by Madhavi Hadker
Suman was only two years old when she lost her mother. Since her father had a busy schedule working on a ship for at least six to nine months, he decided to re-marry. However, Suman’s stepmother was very strict and made the girl work extremely hard. By the time she was ten years old, she was made to do all sorts of jobs like washing utensils and clothes, sweeping and mopping the floor, cutting vegetables, getting water from the well, and making the beds. As if that was not enough, Suman’s stepmother gave her very little to eat and sometimes only a bowl of soup with a stale slice of bread. However, the little girl never complained as she was always anxious to please her.
Just like her father, Suman was known to be a very kind and gentle person! She also loved feeding all the birds and the animals that lived in the forest. With her sweet mannerisms and a magical touch, she was able to nurse a wounded bird that had accidentally fallen from the nest or affectionately applied some medicinal herbs on a deer’s foot. Everyone adored the sweetness in her.
One day, Suman’s stepmother called her. “Get me water in this pot,” she snapped. “Also, make sure that not a drop of water is wasted, is that clear? Now go, and don’t come home till you finish your task!” Suman just didn’t know what to do. The earthen pot which her stepmother had given her was full of holes! Suman went into the forest and lowered the pot in the well. But no matter how much she tried, the water kept gushing out. Poor Suman’s arms hurt as she kept trying again and again but in vain. Finally, she sat down in the green meadow and started crying. Suddenly a high-pitched voice asked her- “What happened? Can I help you in any way my dear?” Suman looked up to see a large frog sitting next to her. “Yes, I definitely need some assistance” and she narrated her ordeal to the frog. “Quickly wipe your face as I have a solution to your problem. Wait here, while I call all my brothers to aid you!” “But how will you help me out?” Little Suman asked. “Just wait and see!” The huge frog croaked loudly as he jumped into the well. Within five minutes, at least six frogs had gathered around the well. The frog explained his plans to his younger siblings. “See this earthen pot is full of holes. All you have to do is to sit as tightly as you can and cover these holes with your body and long limbs.” Within the next few minutes, each frog had taken his respective place on the pot. “Now,” the elder frog croaked- “you can fill this pot.”
Wiping her tears and smiling gratefully at them, Sunman did as she was told. Then, she carefully carried the pot home. She then poured the water into a large drum. Once she had set the earthen pot on the kitchen table, all the frogs’ jumped off the pot and quickly went leaping back into the forest. Sunman’s step-mother was taken aback to see that she had actually managed to carry out this tough job! She asked her quite a number of times but her only reply was: – “I found a way mother.”
A few days later, her mother came up with another cumbersome idea. “Suman, go and chop wood in the forest. But mind you, you have to get the heavy pile all by yourself, as I am not going to give you a rope to tie up the logs! Now, stop staring at me you fool! There is no firewood at home.” Poor Suman worked hard all morning in the forest. Her arms ached; her dress was drenched in sweat but she worked untiringly till she had gathered a big heap in-front of her. Her stomach was growling with hunger, as she hadn’t eaten anything that day. “What shall I do now?” She wondered aloud. Just then, a long, green snake was passing by. In a clear voice, the snake asked her: – “Suman, what is the matter?” When the snake heard her story, his gigantic eyes gleamed and he hissed out: – “Is that all that is worrying you my girl? I will lie down in a straight line and all you have to do is to pile up the wood on me! Once you are ready, I will make a coil of my body and wrap the pieces, so that it is easier for you to carry these logs. Once you reach home; I will quickly wriggle out and go back to the jungle, unseen.” “I think this is a splendid idea!” Soon, she was home with the logs, which she neatly kept in one corner of the kitchen. Suman’s step-mother couldn’t believe her eyes. “I just can’t understand how this girl managed to do this tough work on her own! Hmm…Let me see. This time, I will think of an even more tiresome chore for you!”
