Ramu was a little boy when he lost his mother. His father remarried Laxmi and she entered the household as a new bride-cum-step mother. Ramu studying was in third standard, a very intelligent lad. His father, Ranga Rao taught him to write a journal to express himself freely.
In the beginning, Ramu had no clue as to what to write in his journal. He wrote mundane details about his daily routine. Then his father taught him to write about his feelings in the journal. In a short while, Ramu’s writing showed enormous improvement and maturity.
His father, Ranga Rao, worked as a clerk in a bank. He earned enough money to live comfortably. But he was an outside bird and spent most of his time out of the house. Ramu’s mother complained about this often when she was alive
After Ranga Rao’s remarriage, Ramu wrote in his journal, “Mom would have been happy if she were alive now, because dad is coming home earlier and is spending time with me. I am enjoying this.” Ranga Rao felt happy when he read it in his son’s journal. When Laxmi came home, he wrote, “Everybody is scaring me about the new mother. But she is very beautiful. She smiled at me too.” After that, for a few days, Ramu wrote good things about his stepmother. Ranga Rao felt relieved about their relationship and stopped reading his son’s journal altogether.
Laxmi was determined to be affectionate to Ramu. He is indeed, a lovable, sweet kid. But, as time progressed, he always reminded her of his mother and she suffered inexplicable pangs of jealousy for the dead woman. Ramu is a spitting image of his mother. Laxmi’s suffering increased whenever someone praised Ramu about his looks, intelligence or behavior. She started feeling irritated when he called her “mom.” Gradually the irritation turned into hatred towards the child. But, being an educated and intelligent woman, she chose unconventional methods to show her dislike towards him. Ramu wrote in round, short letters. She would tease him about it, saying, “My darling son should write like a little man, not those rounded letters like silly girls.” Ramu felt disappointed that his hand-writing did not meet the criteria of his mother. She would hand him the newspaper and ask him to read it for her. When he faltered over the words or misunderstood them, she would laugh at him. She would undermine his self-esteem in every way but she never showed any anger or resentment.
Laxmi’s main weapon was food! She knew very well Ramu’s favorite food items, which she would promise, and then fail to make it on some pretext or another. Ramu liked sweets made of milk. She promised him that she would make it, and then said that the milk was spoilt. She pretended to feel sorry for him and sent the servant to the shop to buy some sweets. She then told him, a lie, that the servant got mixed up and bought something else, which invariably Ramu hated! She enjoyed raising his hopes and then dashing them to the ground.
Ramu did not realize that his stepmother was torturing him deliberately. He would always blame his tough luck. The feeling of misery which he poured out in his journal gave her a sadistic pleasure. One day, she promised him pancakes, which he loved to eat. She made the batter and made some pancakes for her husband before he left for work. When Ramu returned from school, she hurried him, “Ramu! Change and come, quick. I made your favorite pancakes today.”
Ramu saw the pancakes in the plate and was thrilled. He longed to attack the plate, but he had to obey the rules, so he ran to his room to change. When he came back into the kitchen, Laxmi was shouting at someone, “get out now!”
“What is the matter, mom?” Ramu enquired.
“Oh that dirty dog…” Laxmi replied. Sometimes the dog entered kitchen in search of food.
“Did you drive him away?” he asked again.
“Yes, sweetheart! But…” she stopped and looked at him. His face was apprehensive and anxious.
“The dog ate the pancakes that I made for you,” Laxmi explained slowly.
“Really?” Ramu could not believe his ears.
“Yes. I am so sorry, darling. Let me make something else for you.”
Ramu gave her a look that would have reduced her to ashes, if it could. He went to his room, wrote something in his journal and went outside to play with his friends. Laxmi promptly went into his room and read the journal. The entry in the journal enraged her. Her face turned red with fury as if reflecting the color of the sari she was wearing. She made up her mind to thrash him when he came back. But her husband returned home before Ramu. She showed him the journal furiously saying, “See what your son has written about me!”
Ranga Rao was astonished to see the entry in the journal.
“Laxmi! He seems to be very angry. A child cannot feel this strongly in a single day. Something has been going on for a long time. What is it?”
“Oh, yeah! It is so easy to blame the stepmother. Today I made pancakes for him and the dog ate them. What have I done? In any case, he never wrote anything bad about me so far, did he?!”
Ranga Rao opened the previous pages and read them. Truly, Ramu never wrote anything derogatory about his stepmother but many times he cursed his ill luck regarding food. Ranga Rao understood at once what happened. “Laxmi! Ramu is a very smart child, can think deep. He has guessed long back and correctly that you have been taunting him. But he also knew that we would read his journal. So he never wrote anything explicitly. Today he is angry beyond his control and wrote such rude words because he wanted us to read it. You should never take a child for granted. If you find his presence irksome, I shall make some other arrangement for him. I think the entire fault is mine. I could not see what was going on right in front of my eyes.” He paused and said again,
“First, please, go and change that red sari. It is making me very uncomfortable.”
Laxmi went inside to change and Ranga Rao glanced at the journal to read the sentences once again.
“Sometimes dogs too wear saris. Today the dog is wearing a red sari.”
Translated by Sharada (Australia) and originally published on thulika.net, June 2003
(Telugu original was included in the compilation Rasika raja taguvaaramau kaama, published in Andhra Prabha weekly in 1987.)