She glanced to her left at the pandal. The evening Aarti for Ma Durga could be heard along with the drums and cymbals. Fragrant smoke filled the air from the incense burning in clay pots with which the devotees danced in circles, spreading the incense far and wide with each movement, lost in the rhythm and the devotions. After all, Ma Durga was on Earth for four special days, when she left her husband Shiva in Heaven and visited her maternal home with her children on Earth. She deserved to be pampered and loved just like every woman who visited her mother’s home.
The Goddess herself was resplendent, beautiful and ferocious all at once. Her many hands rose from her body, each armed with a different weapon. Her stance was one of confidence, that filled her devotees with an energy that coursed through their veins.
The girl looked up at the Goddess in supplication. Mother, the girl thought… can you feel me? Can you see me? Do you recall the day I was named Mother? My parents consulted all the stars in the universe and consulted spiritual guides and elders to ensure I was given a powerful name that I could carry with pride all my life.
The first whisper I heard in my life was my name. I carry one of your many names Mother… I was named Jyotsna – my parents wished me to be radiant, to spread light, joy and strength wherever I went. You live inside me like a radiant light Mother.
She glanced to her right and saw the playground transformed to perform the Garba dance. Yet another form of Durga, the gentle Ma Amba, was consecrated at the centre of the ground. Men and women dressed up in traditional, bright clothes and jewels were dancing to the beat of garba songs that went back a few generations. The Garba lamp, a beautiful clay pot decorated with bright mirrors and colours on the outside was placed near the Goddess. It represented the womb, fertility and the miracle of birth.
The devotees circled around the Garba and the Goddess, their ornate clothes swishing around with the speed of their movement. They all danced as one, lost in devotion, the beats just guiding them with no deliberate thought.
Jyotsna had just turned eighteen last month and was well on her way to lighting up the world with her brilliance. She studied hard, helped her parents with house chores, supported her siblings and motivated them to work hard. She led by example, wise beyond years and the pride of her family. True to her name, everyone felt illuminated after interacting with her.
But today, she felt the flame inside her was slowly extinguishing. Her eyes bright with tears, Jyotsna looked around her. Like a symbolic enactment of good versus evil, she was between both hallowed grounds. In hell.
She had been walking along the path to the Garba grounds, dressed up in a beautiful bright ghagra-choli that danced around her like flames. She wore ornate jewellery and plaited her hair to complete the traditional look.
Her friends were walking a little ahead of her, everyone excited to dance and enjoy the evening. No one knew at what point Jyotsna disappeared from sight.
When she came to her senses, she was tied up in between some trees, two Goddesses on either side looking on at her plight. She shivered with cold and fright as she came to the realisation that her own clothes had been used to tie her up and muffle any sounds that escaped her mouth.
Five men surrounded her, leering away at her innocence. One by one, they came forward and had their way with her. Jyotsna wasn’t sure what exactly horrified her more. That she was in this vulnerable situation, or that it happened right in her of her beloved Ma Durga’s eyes.
The men seemed to be professionals, she thought. They had even brought along water to clean themselves and their victim up as if nothing had happened. One of them, evidently the ringleader stepped up and said, “We are going to untie you now. You can dress up and join the festivities like nothing happened. Anything more than that, we know exactly who you are and will come find you. Is that understood?”
Jyotsna could do nothing more than nod. Live today, fight tomorrow she thought. But fight who? They were all masked and took great care not to show their true faces to her. The clothes they wore were so nondescript that they could be just about any man who passed her by on the road. Her thought quickly reduced to “live today, just live”.
As they untied her and removed her gag, she began to dress up, her movements robotic, her soul shattered into a thousand pieces. She felt violated inside out, a thousand emotions assailing her all at once. She willed herself to focus on the task. Get dressed. Get dressed. Get dressed.
The sound of a conch blowing at Ma Durga’s mandap broke into her thoughts. One of the men said, “Hurry up guys, we cannot miss the aarti!”
And the five worshippers of the Goddess hurried off all cleaned up to pay their respects to the female form of power, strength, fertility and a hundred other emotions that make up a woman.
Jyotsna stood up in the clearing, fully dressed and cleaned up, but feeling more unclean and naked than she ever did. Only one thing gave her the strength to put one foot in front of the other. She didn’t know when or where. But she knew these five men had marked their fate by today’s evil deed. The thought lit the flame inside her until it was a roaring fire of determination. One day, they would all feel the Mother’s wrath and burn in their own private hell.
Illustrated By: Dr Anisha Kumar (Visit http://ignitingmypassion.wordpress.com)