By Rai Sengupta:
I am a daughter of the land that worships Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth with her seductive tinkling of gold coins. Lakshmi, the one who heralds prosperity. You beseech her to bring you good fortune, good profits, good yield. You invite her, time and again, to grace your home with her golden footprints. Yet you did think twice before abandoning me, your new-born child in the gutter, amidst rotten apples, soiled sanitary napkins and broken car parts.
Yesterday’s child amidst yesterday’s newspapers. Oh Baba, how could you ignore my plaintive wails, my tiny voice screaming to draw you back to me before the sewage gradually choked me?
I am a girl, born in a country that worships Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom; the erudite celestial being with her vast repository of knowledge, and her mastery over all learning. You chant her name before examinations, you remember her before the results are declared, you extol her virtues around the time your sons are to become engineers. Yet you keep me, a girl of fourteen, away from the world of letters and numbers. I remain in the kitchen, cooking the sabzi for the evening’s meal, the smoke from the stove filling my eyes, sweat dripping between my thighs. I strain my ears, peeping through the partition between the kitchen and the bedroom, listening to the tutor teach Bhaiya the basics of calculus. Every night, I struggle to recall all that I had grasped today, through the hole in the partition. It is like holding on to a fleeting dream: the concepts remain hazy and gradually sleep takes over.
I am a woman born in the land of Durga, the goddess of strength. The mighty ten armed mother of the universe. Yet, you leer at me, the girl living across the road, every time I am alone on my way back from college. In the darker hours, you get bolder, pinching my cheek or lightly brushing your hand across my chest. Sometimes you think of doing more, maybe one day you will. You pay homage to Durga, the indestructible. Yet every day, you choose to destroy who I am, little by little. You choose to destroy me when you casually suggest fairness creams to “enhance my beauty”, as though the glow on my thirteen-year-old face was not enough. You choose to destroy me when you make me feel ‘vile’ and ‘impure’ for bleeding uncontrollably once a month. You numb my soul through stories of what happens to the ‘unfortunate’ women who chose to step out after dark. Every time, I question my own safety outside the house even after the street lights are lit, a part of me fades away. I flinch even in broad daylight, what good are street lights. You choose to destroy me, denigrating my existence and quenching your raging lust through my feeble body, lifeless once you are done.
You worship Durga, the invincible. You grovel at her feet to eliminate your sufferings; you celebrate her homecoming every autumn with beating drums and blowing conch shells. You bow your head, kneel before her sheer magnificence and fold your palms in respect and wonder. With those very palms, you strike me, your new bride, for not bringing enough dowry. Your hand print remains on my cheek; I apply foundation the next day wondering if these are the kind of marks concealers are supposed to ‘conceal’. By night, I must submit to your desires once more, I am your woman, one of two of your most prized possessions: ‘zar’ and ‘zameen’.
How fervently you worship your goddesses and how easily you forget their mortal.