"Sonya, your baby brother has finally arrived."
"Really, Papa, is he with you? Why don't you give him the phone I want to talk to him."
Mihir Mathur laughed. "Come on Sonya, how can he speak now? He is hardly a few hours old."
There was silence at the other end and then Sonya asked, "Papa, when can I see him? I also want to bring Kavita and Preety along. They want to see my brother too. And Papa I have already thought of a name for him. We'll call him Sunny. Sonia and Sunny, it will sound so cute."
"Okay, okay. Be ready along with your friends by four. I'll come and pick you up."
"He is so sweet," Kavita exclaimed.
"Mama can I touch him," Sonia asked her mother Seema.
"Yes you can. But very softly."
Sonya placed her hand on her brother's cheek. He crinkled his eyes, opened his tiny mouth and started crying.
Startled Sonya withdrew her hand. Seeing her expression everyone laughed.
Just then the door of the cabin opened and Sonya heard a booming voice, "So Mihir on top of the world eh? I remember last time when the Doctor came out of the labour room and said, 'Daughter' how your face fell. At last your prayers have been answered. Congratulations," Mihir's friend Amrish said slapping him on the back and shaking his hand.
"Thanks yaar, I can't tell you how happy I am."
Amrish looked around and after congratulating Seema turned to Sonya, "Hey Sonya you are here. I didn't see you. You better be careful. Till now you were the only one but now your brother has arrived. You will have to compete with him for everything."
Sonya didn't utter a word. She looked at her father expecting him to contradict his friend. But her father kept grinning from ear to ear oblivious of the hurt expression in his daughter's eyes.
Three days later Seema and Sunny returned home. The entire day Sonia was busy in helping Ammaji, her grandmother, in tidying up the bed room. After the job was down she surveyed the room.
"Now it looks bright, neat and tidy," she thought to herself satisfied with the effort.
That night as she was changing into her nightie she heard Seema calling.
She went to the bedroom where Sunny was sleeping cuddled against Seema. He looked like a small doll - soft and fragile.
"Sonya, from today you will not be sleeping here. You will have to sleep with Ammaji."
Sonya was stunned. All her life she had slept in this very room. Her parents used the double bed while she slept on a cot beside it.
"But why, Mama?"
"There will not be enough space for all of us. Sunny will sleep on your bed.
"But, Mama, I don't want to sleep in Ammaji's room. It is so untidy."
"Then tidy it up. Come on Sonya, you are a big girl now. Next month you will be seven years old. Don't act like a cry baby."
"Hey Seema! Guess what? The Manager at Surya International turned out to be my class mate."
"Surya International? I didn't get you."
"I've decided to celebrate Sunny's birthday in Surya International. We'll have a grand party."
"Are you crazy Mihir? You know Surya International is a five star hotel. It will cost the earth."
"Come on Seema, it is the first birthday of my one and only son. I have a right to celebrate it the way I want. And moreover the Manager is even offering me a 20 per cent discount."
"I still think it is a waste of money."
"Come on don't be such a miser. An occasion like this comes once in a life time."
Sonya was reading in one corner of the room. Ten minutes later she went to her parent's bedroom and took out the album of photographs taken on the occasion of her first birthday. It had been celebrated in this very house and not in a grand five star hotel.
Sunny's birthday party had been arranged in the banquet hall of Surya International.
Akram Uncle and Roshni aunty were the first to arrive. Usually whenever Akram Uncle came home he would pick up Sonya, place her on his lap and would ask her to recite a poem she had learnt in school. Roshni aunty would admire her latest dress. Today when she ran forward to greet them they merely flashed a smile at her and rushed towards where Sunny was sitting on his mother's lap.
"Bhabhi, let me give the birthday boy a huge birthday kiss. I'll then give him his birthday gift," declared Roshni Aunty.
Sonya was disappointed. She was wearing a lovely dress. It was a dark green ghagra with a bright red choli. She knew she looked very pretty. She had been sure that both Uncle and Aunty would definitely praise her dress and compliment her on her looks. But apparently they had no time for anyone other than Sunny.
The entire spotlight was on him. Mihir had bought half a dozen dresses for Sunny and Seema was changing one every fifteen minutes. Everyone was eager to pick Sunny up and pose for a photo with him. Sonya sat in one corner and watched everyone enjoying.
