One Rupee Coin
One Rupee Coin19 mins 23.9K 19 mins 23.9K
Sita was a free-flying soul. Although, in her short life of 13 years, she had seen it all and faced the hardships of life. Coming from an extremely poor background, Sita’s father died when she was only 6 months old. She had no memories of any male figure in her house. Her mother had a tough time bringing her up with the limited source of income. Nanaki started working as a house help after her husband’s demise. She never thought when she got married that within a span of one year, she would land up cleaning dishes in people’s houses. Nanaki, like every other newly-wed couple, had many dreams; a dream of her own house, children, her own land where she would work day and night to help her husband. Little did she know that her husband would lose his life over a piece of land.
Nanaki worked hard to make ends meet. She often used to leave Sita sleeping in her cradle unsupervised and go to work in fields. Nanaki was an extremely hard-working woman. The time she saved from working in houses, she started a small stall of homemade sweets in the main market area. Every evening while returning from the day’s long backbreaking work, she would buy the stuff needed for the sweet meats and then prepare them and set out with baby Sita in her arms only to return to empty streets with everyone fast asleep.
The mother-daughter lived in a small village in Bihar. Baby Sita would accompany her mother to the houses, to the market and almost everywhere, she went. Sita grew up witnessing her mother struggling to get a livelihood and she supported her mother in her small ways. From a very early age, she learnt the intricate nuances of making sweet- meats and household works. She was very independent since an early age. With Nanaki having almost no time for her daughter, Sita managed her day-to-day chores of dressing up, tying her hair, cooking for herself and her mother too.
Once Sita attained the age of ten, she started helping her mother in the houses she worked in. Sita would do the mopping while her mother swept the floor, she would do the rinsing when Nanaki cleaned the clothes, and Sita would arrange the dishes when her mother washed them. That was how they covered more places with both working relentlessly.
By making completely with Sita taking care of the other front. The earnings were decent now and Sita gave every rupee she earned to her mother, which Nanaki would deposit in a bank every four months taking out the expense of the amount.
Among the houses that Sita worked for, her favourite house was that of Panditji. Panditji was a renowned priest of the village: a decent man in his early 70s, Panditji lived with his wife, elder son, daughter-in-law and their two sons. The reason behind that house being Sita’s favourite was Karuna — Panditji’s younger son’s daughter. Panditji had two sons, while the elder one and his family lived with him: the younger one visited them during vacations and pujas. Karuna and Sita, being of the same age were very fond of each other. Karuna always took Sita as her friend. Karuna’s mother Savitri; Panditji’s younger daughter-in-law, was the most educated lady in the house, rather in the whole village. The village women admired her for her intellect and the fact that she was very down to earth despite her qualifications.
The puja time was around the corner and Sita was eagerly looking forward to seeing Karuna again. Karuna always brought gifts for Sita, and later returned by tasty sweetmeats made by Sita’s mother. The girls met each other in almost all Durga-puja once a year and hence knew each other very well.
On a Monday morning, Karuna arrived in a rickshaw with her parents. Sita rushed to the gate in excitement to lend a helping hand in carrying the bags. The girls exchanged a warm smile on seeing each other after almost 8 months. ‘Dadimaaaaa’, Karuna hugged her grandmother giving a peck on her cheeks. And after greeting everyone in the house, they all went inside.
Karuna had arrived almost a week before the puja. The whole house got busy in puja preparations.
Durga puja was one of the most celebrated festivals of the village. The festivity was apparent in the whole village. Puja Pandals, idols of goddess Durga with her face covered could be seen everywhere.
The evenings especially would make the festivity apparent with streets lit up with colourful lights and religious songs playing on loudspeakers in puja-pandals. The mixed voices of the songs playing in different pandals made it look more like a special occasion. On the streets and pandals, one could see happy faces, praying faces, ecstatic faces. Durga puja went for a span of nine days. While the first few days saw the regular prayer customs — the last few days were very important. It was during the last few days when millions of years ago, Durga Maa, the goddess of ‘shakti’ killed ‘mahisasur’, a demon whose notorious activities troubled the gods so much that they created a special power ‘maa Durga’ to handle this notorious demon leader. They believe that this asur was once, after a long battle, killed. And, the Gods celebrated this victory by spraying flowers on maa Durga from the sky. Therefore, this festival held special significance in depicting the victory of righteous over evil, the victory of good over bad.
