I looked around the hall filled with relatives and friends. Everyone had come to celebrate the event. The scream from within was rising, but I quickly quelled the urge. At ninety, I did not wish to make a fool of myself. Adjusting the Gadwal saree, I wondered whether the person who bought the saree liked the colour. Why else would anyone buy a bright pink border saree for a ninety-year-old? In the buying spree for the event, my saree purchase could have been an afterthought anyway. I shouldn’t be so mean, lest I become a bemoaning witch in my old age!
Slowly, I walked into the large hall and saw the doorway decorated with the festoon of mango leaves and marigold strings. A huge stage, the mandap, was arranged in the hall and adorned with exotic flowers. I could imagine a small fortune spent on the flowers. The mandap, with the weight of all the exotic flowers, seemed a bit like me; all decked out, standing, and searching for its identity! Trays of flowers and fruits were scattered around; so were the children, scurrying and screaming in their fantasy world.
The family was running around, chatting, and laughing. Someone, not sure who, asked whether I would like to rest. Like my foot, why would I? It sure took a hell lot of time to tie this garish pink border saree around me. I might as well sit for some time and see the event, my great granddaughter’s wedding.
I was married at fifteen, to a man who was then forty. He came to my house with his son, who was twenty, for ‘bride-seeing’ for his son. But as soon as he saw me, in a pale pink saree that matched the blush in my cheeks, he felt the longing for a wife. A deep red desire ate his soul. He dumped the son and married me.
His first wife died a few years back and the family was big, loud, and rich. He had three daughters and three sons with his first wife. The dead wife’s family was always in touch, hovering and tethered to this house through events and threads of memories, dipped in love and laced with watchfulness. Her brothers, their children, grandchildren, their weddings, their functions, their festivals, the laughter, and the sorrow; through every situation either good or bad, the network stayed connected and continued to spread.
As for me, something died a premature death the day they told me that the father-in-law to-be wanted to marry me instead of the son. I could sense the sinking feeling. But even before I could readjust to this new scenario, the plates with green beetle leaves, yellow bananas and fine silks were exchanged. I was even gifted with a long gold chain with a pendant of goddess Lakshmi, with pearls dangling at the edge.
This was my great granddaughter’s wedding, who happened to be the granddaughter of the man I was supposed to marry. He was no more. He died a few years back. Did I feel sad? There were some dry feelings, like heat waves on a summer day, which had no name, no face, just dryness. I was not sure what did I feel, but over the years I got used to such waves of dryness.
Dryness, when did it start? The rasping feeling. Did it start from my issueless state? The day I became a mother in a household at fifteen, something clogged. Nothing could flower in me after that. Dressed in silks, smelling sandalwood paste, jarringly beautiful and jaded inside, childless, I never blossomed to yield a fruit.
Dryness became life and manifested in many ways; when I had to marry off my eldest daughter and found the son-in-law glancing too often at me, or when the elder uncle of my husband tried to touch my cheeks to pat. I started draping myself in sarees that were thick, checked and bold. With a big bindi on my forehead, long, thick, ruffled hair coiled in a bun, I became aged by a decade and more decades for every year that passed by.
I married off each of the daughters and then the sons. Daughter-in-laws puzzled over me. They did not know why I was not able to sleep for more than two hours or why I roam around restlessly in the night or why I never cry.
The garden behind the bungalow where I grew the herbs and vegetables took a lot of my time. The house ran on the vegetables from my vegetable garden. I also had a cactus in a corner. They said that it was not lucky to have a cactus at home. I heard the gossip in the dark corners of the house, whispered in raspy voices, about how I was cursed and how I walked like a ghost all day. How I had not shed a tear when my husband died or when the stepson died, and how I stood there staring, dry eyed. The drought for sleep and tears made me look gaunt.
The sudden sound of noise brought me back to the present and I glanced at the entrance. The music was playing an old Hindi song and a few were dancing as if there were no tomorrow. The laughter was loud and a few women and men were trying hard to speak above the music and laughter. As everyone was speaking at the same time, hardly anyone heard anything or seemed interested.
Just then my great granddaughter walked in. I blinked at the saree she wore. For months they were all on a shopping binge and I expected her to wear one of the finest, expensively tagged silk saree, costing a small fortune. But she walked in wearing, wait a minute, my wedding saree!! With pride and dreams in the eyes, she looked up at me and told how she loved to wear ‘that saree’ as she felt that I lived a great life, filled with all its implications and joy.
A scarlet red saree, from my past, after all these years.
“Was the unconscious playing its hand to indicate the inner flame that was consuming me, when I choose the saree?”
Red meant power, the power I could not show or muster. The saree had a heavy ultramarine deep blue border, blue so deep that it could sink your heart. To ensure the blue did not overflow, the border had golden zari rudraksham beads that locked the blue. The border also had intricately designed golden swans. The birds were beautiful and lonely. They are said to be the mystical birds that lived in heaven and were known for their purity. There were thousands of zari-bottis strewn across the saree, glittering in the shape of raindrops, mirroring my tears, locked and shinning.
Looking at her and the saree, something snapped in me – the dryness, the curse, the rush of betrayal. The weary self-inside me welled and overflowed into a long screeching noise, a scream that pierced every ear in the big bungalow.
I screamed, screeched, and then suddenly the dam broke. I sat, cried, sobbed and howled, for all those children I could not bear, the love that was never understood, the misery of being smothered in the yards of silk, and the work, the drudgery, and the pain. Slowly I drifted off into the nothingness, white, blissful, soft, floating and misty. Finally, my eyes closed to the long, blissful, dreamless sleep, closer to God.
Illustration – Priyanka Patil