Key to Hindi words
rotis, chapattis – thin breads, an essential part of meals in North India
saree – a garment wore by Indian women, usually heavily embroidered
agarbattis – incense sticks
tava – a frying pan
dharma – duty, also the word used for religion
As she cooked the rotis, the heat from the flames made her sweat. It was deemed an unnecessary luxury, so there was no fan in the kitchen to provide for comfort against her hardship.
It was a dark and dingy place, made of bricks, which were damaged at places in between their beehive-like structure, and a tin roof. The house, if you can call it that, was a single room. There were a few pieces of furniture and it looked its habitants slept on the cold hard floor, which was caked with dust, with clean patches looking like silhouettes spread on the floor. There was no room for ventilation, so the heat got trapped inside. The only door had sunlight seeping from below it, but the sunlight had not managed to expand its territory to even half an inch from the main entrance. A particular spot quite near the roof, however, was damaged enough to let the sunlight come through. The beam of light fell on her, making a natural spot light.
She sat there, in her lumpy and colourful clothes. She had three white dots on each of her cheeks and wore a simple yet elegant nose ring. She wore moderately long, cheap earrings that had lots of smooth glittery stones which reflected some light from her spotlight and formed a cluster of tiny flash lights. The skin on her face was starting to sag. She wore a cheap, plain saree that was devoid of any trinkets or decorations but was an extremely bright hue of red. The sunlight filled the cluster of bangles on her hands with light, brightening them up but fading the depth of their colour at the same time.
The heat waves from her cauldrons shimmered and made everything around and beyond seem hazy.
The smell of food she had made enticed her nostrils. In one corner, there was a small area dedicated to her gods and the agarbattis she had burned mixed their essence with that of the dinner in making. It gave the house a very misty look. It made the very place stricken with dire poverty and helplessness look serene and gave her a very peaceful look.
Someone better off may come along and call the scene aesthetic, but it couldn’t have been comfortable.
She looked around like she was talking this all in for the first time and in her eyes, it seemed like heaven. Maybe that’s why she didn’t leave, even though her saree was laced with sweat.
She was hungry, but could eat only after her family, to ensure that everybody got their fill, much like mothers creating the society and its labourers but not getting to eat its fruit of productivity till much later, when everyone else is done with it.
The heat from her own creation stung her eyes and the oil that came spurting out threatened to burn her clothes and rob her off her dignity.
She brought out a plate to transfer the chapattis from the tava with her naked fingers. Picking them up would bring her fingers in contact with the steaming tava, but she didn’t seem to care. She could have stretched out her hand. She could have picked the cloth lying not so far. Not out of her reach. She could have used it. But she didn’t bother. She had done this for years now. She didn’t mind taking the brunt of the heat.
Her hands did not swell or become red, not any more.
She had to feed her family. She had to achieve what she had been told was her aim and dharma, her whole life, and be the ideal wife.
She let herself burn.