Apart from the puja pandals that had laid all over the village at different spots, many open grounds saw fairs being organised on them too. For Sita, this used to be the best time of the year; the happiness of meeting Karuna combined with the freedom of attending fairs made her forget all her pains and she felt like being in the best phase of her life every year this time around. Especially during this time, Sita held no grudge against the Almighty for giving her a tough life for no fault of hers.
Starting from the first puja, Karuna accompanied her grandmother to the nearest Durga temple twice a day in the morning and in the evening. While Sita could not accompany them for the morning prayers due to the household chores, she made sure to finish her work by evening so that she could join them for the prayer. The girls used to giggle and run around the temple premises while Karuna’s dadima would listen to the ‘Saptsati’ reading by temple-pandit intermittently rolling her eyes on them.
Every year on the ninth day of Durga puja, Punditji was invited to the nearby village for conducting the puja in their most sacred Durga mandir. While every year Punditji went alone for the event, this year the family decided to go along. It was going to be a day’s stay in the temple Dharamsala for the family. Sita was to accompany them for the trip. A day before the village visit, Sita like every year had taken half day from Punditji’s house to be able to go to the fair with her friends.
It was the prior afternoon when Karuna’s mother was busy packing bags with Sita assisting her in the job. Sita was hurrying up as she did not want to be late for the fair that evening. While Karuna’s mother and Sita kept the bags ready, Karuna was watching her favourite show on TV in the same room. Sita was getting the things from the next room with her eyes fixed on TV. As Sita picked Karuna’s father’s trousers in her hand, a jingling sound of coins in the pocket caught Karuna’s attention for a while which she ignored afterwards. Sita was about to hand over the trouser to Savitri, when she tumbled over the stool kept there and fell, strewing the coins all over the floor.
“Oh!” Sita sighed, “I will collect them in no time bhabhi,“ she sounded apologetic when she looked at Savitri. The clinking of coins sought Karuna’s attention too. While Karuna hastily collected the coins from the floor, there was a knock at the door. “I will check”, Savitri announced and rushed downstairs to open the door. Karuna got up from her place to help Sita and they put back all the coins in the pocket again.
After Sita got back to arranging the bag, Karuna settled in her seat again to resume her show. Sita joined Karuna in a while after finishing her work .She sat on the floor beside Karuna. Both the girls were enjoying the show when Karuna looked a little restless on noticing something. She prepared herself for a while before speaking, “What is there in your hand Sita?” She asked, with her eyes fixed on Sita’s clenched fist. Sita looked up at Karuna as if trying to make sense of the question thrown at her. She fumbled and replied, “No... nothing, Why didi?”
Karuna asked again, “Can you open your fist?”
By this time the fact had dawned upon Sita, She answered with a firm face, “It is not what you think didi.”
“Then show me what is it? Why is it so unsettling for you?” Karuna got up and grabbed Sita’s clenched fist.
“Didi, leave my hand, it is not what you think, I am leaving now.” Sita got up too and advanced towards the door.
“Wait”, Karuna, commanded, “I am not finished yet. You have to show me your hand before you leave.”
“Didi, what do you mean? I am not showing you my hand, I don’t need to.” Sita persisted.
Karuna could not take a no for an answer and get furious. She violently tried opening Sita’s fist. After quite a bit of struggle from both sides, Karuna succeeded and there Sita stood with her open palm. Lying there was a one rupee coin shining brightly under a ray of red light coming from where the door parted.
One rupee held a valuable importance then.
“Sitaaaa?” Karuna yelled. ” You stole this from my baba’s trouser, isn’t it?”
“Nooooooooo…no… no, I did not, it’s mine” Sita claimed, trying to hide her fury aroused from a master’s grave accusation.
