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As a prostitute, at the will and whim of any paying client, Sitara and many like her have become straw, bamboo, clay and mud from inside. Tough, yet numb.
“Ya Devi sarvabhuteshu shakti rupena sansthita
Ya Devi sarvabhuteshu lajja rupena sansthita
Ya Devi sarvabhuteshu shraddha rupena sansthita
Ya Devi sarvabhuteshu matri rupena sansthita
Namastasyai, Namastasyai, Namastasyai, Namoh Namaha.”
The chanting of mantras and merriment all around, people dressed in their best, all happy smiling faces, enjoying the festive season. A season eagerly looked forward to year long and creating similar enthralled emotions with every visit.
Durga Puja! Adishakti comes to Her parents’ home accompanied by Her children and stays for 9 days leaving on the 10th day. Everyone in the house from the child to the teens and the elders to the oldies cherish these moments and flow with the celebration of Navratri. Life feels so good that by the time this festival ends and it is time for ‘Maa’ to leave, She is bidden adieu with moist eyes and slogans requesting Her to come soon the next year.
Amidst all these festivities, Sitara stood staring at the beautiful ‘Durga Protima’ (idol) as if having a communication with Her. “I am You. Do You know that? Can You feel that? You cannot exist without me.”
The priest offering the prasad looked just once her way and didn’t even react or show any sign of recognition. Every year around a month before the Durga puja begins, just before the advent of the ‘sharad’ season, the priest comes to her door begging for a bit of the soil from the entrance of her nishidhho bari (forbidden home). He then mixes it with other materials including clay and mud from the river Ganga for the craftsmen to prepare the idol of Durga.
That one time is the only time in a year when Sitara is made to feel as important as a human, gets recognized as a person. A little bit of Sitara the prostitute, lies in the Durga standing on the pedestal before her.
She continued to stare at the beautiful, radiant, smiling Durga. People fell on Her feet seeking Her blessings. They believe She can turn their sorrows to happiness, troubles to peace and wrongs to rights. She is worshipped for Her valour, for She killed the buffalo-demon Mahishasura. Sitara pierced her look into those eyes, as if to see what made this lifeless statue so powerful, so attractive, and so overwhelming!
They say the soil on a veishya’s doorstep in the purest because people leave all their ‘punyas’ or virtues on the entrance of a prostitute’s door to enter her house. Can anybody imagine what she has to go through dealing with people who only have their vices with them and not one single virtue?
Still, she offers her affection and everything she has with patience and a smile on her face. She gets money in return. But is money enough to pay for all she has to go through? Moreover, she also sends the men back to the sane world. If pleasure is all the men want, she can hold them back for as long as she wants without giving a fig for the rest of the world. But she doesn’t do so. She lets go. A tough thing to do, yet she does it. The whole world looks down upon her and yet she has so much power she never uses just for the sake of the forsaken world. May be, apart from the virtues of all the people entering a prostitute’s home, the soil has the strength and patience to bear the dark side of society.
Sitara. This is not her real name. She doesn’t even remember what her name was before Sitara. Many things went through her mind as she glared at the Durga protima.
Beneath the beautifully painted face, sparkling saree and ornaments, Maa Durga is made of straw, bamboo, clay and mud. All of that disappears behind the colours of life in the hands of a talented artist. The assemblage of clay, mud and bamboo is an absolute requirement for the pose and posture of the form, yet the statue is not good-looking then. The paint and colours serve two purposes- first, to hide the ugly yet necessary components and second, to make Her look appealing and beautiful. These are kind of chemo-attractants.
Is it not the story of Sitara? All the paints along with the fake expressions she put on her face belies the soul which remains hidden in layers and layers of numb emotions. She has to be attractive enough to lure the man to her from among all the Sitaras waiting in that street. Living at the will and whim of whoever has a few rupees in his pocket, Sitara and many like her have become straw, bamboo, clay and mud from inside. Tough, yet numb.
Maa Durga always has a smiling face, even when She is slaying Mahishasura. Sitara wondered, how can somebody be so calm when she is in the midst of a murder (whether for good or bad)? Pondering over the question, she found the answers within herself.
Maa Durga is destined to kill the evil and during Navratri, She is away from Her husband and accompanied by Her children. Imagine the worry of a woman facing evil in the absence of someone who is supposed to be her protector and that too, in front of her children. She cannot be weak nor can she surrender. She has but only one way out. Fight the evil and destroy it – it may not be to save the world, but to protect herself and her dear ones.
She is helped by all the Gods who give Her their shakti. She has ten hands with a weapon in each. But, one hand still has the generosity to remain in upright palm-facing-out position to bless all who comes to her in adoration. She is crude and destructive, yet calm and composed. She has to do the needful, yet keep control over herself.
The contradictory act and expression of Maa Durga is every woman’s story. Maa Durga symbolizes every woman. Women, who are famed for hiding their emotions beneath their appearance.
Is Sitara an exception? No, she does the same. Every night, she faces the Mahishasura who is disguised as man who shows his evil side once with her. She gets immense strength from sources unknown, to fight with the demon he brings with him. The demon of lust, the demon of failure, the demon of hatred, the demon of betrayal, the demon of unrequited love, the demon of societal abandonment and also, the demon of pleasure. Each flings at her what he has within him. She needs ten hands and a different weapon in each to slay these different demons. Yet, her appearance has to be pretty and beautiful.
No, Sitara doesn’t have children to protect. She could have had, but she doesn’t remember how many were killed in her womb. She doesn’t have a protector. But she believes, all the seeds of her womb that couldn’t see the light of the day, have been sown inside her heart spreading their roots so strong that she has herself become Adishakti – the epitome of strength and power.
A sudden movement in the corner of the pandal (tent) brought back Sitara to the reality. She saw a man, her customer, with his family. He was trying to avoid her gaze, lest his wife knew about his overtime shifts of work. Sitara moved back. It was time for her to leave. She couldn’t bear to stay in the world of the sane among hypocrites for long.
Soon, the men would flock around her house showing their bare and true emotions. But every year she made it a point to visit the puja pandal and stare at the idol of Durga, transferring her soul to that lifeless idol for a few moments.
The chanting of the priest invoking the spirit of Durga to bless the world, Sitara blessed them all. The people touching Her clay feet seeking Her forgiveness for their sins, Sitara forgave them all. Durga the most powerful.
Sitara stared at Her for one last time and walked out of the pandal with head held high. “Jaye jaye he Mahishasuramardini……”
Image source: By AKS.9955 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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