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“We can only give them the inspiration and the ideas. Whether to act or not is up to the free will of the humans. So many times I have given people the urge to act, and they have overruled me.”
Our Muse of the Month series this year focus on stories that pass the Bechdel test, and are written on inspiration from a new prompt every month. This month, the prompt was “Where Your Dreams Take You”. The story should pass the Bechdel Test, that is, it should have at least two well crafted, named women characters (we differ here slightly from the classic Bechdel test, in that we require these characters to be named),
The third winner of our October 2018 Muse of the Month contest is Vijayalakshmi Harish.
“Lakshmiii…Lakshmi, where are you?” Nithya’s voice rang out, even as the Goddess Lakshmi stepped into her house. She gave her sister Saraswati a smile and looked at her quizzically.
“Nithya akka, kitchen la irukken. Coming,” the namesake called back as she hurried from the kitchen, wiping her wet hands on the pallu of her ragged, old saree.
“Thank you for staying back later to help me with the vetthala-paaku function. Come, take yours,” said Nithya as she held out a tray filled with haldi, kumkum, a ten rupee note and a rupee coin, a blouse piece, a few paan leaves, betel nuts, a coconut, a banana and an expensive looking pair of rolled gold bangles.
Lakshmi hesitated. “Akkaa…”
“What happened, Lakshmi?”
“Akka, don’t feel bad. I will take the paan and the haldi kumkum, but instead of the other items, can you just give me a little more cash. Doesn’t have to be a big amount,” Lakshmi blurted out.
Nithya didn’t know how to respond. Nonplussed, she looked at her maid. Before she could speak, Lakshmi spoke again.
“And akka, instead of giving me sweets and a saree for Diwali, as you usually do, please give me cash then too.”
“Okay…Lakshmi. Slow down. I will give you the cash, but tell me what you need it for so urgently,” Nithya questioned, as she found her voice.
Lakshmi looked embarrassed. “Akka, my daughter Janani, she is in the tenth standard now. She studies really well. She wants to be a doctor. But that will be costly, no? So I’m trying to save as much cash as possible from now on, so that she can study what she wants.”
Nithya didn’t have the heart to tell Lakshmi, that even if she saved every rupee of her earnings, it probably still wouldn’t be enough. She gave her a few hundred rupees, but Lakshmi’s words kept haunting her even after she left.
She wanted to help her. But how?
“Now this is interesting,” the Goddess Lakshmi chuckled. “So this is why you wanted me to come along, Saraswati. This truly is a great opportunity to help the humans learn that the divine works through them.”
“Yes, I thought you would enjoy this,” Goddess Saraswati smiled serenely. “When I first saw Janani, she was a toddler enamored with the alphabet blocks at one of the homes that Lakshmi worked in. I put the idea in Lakshmi’s head that Janani must go to school, and so far she has done her best to ensure that she studies. But now she needs your help, sister.”
“Then that is what I shall do.”
Nithya continued to ponder how she could help Lakshmi and Janani. Just then her laptop rang out with the Skype ringtone. Her cousin, Anjani, was calling from the US.
“Hi Anju! How are you?”
“I’m great! Just saw your Navarathri golu and vetthala-paaku pics on Facebook. Super da! Semmaiyya irukku!”
“Thank you! How is your Navarathri going?”
“Good, good. Have called my neighbours and colleagues for vetthala paaku tomorrow. Have to go get the things for that from the Indian store. Haven’t kept a golu though.”
“That’s nice! Do you remember our childhood Navarathri? Going to all the neighbourhood maamis’ houses, eating sundal, collecting the money and gifts that we got for vetthala-paaku. Good times!”
“So true! I really miss those days! Celebrations here in the US are so tame in comparison. I do get to attend the dandiya-raas organized by the Gujarati Association here though.”
“That’s great! Actually, now that you mentioned the Gujarati association, I remembered, weren’t you telling me about an Indian association that sponsors education for girls in India? I have an excellent candidate for them to sponsor this year.”
“Really? Tell me more.”
“Well done, Lakshmi!” Saraswati exclaimed.
“Many a slip between the cup and the lip, sister. Let’s wait and watch. We can only give them the inspiration and the ideas. Whether to act or not is up to the free will of the humans. So many times I have given people the urge to act, and they have overruled me.”