“How dare you? I am going to tell Maa about this. And we blindly trusted you with everything” Karuna’s showed her worst side.
“Didi please, let me go…I am getting late. My friends must be waiting at the fair. This is my money.” Sita sounded helpless.
“Oooo now I see, the fair, the rides, the yummy food stalls; you would need money for all that, right? And your friends? What about them? Where are they stealing money from haan? Sita you have disappointed me and how? Only if you had asked for it, maa would give you two rupees. And was it all planned to drop the trouser and look apologetic?” Karuna continued in a breath without stopping.
Tears welled up in Sita’s eyes and she could not take it anymore. She ran down the stairs almost pushing Savitri who was climbing up. “Sita? What’s wrong?” Savitri sensed something amiss. “Karuna, Karunaaaa..........” She screamed, “Will someone tell me what’s up with these girls?” She muttered to herself. “Sita stop!” She ordered.
On hearing her master’s command, Sita halted where she was.
“But why are you crying? Did Karuna say anything to you?” Savitri sounded concerned.
“Maa, she stole a coin from baba’s pocket and she refuses to accept it.” Karuna came down sounding her harshest best.
“Karuna...” Savitri rolled her eyes at her.. “ Beta, think before you accuse someone, she is like a family member. Why would she do that?” Savitri was angry. “I have known Sita and her mother ever since I was a newly-wed in the house. We have trusted them with everything. And after all............”
“Trust is what she has broken today maa and for what? For one rupee coin?” Karuna interrupted her mother.
“Karuna, Stop! Not a word more from your mouth.” Savitri was furious.
“Sita cannot steal money in the first place and assume for instance even if she picked one coin from the floor............”
“No bhabhi”, Sita interrupted her mistress. “This is my money; I have not stolen it from anywhere...” Sita’s voice trailed off as she dashed towards the outer gate.
Savitri and Karuna stood there looking at each other and trying to fathom who was correct.
The next morning, as everyone got ready to leave, Savitri asked Karuna’s father to look for Sita.
“She usually comes by six. What is wrong with this girl? Despite the fact that she knows about the trip, she is delaying it unnecessarily and that too today. Uff... so many things are pending. I just don’t know where to start from?” Savitri sounded completely oblivious of the last evening happening.
“Karunaaa, O Karunaa, Come lend me a hand with this,” Savitri screamed.
They waited for Sita to arrive but to no use and they left for the event.
Karuna felt burdened with a sense of guilt somewhere deep down after the unpleasant last evening. She wanted to know the truth.
“What if she had not stolen the coin and it was her own?” She thought in her mind.
“What if my accusations were false?” Karuna could not help thinking so.
She thought of the countless memories she shared with Sita all these years. The last evening events kept flashing before her eyes repeatedly making her feel pathetic even more.
Savitri clearly noticed her daughter’s seclusion and it did not take her much time to understand the reason behind it.
As the hired vehicle reached its destination, the mukhiya’s wife received them with garlands and tilak. After the customary greetings, they took them for lunch to the dharamshala where they relaxed in their rooms post lunch.
Savitri went to check on Karuna after lunch. Karuna laid there on her bed with her eyes fixed on the ceiling fan. She was lost in her thoughts when Savitri interrupted, “Karuna, What is it beta? Are you not tired? Go to sleep.”
Karuna got up on seeing her mother and sat taking support from her bed’s end.
“Maa, can I ask you something?” She said slowly
“Do you think what I did yesterday was wrong?” Karuna uttered fighting back her tears.
“I just don’t know why I got so furious. I should have handled the situation better. I feel terrible maa,” and she broke down hiding her face in her mother’s bosom.
“Karuna, my darling, I can see how my little girl has grown up. You yourself have all the answers Karu and the best part is that you have realized your mistake.” Savitri pacified Karuna running her fingers through Karuna’s thick black hair.
“I don’t know what happened between you two in the room yesterday. However, I have known Sita from a very young age. As a little girl, whenever she came with her mother, she never accepted a thing however much we offered her biscuits or sweets. Sita’s mother is a very self-respectful woman. She did not take a penny from anyone after her husband’s demise and managed all on her own. And her girl has no doubt taken after her.” Savitri held Karuna and continued.
