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Tell me Gupta ji, when you reject and discard all the myriad forms of Laxmi that I bring you, why do you do this Laxmi Pooja every year? And humiliate me, and them, year after year, day after day?
She was tired. It had been a very busy week with so many people to visit and rituals to complete. Sometimes, she wondered if any of these still made sense in this modern world, but then usually, decided to go by the collective wisdom of the numerous people of North India who would only increase the pomp and show and displays year after year, be it economic recession or even the aftermath of political upheaval in the country.
Resilient spirit, undying optimism or desperation in seeking tradition, she didn’t know, and frankly would think about later. Right now, she needed to check her list for the next house she needed to be at.
She grimaced when she realized it was the Gupta villa, off the Chattarpur turning. She had been privy to the arrangements and knew that the preparations for the festival would be as lavish as could be. The patriarch of the family had been insistent in his invitation, respectful, and reverent.
Like every year, the entire family would be dressed in finery, bejeweled and the mansion lit up with more than a thousand lamps. The feast would be excellent, with the sweets having been prepared by the family’s personal chefs, and not ordered from sweet shops. She made a mental note of not forgetting to taste the chamcham, her favourite, which was a rare item these days. In spite of that, as she reached the driveway, something was bothering her.
The senior most Gupta, ‘Laalaji’, as he was called, had been blessed in most of his business ventures over the last 5 decades, and the fourth generation of his family was now enjoying the fruits of his labors and life’s blessings. Never mind that they were sometimes tinged with the exploitation of his workers, bribery of officials, and under the table deals.
She decided not to get judgemental; after all what experience did she have in running a business?
Familiar with the layout, she made her way to the mandir.
The term mandir seemed an understatement. This was an entire floor of his mansion, with rooms devoted to idols of many gods, separate halls for bhajans and a large pooja room grandly decorated, the table laid out with a variety of prasads. She had been here many times, and had visited many other peoples home, but this still managed to take her breath away. In spite of that, today, she hadn’t really wanted to come. Even the chamcham hadn’t been enough of an incentive as her mind had been clouded by the latest demand coming from the pooja room.
She adjusted her saree; after all she must not look under dressed or undeserving of the place and ceremony; She couldn’t help but check her appearance in the huge polished mirror at the entrance, and took a moment to indulge her vanity. She looked good, she thought; age and fatigue didn’t show on her face. Traditional attire and get up couldn’t be matched on festivals by the new generations glam looks after all, she concluded and took her place opposite Laalaji who seemed to be in a trance. It appeared that the trance was infectious, and she soon was immersed in the rituals and ceremonies.
She did enjoy the importance accorded to her on these functions, but her conscience reminded her to keep up her part of the bargain as best as she could.
Laalaji had apparently started a new business in the name of his first great grandchild, a boy who they had named Yuvraj, and apparently wanted her urgent intervention.
She, however, was confused. She heard him chanting her name, 108 times, in what seemed like 108 different ways, some of which were simply beautiful. Laxmi, it seemed was all he wanted; all that the Gupta Parivar needed.
She must bless and oblige; she had been taught to do so; to respond to these requests, to reciprocate the honours given to her, the privileges extended to her, especially on this day.
As the pooja ended with Lalaajis invocation of the goddess with his family following him, she was surprised by a female voice addressing Gupta ji, but no more than Gupta ji himself. He was actually angry; who had disturbed him on this auspicious moment? Women, he fumed inside, that’s why they need to be told their place, and apparently reminded too.
He hoped the goddess would forgive this brief interruption in what had otherwise been a perfect ceremony. But the voice continued, actually boomed louder…Gupta ji was stunned, as were all members of the family, the men sitting behind him, and the women behind all the men.
Laxmi was startled to realize it was her own voice. She herself hadn’t heard it in a while; so used she had become to being a silent fixture, an almost decorative presence in these events. It felt strange, yet a relief at the same time, and she continued.
“Gupta ji, tell me sir. You claim you want Laxmi. Please tell me which form of Laxmi you want me to send you. I have been consistently blessing you with Laxmis but you discard them all…
The two girls who were aborted so Yuvraj could be the first great grandchild you wanted?
The daughter whom you sent back to her abusive husband because a divorce would spoil your reputation in the trading community?
The granddaughter whom you did not allow to pursue business management abroad because you had fixed her marriage with a business family to tie up for a new venture?
Your daughter in law who could have used her organization skills in your business, but you relegated her to the kitchen because that is where women belong?
Your younger daughter in law from whom you wanted more and more dowries to flow into your already prosperous home, forcing her father to sell his business?
Your sister, who you have never allowed to be part of any rituals because she is a widow?
The woman you didn’t allow your youngest son to marry because she was dark and doing better in her studies than him?
Your wife whose thoughts and opinions have never been important to you?
All the women in your life, household and family who are regarded as lower beings with the primary purpose to live life according to the diktats of the males around them? Tell me Gupta ji, when you reject and discard all the myriad forms of Laxmi that I bring you, why do you do this Laxmi Pooja every year? And humiliate me, and them, year after year, day after day?”
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