Bengal Presidency

A few years before Sati was abolished.

Thunder tore through the skies. Winds howled through the ruinous orchard. The storm drenched her pallu. The courtyard was barren.

Her saree - white. Her breasts - heavy. Her body - tense and her mind - tumultuous.

Without the tinkling of her bangles, her life seemed noiseless. Without the vermillion in her hair, she felt naked. There was no use of this life now - no children, no husband, no duties, no expectations, no one who was dependent on her. Now her only duty was to take her rightful place at her lord’s feet the next day on the Sati-chita. Her father-in-law had made it clear that women of this reputable clan never did anything that would taint their legacy.

Her brother had paid a condolence visit to the mansion in the morning. He had spoken to her in seclusion and said a lot of things about remarriage, education, rights, emotion, equality and all, and had thrust some train ticket into her hand. She wasn’t really paying attention. Her husband had died. How could he tell a grieving widow to care for her own life? Her position would always be, all seven lives and deaths, at her pararmeshwar’s feet.

She heavily trudged down the forlorn hallways where she had vowed to spend her life, the very corridors that she had hoped would one day echo with the laughter of many sons, the puja room that had been her sole companion in the days bygone. Now she was forbidden to show her face to the gods. The lanterns dulled in subservience to her torment.

She quietly lay down on the bed where she had once decorated vows and hopes, where the red in her sindoor and the red in her heart had once danced in glory. Now the bed, her hair, and her dreams were all colourless. Her heavy eyes closed (or maybe opened).

Through the forlorn archways of her mind,

Trudges she on, her hands and feet in bind

Silence echoes, abyss amplified,

Even shadows here seem mortified

Distantly obscured, someone plucks a sitar’s strings

Full, rich, and hued - like the bloom of a hundred springs

Pakhawaj percusses and ghungroos harmonize

And a choir’s sargam rises to patronize

Through a chink in the door, she sees an angelic celebration

And her soul rises to pirouette in a bona fide ovation

Here in the deepest recess of her heart,

Who’s that apsara who dances, personified art?

Bathed in elation today, dances Love, dances Solitude

Dyed in gulaal this day, dances Freedom, dances Servitude

Birth cradles Death, Bondage decorates Wings

And a veiled lady, a key to her brings

And behind the veil, decked in solah shringaar,

Was herself.

The next morning, when the women of the house arrived to escort her, the ticket and the ‘widow’ were nowhere to be found.

Author: Shashmita Sanyal

Editor: Anushka Saxena

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