"What happened Sonya? Why are you looking so sad?"
Sonya looked up. It was Kiran, her mother's younger sister. She had come this morning from Delhi especially for Sunny's birthday. She had finished her MBBS and was now studying further to become a ped…ped… Sonya knew the spelling and with some effort she could pronounce the word - pediatrician.
Sonya was very fond of her mausi. She was great fun to be with. She was very smart and pretty. Sonya wanted to be like her when she grew up.
"Nothing Mausi. I am all right," Sonya said and ran forward to greet her friends Kavita and Preety who had just arrived.
Seema and Mihir had gone to a wedding along with Ammaji. Kiran, Sonya and Sunny were there at home. Kiran was reading a book in the guest room when she heard Sunny screaming in the bed room. She got up and ran. Sonya was doing her homework and Sunny was lying on the bed screaming at the top of his voice. Kiran picked him up and cuddled him. He clung to her whimpering.
"What happened Sonya?"
"I don't know," she said, without even looking up.
"But why did he suddenly start screaming?"
"How do I know? I was busy doing my homework."
The next day afternoon Kiran and Seema were in the kitchen. Seema was baking a cake and Kiran was helping her out. Suddenly they heard Sunny crying. They ran to the living room and they saw him sitting in his rocking chair yelling. Sonya was lying on the sofa nearby drawing in her scrap book.
Seema picked up Sunny who continued screaming. She held him close and went into the kitchen.
"Why was he screaming?" Kiran asked Sonya.
"How should I know? My back was to him and I was busy drawing."
"Come on Sonya, you should not act so unconcerned. He was screaming so loudly and you didn't even bother to reach out and comfort him."
Sonya didn't reply. But Kiran saw defiance on her face and a strange look in her eyes which she found disturbing.
"Didi today let me give Sunny a bath. I'll check whether he has got any infection or rashes because of which, he is feeling irritated," Kiran told her sister.
When Kiran undressed Sunny she was shocked to see red patches on his thighs and stomach. It was as if a bee had stung him.
That evening Kiran was arranging Sonya's school bag. Seema was not keeping well and had gone to bed early.
As she rummaged through Sonya's desk picking up the books and placing them in the school bag, according to the time table, she came across a small notebook on which was written in a child's hand - "My Diary". Out of curiosity she started flipping through the pages. On the third page a sketch caught her eye. It was that of a man, woman, girl and a baby boy. The baby's sketch had been crossed by two diagonal lines. Below it were the following words:
Mama says you are very fond of children and you always grant their wishes. Please God, take my brother away. Before he was born everyone loved me. I was very happy. Now no one loves me. Everyone loves only Sunny. I feel very lonely and sad. I will be happy only when he dies."
The next day was a second Saturday. Kiran took Sonya out for a picnic to Nihaar Park. There in one secluded corner of a park Kiran took out the diary and showed it to Sonya.
Sonya's face turned white.
"Mausi….where..where did you find this?"
"Never mind that. It is your diary isn't it?"
Sonya kept silent, her eyes downcast.
"What is wrong Sonya? Seema told me you used to pray to God that he should gift you a baby brother. You used to feel sad that while all your friends had brothers to whom they could tie rakhi, you had no one."
Sonya was silent for a few minutes and then she began speaking. Slowly, bit by little bit, everything tumbled out. In between sobs she told Kiran everything - every little incident, every gesture, every word that had hurt her. She then buried her face in her Mausi's lap and wept uncontrollably.
Next morning at nine Kiran dropped Sonya in Kavita's place.
"Enjoy yourself. I will pick you up in the evening," she told Sonya.
Ammaji had gone to attend a religious discourse and would be back only in the afternoon. Kiran told Seema, "Didi I want to talk to you and Jeejaji. It is something important. Can we sit together after breakfast?"
"Sure," Seema replied.
Half an hour later the three of them were sitting in the living room.
"What is it Kiran?" Mihir asked.
She gave him Sonya's diary. "Read aloud the page which is folded, please."
He read through his face turning red as he reached the end.
"By God. I can't believe this. Has that wretched child gone mad?" Seema exclaimed.
"What she needs is some good old fashioned spanking. I think we have mollycoddled her too much," Mihir said gritting his teeth.
