Masala Fairy Tales-Soundarya, The Indian Cinderella-Part 2

Indian fairy tales podcast

Nirav Speaks:

I don’t know why my mother dragged me to that house again! She did say that something strange was happening in that house. After today, I think so too! That girl Soundarya hung around in the kitchen the whole time we were there.

Maa would ask Soundarya to add the tadka or stir the food whenever footsteps came our way. She does seem to like cooking, that girl! Today she made Puran poli, my favourite! I was happy she asked if I wanted one, and then she had to spoil it! “I think Veena and Meena will like it.” A light switched off inside me. I pushed the plate away.

“Hey, you haven’t touched the poli! Don’t you want any?” Soundarya looked puzzled.

 “No, give it to your cousins. THEY will tell you what a good worker bee you are.” I went back to my books, irritated.

What on earth are you talking about???” Soundarya stood there glaring at me.

I felt terrible for her, but honestly! How can you not realise that people are not being kind to you? That they are making you do all the work while they have fun? Ma told me that it’s because Soundarya knows that it is one against the three. Whatever.

And one fine day, the aunt told my mother that she needn’t come to work anymore.

“But who is going to cook for them?” I asked incredulously.

“Soundarya! When that woman asked me to teach her niece to cook, I should have known that she had a plan all along.”

“But ma, she is a kid!”

“She is thirteen and has been learning to cook from me for the last two years. I will say this, that girl is a good cook!” Ma said proudly.

“That is child labour! That’s what it is!”

“Arre, why are you yelling at me?” Ma shouted back at me.

So, it is not our problem anymore.

Soundarya Speaks:

Imagine my surprise when Ruchi mami just stopped coming to our house one day.

 “Arre Soundarya! Your cooking is even better than hers! You must have magic in your hands! You do the cooking,” Madhu aunty told me.

So now, I shopped at the market, cooked all our meals, made papad and sweets, cleaned, sewed, and did everything around the house.

Aunty was pleased with my work. She said, “We’re lucky that you are so talented and good at housework, Soundarya. Nothing would be done if I had to ask Meena and Veena because they don’t know how to do the housework properly.” Or, “Ooooh! Soundarya, you sew so well! Everyone complimented the girls on their lehenga and asked where we got it. But I didn’t tell them that you made it. I don’t want you to be overworked!”

When we had guests, aunty shared how well I did everything. “Oh, our Soundarya is very young but so capable. She won’t let us do anything because she runs the house smoothly. Unfortunately, my daughters are not as talented as her.”

I missed Ruchi Mami, but strangely, I missed that annoying Nirav too.

Then one day, our neighbours came to visit, another girl about my age tagging behind them. “My niece Shoba is visiting us for a few days. We thought it would be fun for all the girls to get together,” aunty’s friend introduced the girl. But I couldn’t stay back and talk to her. I had to make chai and pakoras for them and then start dinner.

I put the pan on the stove and mixed the onion in the flour to make the pakoras when Shoba and my cousins walked in.

“You are making pakoras!” Shoba exclaimed.

I opened my mouth to answer, but Meena beat me to it. “Soundarya is such a good cook, aren’t you, Cuz? She knows we can’t cook like her. So she won’t let anyone else into the kitchen. She has to do it herself.”

Shobha asked, “Oh, you mean you do all the cooking?”

Veena interrupted me this time. “Oh, Soundarya is very particular. She has to do It herself. Don’t make her feel bad about it. It’s okay.”

There was that niggling feeling again; why does something not sound right? Why do I feel like it’s all that Nirav’s fault!

I brought the food out and served everyone. Shoba brought the plates to be washed a little while later, but Madhu aunty bundled her off, saying, “Shoo, go play with my girls. Guests should not do any work.”

I could hear the three girls traipse up the steps while I cooked. Songs and laughter floated down to me as I put the dishes under the tap. That’s when I heard them! “Oh, she’s my mother’s relative. Her family is very poor, and they can’t afford to feed her. My mother brought her here to help them. She does the housework for us.”

