But That Day She, And She Only, Had Been My Saviour

I had tried everything possible but nothing seemed to please her. I decided to let it go and keep my pride intact. I would go about my duties keeping out of her way. I guess the feeling was mutual.

I had tried everything possible but nothing seemed to please her. I decided to let it go and keep my pride intact. I would go about my duties keeping out of her way. I guess the feeling was mutual.

The fifth winner of our December 2019 Muse of the Month contest is Surbhi Rastogi.

Palomi had been uncharacteristically disdainful towards me since the day I walked into my marital house.

Being my elder sister-in-law, I was nothing but respectful towards her. But her behaviour could hardly be called civil. In fact, most of the times it was bordering on mildly aggressive. She never seemed to like anything about me – the way I cooked, the way I looked – somehow everything had a flaw. I tried bending over backwards to please her – being the new bahu and all. The siblings were close and I saw that cribbing to my newly anointed husband would hardly do me any good. My parents had taught me to ‘adjust’ anyways. So I did.

Palomi would leave for teaching at the local college by mid-morning. Being in her mid-thirties, why she was not married already was a puzzle to me. ‘She never seems to like anyone’ my mother-in-law would say shaking her head. ‘Let my smart, independent daughter be!’ said the proud father-in-law. Brother would not leave any opportunity of pampering the Queen-Bee. Somehow, all of this left a sense of loneliness in my heart. I could not tell anyone how I felt.

We weren’t that apart in age. Why was she always so mean to me? I would wake up early every morning to make sure everyone had their morning bed- tea (did I mention the part about bending over backwards? I was practically cartwheeling now!), breakfast was to everyone’s gluten- free, diary-free, sugar-restricted diet choices, and lunch boxes packed would put Michelin-starred restaurant chefs to shame. I made extra effort to find out her favourite authors and gifted her minted edition of those books on her birthday. I also planned a special surprise party around the day inviting her closest colleagues and friends. Super excited that finally the ice wall which made us strangers within the same house would smash today.

But when Palomi walked in the door that evening, her reaction was shocking!

‘Why did you do all this? Why do you have to be Miss Goody-two-shoes all the time, Raji? Who asked you to interfere in my life?’ she hissed pulling me aside into the kitchen.

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‘Palomi! She was just trying to make a nice gesture!’ said mother walking in on us. Storming out of the kitchen, Palomi gave me the dirtiest look possible.

I could not take it anymore. I had tried everything possible but nothing seemed to please her. I decided to let it go and keep my pride intact. I would go about my duties keeping out of her way. I guess the feeling was mutual. Days would pass without us acknowledging each other’s presence in the house. Anuj tried bridging the gap between us but he too soon gave up.

It was few months after the wedding that Anuj’s paternal grandfather came to visit us. Still being the new bride eager to please, I was at Dadaji’s beck and call. There was something about his lingering hand on the shoulder the very first day when he gave me ‘aashirwad’ which felt a little uncomfortable but I couldn’t quite place it. He was the eldest in the family after all. Ma and Baba revered him and Anuj was clearly the apple of his eye. I cooked his special meals and made sure his medicines were all given in time.

As the sun cast its orange hues in the blue skies late one evening, he called me into his room. He said he knew how to read the future by looking at palms. Excited at the prospect of discovering what my future held for me, I sat like a zealous child in front of him.

‘Hmmm… you hold promise. Anuj has chosen well’ he said. ‘There is just one thing, you must never displease the elders in the house. It could be a very bad omen’ he said holding my gaze a bit too long. At this statement, Palomi just walked into the room and he retracted his hand. I could not quite fathom the unsaid communication between them and was left befuddled. ‘Will you keep sitting here all day or get Dadaji his meal too? You know he is a diabetic!’ she said scathingly.

Anuj had to travel for work over the next few days. I was always a bit forlorn when he was away. I went about my tasks during the day and was just about to retire when Dadaji called me in. ‘My legs are very tired. Could you press them for a bit?’

A little taken aback at the request, I hesitated. I had never pressed legs of anyone before. It was forbidden in our family as girls were considered to be Goddess Laxmi. But there seemed no harm in it and I found it rude to protest. He was sitting in his rocking armchair and I sat down at his feet.

‘Apply a little force, young lady? Have you no strength?’ he said looking down on me. Honestly, I did not. It was the end of the day and everyone had already retired to bed and I was craving to go back to my bedroom to give a goodnight call to my husband.

‘A little higher, Bahurani.’ Did I hear a husk in his voice? I must be mistaken, he must be tired after the day. ‘A little harder girl.’ This time there was a strange meanness in his voice and I was visibly shaken. ‘Dadaji, I just remembered, Anuj had asked me to call. I must go.’

‘Where do you think you are going? Did I not tell you never to displease elders in the house’ he said holding on to my shoulder with a vice-like grip.

Tears stung my eyes as I tried to wriggle free from his hold. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Palomi appeared. ‘Raji, why don’t you go to your bedroom? It seems late. I am sure Dadaji should be resting too. Shouldn’t you, Dadaji?’ she said, anger laced in her undertone.

I quietly slipped out of the bedroom, grateful that she had appeared just in time.

I am not sure what happened later that night but Dadaji needed to leave abruptly early next morning for some urgent task. Ma seemed confused but Baba avoided my gaze all morning. I was sure Palomi had told them and I wanted to thank her profusely.

As I approached her on the breakfast table, I saw the same cold demeanour had returned. I retracted back into the kitchen, tears stinging my eyes, feeling bone-tired and lonelier than ever. The happenings of the past few days were too much to handle. Just then, Palomi walked into the kitchen and cleared her throat when she saw that I was avoiding her gaze. Meeting her eyes, I saw empathy. She gave me a quiet knowing look and whispered just before leaving for college that day ‘You must have wondered why I never wanted to get married. Why I don’t like celebrating my birthday? Why I seem angry at the whole world? It was my 14th birthday when Dadaji had called me to his room to press his legs.’ The look in her eyes was enough to tell the rest of the story.

The next morning, we went back to being the sisters who were strangers.

But that day she, and she only, had been my saviour.

Editor’s note: In 2019 our beloved writing contest, Muse of the Month got bigger and better (find out how here) and also takes the cue from the words of women who inspire with their poetry.

The writing cue for December 2019 is this quote from the poem The Princess saves Herself in This One by poet Amanda Lovelace, whose book The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One was selected for the Goodreads Choice Award 2018 for Best Poetry in 2018.
“it is strange
how sisters
be saviors
or strangers
& sometimes
a bit of both.”

Surbhi Rastogi wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: shutterstock

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