“You might be right Karu, but your approach was wrong. And god forbid if you are wrong, then you have hurt a poor girl’s feelings.” Savitri was firm.
“Now get some sleep. We will definitely go and apologize once we go back.” Savitri assured her worried daughter.
The next morning after the puja, during the aarti, Karuna’s baba approached Savitri and spoke loudly amidst the loud chants, ‘I kept some coins in my brown trouser, and I could not find them in the morning. Have you kept them by any chance?’
‘Haan…Haan, I kept them separately, I will just get them’, Savitri turned to get back to her room to get the coins but suddenly halted and turned back to her husband.
‘Can you tell me how many were there? Actually, I kept them in my purse, so they are all mixed.’ Savitri asked hesitantly completely aware of the unfit question that might upset her husband then.
‘Savitri?’ Karuna’s Baba looked at her in disbelief.
‘Get whatever you want to. There must be around seven or eight coins. Now will you please get them?’ he sounded irked.
Savitri went back to her room and counted the coins with her bated breath. There were seven ‘one rupee’ coins. She dashed towards the pooja hall thoughtfully and looked at Karuna who was standing in one corner of the hall.
Karuna looked back at her mother giving a wry smile. On reading a vague question in her mother’s eyes, she lifted her shoulders in a ‘What?’
Savitri smiled back at Karuna and shook her head gently before approaching her husband with the coins.
After a successful event at the temple, they left for back home the same evening.
Karuna was so looking forward to going back. Her mental peace was completely gone ever since her tiff with Sita.
On arriving back at night, the family went off to sleep after their dinner.
Karuna had a dream that night of herself and Sita walking hand in hand through the Sugarcane field with each chewing one. She saw them going towards the small pond where they often spent time in their childhood. The place looked surreal in her dream. The orange colour of the setting sun mixed with the light-bluish sky created a divine aura around the place. Karuna felt light and guiltless on being with her friend and getting the things sorted out. Karuna was staring at Sita in her dream, she was trying to speak; her lips moved but her voice never came out. Karuna tried hard and felt agitated on not being able to speak. Meanwhile, Sita slowly took her hands out of Karuna’s grip and started walking away. Karuna tried hard to call her friend back but she was voiceless in her dream. Then suddenly she regained her voice with a jolt and she screamed, ‘Stop Sita Stop!’
‘Wake up Karu, it's 9 now’ a familiar voice resonated in her sleep.
Karuna woke up in one stroke and hastily uttered, ‘we have to see Sita today, maa. I will be ready in a minute.’
‘Yes, I remember but first, let me get done with this never-ending kitchen work. Come down, first, help me with the breakfast; all are waiting. I am in a mess with Sita vanishing suddenly like this. Baba has gone to enquire about another help in the neighbouring house. I am keeping my fingers crossed. With your badi-maa also gone, I am completely in a soup. I don’t even know where are the things kept in this kitchen. Half my time ...’ Savitri kept grumbling a thousand things.
‘Another help?’ Karuna murmured to herself, with the despondence evident on her face.
‘Maa, come soon, Why do you walk so slowly?’ Karuna sounded irked while she walked briskly towards Sita’s house.
The hot sunny day made it all the more difficult for the already tired Savitri to walk fast. She panted heavily rubbing her head with the end of her saree.
‘I am coming’, She said slowly.
On finding Sita’s house closed from outside, Karuna looked at her mother before knocking hesitantly. Her heart was in her mouth as she knocked. Karuna had rehearsed a hundred times of the things she was going to say to Sita. The fact though remained that she was not still sure of the truth. The only thing she wanted at that moment was to apologize for her ruthless behaviour.
She kept knocking as no one answered. On hearing the knocks, a passer-by woman commented,
‘They are not there; Nanaki has gone to see her mother.’
‘Do you know when will they return?’ Karuna asked completely aware of her stupid question.
‘No didi’, the woman shook her head.
Karuna returned with a thousand thoughts playing in her mind. Not being able to meet Sita meant that she would not see her until next vacation as they were going back the next morning.
