Her eyes were still dreamy that morning. It was as though her dreams did not wish to leave her. they seemed to say, “Sleep…There is lot more to inspire still… “. But a voice woke her up, shook her from her dreams. It was Ma’s voice calling out to her. Ma always used to say “good girls always wake up early; you are a good girl, right?” With a loud wail she got up, “yes Ma, I am a good girl” as if like a reply to Ma’s words still ringing in her ears. At this moment, like retort to her action she heard the jingle sound of her marbles embracing the ground . Marbles, which were part of her dream till then, now, lay shattered on the ground. Red, Yellow, Blue all scattered lay widely spread on the ground. Reaching those remote corners, which were unknown till then. The sun rays from the window, falling on these marbles made them appear like a bed of sparkling diamonds, the sight of the spread, only befitting a princess. Every step had to be taken with care, to avoid stumbling on the prized possession. It felt like just yesterday, she had won each one of them in games with her friends. In that one evening, she had collected all , completing her collection of marbles. Now, none of her friends were left with any. Each marble symbolized her victories in her mind. Her friends usually lost to her, but her humor and charismatic laugh always brought them back to play.
She stood up, clinging to her few marbles in hand & told her Ma, “I’m not sharing my marbles over there in my new home with my new friends”. Sometimes she asked “Ma, why do I have to go to a new home?”, “why are u sending me away, am I not a good girl?” and so on. She kept blabbering to her Ma, from the time she heard of the “New Home”. But Ma, like always just replied back with a smile, and nod of head, left the room. Sometimes, she would get a kiss on her forehead from Ma, along with the SMILE reply. She was always intrigued by what Ma’s smile actually meant every possible reply in her mind, left her further clueless.
Ma now called out to her again. The second one was always the final one. NO ONE AT HOME EVER HEARD THE THIRD CALL. With dreamy, clear eyes, she stepped out, leaving behind her palace of glittering diamonds.
Ma had the same smile today on her face. Seeing her come out, she signaled out to one of the akka’s there. Ma seemed to explain a whole lot of activities in akka’s ears, which they heard out patiently with a smile. The smile was a trademark smile of this house, among elders. At the end, Ma turned towards her and told them, “She is a princess today, the drab dress of hers would not do. Take her, make her look and smell like a real one”.
Like a soldier firing the gun on orders, they took her by hand into Ma’s room. That was the first time, she saw Ma’s room from within. It was lot more spacious as compared to the earlier memory of the sight from the window, through which she got to see one or two frames of Ma’s room. Ma always said, “Girls get their own big rooms when they turn ladies and behave well with their Ma’s. Such rooms would always be closed shut, so that no one disturbs them at any time”. Akka’s rooms were not as spacious as Ma’s, but good in their own ways. May be, they did not behave well with their Ma, thus landing up in a small room. She knew then, she too wanted a big room like Ma’s.
Akka bathed her with rose water and milk. Her body never smelt so good before. A free untamed horse was getting tamed now. She was brought out with a perfume sprinkled as the hair was dried. Pastes of the selected herbs were then applied on her body. She felt like a godly earthling now. She was then offered choosiest of assorted fruits to eat. She missed her friends to share with, to make them feel jealous with the plate in front, meant only for her. Akka fed her one by one with love and care, as if she knew it was her “last meal” there.
With the meal done, few more akka’s were called in, to beautify her, make her hair, decorate her nails, dress her up, in true royal style. Though initially reluctant, she started enjoying the attention given to her. Ma said she would have to take care of herself from now on, as she would be a lady too. The thought of becoming a lady and the big room made her all the more excited towards the next day. She told herself, she would be the best lady, like Ma. She knew no one dared to talk back to Ma as she was the most powerful lady in the vicinity.
Another akka came in then. She was her best friend muni’s mother. Akka always gave her sweets along with muni. She was tempted to see her friends and Muni who were playing outside. With a pleading CRY she asked akka if she could go out and play. Akka shook her head with a smile on her face. Disheartened, she put down her feet with a thump, and angrily said, “Akka, hide all my marbles away, no one should play with them, not even Muni”. The trademark smile is what she got in return. Akka was always patient with her; never raised her voice when she did any mistake, instead always explained to her sweetly. Akka’s words always made her feel like a winner without any fights.
Today akka was unusually silent. She saw tears welled up in akka’s eyes from the mirror. As she turned around the tears were all wiped clear, and the trademark smile replaced the tears. Her questioning glance was still on akka, but akka brushed it aside saying a mosquito bit her, and it was painful enough, that the tears came to her eyes. She nodded in agreement; as there were too many mosquitoes during that time of the year. Sometimes her skin would be all red with the mosquito bites. But this time, Ma had got a mosquito net on the bed, to keep the mosquitoes away.
Akka was now placing flowers on her hairdo. Akka had specially picked up the best flowers , that her garden had to offer ,to adorn her hair. After the hair and make on her face was done, she looked no less than any heroine, who adorn the posters on the walls outside. Akka, kept the ‘shagun ka tika’ and left. But not before giving her a tight bear hug and kissing on her forehead. She felt akka too was sad, because it was her last day there.
Ma had told few days back, that it was time I became a real princess. Princesses whom, a prince would one day come and ride off, with, to his palace. A palace like the one she always saw in her dreams. Garden full of flowers, kitchen always full on food and sweets to nibble on in the evenings. All that she wished would be hers, new toys, new clothes and even new marbles. Though, she secretly still preferred her victorious marbles over the new ones. New toys and new clothes caught her attention, which brought a smile on her face now.
