They could not afford the granduer of the Durga Puja pandals which were stretched across the length and breadth of the city. Their idol had none of the splendor associated with the city’s most festive days. They were five women praying to the strongest woman deity they’d ever known, celebrating her stories, wondering if she still existed somewhere among one of them.
Not many of them prayed anymore. Over the years, the numbers at the Puja had dwindled. She didn’t blame them. After all, how long can you fight against your own destiny and hope that things will change, tides will turn and the unthinkable will happen? But she hadn’t been able to forsake praying. That is the one thing that she had wholeheartedly learnt from her mother – to pray.
They weren’t a part of the privileged – if she could put it lightly. Goddesses and prayers couldn’t be an element of their daily living. Far from it, in fact. They lived in areas, the others called red light areas. She never understood where the name came from. She always wondered if the red light signified danger – and if yes, then were they a danger to society or was the society a danger to them?
She seemed to have lost herself in the sounds of the conch shell and the bells. The fragrance of the incense sticks devoured her into a trance. Someone banged on the door. Snapping out of her trance, she opened the door. “How much longer will you all be at it? It’s almost sun down. You need to get to work,” the lady at the door, said strictly. The lady was not a bad person, but she wasn’t necessarily good either. She was, unfortunately, just right.
“We’ll be downstairs soon,” she said ruefully.
Closing the small 10 by 10 feet spare room which housed a small idol of the Goddess of the season, the five ladies trooped to their respective rooms downstairs. Taking off her red and white bangles, she kept them carefully in a velvet clothed box. Her mangalsutra* lay beside it. She’d never worn it after her wedding day. Tears welling up in her eyes, she kept the box tucked far inside her wardrobe. She removed her red bindi and stuck it on the top of the box. They were to be used again after a long time. Slowly she took off her red and white sari, an attire which held no significance in the life she was living, an attire that was to be kept hidden away from her ‘customers’, an attire that shouldn’t remind them in any manner of the life that was awaiting them outside the red light area.
Picture Courtesy : Prashant from Just Spoken Thoughts. Thank you for coming up with the beautiful sketch in almost no time! Hoping that this post will allure you into further creative collaborations! ;)
*The black and golden beaded necklace that signifies marital connection and is a part of the married Hindu woman’s attire.