Twelve year old little Suhana was playing with her friends outside her building. The summer vacation had started and they were rejoicing. She heard her mother call out to her, “ Suhana, come inside. Enough of playing. It is already dark. Tomorrow you can play with your friends.” Suhana looked across to where her older and younger brothers were still playing with their friends. Why didn’t mother call them inside? Reluctantly she bade goodbye to her friends and with a grave face went home. “ Why did you call only me ma? Why are the boys still playing? Isn’t it dark for them too?” “ You are a girl Suhana. Girls should be inside the house before dark. It’s not safe for you.” Suhana pondered that night deeply over what her mother said. Is it the end of my freedom because I was born a girl? Can I never go out after dark? Oh, I wish I was born a boy and not a girl ! How will she fulfil her dream of being a policewoman if she’s not allowed to go out after dark? Is It the end of her dream?
Shilpa was in a joyous and cheerful mood. She and her parents were travelling the next day to her grandmother’s house who had not been keeping well for the past few days. She loved spending time at the grand ancestral house with it’s many rooms, a lovely garden, acres of orchards and the blue blue expanse of sky. It was such a welcome break from the cluttered claustrophobic home in the city. She was chirping throughout the journey and kept her parents entertained with her non stop chatter and never ending questions. She regaled them with anecdotes of school life, her friends and teachers. There was never a quiet moment with Shilpa around.
As Shilpa was playing with her friends, she felt a slight discomfort and a cramp in her tummy. She winced with great pain and stopped playing. She rushed inside to the bathroom. She got a fright of her life when she saw the red stain of blood on her panties. She panicked and called out to her mother crying,” Amma, please come soon. I think I am dying.” Her mother, father all rushed to her. She only took her mother inside and showed the stains. Her mother smiled and gathered her in her arms. She went out whispering something to her father. She returned and gave Shilpa a sanitary pad and showed her how to use it.
Shilpa wanted to continue playing with her friends but her grandparents forbade her. From then on she noticed a shift in everyone’s attitude towards her. Her grandmother didn’t allow her to enter the kitchen, was forbidden to eat certain foods and kept away from the pooja room. Her father no longer allowed her to sit on his lap. “ You are a big girl now” he would say. What she couldn’t understand was why everyone was treating her differently. What had changed she wondered? They kept repeating the words “ Now you are a woman, a lady. Behave like one. Sit like this, not like that.” She was confused. She was only ten years old. How can she be a woman! Is it the end of her childhood? Is it the end of her playing with her dolls too?
In another neighbouring village, a young girl too attained puberty. Her parents have organised a huge celebration initiating her into womanhood. A Ritu Kala Samskara or Ritushuddhi ceremony will be performed. Now spiritually and physically she is going to be deemed a woman. The little girl enjoys the gifts she has received from all her relatives. Almost everyone has gifted her a half saree. Why? That’s one thing about the ritual she doesn’t like. Her mother has removed all the pretty frocks and the short tops and half skirts from her wardrobe. It has been replaced by a half saree. She has been instructed that from now onwards for all major events and ceremonies, she can wear only the half sarees. She hates it. How can she move or play freely in this attire? And why can’t she decide what she wants to wear? Is it the end to her personal choices she makes in life? Even pertaining to a desire to continue wearing a dress?
Pavitra is both nervous and excited. After a lot of efforts her marriage has been fixed to a boy from Pune. It is an arranged marriage. She met him only once. He has a good government job and lives in the city. She too has completed her formal education and is working as a teacher in a primary school. The marriage is conducted with great pomp in his village. He belongs to the nomadic Kanjarbhat community. She has never heard about it. He is a good human being. That’s all that matters, isn’t it?
Pavitra bids a teary farewell to her parents. She accompanies her husband to a lodge. They are given a white bedsheet and a stipulated time to consummate their marriage. The next morning the groom must display the bedsheet to the members of the local panchayat. “ How were the goods you received?” the panch asks the groom. The groom has to reply,’ Khara, khara, khara.”( true, true, true). If the sheet remains spotless he has to say “ Khota, khota, khota.” ( false, false, false)
Pavitra looks at her husband questioningly. He puts his head down and replies,” My parents have to continue staying in this village. If we disobey they will be shunned and ostracized from the village. I don’t want that to happen to them. But I promise you tomorrow we leave the village after this test and I will never bring you back here.” Pavitra readies herself for the Virginity Test.
Is it the end of civilization she wonders? How many more brides have to prove their virginity? Is there a Virility test for men also?
