Sneharanjini had only one purpose in life nowadays – taking care of her heartbroken father. She knew that he loved easily, and lost as easily. Each death took away a part of his soul, but he never learnt. Ketanraj was sitting in a dark corner, wearing the customary white clothes of a mourner, staring into space.
She continued to sew near the window, adjusting herself to the fading light. Her father’s silence bothered her. He was so joyful, so ebullient. It seemed so very unfair that he would be plunged into this level of sadness so many times. She had heard about the rumors of the new heir. Of course she had; everyone knew by now. She knew her father was taking it hard. Prashantraj would mostly inherit now. She had no real ambitions; she had loved and lost too, and wanted nothing to do with the crown. It wouldn’t take long for people to discover her past and say that she had inherited her father’s luck.
“I wonder…I wonder if you remember your mother…”
Sneharanjini whirled around at the sound of her father’s voice. It had been days since he had spoken.
“I do” she cleared her throat, her interest piqued, “I do, but…not much…”
“She was the prettiest woman I had ever laid eyes upon” Ketanraj’s voice had attained a dreamy quality, as if he was delving into an old memory and narrating what he saw, “Not just by face, but by mind too…the most exquisite. She wielded her sword as well as her quill, she guided me as much as she teased me…I have never met another woman who enjoyed her life so much…”
“You forget Aunt Arthini” Sneharanjini tried to laugh, but was too captivated by his words.
“You aunt…Gitanjali and I, we sympathized with Arthini” he shrugged, “Your mother and your aunt, they were good friends. They were similar, you know. Even after Gitanjali…left us…you aunt took you both in. She did it for her friend.”
“Tell me more about mother”
“Gitanjali was…so complete. I sometimes wondered if she even needed me, but she insisted that she loved me…loved us. And then, she started empathizing with your uncle. Maybe she empathized with him too much, or maybe I was naïve at that time, I don’t know. I didn’t like it, and I told her that. She never listened to me, you know. She spent more and more time in the library with him. Over time, I think she became crazy. She would act dangerously, she would extremely protective of you both, and she would throw stuff at the servants. I told her that I wanted her to go back to her home state for a few months to calm down – maybe the city was driving her mad.
She refused, but I made arrangements nevertheless. She left without a fuss, and never returned. She…she killed herself the very first night…slit her wrists and dipped them in the font…so it won’t clot…”
The needle had dropped from Sneharanjini’s hands a long while ago. She listened on, shocked. She had known that her mother had committed suicide, but didn’t know anything else.
“Punyaraj suffered more, though” Ketanraj sighed, “He knew what he had done. The guilt of it, and the increasing coldness with which Arthini treated him…broke him. He…he and his drugs…my family broke because of him…my wife…died because…”
Sneharanjini rushed to her father’s side as he broke down crying. All these years, he had never dared to breathe a word about the fact that he had held his brother responsible. He kept marrying to complete his family, but it was as if the curse casted upon by his first wife’s tormented soul never let him live in peace.
“It can’t be entirely his fault” she tried to calm him down.
“How can you say that?”
“She chose it, dad” Sneharanjini could feel tears creeping into her eyes as she voiced her emotions, “She chose it over us, the same way uncle chose it over aunt. Nobody…nobody forced them…they both chose it over family…”