. One day in a furious fit he told his daughter to leave home as he was unable to afford for her extravagant ways. Sreemati was shocked by his utterances as he never rebuked her before. She cried and thought about it the whole day and in the very next day she decided to leave for Radhamadhavpur . Everyone was surprised to see her and especially Raghu. He was in fact a bit annoyed by her presence but what took place both surprised him and all those around. She touched her husband’s feet and with folded hands begged to be forgiven.
“I want to be an ideal mother to my children. Please forgive me for all I have done before and give me a chance to be one.” she said repentantly.