Ma came in then again, when she was all busy admiring herself in the mirror. Ma had in her hand one of the most beautiful sari. Ma caught the excitement in her eyes at the sight of the sari. With a chuckle she said, “Don’t worry!!!! This is for you itself. Today I will dress you up like a princess, a red glowing princess. Your prince will not be able to take his eyes off you”. For her, ‘HE’ would be the one to take her away, to her dreamland..Ma always said, red was the color of ‘A Lady’. Ma never wore it though. She knew Ma was already a perfect Lady; she did not need Red on her to prove it.
Ma signaled out, and another akka came in. This was the same akka who bathed her in the morning. Akka took the sari with all care and placed it aside, for later use, as instructed by Ma. Now, it was her favorite moment, “mehendi time”. Akka brought a mehendi cone and started creating intricate designs on her hand. Creating stories, with each stroke, each line of design, telling a new tale. Mehendi always fascinated her, how magical was their power; they transformed from green into rich saffron on hands, and stayed along for a while. Keeping one occupied with their stories. When it was time to leave, they dissolved the stories one by one, never all together.
Before whenever she wished for the stories to be etched on her hands, Ma always said, “Now is not the right time, take the sun in your hands for now, and wait for the right time for them to tell their stories on your hand”. But back then, she was never convinced with Ma’s reply. Once, she let out such a loud cry, wailing at the top of her voice, that the whole Wada had to keep their ears shut unable to withstand her howling. On that day all expected the cane to come out, but Ma never took out the cane on her. Ma convinced her with the sun and stars on her palm; and happily she roamed the whole Wada with sunlight in her hands, and took care of it till the last shine left her palm.
She now believed today was not just the right day for mehendi, but a special day in her life too. After akka finished weaving the stories of deigns on her palm and legs, she left, only to bring back a concoction in a bowl. With great care, the liquid was applied on her hands and legs, to make the color darker, to make the sun shine brighter. She was left mesmerized with the smells of mehendi and lemon, which always came from akka’s hands, were now all hers to own.
A while later she woke up with a startle, was it all a dream she was in or was it reality?. The mehendi on her hands, still green and the red sari by the bed, gave her solace, confirmation of all that being a reality. The dried design left over was now scrapped out carefully, to reveal the sun light emerging from underneath the black clouds.
The activity outside and inside the room began to speed up, like with the morning sun rays, the activity of the day starts. All the akka’s in the common area outside the room were running helter shelter, one with a basket of fresh fragrant flowers, another with delicious sweets, others without baskets were just running from one end to another. Inside, she was being dressed with the red sari, which Ma gave in the morning. She was not sure whether the uproar outside the room was more or the one within her was.
She heard a lot of hush hush around her. Some sad faces and some blank. But Ma had the same smile, though the curve being smaller. Questioning look from her was dismissed with a huge smile on ma’s face. Ma came in and examined her head to toe, put a “kala tikha” behind her ears, to ward off any evil sight from disturbing her. Akka was instructed to take her back to her room.
On coming to her room, she was surprised, her room was beyond recognition. Was it the same diamond marble palace she left behind in the morning, only to return back to a palace of grandeur? She felt like the garden, was now in her room, blooming with flowers and smelling just perfect. She was carefully made to sit on the rose blanket on her bed, with her sari spread out in an model way.
Ma barged in then. It was the ‘Moment’. She signaled akkas to retire to their respective rooms. Ma came close to her, and whispered words into her ears, and left without turning back, giving an impression of trying to hide some secret within. She was not sure what ma’s words meant. There was pin drop silence just then. As Ma’s words sank in, the world seemed to come collapsing down on her. Many question whirled around, in her mind. Before she could catch hold of her questions and try finding answers to them, the door creaked open.
A tall man, with a garland in hand stepped in. Ma led him in, pointed towards her like giving an introduction. The Man in front looked like the demon from the stories akka told her at night to put her to sleep.
The tall huge man in front, gave her a smile, the smile revealed his crocked teeth within. His smile reminded her of a lion smiling before pouncing on the innocent deer, aware of its end. He was not like the man of her imagination; she wanted to scream out, loud like her younger days. But voice would just not come out; instead tears welled up in her eyes. She wanted to run to her Ma, hug her hard. She was scared, wanted Ma to protect her from this Man, like she always did when nightmares came knocking her door at night. She looked with fear in eyes towards Ma, but all she got in return was the shut door in front.
The Man began moving towards her, and she began coiling up within herself. He sat beside her, lifted her pallu to reveal her face. She saw him directly now, with tears fogging up her eyes. The eyes which were once home to excitement and dreams, hurt and fear replaced them now.
He laughed out loud, seeing tears in her eyes, and the pleading expression for freedom on her face. His laughter felt as if it shook the room around. She wanted to just close her eyes, and open them only to realize it was only a nightmare. But every time she opened her eyes, she saw the huge man in front, still laughing out loud.
He now put the garland in hand around her. There was no turning back now. She burst out crying, trying to remove the bondage from her, remove the garland off her. He, held her hand sternly, and with an indifferent expression, laughed harder, as she struggled, like a fish out of water.
He roared, “I have paid a ransom to see you bleed red and not to see you cry young girl !!!!!”
Roars of laughter filled the air. As, tears of pain, flowed, down her eyes.
The flower in the garden died that day, never to wake up, with the bright shining sun, never to bloom in all glory.