Suddenly Azhar stopped. ‘Nobody is giving a thought to our third sister who is at home and is not wearing anything new today,’ he said.
‘Mumtaz is not our sister, she is our cousin. And she is at home because she can’t walk!’ said Mehru and Kamru together. ‘But, yes, we should take some sweets for her too.’
The children had reached the fair on the banks of the river Gomti by this time. There were many tempting things for sale— glittering glass bangles, ribbons, necklaces, clay birds, animals, soldiers and dolls! There was something for everyone. Filled with excitement, the children forgot all about their cousin.
Mumtaz sat alone in the house of Abida Khala, the children’s aunt. Her crutches were in a corner nearby. She held a piece of embroidery in her hands, but her thoughts were far away—in Hardoi where her ammi and two sisters lived. Were they missing her as much as she missed them?
After Mumtaz’s father had died, there had never been very much money. One day, Abida Khala came and asked her mother to gather all the women of the mohalla to do their embroidery work together.
From then on, the women sat together on charpois and mats in their courtyard each day, listening to songs on the radio as they worked away on the fabrics. Mumtaz’s job was to provide tea for the younger women, while the older khalas had their betel-leaf boxes always at hand.