She had beautiful lotus eyes. Her mother always told her,
“Someday you’ll see, you will understand what gift you have. You have beauty, charm, and that’s all what one needs.”
She was a simpleton who followed whatever her mother told her. Never did she find the need to disobey. She believed that her beauty would take her to places, and she was secretly proud of her eyes. Then one day, it happened, her marriage. A village girl being married off to a rich zamindar- who would believe her fate? The lotus eyed girl had weaved magic- she immerged victorious.
The wedding took place with pomp and ceremony. A rich lavish Bengali wedding with the smell of pan, rosogullas and tender goat meat. Our heroine was almost nauseas. So the nineteen-year-old lucky village girl found herself in a palanquin, swaying her way to the mansion.
From the veils of her heavy Benarasi Saree, all she could see was huge stairways. She was led on by another woman, more in her 30s, fair skinned and glamourous. She seemed stern, her grip was firm.
“You must let him do as he pleases, do not infuriate him or you will suffer,” she warned in a hushed tone.
The child bride was shown to an antique room that smelt of liquor and flowers. The room was decorated in marigold and tuberoses. The doors were soon shut behind her. What ensued next kept her numb, he soon rolled off and fell asleep.
The following morning she was summoned by the same lady and was instructed to join the rest of the women folk in the worship quarters. She bathed, dried her hair, applied fresh vermellion, on her parting, that resembled the blood between her thighs. She adjusted the conch shell bangles, wore a bright red saree and walked into the room to find more live goddesses, than idols.
“We are all his brides. He marries one every year, hopes that one of us will bear him children and with the passage of time, when that fails, he tosses us aside, much like the utensils”, said another glorious woman, mid-twenties.
“Hush, you mustn’t say like that, Paromita your sharp tongue will take you to doom someday,” cooed the lady who had been attending to her.
Petrified she heard all the stories. This was the congregation of wives, praying for a common man. They were all friends, and they all were victims at the same time. Her mother was wrong, her eyes were not beautiful anymore.
She sat down in a corner, attempting to bloom the lotus buds. It was a long day, pseudo worship, followed by helping her sisters prepare an elaborate meal for her husband, and fanning him while he munched noisily. It was rumoured that he went out to see some courtesan.
Her afternoon schedule was mostly less tiring. She would either wander into the gardens to play with the maid’s daughter and suck raw mangoes dipped in mustard sauce, or she would sit in her husband’s room glaring at the books with big round eyes. One day she was caught.
“So you wish to read, do you little one?”, asked a man in his mid-thirties, much younger to the husband, with one or two silver streaks of hair dotting the otherwise black strands.
Almost faint, she replied with a mumble. That was it, the door of knowledge was opened.
Days and afternoons she spent by the window, listening to the stories of freedom, love, war, and victory. The more she learned, the more she yearned. She could no longer be restrained. Her afternoon dates with mangoes were getting annulled, and she no longer came down to fan her husband. Everything about her existence infuriated her, even the treacherous nights.
And then, one night, drunk in passion, he tried to inseminate her again, but lay there struggling with a sudden chest pain. She didn’t move a muscle, she didn’t call the sisterhood.
The next morning she applied a large swab of vermellion and smiled to herself in the mirror. She wore a bright red saree like the day of her wedding, and sat in the exact same corner, blooming lotuses.
It was noon when the karta mashai didn’t come downstairs for his meals and one of the wives was sent up to look for him. Our heroine was by then settled in the next room listening to the tales of love and woe already.
She abruptly took her master’s hand and put it on her heaving chest. Shocked with her conduct, her newly acquired master screamed and rebuked,
“What are your intentions?”
He soon received his reply with the shriek of a woman- karta babu was dead. There was clearly no heir and no will made.
She smiled at him and spoke in a clear voice. He had never heard her speak before.
“We will leave half the property to all his wives. They get an equal share of money. We keep the other half. It is your wish whether or not you want to marry me. I have made my mind and I’m letting you know.”
With that she dropped her pallu, and proceeded to the bath complex. And as the water washed off the vermillion, she celebrated the colour of freedom, blood red. It was a war that she had won, and this was a long awaited moment. With the wet bodice and blouse still clinging to her, and a pool of vermillion accumulated at her feet, she looked into the mirror.
“Mother was right, I have beautiful eyes, now that I can see.”