I feel different now. I don’t want to play with her wrinkles now. What a lovely feeling it is to be a woman. And to be a bride tomorrow?I will be throwing all the stones in the river; I will be wearing makeup all over my face. I will be a piece of art tomorrow.
After twelve days is my second marriage. People have been invited, and I am excited. Yes, this is the second time I am marrying. Oh, I am all excited to marry Surya—yes, the Sun God. I have already gotten married to the wood-apple fruit. Thinking of seeing the sun after this 12-day-long seclusion makes me anxious, nervous, happy, shy. I will be a bride—a real one—not the make-believe one I play with Kali, Chaturi and Muiyaa, without any ornaments or makeup. Their caste doesn’t have such provisions as ours, which turns us into a bride thrice in life. Oh, I am so lucky that I can be a real bride three times—three golden times. My happiness today is different—it is kind of mixed, as the rituals are strange. They tickle me too. I feel tickled when I am made to do things.
“This is kwon for scrubbing your face and taking off your dirt,” says Hajur Ma. I call her Ma.
“This is just the beginning, but you will learn shringar, the art of makeup soon,” she adds.
That means I will be allowed to use my mother’s many colours, which she puts on her lips, making them luscious, her eyelids and cheeks. The colourful bands and flowers she puts on her head. Like hers, my ears will be covered by golden earrings, my neck, with necklaces and beads, and my feet will be painted red with alaa. And the attire, yes the attire: the dark red sari along with ornaments and many things. I will look as beautiful as her, maybe more beautiful than other girls.
“We missed playing with you,” says Kali as she enters my dark room where the sunlight can’t infiltrate. (I will be seeing the sun only after the 12th day).
“See what we have brought. Stones—for our favourite game,” says Muiyaa, pouring a pouch of stones, creating my favourite sound.
“Now, time for another ritual,” yells Ma, standing at the door.
“Offer food to Barahkyaa before you eat.” From now onwards, you shouldn’t eat as you like. You will first offer food to the God, then others, and only then will your turn come.
I offer food in a small bag hanging in the room to Barahkyaa. It is believed that he will come to eat it. Next morning, the food will be gone. After the offering, we all eat and laugh a little while we all take off the dirt on ourselves using the kwon. All of us look whiter than before and we tease each other saying, “You are the dirtiest”. I have missed them all, as I am not allowed to play outside. After many days, my laughter echoes in the house, but I am not allowed to laugh so much.
“Ma, don’t tell me the bizarre tale of Barahkyaa today. It scares me.”
“Ha ha,” she laughs.
“You are going to be a big girl now, Maiya. You are going to be a woman. You will lock your childhood in the past and move on to adulthood, with a promise to never return,” she says.
I love playing with the wrinkles on her face, hands, and neck. When I do it too much, she slaps me tightly on my bum. I don’t stop. I love doing this. I love to irritate her and get her beating full of love. We play with each other’s bodies—she hugs me so tight and she will not leave. It starts to get painful.
Hugging me tightly, she says, “Will you grow up?”
“Naaanaa, never,” I yell.
“That’s why you are my favourite.” I can see her eyes twinkling. She continues, “Growing up is so difficult and so bizarre. All these rituals are preparing you to be a woman. Do you know what it feels like to be a woman?”
“I will, but in the days to come…now sleep.”
It’s almost midnight. I can hear her snoring. I can’t sleep. It is a full-moon night. I can rarely sleep during full moon nights. I don’t know what the connection is, but the soothing light outside keeps me awake.
But today, Ma is not snoring. I can sense that. Her sound is different—something I have never heard. She is moving her body up and down, with her eyes closed—she is annoyed. “Only five minutes,” she says. “Maiyaa will wake up.”
But whom is she talking to? I can see no-one, hear no one. But it feels like above her there is someone, but who? Is this Barakhyaa? Am I dreaming? Or is this a ghost who has taken control of Ma? No, I am not asleep. Why does Ma sound so different today? What is she doing, moving her body like she’s never done? What is this?
“Did you talk to someone last night, Ma?”
“Nnnn…oooo.. No!” (I can sense that she is nervous. Her white cheek is turning pink…I can sense that she is shy. She is hiding something. I have never seen her like this. I can feel she is lying like I sometimes do when I say my stomach hurts. She turns away from me and asks me not to irritate her. But, what…what was that she did last time?)
“Tonight is the final night of childhood. Tomorrow you will be marrying for the second time. That means you are taking another step towards womanhood. You will no longer be a child, and you will not play games anymore. You will give away the stones with love, by throwing them into the river, and promise yourself you have become old now. You are never going back to your childhood, as you will be the wife of God, like me, like your mother. I will decorate you, my lovely bride, with a red sari, jewellery, kohl, lipstick, nail polish and so many other things. You will be a bride tomorrow, at the cost your lovely, innocent and carefree childhood. It is exciting and painful at the same time. It is happiness and sadness at the same time. It is bliss, yet it is strange. And like me, at times in your life, you will miss yourself—you will miss your childhood, much like I do.”
“But isn’t it strange that we all have the same husband, Ma?”
He is God, God of all. Whether you call him husband, father, brother, friend, mother, sister or lover depends on you. Don’t call this strange. This is a ritual bonding you with God eternally. This brings you and God together. There is no barrier; there are no restrictions. You are being one with God. And years later, you will have your third marriage, when you will be bonded with a human husband, the real one.
