The Devi within

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By Rimli Bhattacharya

I am a resident of Mumbai. Not exactly though. I was born in Jalpaiguri, raised in Agartala, and upon completion of my engineering, I landed in Mumbai with a job. I was a young woman of twenty then. But why do I even bother to give my introduction? Does this universe really need it? Once upon a time it mattered a lot. But I don’t care anymore.

At 22, I married a man whom I thought I loved deeply. He came from a family of Orthodox Syrian Christians. Did I tell you that I am a Hindu? And how does that even matter? Aren’t we all the same? “Shut up” – my head screams; “Gods are different” – my head continues. Though it was a love marriage, I was forced to change my religion. The more they made me pray to their God, I kept reminding myself that I am a progeny of Goddess Kali. But still that eternal question formed a vortex of my thought: Aren’t we all the same? But no, everything is justified as long as we do it in the name of God.

Sindoor (Vermillion) was an integral part of the matriarch in our house. I had seen my mother sport sindoor in her shinthi (parting of the hair) along with a coin shaped bindi on her forehead. I come from an upper middleclass family and my mother took full advantage of it. She spent her earnings making ornaments which she would gift her daughter once she gets married. I never knew that she had even bought for me a rupor sindoorer kouto (silver box meant for the vermillion) until she handed me the same a day prior to my wedding. She said, “Amar kotha toh shunli na, ei vinno jaati biye kore keu shukhi hoy na” (You did not listen to me, know this you cannot be happy with a man from a different religion). I was devastated. My father smiled a lot those days. The reason was unknown to me. It took me two decades to know the reason behind that smile.

Well, I was talking of sindoor and that took me somewhere else.

“It’s our custom to wear sindoor after we marry,” I had said to my ex. Yes, now I am divorced.

“Sure, you may wear it. My family is very liberal,” he had said.

“Rub off that red. That’s not welcome in the church,” my orthodox father-in-law had said. My husband did not utter a single word in my favor.

“But you had told me your family was liberal. Remember, we had married while sitting on the rocks at Marine Drive. You had applied sindoor on my sinthi and had declared that we were married,” I had thrown an accusing glance at my husband. I was rewarded with a silence.

I had put my foot down and had continued wearing sindoor till the day we divorced.

Four decades ago, when I was a girl of twelve, I had started understanding something of this world. I had asked my mother why she kept applying sindoor. She had replied that all married women including Goddess Durga did the same. This seemed justified to me.

“Maa, why does Kali keep her tongue hanging out,” I had said to my mother curiously.

“Shhh, she had stepped on her husband and one should respect her husband. You better learn it,” my mother had replied.

I recalled Maa’s stories about the Goddess. That Kali was Durga’s younger sister. No, Kali is a different version of Durga. No, both Kali and Durga had married Lord Shiva. But Kali was a spinster. On the last version of Goddess Kali, I had said, “Maa, it can’t be. Kali isn’t a spinster. Look she wears sindoor.”

“You know, you see, I mean, look certain things are not for you……okay enough now sit and study. Such a little girl and so much interest you take in discussing marriage and sindoor,” Maa had retorted somewhat angrily.

This created confusions. But I guess I had got accustomed to all these confusions which Maa introduced every now and then. But the thing which was constant in my life was the sindoor. I loved when Maa applied it. During Pujos, sindoor was used generously at our home.

So, when I had spilled the beans saying that I will be marrying a Christian, Maa had cried.  Along with Maa, I had cried. My father had smiled, though.

“Wear the sindoor every day. It’s a mark that you have a man in your life and will spend the next seven rebirths with him,” Maa had said as she cried.

***

24 October 2022

I had landed in Kolkata. Interestingly it was Kali Pujo and it was drizzling. The board on the gate of the housing complex read, Khadim Vidyakut Abashan. I was stopped by an acquaintance. Pointing to the red bangles in my hand, she said how beautiful my hands looked with the pola (trademark of a married Bengali female). I wanted to tell her that they were made of cheap plastic and not what she meant. But I stopped.

There were at least a hundred likes on my picture which I had posted on Facebook that night. Those who never bothered even to ask how I was doing, threw curious questions, “When did you get married?” Also, my status on WhatsApp raised the eyebrows of my Mumbai neighbors. “Live happily, this is what I pray for you every day”, “So you went to Kolkata to get married?” and so on.

I had unleashed the Kali in me. I had defied all norms and applied the sindoor. I am a single mother who sports sindoor on her sinthi. I don’t have a man in my life. But I am not needy either. So many have come in my life that I have lost count of them. Our frequencies didn’t match, and I had walked away from them.

“Buri, your marriage wasn’t meant to last. It was well predicted. I knew it from the day you chose a man from a different religion,” my father had smiled on his death bed. He left behind a grieving daughter and his beloved natni (granddaughter).

I am a Devi now, one who has the power to ward off the evil and wear sindoor, the spark of which keeps me going.

Bio:
Rimli Bhattacharya
 is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering with a MBA in supply chain management. She has contributed to two anthologies, A Book of light and Muffled Moans and has written two solo books, The crosshairs of life and That day it rained and other stories. Her other works have appeared in twenty-nine literary magazines & E-Zines. She is also an Indian Classical dancer.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Thinking through the body: Fear, faith, and fluids”, edited by Dr. Papia Sengupta, Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

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