“Congratulations! It’s a boy, Mr Rohit!” The doctor conveyed the good news to my Dad. That tall man looked quite like Iron Man with curly hair, a long nose and arched brows that seemed to make a rainbow. His delicate peach lips formed into a wide grin as I stopped crying upon seeing him. He slowly put me in my cradle when a stout two-year-old girl with a plump face appeared in front of my half-opened eyes. Her bulbous nose was grotesque compared to her beady eyes, soft lips, knitted eyebrows and fringed hair. She saw me and left. I missed that face as I lay awake for the next few hours.
At the age of two, my parents made the biggest decision of my life–enrolling me in school.
“Roshni, I think DPS is the right choice for Aadarsh. What do you think?” my Dad asked.
“That’s okay, but what about Aadhyaa? You can’t afford to send them both to such an expensive school,” Mom answered.
“Aadhyaa, do you like this school?”
“Yes Dad, of course! There is no other school like DPS in the city. I just love it!” my innocent sister answered.
“Oh, that’s really nice, Aadhu. I have a surprise for you! You’re going to join a new school, okay?”
“Really, Dad?” her voice choked. She stopped the tears from rolling down her cheek.
“Aadhi, you’ll be going to DPS from now! Are you so excited?” Dad asked.
“I can’t wait!” I said. Smiling hesitantly, I turned towards my sister. I’m sure she wasn’t pleased with what our Dad had done. She immediately went into her bedroom and closed the door. It was dark as I stepped into the room. She was lying on the bed, her tears flowing freely. As I switched on the lamp, she immediately wiped them away and said, “Hey Aadhi, nothing happened. It’s just dust. You’re happy right!”
I asked, “Why are you crying? Shall I tell Dad you want to study at DPS?” She hugged me tight in response, barely leaving any space for even air to enter.
I know I was not good at academics and that Aadhya was the real gem. I told my Dad that one day but he simple defended me, stating: “If your sister can do something, so can you!” I hated the way they always put me on a pedestal and neglected Aadhya when she was the one with far more potential.
“Aadhee, Aadhee! You sleeping donkey. Get up Aadhi!” She kicked me off the bed for reasons that elude me.
When I threatened to call Mom, she put her hand over my mouth and whispered, “movie” into my ear. I immediately knew what she was getting at and started grinning like the Cheshire Cat. We bunked school and headed straight to the cinema to catch the latest Marvel movie, still clad in our school uniforms, our heads hanging low in fear of being recognised. We got away with it that day and for the next six years until she graduated, it became our ritual. Aadhya was always better at sneaking around than me. She came up with the most believable lies on the spot and our parents never doubted her stories.
In the coming years, we made a lifetime of memories together; from staying up all night on the balcony and climbing trees to find the best mangoes to planting saplings and competing in cricket, Aadhya was my best friend.
She was also extremely popular in the neighbourhood. She wasn’t recognised as “Mr Rohit’s daughter”, rather he was recognised as “Aadhya’s father”. Her kind nature had won her a place in everyone’s heart—she was always ready to lend a helping hand. The children adored her for her playfulness and she would always patiently clarify any doubts they had from school. She was my role model in every sense.
“Aadhi, come on we have to go grocery shopping. Mom’s orders. You’re not getting out of this one,” she called out to me.
“Okay fine, let’s go. But I’m getting myself a Cadbury.”
As I trailed behind her towards the supermarket, I noticed that she’d taken an unusual turn. She never makes mistakes like these so I was sure that she had a trick up her sleeve.
“Aadhu, a surprise for me?” I asked curiously.
She just smiled in return, a twinkle in her eyes.
Soon we arrived at our destination: the local hospital. I learned it was to donate our blood. I was a little nervous at first and found myself slowly backing towards the door, but Aadhya assured me that it would be fine and I began to grow confident.
On our journey back home, we met with a small accident. Unfortunately, my sister was badly injured–her right hand was scratched up and bleeding. She covered it up with a cotton scarf so as not to attract our parents’ attention and lied, saying that all shops were closed.
Her grade 10 exams started in three days. Despite her injured hand, she was sure to do the best among her peers. I was enjoying myself in grade 7. Not putting in any effort, kicking back and relaxing as my sister spent sleepless nights with her nose buried in her textbooks.
Weeks later, she finally received her grades and they were just as good as I had predicted.
“Papa! I topped my class,” Aadhya screamed.
“Oh, congratulations, Aadhyaa,” he said without looking up from his newspaper.
It was a proud moment for us all. Being the daughter of a middle-class family, it was no easy feat to top such a competitive examination. She was working hard towards improving our parents’ future but they didn’t even bat an eyelash.
My academic performance, on the other hand, was in the gutter. All the money they had invested in me was down the drain. Yet, I was the one to be enrolled in an international college while my sister at a local one.
Though they continued to ill-treating her time and time again and gave me their utmost importance, she never treated me with any viciousness or jealousy. Whenever we went to a temple, she wished for the wellbeing of my parents and I, never once thinking about herself.