Sarita celebrated her thirtieth birthday a few days ago. She winced as she looked at her parents staring at her with hatred in their eyes. Her whole life was a rigmarole of taunts from them,” Oh what sin we committed to get her in our life! Who will marry her? Who is going to carry this burden all life? Sarita was now used to all these jibes but it still pained her. It all started when she turned sixteen and she had not started menstruating. All her friends had got their periods much earlier but she didn’t. Her mother insisted they consult a gynaecologist. A series of tests and sonography revealed the worst truth. “ Sorry to inform you this is a rare case. Sarita doesn’t have a uterus.It’s called Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome ( MRKH), an abnormality that affects about one in 5000 women at birth.
Initially when her friends talked about cramps during periods or the discomforts, she just went with the flow pretending to understand their situation. But later on when each of her friends got married and settled down with a family, the grim reality of her situation weighed heavily on her. Is it the end of a normal life which every girl dreams about or is made to dream about? Is it the end of her being a woman if she cannot enjoy pregnancy or motherhood? Will she see this hatred in her parent’s eyes for no fault of hers forever? When they lamented a thousand times,” Oh wish she was not born like this, it was better she died than be born like this!”, Sarita did contemplate putting an end to her life.
Is being born without a uterus an end to Sarita’s dilemma? Sarita thought of some of her friends who had been married for several years and had still not conceived or unable to have a child of their own. What’s the difference between her and them she wondered? Is it the end to their journey of motherhood? Does she cease to be a woman?
Ragini returned home in a disturbed state of mind. The wails and mournful cries still haunt her. She wakes up in the middle of night drenched in cold sweat. She feels helpless and devastated by the sights she witnessed. It has been a fortnight since she returned from Vrindavan, a temple town devoted to the worship of Lord Krishna. It had been a long time desire of hers to visit this place. From a young age Ragini was enthralled with the stories of Lord Krishna, Radha, the gopis and the antics of young Krishna told by her grandmother. She paid regular visits to the Hare Rama Krishna temple in her neighbourhood. So when she got the opportunity to visit the place and write a travelogue about it, she grabbed it with two hands.
She did a lot of reading about the place but nothing prepared her for the harsh reality she encountered there. The first thing she noticed were the tonsured women in white robes outside the temples begging. She was both appalled and intrigued by them. She asked her guide about them,” Who are these women and why are there so many of them?” The guide replied nonchalantly ” Oh these, they are the widows of Vrindavan. There are more than a lakh of them outside the five thousand temples of Vrindavan. Most of them are from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring villages.” “But why are they begging?” The guide said dismissively ” Tomorrow we will visit an ashram and you can ask and see for yourself. “
Ragini found herself next morning outside an ashram. It was one of the oldest ashram in Vrindavan. It was a dilapidated building with paint peeling off at various parts of the building. There were more than five thousand of them inside. She was horrified to see most of them in a pitiable condition. The oldest was about a century old. An old caretaker informed Ragini ” Most of these women were either thrown out by relatives or tricked into coming here by their children. They have no means to support themselves. We too don’t get much support to take care of all their needs. So after the morning prayers and other duties, many seek food outside the temples begging. They are cast away widows having no place to go. They come here seeking peace and salvation.”
Ragini felt the bubble had burst in a harsh manner. Vrindavan was not just the birth place of Lord Krishna but it was also the City of Widows.It was not just their numbers but their presence and their pathetic dependence on charity that made them such a dominant feature of this city of spirituality and charity.Ragini returned home in a despondent state of mind wondering “ Is it the end of a fruitful life if you become a widow? Do you become a burden to society and near and dear ones? Is there no future for a woman if she loses her husband? Do the women choose to be a widow?” Can they hope to see a silver lining before they die?
Women have always been at the receiving end. Whether it is her personal choices regarding marriage or career, some things have to be compromised by a woman. Her dreams and wishes have to take a backseat when it comes to family responsibility and duty. She has to take many rebirths before the final end comes.
Author’s Note; When the prompt was revealed, my first thought was what are the things I would like to see an end to. Patriarchy, child marriage, dowry deaths, female foeticide, purdah system etc sadly still exist in our society. So I wanted to pen down my thoughts regarding some of the issues women still face in a subtle way. My intention is not to hurt anyone’s feelings. These are purely my personal opinions and are not binding on anyone. My sincere apologies for taking the liberty to diverge from the usual format. Hope all of you continue showering your love and support towards my writing as you always had.
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