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She knew she found it difficult to believe in her parents’ belief in the whole thing, but maybe a happy compromise was the answer?
Here is the fifth winner of our September 2016 Muse of the Month contest, Nikita Jhanglani.
The cue was: “It was a choice that turned in another direction from the freedoms she had so often longed for and fought for.” — Nilanjana Roy, The Girl Who Ate Books: adventures in reading.
Devika closed her nose but stood still, looking at the water in the holy pond at Trimbakeshwar. Did she really want to do this? Did she really believe this would work? Couldn’t she just go out and say that she did not want to do this?
“No, you’ve come all the way here. You can’t back out now”, said her head.
Her heart refused to agree to the reason.
Finally, after much self-deliberation, Devika released her nose, took in a deep breath, closed her nose again, and squatted her legs to take her first dip in the holy water that came from the river Godavari.
“Yayyyy Devika”, her mother cheered her when Devika came out of the water after what felt like an eternity. In the hot glare of the sun, Devika squinted her eyes to look at her parents standing on a pedestal outside the pond. Her reason for doing this reflected brightly in her father’s eyes and her mother’s smile.
“Didn’t I tell you that it will be easy? Silly girl thinking so much about something as easy as this”, her mother beamed, her smile as bright as the sun.
“Come on now, go for the second one”, her father egged on, worried that Devika might chicken out again.
Devika repeated the whole closing her nose, breathing deep, counting to three, and squatting down process to her take her second dip. The moment that had led to this flashed in her head with clarity.
Devika came out of the water and looked at her parents again. Hope shone bright on their faces, encouragement enough for Devika to go ahead with the remaining the dips.
Devika went in again and thought about what the pandit had said and how it had given life to her parents’ hope. “She should take five dips in the holy water at Trimbakeshwar and pray to Lord Shiva to wade off all her evils. If she does this properly and with faith, I can assure you that she’ll be married in no time”, he had announced.
It had taken Devika all her strength to not roll her eyes at the man. She’d done such things before, with every such Pandit telling her that she if did whatever they asked with enough faith, she’d be married in no time. Devika had begun to give up when the no time did not come for a good four years.
Devika came out of the water after the third dip and rubbed her eyes. Inspite of the warmth of the sun, she shivered. Devika took deep breaths again, working up her mind for the remaining two dips.
“You think you can do this?” Her father had asked Devika. Devika had not missed the caution his voice, the fear in her parents’ eyes. Devika went into the water for the fourth time. She thought of the huge altercation she’d had with her parents about a month back.
Devika had come to be tired of fasting, of doing elaborate rituals, giving up food items, colors, and even praying at certain places—all so that the Gods would bless her and she’d get married soon and in a good family. Devika had been more spiritual than religious. She’d loved to pray, loved to visit temples, and soak in the serenity she found there. It wasn’t that she thought these rituals were wrong, only that she could not place her faith in them.
Ironically, when asked to pray in a certain way to a certain God on a certain day, making sure that she did nothing wrong, had begun to diminish her faith. She could feel the connect she had with her God fading away. It made her irritable. The fact that she had to leave home half an hour early so that she could do these rituals and then report to work on time only added to her woes. She could feel her productivity at work go down.
When she couldn’t take that emptiness, that drained out feeling any more, Devika decided to speak to her parents. Her parents had been believers, but more than that these rituals kept their hopes alive.
There wasn’t much that was going right; sometimes the guy did not like her, sometimes she did not like the guy, sometimes the families did not like each other, and sometimes the horoscopes refused to like each other. People around her, her friends and cousins, as old as and younger than her were getting married. Her parents wanted do everything they could to ensure that Lady Luck blessed their daughter soon.
Devika had refuted all their arguments about why she should hold on. She had explained, screamed, cried, and finally begged them to free her of all this. She had refused to eat, not talking to her parents for almost a week. She didn’t believe in all these forced rituals and prayers, as she called them, and she wasn’t going to do them, Devika stressed adamantly every time her parents tried to speak to her. She’d had enough and no longer wanted to think about the disappointment that lurked in her parents’ eyes. She found peace, had been able to connect with her spiritual side again when she stopped doing all that, and Devika knew she wasn’t depriving herself of that peace again.
And yet she was here, Devika thought as she came out of the water after the fourth dip. Yet she was here doing just what she had fought so hard to not do.
Devika readied herself for the fifth and the last dip. She did not have to look at her parents’ faces to know of the happiness that shone, the hope that had come alive again; it was strong enough for her to feel it.
Was it hope that she felt when she went in to the water for the fifth time? She did not know. Neither did she want to know. She couldn’t bring herself to believe what the pandit had said, unable to refute the cynic in her. But this was the least she could do for her parents’ sake.
She’d made choice. It was a choice that turned in another direction from the freedom that she had fought tooth and nail for. But it wasn’t that she’d had to give it all up, was it? A balance was what she needed to bring to the equation, and a balance was what she’d bring.
Devika came out of the water and rubbed her eyes again. She turned in the direction of the sun, joined her hands, and prayed to Lord Shiva, asking him to watch after her parents’, not letting their hopes and hearts break.
Devika turned around to walk out of the pond; her parents beamed at her and her mother held out a towel for her.
Just as she was about to step out, Devika turned around again and looked up in the direction of the sun.
“And maybe you really do need to find my husband quickly, because the guy has some real paying back to do now for all this delay”, Devika winked at the skies and walked out to her parents.
Nikita Jhanglani wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!