“Did you hear about Durga? She won a gold medal in gymnastics! I hear she’s going for nationals this year!” “She had full marks in all her report cards. If only my son was three years older, I’d have immediately fixed her marriage with my shona mona. Such a blessing to the Mukherjee household!”
But “neglected” would not be an inappropriate word to describe the other two.
Durga, meanwhile, sparkled and shone with every passing day. She was exquisite, radiant in her beauty, and broke the hearts of several Romeos too often, too good as she was for them, and too absorbed to notice it. It was one such swashbuckler’s noose that led her to that night.
But the minutes ticked by, and Durga just cried silently, shaking, then keening, and then she dissolved into gasps, grasping at her hair and her clothing like she was trying to scrub the remains of a leper off her. They took her into the shower, where she scrubbed till her skin was raw and bleeding, nails bitten to the skin, bloody. She had the look of a crazed woman, eyes darting from side to side, rocking slowly. Her screams kept the twins up all night.
Luckily the bathroom was soundproof.
The night melted into an October dawn, and suddenly the air was golden, festive. Durga emerged from her room, a changed person. Gone was the bubbly, rambunctious woman. She was a broken shell of a person. She was distracted, in terrible pain, twitchy and terrified of even the slightest sound. No one noticed. Pujo preparations were in full steam, whereas the goddess herself was missing.
On Panchami the twins mysteriously vanished, without a trace, for the entire day. People assumed they were up to their solitary shenanigans again, and nobody looked twice. Only Durga seemed withdrawn and distraught, pausing at intervals to ask where those two were. Mr. Mukherjee blamed it on unfathomable teenage idiosyncrasies, and shrugged it off.
They returned that night, identical smiles on their faces, walked up to Durga and hugged her. Durga’s smile of affection turned into one of horror as she noticed the bloodstains on their dresses.
The struggle was quiet, and very brief. And there was the leaf-laden, mud-filled pond right outside. The splash was lost in the sound of the drums coming from the pandal as the Goddess was welcomed, quivering in the night.
As the smell of shiuli pervaded their senses, Mr. and Mrs. Mukherjee were shocked to see their daughter, their pride and joy, a scarlet streak down the middle of her hair-parting. They sat down with her, asked her a thousand questions, but she managed to convince them to keep letting her wear it. Indignation metamorphosed into denial, and gradual resigned acceptance. The blood-red streak gleamed as she stood in front of the Goddess on the glorious Shashti morning, blazing with Goddess’s light, and people muttered, parting around her, staring at this beauty whose power seemed to scorch anybody within reach.
That October, she refused three invitations of marriage. When interrogated by familiar strangers, she would reply only with a cryptic, “Why, I’m married to my own damnation, of course.”
Index of Indian terms:
trishul: a three-pronged weapon, similar to a trident.
scarlet streak down the middle of her hair parting: this refers to the practice of married Hindu women wearing a vermilion streak in the parting of their hair.
Durga, Saraswati, Lakshmi: names of Hindu Goddeses.
Mahesh: evoking the name of the devil the Goddess defeats in Hindu mythology (Mahishasura)
shiuli: a flower traditionally associated with Durga Puja.
Durga Puja: a festival celebrating the Mother Goddess Durga.
Panchami: the fifth day of the festival.
Shashti: the sixth day of the festival.
Pandal: a place to worship the idol.
veena: an Indian instrument.
bagan bari: literally, “house with a garden”. Traditionally, a manor-house of sorts.
shona-mona: a term of endearment, translating to “my golden one”
sari: traditional Indian dress for women.
If you have questions about terms we missed, fire away in the comments! We’ll get back to you.