"No, Jeejaji the matter is not as simple as that. The root of the problem lies much deeper. Sonya is extremely jealous of Sunny. And because of this she has developed a kind of hatred for him. Do you know why Sunny was howling that day?"
"I guess because he had stomach ache or something?" Seema said.
"No, Sonya had pinched him. Later that day when I was giving him a bath I noticed the marks."
"Oh! God. I too saw those marks but I thought they were due to some kind of rash."
"I think Seema things have gone too far. I'll give her a thrashing she will never forget," Mihir declared.
"Come on Jeejaji. Spanking is hardly the solution. In fact it will only make matters worse. In my course I've had to study quite a bit of child psychology. I have come across a couple of case studies somewhat similar to Sonya's. Yesterday, I had a heart to heart talk with her. I don't blame her for harbouring ill will towards Sunny?"
"If she is not to be blamed then perhaps Sunny is to be blamed?" Mihir asked, his tone loaded with sarcasm.
Ignoring the sarcasm Kiran said, "The two of you are to be blamed."
"What nonsense are you talking Kiran?" Seema exclaimed.
"Have patience Didi. I'll explain. Let me first tell you what Sonya told me....."
Kiran recounted in detail every word which Sonya had said.
"My God I didn't now she was so observant," Mihir said.
"Jeejaji all children are very observant. Very few things escape their notice. And with Sonya the additional problem is that she is very sensitive. For seven years she had both of you to herself. And even though you were pining for a boy, you never neglected Sonya. She was happy with both of you taking good care of her. Then suddenly with Sunny's arrival things changed. Your attention shifted completely to him and Sonya started feeling neglected."
"But Kiran we didn't do anything on purpose. We had a son after waiting for so long so naturally we were happy and we wanted to share this happiness with everyone. What is wrong with that?" asked Mihir.
"There is nothing wrong with that. But then you should also spare a thought for the feelings of the elder child. You should not make Sonya feel that Sunny's arrival has made you so happy and contented that you don't need her at all."
"So what do you want us to do? Disown Sunny?"
"Come on Didi. Don't go to extremes. I am only asking you to change your attitude towards Sonya. Be more sensitive to her feelings. Even if you are thrilled to have a son, don't make it so obvious. Sonya is a lovely child, sensitive and intelligent. Convince her that you love her as much as you love Sunny. Make her understand that both she and Sunny have an equally important place in your lives. And all this you'll have to do by practicing not by preaching. If you start lecturing her she will react.
"But Kiran, surely Sonya also needs some talking to, Seema said."
"You are quite right Didi. I am here for another two weeks. I'll try to counsel her as much as I can. I'll explain to her that she should learn to share the love and affection of her parents with her brother. She should realise that she had the two of you entirely to herself for seven long years. If now Sunny is getting attention she should not feel jealous. He is tiny and vulnerable. He can't take care of himself. He has to depend on others. Sonya should help you in taking care of Sunny rather than competing with the little fellow for every small thing."
She stopped speaking and looked at them. They were silent.
"Didi, Jeejaji, I'll try my best to counsel Sonya but the onus lies mainly on you. You have hurt her sentiments. Now it is up to you to assuage her feelings. I am convinced if you make an effort Sonya will surely come around."
Kiran opened the envelope with anticipation. It was from Sonya. It was almost a year since she had last seen her. Inside the envelope was a greeting card. Kiran's birthday was next week. There was also a letter.
How are you? We are all fine here. Last week there was a poetry recitation competition in our school. I wrote a poem and recited it. I won the first prize. I am enclosing the poem. I hope you like it."
On a separate sheet of paper was the poem written in a neat hand:
My Brother's name is Sunny,
He is naughty and he is funny.
He is cute and fair,
But alas he has little hair.
My brother's antics
Make everyone smile,
But his tantrums
Make me run a mile.
Mummy calls him
A sweet little prankster,
But I call him
A tough little gangster.
The one who loves most
This naughty little Mister,
Is none other than
His one and only sister.
At night when I pray
Just before I sleep,
I tell God there's a promise
He must surely keep.
Without my dear Sunny
I feel lonely and forlorn,
Please God, make him my brother
Every time I am born."
Kiran finished reading the poem and closed her eyes for a moment. She then picked up a hanky lying on the table and wiped the tears flowing down her cheeks.