The Vrindavan Widow – a short story


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B_Id_427257_durgapuja[1]Akanksha rested her head on the window. Outside on the tarmac were two other planes & two buses plying passengers to & fro. Her bemusement continued. In her cloistered world at Vrindavan, she had never known anyone who had travelled on a plane. Of course she had seen these giant birds in the sky, but always believed that being air-borne was reserved for the high & mighty, not for the likes of her & her companions. Her world-view was limited. Married at 15, widowed at 17, her in-laws were convinced that their son’s untimely demise was a direct result of Akanksha’s misplaced stars. That the son was a dissolute alcoholic whose days were numbered were of no consequence. So one day when Akanksha’s husband had a drink too many & fell down in a stupor, never to get up again, it was this young girl of fifteen whose blood the family & the village bayed for. Her parents who were in another village to attend a wedding were not informed about their son-in-law’s demise. When they returned after a month, Akanksha was no longer a daughter-in-law in her in-laws home. She was by then a Vrindavan widow.
“May I check your seat belt please?” The air-hostess’ friendly voice jolted Akanksha back to her current surroundings. She allowed the pretty, picture-perfect hostess to fit her seat belt snug and secure, smiled her thanks and watched her do the same with her co-passengers who were also widows from the same Ashram in Vrindavan. Each one of them clutched on to the other as the flight began its run. When the plane finally took off, Akanksha was surprisingly calm. She had obviously acclimatised well. She was only twenty, and typical of her age and despite the difficult conditions of the last three years, she was enlivened by an anticipation that was like nothing she had ever felt before.
The anticipation of being in Kolkata in the next two hours and being part of the Durga Puja celebrations immediately afterward was a dream she had never dared articulate – at least not in daytime, sitting outside the temple at lunchtime, waiting for the prasad, and then in the by-lanes begging for alms to feed the hunger pangs of a twenty-year old stomach unfulfilled with just one meal. Nights gave her no respite. Akanksha was not able to control her mind which hankered after wholesome food and the happy life of her childhood, and which foiled sleep from soothing her weary limbs. Mornings were better when she along with her widowed sisters went to the nearby temple and sang to the Lord. These few hours were the only silver lining in her clouded existence. The lack of food & sleep did little to wither the enthusiasm with which Akanksha sang to her Lord, her Krishna, in generous, open, full-throated ease. This was her true engagement with the world, when she came into her own and sang with joy, with love, with abandonment. She sang of love, of parting, of good times & bad and finally of being forever united with the Lord. She sang with her eyes closed, opening them just before leaving, and then it seemed to her that her Lord was looking her full in the face with love & affection streaming from his eyes, his flute, his entire demeanour burnished with an ineffable incandescence.
Akanksha often wondered whether it was the ambience and air of Vrindavan that engendered this illogical, yet spontaneous rush of feeling for Krishna. In her childhood, while Krishna was certainly in the scheme of her family’s divine pantheon, it was Durga who was her favourite and whose Puja she looked forward to, and participated in with extreme devotion & glee. The five days of Durga Puja in her village were the happiest days of her life. And she loved the idea of a female power vanquishing evil. How ironic, she mused, that in her life, she became ‘the evil one’ in the eyes of her in-laws.
And now it seemed to her as if life had come full circle and Krishna was indulging her, as she was one of the widows of Vrindavan who were en route to be being feted at Kolkata’s Durga Pujas. An NGO had finally shattered the iron ceiling of oppressive superstition and in collaboration with many Puja Committees in Kolkata, paved the way for the once-ostracised widows to take their rightful place in worship of the Mother in the Mother’s City of Joy, where the intensity, colour & devotion around Ma Durga’s worship was like nowhere else in the world. And how! These ladies would be inaugurating many puja pandals! For Akanksha who was hastily & summarily banished to Vrindavan, because of a superstitious belief in her ‘evil’, to be considered ‘good’ & ‘holy’ enough to inaugurate the Mother of all pujas which symbolised the victory of Good over Evil was like her personal victory of good over evil and something she cherished so dearly, she now – in the pressurised, ear-popping interior of the plane – felt her heart would break. Even more so, because of her deep, unexpressed ‘akanksha’ (desire) which cut through her soul, to meet her parents, a desire which – she knew in her hearts of hearts – was unviable.
She recovered herself as the plane made a soft landing, and the passengers alighted to board the bus that would take them to the airport. At the airport, she felt a flutter in her heart as she saw the smiling swarm of people who had come to greet these special visitors. Young & old, men & women had come in considerable numbers to warmly welcome their widowed sisthren from Vrindavan. The composure that Akanksha had managed all through the flight cracked at this overwhelming gesture of warmth and brotherhood. It was surreal, for she could only remember the black night of her departure from this beloved city, when she was pushed into the train all by herself to ride into an unknown future. Blinking back her tears, Akanksha returned a tremulous smile as she let herself be drawn into this happy & empathetic group. The journey to the hotel resounded with introductory conversations with the welcome committee, chatter amongst the widows, questions and answers about where they were going, their daily schedules and finally silence as they gazed at the Kolkata of 2013 (the oldest widow was returning after thirty years, Akanksha’s was the shortest gap – a mere three years) and then the tears came unabated, tears of separation, loneliness, humiliation & nostalgia. The welcome committee members wiped away their own tears and maintained an empathetic silence to allow these broken women to savour their experience of the city (that was the birthplace for many of them, and had a fond place Continue reading

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