“Your mother is so kind and generous to do this. I heard that she even pays for her to go to school!” Shoba said in awe.

“Yea, my mother is like that. She says that this way, Soundarya can work as a cook when she is older.”

I shivered as understanding dawned on me. Those compliments, the light laughter when I made a mistake, the suggestions that would make it easy for me to cook…none of these were for my benefit. My aunt spoke honeyed words, but I was their unpaid servant.

Tears rolled down my cheeks, and then anger took over. Where was my father? Why did he put me in this place? Was I that poor indeed? Is that why I was living like this?

The cloud of anger cleared that evening, and I was quiet. The others didn’t notice or care. At night, I lay awake wondering how I’d get out of this? What am I to do? Papa had no idea that his sister was like this. Should I worry him about all this? Would he even believe me?

Nirav Speaks:

Ma found work in another house very quickly. I never went to the new place, though. School got busy. I participated in many competitions and won many prizes. And then one day, when I was in the tenth standard, I saw this girl on my bus. She was looking out the window at the passing buildings and trees. Oh, it’s that Soundarya! I’m sure of it.Was it my imagination, or did she look sad today?

I had a few more stops to my school, but I got off the bus when she did. “Hey, You’re that girl from the house where ma worked, right?” I asked her. I knew her name, but I never talked too much to her then, and I didn’t want to be too familiar now.

We walked in step, and I talked about the only common thing we had-food, my mother’s food.

“I remember you and my mother enjoyed cooking together. Try this,” I opened my lunch box and took out the roll. “Ma made this new recipe.”

She stared at me.

“Go on! Ma will want to know what you think of it.” I encouraged her.

Soundarya reached for the chapatti roll ad took a bite. Silence. “MMMMM! I can taste the dhania, but There is something else there…what is it? Kalonji?”

So I can tell the difference between spicy and not spicy. “What on earth is Kalonji?”

“Look at your face!” Soundarya threw her head back and laughed.

I had no idea how, but I had said the right thing!

From then on started our new routine. I got off at Soundarya’s bus stop, walked to her school and continued to my school.

I told ma that Soundarya’s dad had died. Ma packed another lunch box for her and sent it with me.

Soundarya Speaks:

I swung the storeroom door softly and set aside my book bag without making any noise. I wanted a few minutes to myself. School was closed for Navratri and I would be stuck in the house the whole time.

My thoughts drifted to the kadhi rice Mami had packed for lunch. How lucky I am to have found friends like them! I wonder if I can make the kadhi myself! Do we have enough besan?

A door opened and the laughter rang out like a warning bell. I slunk deeper into the storeroom. “Ma, what are we going to do about Soundarya? Are we going to take her with us to the Daandiya? I don’t want her hanging around us. How will we explain her away to that Rajkumar and his family?”

“You know what I hate? It’s that ‘butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth’ look. people fall for it, I tell you. “oh what a ‘good girl’ your cousin is, so gentle and soft spoken!”

But it was my aunt’s words that sent shivers down my spine. “Stop worrying, you two. Of course, Soundarya won’t go to the dandiya. I’ll take care of it.”

They say you never hear good things about yourself if you listen in on conversations. How true is that! But what is this dandiya, Rajkumar and all that?

I made a lot of noise pretending to come home just then. I stepped into the kitchen to make the kadhi when aunty walked in.

“Soundarya, my dear! My friend Sonal is organizing a dandiya raas. She loved the ragada patties you made for the kitty party! You are so lucky because she wants you to make some snacks for the dandiya. I said yes! Here’s the list she gave me, and you can do the shopping tomorrow.” And just like that she left the kitchen, her saree pallu floating behind her.

I ran my eyes over the list. “Five hundred ragada patties for Saturday?” I swallowed in shock! 

“Kachoris for Sunday, Samosas on Monday…” My mind went blank looking at the numbers.

To be continued…

Masala Fairy Tales-Soundarya, The Indian Cinderella-Part 2

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