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She didn’t want to live where her knees went numb & feet went cold. But wanted to live where her toes felt the wild purple rues of the hills.
If you’ve lived in the village by the foothills, you would’ve heard her hums praising the rising sun. Every morning, at the crack of dawn she would skip down the rocks to fetch water from the stream with utmost panache. The maple leaves of the only maple tree in the village would peck her skin as they slid down her raven hair as if relishing its beauty before dying out.
She was the daughter of the village and they called her Arya – the wise and the noble. Fifteen years of counting sheep and fetching water from the stream weaved her dreams into flightless kites and broken strings. Her fate was stitched across her forehead, that was quite similar to the ones of all the other young girls of their hamlet.
When she’d play with the pigeons, she’d cup them in her hands and stroke their feathers. She would wonder if her didi felt the same way when her husband grabbed fistfuls of her hair, tugging at its loose ends: tamed, eased and unafraid. But she was scared that her sister was rather like the crippled, lifeless bird that she once found on the porch.
Her sister’s eyes whispered the same as that of silent, light treads of a newlywed. And with dead glances at the mirror, she’d mend her hair into a thick plait and pull her pallu a little lower on her head to hide her shame.
When Arya was told she had come of age, her ma pointed at the red handprints of her own hands, imprinted on the front walls of the house that were slowly fading. But she had seen them somewhere else too. She had seen those burning red crimson handprints on her didi’s body that’d play hide and seek under her favourite pink saree.
A month before her wedding, Arya came to me with a pencil in her hand that she stole from a classroom of the village school where all the boys went. She held a crumpled paper in her hands that she’d earlier use to make paper boats to sail down the stream.
Then she’d come everyday stealthily making her way down the hill to learn her A’s that slowly turned to letters, words and finally sentences. And once when I found her mumbling the Darwinian evolutionary theory, the “survival of the fittest.”
She told me that the village allowed everyone to survive but the unfit and the twisted. They wore the trousers and had survival dangling from their machismo of fake moustaches, the only thing justifying their false masculinity.
The night before the wedding, Arya was gone. And the next morning greeted me with melancholic wails as the womenfolk of the Bourg circled around the house like banshees. They scowled at the thought of their daughter who was gone and the one they could no longer ornate and put to the gallows.
Arya wanted to live and not merely survive. She definitely didn’t want to live in a way where her knees went numb and her feet went cold. Instead, she wanted to live where her toes felt the wild purple rues of the hills.
That morning, as I strolled along the village fence, I found a maple leaf with an awlata handprint on it. Arya – the wise and the noble wasn’t noble anymore, but was definitely wiser. Her awlata handprint glowed redder than the car her parents bought for dowry and a million times bolder than her mother’s, on the front walls.
And when I stood there long, with the yellow-red leaf clutched to my chest, I saw two pieces of fabric stuck in the fence. One was Arya’s midnight blue skirt, the other her didi’s favourite pink saree.
Picture credits: Still from Hindi TV series Imlie
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