Real husband? A real one? Not like a fruit that I am to keep forever, nor like a faraway God whose presence I can’t feel. What is a real husband like? I don’t have the guts to ask her…I wish she would continue. And she does…
My third marriage was with a human whom I called my husband. A husband; he is a Man. The one with whom you sleep together. I was 8 years old. He was maybe 14 or so. He was a friend, like someone I would play with. But after some time, we started playing some strange games in our room, in the dark, with the curtains drawn all the time. It was different. It was painful sometimes. It was not something girls did. I could not understand it. But the game we played became a daily game. I had to make him happy by playing with him, but me? I got bloodied sometimes. I got tired, sick and sad when I forced myself to make him happy all the time. But it was what it was supposed to be.
“And….? (I gulped), “Is it mandatory to play the game to make my husband happy?”
“Perhaps yes. Perhaps, no. For me, it was different, something like a forced game. And, I had to play the game with him as he wished, as long as he wanted.”
(A question runs through my mind. “Is it only for playing the game that we are marrying a husband?”)
What was it you did on the full moon night, Ma? (I don’t know from where I got this courage).
“You have to tell me the story of the full moon too.”
“You can’t hide it more, lie to me anymore.”
After a long silence, she speaks. “That was Lord Bhairav who came that night to play the game of love with me.”
“Who? Lord Bhairav? What’s the connection? Where did Bhairav come from?”
“I have a lifelong secret that I’ll reveal to you. I am afraid you will not like it or that may not understand.”
“But I will try.”
“Not try. You need to feel it from within, like I do—the power of love”
“Even after years of playing the game, our game didn’t sow seeds in my womb.”
“I was taken to Lord Bhairav.”
“To bestow me with the blessing for making my womb fertile.”
“How was it?”
“Visiting Unmatta Bhairav was blissful. I felt a harmonious tingle all over my body. I could feel strange goosebumps. Never had I felt so much delight in my life. If you visit him sometimes, you may feel it or you might not feel it. He is open, naked, hugely built, fierce and in a state of extreme excitement. I was taken aback with shyness when I saw him so excited. Yes, it was a ritual, to climb and take the ‘prasad’ from his mouth. I felt his erect phallus touching me for the first time. The underclothes acted as a barrier, yet I could feel it. It was different. Completely different from the game that I played with my husband for many years. After I returned, I never wanted to play the game again.
Why are you turning your face red, Maiyaa? This is the truth of life, reality and this is the game that you will participate in after you get a human husband. And this is how the world continues. It is sacred, yet secret, and almost done in silence behind the dark curtains.”
“But, you said you weren’t happy with the game.”
“Yes, I was only happy when Lord Bhairav started visiting me.”
“What? How can a God visit you? You are confusing me, Ma.”
“I am telling you the secret that I have hidden my whole life. I had only heard women saying it secretly that Lord Bhairav comes and plays the game with women. They use a vulgar word like ‘rape’ for it. There were many of them who claimed that he visited them. I was one of them with whom he played the game of love. I don’t call him an abuser, but a lover. No, no it wasn’t a rape. He played the game differently, full of love, and love and love. I belong to Bhairav, always. He was the one who sowed human seeds in my womb. He loved me, came and played with me, caressed me, made me feel special during my husband’s absence. But sometimes he was cruel. He went out to do it with other girls. This made me sad. But after some time, people with the help of a tantrik chained him and locked him up with the power of mantras. They confined him, saying he couldn’t play the game of love with anyone he liked. It was hard to him. He could never escape physically.”
“Were you forced?”
“I was never forced…it was love, as I equally participated with him. Didn’t you hear my happiness and ecstasy that night?”
“So, that was the secret of that night that made you pink when I asked?”
“Yes, it is. I never dared tell it to anyone. But then I had to transfer this tale of love to someone. You know, I can talk on and on about him. He is forever young as he is enchained by tantras and mantras in his physical being. I am not bound and have to follow nature and my body grows. It grows every day, making me feel old…But his spirit visits me at times when I remember him the most and feel like playing the game. He is my love forever. The love of my life. I love him…I love playing…..hai…”
“Ma…are you asleep?”
I see her in bliss as she snores. Her face glows in the light of the tuki…with a puff of breath, I extinguish the light. I feel different now. I don’t want to play with her wrinkles now. What a lovely feeling it is to be a woman. And to be a bride tomorrow? I will be throwing all the stones in the river; I will be wearing makeup all over my face. I will be a piece of art tomorrow—I will paint myself with kohl, bindi, lipstick, eye shadow. I will be a piece of music tomorrow—my hands and feet will jingle with bangles and anklets. My attire will be of the colours of the rainbow—so feminine. I will be the emblem of Shakti tomorrow, as I will be marrying the God. The rituals will provide me with feminine power as I leap towards womanhood and they will grant me power to generate another life. I will be a beautiful poem tomorrow. I will rhyme with the rhythms of the rituals. I will be celebrating love and the feeling of being a woman. How beautiful it feels to be a woman like Ma. How will it feel like to play the game of love like Ma said? How will it feel to feel the love in the form of the holy game that Ma played with Bhairav that day? Will Bhairav visit me? Will he love me like the way he did Ma? Oh Bhairav… will you love me…or will you come in the form of my third husband?
“Why are you twisting and turning? …You know what…Bhairav is like …”
“He is my secret, sacred, silent love.”
“And from today, mine too,”
I say to myself.
#This story was presented last month at the 43rd Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture, held at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
By SWETA GYANU BANIYA
Photo credit: The Kiss – Gustav Klimt – Google Cultural Institute. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. w180 x h180 cm. Oil on canvas.