The little girl sits on her haunches, the sounds of some half formed song filling the air around her like a shroud. A strange assortment of things lie near her. Odd knick-knacks, something only a child can make sense of. A little piece of peacock blue fabric, probably something she has gathered for a doll’s dress. A clump of knotted up hair. The floor at her feet is sprinkled with red. It looks suspiciously like vermillion which she has no right to be playing with.
The girl is thin with her ribs sticking out from the dress she has on. They make her body resemble the rough bark of neem tree, the effect heightened by her stick-like arms. The dress is painfully inadequate for the chilly weather as it is for her ripening body which her thin frame fails to hide. Dirt clings to the dress, once the colour of vermillion, but now has turned a dark shade of maroon akin to dried blood.
The grime has her tresses sticky and as twisted as those of the chillum* smoking aghoris* frequenting the shamshan ghat nearby, just like her. Her aunt doesn’t want her home and on most days hardly cares where she spends her time. She, an orphan, is always hungry, starved for food, knowledge, and love. The aghoris aren’t so miserly with either their food or their affections. And sometimes their knowledge too.
The song she has been humming picks up tempo with its repeated refrains. It is not a song at all. The girl is chanting something as she strokes a fire in front of her. The flames flare up and in the receding darkness the vermillion spread on the girl’s forehead is visible, waving in the dancing flames like a bloody pennant. Her eyes are lined with kohl, two thick streaks not for adornment but for some ancient ritualistic requirement. Her thick rope-like tresses wave in tandem with the words and it seems as if the flames are also obeying the rhythm of the girl’s incantations.
The pitch of the chants amplifies and she raises her hands to the skies, as if in supplication. One of them holds a crude shaped doll, draped in the peacock blue piece of her aunt’s saree. Hair strands have been meticulously stitched on in an effort to resemble a human scalp. The doll’s face is streaked with vermillion and kohl in an attempt at facial features. Her other hand holds a sharp babool* thorn. Her aunt’s words thrum in her mind as the chanting reaches a crescendo.
“Dayan. Paida hote hi ma baap ko kha gayi.”
“Chudail hai ye. Kabhi bhala nahi kar sakti kisi ka.”
She has always been called a witch. Time to find out if she actually is.
Chillum: a short pipe for smoking cannabis
Aghori: a sect of sadhus dabbling in the occult
Babool: a kind of tree
Dayan: a witch who devours kids and adults
Paida hote hi maa baap ko kha gayi: devoured her parents as soon as she was born
Kabhi kisi ka bhala nahi kar sakti: Nothing good ever done by her
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!