3rd Oct 2022
The orange-yellow, newly erected, temporary Puja Pandal at the busy crossing in Gurgaon, looks resplendent as it competes with the autumn hues. It boasts of a conquest over the concrete hub of false piety built on pillars of deceit which flourished there earlier. Stricter adherence to hygiene and social distancing during the pandemic saw the end of its illegal predecessor.
Temporary tents for community celebrations have been permitted.
So for now, it is the abode of the Divine Mother.
Rumours of the residing idol’s miraculous powers are doing the rounds.
A jet-lagged Mallika, on her way to her hotel from the airport, sniggers at this piece of news shared by her cab-driver. Would things in India ever change? To her surprise, the driver screeches the cab to a sudden halt and she finds herself in front of the bone of contention. The Durga idol mesmerises her with an unspoken familiarity.
“Madam, right here, I was forgiven by the family I wronged.” The driver said.
Two Days Back
Dhara and Siddhi visited the new Puja Pandal to seek blessings from the Devi who had kept them alive two years back. They stared wonderstruck at the beautiful idol. A commotion distracted Siddhi and she ran out. Dhara found her stroking the head of an unconscious man, who had been hit by a bike. Dhara gasped “ Papaji”. The face brought back horrifying memories but nevertheless she arranged for help and called her mother.
With Dadi no more, her father had become a helpless vagabond.
Aastha didi, at the hostel where Dhara’s mother worked as a cook arranged for his job as a cab-driver.
One Day Back
Aastha’s life had changed after she learnt to accept herself. She had grown wings and soared , unstoppable. And then she had fallen…in love. An unending passion for art brought them together and a deeper understanding of life bound them. “But would her parents agree to their relationship?” She pondered, sitting at the café opposite the vibrant Pandal, witnessing the joyous reunion of a family of five.
Anish and Anamika had agreed to reconcile with the parents who had separated them at birth. Unknown to the parents, the twins were there for the sake of their elder sister, Anya. As the emotional rejoicing settled, Anya beckoned Aastha. “Mum and Dad, meet my soulmate. Aastha completes me and we want to spend our lives together!
Shaila found the purse on the table where she had waited on the happy family of six. The amount it carried could meet her month’s expenses. Destiny had saved her from the detention camp but landed her in a heartless city. She worked double shifts, thankful that her children were well looked after by her neighbour, Mrs Manuel. The elderly lady, who had lost her daughter, Dr Sarah, to the perils of the pandemic, ran a creche to support herself and her granddaughter. Shaila seemed to fill the void left by Sarah in Mrs Manuel’s life.
The wallet felt heavy as Shaila crossed the Durga idol on her way back home. A wave of righteousness made her dial the number written on the inside.
A grateful Anamika offered her a high paying job in her café in Mussoorie. On discovering the reason for Shaila’s hesitation, she promised to get Mrs Manuel employed at the orphanage where she still volunteered.
Waiting nearby for a cab, Tine couldn’t help smiling at Shaila’s unabashed display of happiness. As she pondered distractedly about her meeting with an acclaimed social worker from Boston, scheduled for the next day, a luxury sedan pulled over.
Daman couldn’t believe his luck to have unexpectedly run into the beautiful young girl he had been pursuing all day. He offered her a lift. He had been hoping to be the first one to air an interview with this girl from Arunachal who had risen to international fame for compelling the parliament to pass an important bill stopping unscrupulous cutting of forests all over India .
Wary, Tine declined.
Daman persisted. A flash of lightning illuminating the night sky behind the revered seat of the Devi triggered a three year old pain in Daman’s right leg. Reminiscing a life-changing incident , Daman mellowed his stance and fixed an interview for the next day.
Relieved, Tine went into the Pandal as it started drizzling. The glinting idol had an enchanting prowess that captivated her. She inquired and was intrigued by the tale behind it.
The Durga idol haunts Mallika as she freshens up for her interaction with a dynamic young environmentalist.
The discussion is enlightening and an impressed Mallika invites Tine for some guest lectures at Harvard.
Daman arrives at the hotel lobby to interview Tine. He finds her chatting animatedly to a familiar face and approaches them.
“Mallika Rajvansh?”exclaims Daman “Wow, I get two interesting stories today!”
Tine apologetically introduces Daman, talking about the previous day’s encounter. As mention of the Puja pandal comes up, Mallika confesses her tryst with the Devi idol in the morning.
Tine reveals the truth about the idol.
“It is supposedly handcrafted by an eccentric lady, labelled a madwoman in the village she belongs to. After two years of confinement, the woman had suddenly started modelling deities from the clay around her premises. Word of her exquisite creations and their miraculous powers reached far and wide.But the ostracization because of her caste and her mental condition…”
Daman interrupts with the name of the village. He had pursued this story some time back and discloses all the details.
A teary-eyed Mallika immediately understands why the Durga idol had beckoned her in the morning.
The eyes …were exactly like those of her dear friend, Pakhi.
She dials the number of the cab driver who picked her from the airport in the morning-
“Bhaiyya, rasta lamba hai, par sahi hai, chaloge?
( The road is long, but the path is right, will you go?)
Authors note: This is just a fun-read that I attempted, motivated by the quintale prompt ‘crossroad’. I tried but couldn’t keep to the word limit so its actually two quin-tales. As I complete six months of joining this group, I look back at all the stories I shared here with warmth and gratitude towards the characters I sketched, the readers who loved them and the writers who inspired me.
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