A Generous Dash of Vermilion

A Generous Dash of Vermilion

Kirti Abasan in North Kolkata was bustling with activities, with married women thronging the makeshift podium to offer their final obeisance to the Goddess. 

“MOU. You heard the news, right?” Anusuya’s eyes scanned her surroundings carefully as she beckoned her neighbour. 

Mou hurried towards her and whispered, “Nope. What are you talking about?”

Anusuya brought her face closer towards Mou. “That D Block 3rd floor Mashima. She has a new friend.”

Mou’s red lips formed into a capital O. “You mean that Chatterjee Mashima?” 

Anusuya nodded with palpable excitement. 

“A male one”?” Mou’s curiosity was now aroused. Anusuya shook her head in a dramatic manner.

“Stop the suspense. Tell me, Anu.”

Anusuya winked. “That type, you know…”

Oh maa go”. Mou gasped aloud. “Are you sure?”

By that time, a few other ladies had gathered around. Rumours fly faster than a supersonic plane in Indian societies. Chants of ‘new friend’ reverberated in front of the Goddess. As if it were a forbidden sin. 

“Is this why I came to this complex”, rued Mrs. Roy?

“And to think I proudly state to my relatives that I stay in a society full of bhadraloks”, agreed Mrs. Ghosh. 

Amidst the collective clucking of feminine tongues, Sumitra Chatterjee appeared, dressed in a pistachio green jamdani saree with a matching blouse. Accompanying her were Rupa and Moyna. 

The residents stood shell shocked. So Mashima had two new friends! That too….. 

Mrs. Chatterjee bowed down to the Goddess in reverence. 

“Rupa & Moyna, esho.”

“Excuse me, Mashima. May I know what’s happening here”, Mrs. Roy demanded to know?

“Meenakshi! I want my friends to participate in sindoor khela.”

Anusuya placed two palms over her mouth, her eyes wide open. Mou almost swooned. The other ladies looked like they had seen a ghost.

Mrs. Sengupta butted in. “Mashima. You should know better. THESE TWO are not allowed here.”

Moyna opened her mouth to say something, but Mrs. Chatterjee stopped her. “Indrani di. These two are my friends. And our guests too.”

“So now Hijras will become a regular in our respectable complex”, sniggered Mrs. Sengupta.

“STOP IT!” Mrs. Chatterjee turned crimson. “Respectable, my foot! Where were you when the goons of Rakhal babu came to threaten me? It was bang outside your so-called bhadralok society. It was Rupa and Moyna who risked their lives to save me.”

“That was because we had nothing to lose, Mashima”, Rupa pitched in, her voice barely audible.

One could have heard a zipper strain that day in Kirti Abasan.

Mrs. Chatterjee broke the silence. “Everyone is equal before Her. I am going to allow Rupa and Moyna to play Sindoor Khela”.

Aashun, Mashima”, welcomed Purohit Moshai with a smile. “Who are we to judge people? Maa will never differentiate between Her children.”

With that, Sumitra Chatterjee took a handful of vermilion from the plate and splashed it all over Rupa and Moyna’s face. “aasche bochor abar hobe …..” 

To which her new friends squealed delightfully.. “Bolo Dugga Ma ki …. Jai.”

Abasan: A housing society
Mashima: Maternal aunt in Bengali. Often elderly women are respectfully addressed so.
Oh Maa Go: An expression of shock or of surprise, it translates to ‘Oh My God’.
Bhadralok: A gentleman, a refined and a decent person.
Esho: Come (informal way)
Hijra: Eunuch
Sindoor Khela: It’s a tradition on Vijayadashami where married women apply sindoor, or vermilion, on each other’s face before bidding a farewell to Goddess Durga.
Aashun: Come (in a formal way)
Purohit Moshai: Priest, Moshai is Bengali word for Saheb or Mister.
Maa: Here it refers to Goddess Durga.
Aasche Bochor Abar Hobe: Often uttered on the day of the farewell. There will be a next time, so goes the meaning.

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4 thoughts on “A Generous Dash of Vermilion

  1. Friend in need is a friend indeed. The main theme of the story. Another aspect shown here is the declining sense of respect for the elderly among the “so called educated class” in many parts of the country.
    Both elements are well captured.

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