The next morning saw a new maid at Punditji’s house. Another girl named Radha who was nearly two years older than Karuna took charge of the household chores. While Radha helped Savitri in getting the breakfast ready, Savitri commanded Karuna to take a bath and get ready.
As Karuna came down to have breakfast, her eyes stopped at Radha. She kept staring at the new girl until Savitri interfered, ‘Karu, fast beta, we are getting late.’
Savitri interpreted the mixed emotions going through her little girl’s head.
They called the rickshaw and piled up the luggage. Taking everyone’s blessings, as Karuna neared her dadimaa, she broke down like never before. Dadimaa looked at her with a strange expression and said gently, ‘Karuna, my doll, what is it? You will be here again in no time sweetheart... Come on, freshen up your mood now and here, this is for you.’ Dadimaa kept a crisp 5-rupee note in her hand.
Karuna kept looking at the note while her own voice resonated at the back of her mind. ‘OOO NOW I SEE, THE FAIR, THE RIDES, THE YUMMY FOODSTALLS....................’ She felt ashamed of herself.
The rickshaw halted on command at the main market as Savitri requested her husband to take some samosas for the journey. As Karuna and her mother waited in the rickshaw, Karuna’s baba entered a nearby sweet shop. Karuna suddenly got down on noticing someone. ‘Kaki maa’, she shouted.
It was Sitaa’s mother. Karuna dashed towards her while Savitri warned her to be careful of the traffic.
‘Maa, I will be back in a second.’ Karuna assured Savitri as she neared Sita’s mother.
‘Kaki maa, where is Sita? Why did not she join us for the village puja? Is she not well?’ Karuna said in one breath.
Nanaki frowned to understand the range of questions shot at her and then thoughtfully said, ‘Namaste didi, Sita stayed back with her naani. She was hell bent not to come back. She said she wanted to stay with her naani for some time.’
Nanaki resumed after stopping for a while, ‘Sita says she wants to join me in selling sweetmeats and no longer wants to do the household chores. Didi, trust me, this girl has been behaving strangely since that day when she returned crying from your house. She has given me sleepless nights. Her friends came home to call her but she refused to go to the fair too. It was then that I sensed something wrong. Initially, she said she had a headache but she kept crying. No one cries so much of a headache. Isn’t it?’ Nanaki looked for an affirmation.
‘Aan? haan, haan. You are right.’ Karuna was puzzled.
‘Her friends requested her so much to join them for the fair but she paid no heed. She even took money from me that morning on the pretext of going to the fair with her friends. She was so upset when she asked for more money but I gave her only one-rupee.’ Nanaki continued.
‘She said she wanted to buy a gift for a friend. Didi you tell me, we are poor people; can we afford to give gifts to people? This girl does not understand. Actually, I will not blame her too. Poor thing! She has seen a lot in her short life.’ Nanaki sounded nostalgic.
Karuna’s heart crumbled like a pile of cards on hearing the truth. Though Nanaki continued to speak about her worries, Karuna could not hear a word. Her ears were red and vision blurred with tears.
‘Do you know anything about it didi?’ Nanaki asked Karuna.
‘Haan?’ Karuna asked.
‘Do you have any idea what happened didi?’ Nanaki repeated.
‘No, no, I don’t know kaki maa.’ Karuna paused and resumed, ‘Actually she told me about her headache. Maybe it was her headache only.’
‘Karuna, come, baba is back, we are getting late.’ Savitri shouted from behind.
Karuna turned to get back to her rickshaw but suddenly stopped and turned back to Nanaki.
‘Kaki maa, will you please give this to her when you see her?’ Karuna requested, giving the crisp five-rupee note to Nanaki.
‘No didi I can’t take this.’ Nanaki showed resistance.
‘Please Kaki maa, I will not see her until next puja, this is my puja gift to her.’ Karuna said with tears in her eyes.
‘Karunaaaaa, come fast beta’, Savitri reiterated.
‘Coming maa’, Karuna said softly taking heavy steps towards her rickshaw while Nanaki kept looking at her blankly.