The room was dark and everybody was asleep. I sat upright on my bed and took out the money from my pillow cover. I counted it as quietly and as quickly as I could. Five hundred rupees was all I managed to save. With a smile, I hid the money back and laid on the bed. My hand went to my neck, tracing the tiny pendant I had been wearing. I did this when I was either excited, confused or nervous. For now, I was really excited. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and took a dive into the land of dreams.
Mornings in the orphanages are marked by shouts and quarrels over the chores. The fuss about work, food, toys…everything. I woke up, made my bed and went to get dressed and do my part of the chores. I was still the youngest in this disoriented family. Seven abandoned orphans, a caretaker, and the owner. We didn’t meet Mr. Khurana, the owner, often. We were placed under the care of Miss Josie D’Silva. We called her Josie. She was a pretty woman in her late 20s. Josie was very fond of children and books. Her obsession with Indian literature was evident. All the children in the orphanage were named after some or the other famous protagonist. Kannagi, Swami, Charulata, Arjun, Supandi, Agastya. She named me Sita. I was just two weeks when Josie found me asleep in a basket on the gates of Prarambh, the orphanage. She says my clothes looked like someone from the upper class. I was wearing a gold pendant, which probably my mother gave me. And since then, I have been here. Only ten years, I never really have enough work. We don’t go to school but Josie ensured that everyone learns to read and write in Hindi and English. Like Josie, I read a lot.
Agastya is the eldest. He is tall and a good negotiator. He doesn’t speak much but his eyes, everybody surrenders to them. Josie says Agastya loves me the most. I don’t know the reason, but Josie doesn’t lie. Supandi is a year younger to Agastya. Arjun, Charulata, Swami and Kannagi are nearly the same age.
Last week, Mr. Khurana had visited the orphanage, he invited everyone for his daughter’s wedding. Mr. Khurana was a middle aged man, strict and disciplined. He wore huge spectacles and hardly smiled. His daughter, Anuradha, on the other hand was gentle and kind. She visited the orphanage once a year, during Diwali and would always bring us gifts. The most adorned gifts were always for me.
We were all excited for the wedding. Orphans are hardly invited to weddings. Josie got each one of us a new dress for the wedding. The wedding was dearly awaited by everyone.
In the evening, I asked Agastya to take me to the market. I told him I wanted to buy something for the wedding. After insisting a lot, he agreed. We went from shop to shop, looking at the dresses, jewellery, make ups…. Nothing quite what I had been looking for. Agastya’s face showed he didn’t want to wander any more. I asked him to visit just a few more shops before we returned. The next shop was all about women clothing again. Like all other shops on the street, it was brightly lit. The mannequins were elegantly dressed. We entered the shop. I was scanning the place when my eyes caught a beauty. Agastya understood what I wanted. He asked the seller to show the red and yellow saree that was draped on a mannequin. The ethenic piece portrayed kindness, subtleness and love, all at once. The only problem was, it was for seven hundred after discount and I had only five hundred. Anyways, Agastya got it. He convinced the shopkeeper to give an extra discount. Nobody could actually say a NO to Agastya.
Next day, we all dressed up in the most beautiful ways. Josie paid special attention to each one of us. A car was to drive us to the venue. We all seated ourselves gracefully and headed to the function. I was wearing a pretty yellow frock that was bordered with red and orange lace. I carried the saree in bag, decently. I had bought it for Anuradha.
The wedding garden was huge. It was decorated in the most pleasing ways. Flowers, lights, curtains, all perfectly placed. I was very excited to meet the bride and show her what I had got. I started looking for her. There were hardly any guests, the function hadn’t begun yet. I asked the waiter for the bride and he directed me to Anuradha’s room. The door was slightly ajar. I could see Anuradha sitting in front of the mirror and getting ready. She looked beautiful. I wondered how my mother looked, I had never seen her. I knocked gently on the door. Josie said it was polite to knock before entering. Anuradha turned around. Her face lightened up. She stretched her arms and I ran to hug her. Anuradha always had carried a slightly different fragrance. It always felt familiar. She made me sit on her lap and asked me if I was hungry. I said I was very excited to show what I got her. She smiled, kissed my cheek and asked me, “What did Sita get me?” I gently forwarded the bag I was carrying. She took it and peeked inside. She took out the saree and moved her hand over it in praise. Tears rolled down her eyes. She hugged me harder and thanked me for the gift. I was happy. Anuradha always brightened my face with her gifts, today, I chanted the magic spell! I kissed her and jumped down. I hadn’t informed anyone before coming to Anuradha. Everyone must be worried. I saw Anuradha still adoring my choice, I turned to walk back. While leaving the room, I accidently bumped into a woman who happened to just enter the room. I apologised and left the room. I stopped at the door and turned around to take a brief look at Anuradha. Suddenly, I heard another woman talk. She was loud and agitated. She was yelling at Anuradha, “Why did you call those orphans? Are you mad? What if somebody came to know? It is your wedding, don’t destroy everything Anuradha….”
Anuradha was sobbing. She protested in a very low voice, “She is my daughter, I have given her birth. You sent her to the orphanage when she was just two weeks. She is suffering for no fault.”
At this, the other woman shouted, “Stop this nonsense. I don’t want any drama today. You have already created enough mess. Now stop all this.”
Anuradha was still holding the saree. Her tears falling continuously. I saw her hand going to the neck, tracing the pendant she had been wearing. She took a deep breath and said, “You wanted me to get married, here I am. But she has every right to be a part of this. I want Sita to be a part of my wedding.”
I was shocked. I stood frozen at my place. A shiver ran down my spine. The whole world around me seemed spinning. I didn’t know what to do next. I couldn’t speak, words wouldn’t come out. My heartbeat took pace, breathing increased. Suddenly, a tear fell down my eyes. After a few minutes, I left, silently.
I didn’t speak about this to anyone. After about an hour, the wedding ceremony began. I sat silently near Josie. As the bride arrived, I lifted my head to look at her. My hand went to my neck, tracing the tiny pendant I had been wearing. She walked to the mandap. In the crowd, her eyes caught mine. Some words, our eyes exchanged. My daughterly instinct tells me she knows the secret was out to me. I saw her eyes were filled with guilt. She took a step towards me but the lady from the room caught her hand. The wedding was completed successfully. Everybody ate dinner, we sat in the car, and returned to PRARAMBH, my home.