On another occasion, Suman’s step-mother called her and told her: “I have mixed all types of lentils in this plate. Sort them out in different groups and get this plate back in ten minutes. Go at once!” Once again, the lass settled down in the forest and with her tiny fingers, tried to sort out the lentils in various groups in the plate itself. But she just couldn’t manage this as all the grains either kept slipping off or getting stuck to each-other. “Can I lend you a hand?” Sunman looked up to see that a lovely sparrow had spoken to her and was perched next to her. “Because of your ointment, my baby is much better now. Do you recall that she had accidently fallen off the nest and hurt her wing? Now, tell me, why are you looking so sad?” Suman explained what she had to do. “Is that all that is bothering you? It is very simple for me!” The pretty, brown sparrow flew into a branch of a tree and began to chirp sweetly. Very soon, a dozen other sparrows had collected around her. Quickly, the sparrow explained what her friends had to do. They all flew down and smiling at the sweet girl said: – “We’ll gladly work for you! You just sit back and appreciate the peaceful atmosphere in our forest.” Within minutes, the group of sparrows had made neat heaps of the lentils – separating them into smaller groups in the plate itself. “Here, your plate is ready!” Thanking all of them, Suman carefully carried the plate back home, annoying her wicked step-mother once again.
Within three days, the spiteful mother had another plan up her sleeve! “Here, take this bucket and go to the beach. Collect the foam that forms on top of the waves. Come home only after you have finished. Only then, I will give you your breakfast! Get lost!” When Suman reached the beach, it was very hot. She waded into the cool water, carrying the bucket with her. She watched the waves roll in, and then bent low, scooping the foam in her hands. But it disappeared the minute she had collected it! But she kept on trying. This time, she was really all by herself on the vast beach. There were no birds, snakes or animals to aid her. As the poor girl continued to try her luck, she noticed a ship coming closer and closer to the shore. Suman was exhausted, hungry, and thirsty and her arms ached as she had been standing under the scorching sun for almost an hour. “Just one more time. This time I will succeed…” Then, all of a sudden, everything became dark, as she crumpled in a heap, in the soft, golden sands.
Some-one was gently shaking her and calling out her name. “My dearest Suman, what happened to you? How come you are lying over here? Your dress has torn and is so filthy! My dear child, I have come home a little earlier as I wanted to give you a surprise!” Her father was talking to her; his voice was so soothing and calm, as he held her in his strong arms. Suman could hardly open her eyes; she was so weak. Seeing her plight, her father quickly carried her in a shaded spot near the shore and got a bottle of water out from his bag, quickly splashed water on her face and also gave a fatigued girl some cool water to drink. After she had revived, he spoke in a soft voice: – “you look so ill and have lost so much weight darling! Doesn’t your mother take care of you?” Suman then broke down, on hearing her father’s kind words. Holding back her tears, she then narrated how her mother ill-treated her and didn’t even give her any proper meal or snack. “I can imagine just looking at your condition how your mother has treated you so cruelly!” her father spoke angrily.
Suman’s father was extremely furious by the time he reached home. Suman’s mother tried her best to show how much she cared for “darling” Suman by patting and hugging her but her father had already realized how nasty his wife had been. “I had got beautiful gifts for you but unfortunately you turned out to be very mean and wicked! While working on the ship, I constantly kept thinking that you must be taking great care of my baby girl” he cried out. “But I was absolutely wrong! You have done nothing but harass this poor child!” Suman’s step-mother tried to beg for pardon but her father was firm. “Now listen to me carefully, you good-for-nothing woman! After Suman recovers completely, I am taking her back with me to the ship. I don’t wish to stay with a lady who is so dreadful. Now go and prepare dinner for us!”
Within a week’s time, Suman and her father, Captain Pereira left to go to England – never to return.
« Ordeal – test
« Spiteful – vengeful
« Adored- loved
« Scorching- extremely hot
« Filthy – dirty, soiled
« Soothing- calm
« Broke down – to have a physical or mental collapse, to give up resistance
« Firm- determined
« Furious- very angry or enraged
« Snap- to speak impatiently, usually in an angry manner.
« Cumbersome – difficult to do
« Lass- girl
« Good-for-nothing (Idiom) a person who is lazy and not helpful or useful. For example- Ruth’s father was a rich, charming, but good-for-nothing man.
« Plan up her sleeve- (Idiom) have a secret or a surprise plan
« In vain- is a phrase and means without success or a result. For example- She struggled in vain, screaming and shouting trying to get away.
About the Author:
Madhavi Hadker was born in Mumbai, in 1970. She has a Postgraduate Diploma in Education Management, a Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling, a Degree in Psychology, and a successful career as a school teacher and counsellor. She is an accomplished artist and loves traveling, reading, listening to music, gardening is fond of animals and birds and photography.