This is a true story, though of course I have taken certain liberties with it.
Smita was the youngest of nine siblings. She lost her father when she was not yet two years old.
The onus of bringing up all the brothers and sisters fell on her Bhai Sahib, a young man who had barely sprouted a moustache. He fought life valiantly, studying and changing jobs till he got a reasonably well-paying one. Then he began marrying off his sisters one by one. In a North Indian family, each marriage tells heavily on its finances.
He married late, his wife a patient woman who managed to work things out with his widowed mother and six sisters. The mother herself had to bow to destiny and live off her eldest son. The other two did not deem it their duty to help with family affairs, and went their own ways once they picked up jobs. She was strong of spirit, but kept it on leash for the sake of her sole breadgiver.
Her son took his responsibilities seriously, attending to familial obligations towards his married sisters and trying to do his best for the unmarried ones.
|Smita was simple and unassuming.
She tried to make herself useful at all hours, up at crack of dawn and the last to go to bed. She economized in every way she could. She stitched her own clothes, often walking miles to college when she ran out of money, and stealing a little time each day from work to study.
Smita was a warm and vivacious friend, full of goodness and humane to the core. She grew particularly close to a classmate whose parents had begun treating her as their elder daughter. The father took as much interest in her studies as his own daughter’s. He encouraged her to read, and to accompany her friend on her frequent library visits. With ample books now within reach, Smita became a voracious reader. This improved her language skills, and introduced her to new worlds as well.
Both girls completed their studies. Her friend took up a job. Aspiring for government service, Smita tried to study for competition exams. Having no recourse to reference material was a big stumbling block, but her friend’s father quietly arranged for that as well.
Meanwhile, fulfilling his last fraternal duty, Bhai Sahib found a match for her. It was time to leave her city life behind for an unknown man living in a small, unfamiliar town.
More next week