“I know what you mean. But this time, I’m hopeful.”
A few days had passed. It was the last day of Navarathri. Saraswati pooja. Day before yesterday, before going to bed, Nithya had covered some of the books in the house, especially her children’s school books, in a piece of cloth and kept them in the pooja room. They had been worshipped all of yesterday, and today after one more aarti, they would be uncovered and read. Nithya had also made it a practice to gift notebooks and writing instruments to children on this day.
She was eagerly waiting for Janani today. She had great news for her. Which is why, she almost ran to the door when she heard the bell ring.
“Come in, Lakshmi. Vaa, Janani,” she welcomed them. “Come sit here.”
She handed the notebooks and pens to a beaming Janani.
“Thank you Nithya maami,” Janani said.
“This is nothing, Janani. All my pleasure. But listen, I have big news for you.”
“Your amma told me that you want to become a doctor. So I was wondering how to help you, when I got a call from my cousin in the USA. I told her about you. There is an Indian Association in the place she lives and they sponsor the education of one girl for a year. So she has spoken to them, and they will take care of your fees and other educational expenses for next year.”
“Oh! That is wonderfull! Thank you so much!” Janani exclaimed, her eyes brimming with happy tears. Lakshmi too was wiping her eyes.
“That’s not all. The association will only sponsor for the next year. But to become a doctor, it will take many years of study and a lot of money. So my cousin has put together a fund for you with help from some of her friends. I will be adding to the fund too. We will make sure you become a doctor, Janani!”
“Thank you so much, maami! I truly have no idea how to thank you, your cousin and all these strangers who want to help me. I feel so blessed!”
“No, no. See, this is not charity. You have earned this for yourself. We are giving you this money because we see that you have intelligence, talent and passion. We do not want your potential to be wasted.”
“It won’t be! I will do my best!” Janani exclaimed.
“Good. May the blessings of Maa Saraswati always shine upon you.”
“Oh, they will!” said Saraswati joyfully. “It worked, Lakshmi!”
“Yes, sister. It did. It is always so satisfying when humans use the gifts and blessings we have given them to help each other. I really didn’t expect Anjani to do so much! The humans sure do surprise me sometimes!”
“So, how did Janani react?” Anjani asked, excitedly.
“She was so overjoyed! Couldn’t stop grinning! I wish you could have seen it!”
“I know! I wish I could have! Do plan a skype call with her soon. I would love to talk to the brilliant Janani!”
“I will, Anju. But I must say you surprised me. Sponsoring her entire education—that’s amazing!”
“This is all because of your father, my mama.”
“Yes. You are too young to remember, but the entire reason I’m so successful today is because of him. As you know, my appa passed away when I was really young. Amma brought me up with a lot of difficulty. When I wanted to come to the US for further studies, she refused to let me go because she couldn’t afford it. When your father found out, he wouldn’t have any of it. He sold some of his mother’s jewellery which had been kept aside for your wedding, and funded my education with that. His logic was that his sister has as much right over this jewellery as he did, and as her daughter, it should be of use to me when I need it. Much better to spend it on a girl’s education than for another girl’s wedding. He told me that day to chase my dreams and to go after them, wherever they may take me. I promised myself that day that I would pass this forward. That I would help a girl achieve her dreams too. And look at the coincidence –you were the one to bring that opportunity to me! I am in debt to both of you!”
“Oh! I really didn’t know this! And what debt-shebt, Anju? I’m just glad we were able to do something for Janani. It feels like the Universe conspired to make this happen.”
“No, No! The Universe did nothing! You did it all!” pouted Lakshmi. “Ugh! When will the humans learn that they have everything they need to make good things happen?”
“I don’t care if they credit us or the Universe as long as they use our gifts to them for good,” laughed Saraswati.
“Tathaastu!” said Kali, appearing on the scene.
“Hey! Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you. What gifts did you give the humans this year?” asked Lakshmi.
“I’ve been focusing on the human women this time, and have given them the gifts of rage and anger. Already, they’ve been using it. I sense a huge battle coming –between justice and injustice. They will need this anger to fuel them and to emerge victorious.”
“Well said, sister. So be it.”
And the Goddesses walked towards the emerging day, in preparation of Vijayadashami.
Vijayalakshmi Harish wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2018. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the movie Nil Battey Sannata
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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