One day, in a fit of rage, I finally plucked the courage to ask her the question that always weighed on my mind:
“Aadhya, why do you bear all this? Why don’t you tell to parents?”
She gave me a glass of cold water, “drink first,” she muttered, her cheeks red from embarrassment.
The cold water calmed me down and I settled down on her bed. She caressed my head and smilingly said, “You are all mine!”
The day finally arrived when Aadhya received her grade 12 exam results. She’d secured an unbelievable 98% and her future looked bright. My GPA, on the other hand, started with a one. Although my parents were dejected upon hearing that, they didn’t acknowledge any shortcomings in their ways.
Aadhya approached my father with the hopes of becoming a civil servant.
“Papa, I want to become a civil servant. I need to study in a big city to secure a better future. Will-“
Dad interrupted her, “What? A big city? A civil servant? What are you talking about Aadhyaa? Are you okay? Have you gone mad?”
“Look, you’re intelligent, I know, but stop being so absurd in your demands. You’re not going to convince me. Take these and relax,” he said as he handed tickets to Chomu to her. Chomu was where my aunt lived and where my father had decided Aadhya would pursue her bachelor’s degree.
With her dreams crushed, Aadhya was off, leaving me all alone.
“Hello, Aadhyaa! It’s a decade since I’ve seen you! Look at you all grown up now. How is everybody doing?” said our aunt with a wide smile.
“Hi, Auntie! We’re all doing good. Hope it’s same with you all too!” My sister answered.
“Yes, we’re all fine! Come inside!”
Auntie and she got along well. She loved the home. But told me that she majorly missed all our mischief.
A few days into her stay, Aadhya finally told her aunt, her true desire:
“Auntie, I’m interested in civil services but Papa is forcing me to pursue an insignificant bachelor’s first. I need your help to prepare and train for the exam—you know how tough it is. Please help me out and don’t tell Papa at any cost.”
“Aadhya, you can’t make such a major decision without telling your parents and seeking their approval. It’d be better for all of us if you let go of this dream. I hope you understand where I’m coming from,” she replied with an incredulous look on her face.
“Auntie, please, I’m not at all interested in what Dad is forcing me to do. I only came here without a single word of protest because of you. I was sure that you’d understand and help me out. You’re my only hope for a brighter future. I could study in Jaipur–it’s right here and so much better than this village. I’m a good student, please trust me. I can do it but I need you!”
Auntie got emotional at her words and agreed to it. “You’re exactly what your Dad was three decades ago!” she exclaimed.
I’d been sent to California to complete my higher education but my grades didn’t budge in the new environment either.
After dedicating a year to her preparation, she received the first “fail” of her life. The constant back and forth between Jaipur and Chomu, the long bus rides, the sleepless nights…they’d amounted to nothing. Aadhya’s resolve was in shatters.
Our aunt stayed strong, though. “Aadhya, you have to fail before you succeed. No one cracks it in their first attempt. Look how far you’ve come, you can’t give up now. Don’t worry, I’m here for you. I know you can do it, I’ve seen your dedication. Don’t stop now!” That proved to be the need of the hour. Aadhya wiped her tears, sat up straight and fervently returned to her routine.
Finally, Aadhya got the letter she had desperately hoped for! The state emblem was printed on top of the envelope and she felt just as strong as the lions in it. Incidentally, her first posting was as a collector for Bhanswara, my father’s native home.
“Congratulations, Aadhyaa, I always knew you’d do it. I’m not a normal woman anymore, no, I’m the aunt of a state official!” she gleefully shouted.
Aadhya had a different expression on her face. She was pacing nervously and her voice was trembling, “But what are we supposed to say to Dad? I’m terrified of how he’ll react. I don’t want to leave them, especially not Aadhi! I need your help.” The urgency in her voice was growing, “Oh, his dislike towards me will only grow!”
Our aunt reassured her and invited my parents and me to Chomu on the pretext of the opening of her new boutique next month.
The 30 days passed quickly and soon I would be able to see my sister in person.
We were on our way to what we thought was my aunt’s shop but the car pulled into a huge government building. The place was riddled with security guards that all saluted us as we entered. We were confused, to say the least.
We were soon led into a cabin by my aunt.
“Ma’am, may I enter?” my aunt asked, knocking on a blurred glass door.
“Yes, please, come…Oh my god!” my sister exclaimed upon seeing us. “All of you are here? I just can’t believe this!”
We were in shock. Our eyes were wide and jaws hanging open. She was here for university but was now the collector of an entire district! A government official! Mom and Dad were overjoyed; they finally saw her true potential. The four of us hugged after a long time and even my father got misty-eyed.
A daughter is not a tension.
A daughter is equal to ten sons.
I know that there are many girls like my sister who don’t get the education they deserve. This is the twenty-first century, and women can do anything. I hope that girls with circumstances like my sister’s are rare and few.
I now miss the late-night movie sessions with my partner in crime!
Anshika Kodukula, 13, lives in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. She is a student in grade 9 at Slate, The School. She is an avid reader of mystery and adventure novels. She loves travelling and is a travel photographer. She admires Ruskin Bond and Sudha Murty.