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Our opinions change over time; they are not governed by our previous thoughts. We clothe our opinions with fine words for effectiveness. But when the time comes to express our views, the fine words fail us, and we speak plainly. Neither did I hurl caustic remarks at Amba nor did I lie on the bed with my face covered. Instead, I said in gentle tones, "Munnu shamed me today. He started crying when treasurer-saheb asked him whether his new mother loved him or not. I cannot imagine even in my dreams that you might have said something to him. But the heart of an orphan child is like a painting covered by a thin veil, which even the slightest breeze can blow off."
I said all this very gently, yet, Amba's radiant face lost some of its radiance. She said with moist eyes, "I have tried to heal Munnu's sorrowful heart. But, I can't stop him from grieving for his mother. I may sacrifice all that I have, but I will still not be able to wipe out the stigma of stepmother attached to me."
I was afraid this conversation with Amba may snowball into something bad. But from the next day, I saw a marked change in Amba's behavior. She spent all her time caring for Munnu, so much so that she even neglected me. I was not a saint to sacrifice my comforts for Munnu's pleasure; sometimes, Amba's failure to attend to my needs angered me, but I never complained.
One day, I reached home early from the office and found Munnu standing at the door with his back to me. I felt an urge to play with him. Quietly creeping up to him, I covered his eyes with my palms. But, alas! His cheeks were wet with tears. I quickly removed my palms as if bitten by a snake. My heart ached. I picked him up and asked, "Why are you crying, Munnu?" My eyes were also moist with tears.
Munnu wiped away his tears and said, "I am not crying."
I pressed him to my heart and said, "Has your amma said something?"
"Oh no," Munnu said between sobs, "she loves me very much."
I did not believe him. "Why are you crying if she loves you? You cried at khazanchi saheb's house also the other day. You are hiding something from me. Your amma has certainly been angry with you."
Munnu looked at me sorrowfully and said, "No, she loves me very much; that is why I feel like crying. My amma used to love me very much, and she went away. My new amma loves me much more, so I feel scared that she, too, might leave me and go away."
Munnu started sobbing inconsolably; I could not control my tears. Amba's affectionate behavior had affected Munnu's soft heart! I stood dazed for a few seconds. A poet's words rang in my mind: "Pure souls do not stay forever in this world." Had destiny forced such words out of this child's mouth? Oh God, I hope I don't have to see such a wretched day. But I dismissed this thought from my mind, regarding it as illogical. No, I said to myself, there was nothing the matter except that the child had come to associate love with separation after his mother's death.
I picked up Munnu and carried him to Amba. "Ask him why he is crying," I told her smilingly. Amba was taken aback; her face turned pale.
"You ask him," she said.
"He is crying because you love him so much, and he is afraid that you, too, will leave him and go away like his mother."
Amba's face at once brightened up just as a mirror would shine once the layer of dust got wiped out of its surface. She snatched Munnu from me and, perhaps for the first time, kissed his feet with natural motherly affection.
Grief! Great sorrow! How could I know that Munnu's ominous imagination would turn true so soon? Perhaps, his childish eyes could see into the future. Perhaps, his childish ears could hear the words spoken by the ambassadors of death.
Not more than six months had passed when Amba fell ill, and influenza snatched her away from us. Once again, the garden turned into a desert; the happy home turned into ruins. Amba had dedicated herself to Munnu; yes, she had shown what a mother's love for a son was. Even during the winter, she would wake up before the day dawned to cook food for Munnu. Her love and affection had made Munnu naughty and stubborn; he refused to eat unless fed by Amba and refused to sleep unless she fanned him. Munnu teased and tried to annoy Amba, but the child's antics only made her happy.
The illness had sapped her strength, and she struggled to even turn on her side. But even in her sufferings, all she could think of was whether or not Munnu had his meals. Alas, that unselfish mother's love is now only a dream! Whenever I recall that dream, my heart overflows with joy.
Amba has gone away. And, gone away with her are Munnu's playfulness and childish pranks; he has become a living statue of grief and helplessness. He doesn't cry anymore; now, he has no fear of losing someone who loves him dearly.
"Vimata", a story by Munshi Premchand, is a touching tale about a woman's love for her stepson. The story is narrated in the first person.
The narrator has lost his wife; the wife has died, leaving behind a son. The narrator remarries only three months after his first wife's demise. He feels guilty about it and tries to explain that he has remarried because the son is a child and needs a mother to care for him.
The second wife is very affectionate towards the child. Once, a narrator's friend asks the child if his stepmother loves him, and the boy breaks into tears. The narrator is stunned by the boy's behavior. Didn't Amba, his second wife, love the child? The seed of doubt gets sown in the narrator's mind.
The narrator feels ashamed and angry; he decides to confront Amba. However, when they reach home, Amba welcomes the child lovingly. The narrator's anger evaporates, and he narrates the incident without showing anger.
Yet another time, the narrator finds the child's cheeks wet with tears. On being questioned, the child says he is crying because his stepmother loves him very much. The child's behavior is perplexing. But the narrator realizes that following his mother's death, the child had come to believe that whoever loved him would leave him one day. The child had come to associate love with separation.
Unfortunately, the child's fear comes true. Amba dies of an illness. But till her last breath, Amba takes care of the child and loves him as his real mother.
Some useful links for
- Union Public Service Commission - www.upsc.gov.in
- IIT-Kharagpur - www.iitkgp.ac.in
- Indian Statistical Institute - www.isical.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Technology Madras - www.iitm.ac.in
- Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - www.iimahd.ernet.in
- Indian Institute of Mass Commission - www.iimc.nic.in
- IIT Bombay - www.iitb.ac.in
- Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad - www.ismdhanbad.ac.in
- Birla Institute of Technology, Ranchi - www.bitmesra.ac.in
- Central Institute of Fisheries Nautical and Engineering Training - www.cifnet.nic.in
- Indian Institute of Information Technology, Allahabad (Deemed University) - www.iiita.ac.in
- Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, Kochi - www.cmfri.com
- Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai - www.tiss.edu