She was trembling as she stepped out of the room, half her face and her head covered by her sari. No more than seventeen years of age, she was getting married to a man her parents had chosen for her. He was six years her senior, she was told and he was a teacher at the local school. She had never seen him before but she managed to sneak peeks of him while the rituals were still going on. Scared and intimidated for the most part, the wedding rituals finally came to an end and she was married.
Married life suited her well. She quickly settled down in her new life, tending to the house and doting on her loving husband. They developed a good bond, it was almost as if they were made for each other even though the marriage had been arranged. While she cooked his favorite meals, he surprised her with simple gifts. He shared the household responsibilities with her, never ashamed to wash a cloth which even his own mother thought to be a “woman’s job”. They worked together, looking after each other when either was sick and never failing to enjoy a cup of tea together in the mornings before he left for work. They had small fights, as all couples do but they never lasted longer than a few hours. Together, they built a wonderful life full of smiles and laughter and each new day in their lives brought in another opportunity to create happier memories.
The mornings were the best time of the day, for either of them. Sometimes they sat in silence, content in each other’s presence and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere that surrounds most mornings. Occasionally, he’d read the newspaper out loud for her to hear an interesting piece of news. She liked watching him read and when he took little breaks from reading to sip his tea, he’d smile at her. Soon after he’d leave, promising to be back as early as possible. She’d watch his retreating figure from the door and mutter a small prayer for him.
They’d been together for over five years when the news came and till date, she doesn’t remember anything about the day. It was as though her mind had been wiped clean to accompany the huge void that had been created in her heart. She had walked to the cold ghats in a trance, hadn’t reacted when they broke the red and white bangles that had been given to her during her wedding or when they wiped her forehead clean of the red sindoor. She had accepted her fate mutely but a part of her had died along with her late husband. She hadn’t cried, she hadn’t wailed or lamented loudly as most new widows do. She was quiet, kept to herself and it was as though she wasn’t herself anymore. She was still flesh and blood but her mind had changed, she was caught somewhere between life and death – the worst place to be.
The routine was standard as the rules were strict. In the day and age she belonged to, widows weren’t allowed to be happy. Her long hair had been chopped into a rough bob around her neck and she was stripped of all her jewelry and fine silks. When it came to food, she had to give up many things. She was to wake up each morning before anyone else, bathe and dress in white, go to the neighboring meadows to collect flowers and come back to perform a puja. This would be her life, everyday until she breathed her last. She hadn’t complained, this was the routine and everybody knew it. Rebelling against it was unheard of in the society she belonged to and so she awoke each morning and as she stepped out into the mild darkness to collect colorful flowers that were still wet with dew, she felt nothing at all. Being a widow was oppressive, she was stripped of everything and filled with a certain ache that she carried around all the time. With death, came freedom and having to mourn for the dead this way, the living soon wished for death.
The previous day had been Dol, the mighty festival of colors and a festival she and her late husband particularly enjoyed together. They would invite their friends and relatives over, he would buy the best sweets and the celebrations would last for hours. To her, it seemed that each year was better than the last. Until this year, when she shut all the windows and doors and had stayed home all day. This was the first time she had allowed herself to cry as hard as she did, missing her husband so terribly and wishing he was there by her side again – laughing and holding her hand. She hadn’t eaten all day and by evening, her eyes were extremely red and puffy. She collapsed into an exhausted heap pretty early and awoke the following morning to return to her standard routine which had become so monotonous that it was exhausting.
Generally, she had still liked her mornings. The air was relatively cool and felt nice against her damp skin and her thoughts were mostly peaceful. But this particular morning, she was weighed down by her thoughts and the awful ache that seemed to consume her. Her eyes were still puffy and it seemed that she could cry at a second’s notice. She hated this life and she missed what she had. Dejected, she collected the flowers and went back home with slow steady steps. After having completed her prayers, she noticed the stains on her sari. They were of various shades – all kinds of green and red and sometimes even a little blue here and there. She blamed herself for not having been careful enough, after all the previous day had been Dol and she ought to have known better. She immediately changed into another white sari so that she could wash the one with colors. But no matter how hard she scrubbed or what kind of soap she used, the stains wouldn’t go. Cursing everyone for using bad quality colors to play Dol, she eventually gave up scrubbing.
The following morning, she wore a clean sari and this time, she moved extra carefully to ensure that she touched nothing at all, in case there were still some colors left here and there. But when she came back home, there were colorful stains again! She proceeded to scrub at it again and nothing, the stains refused to go. She was rather annoyed by now, how many white saris did she have to sacrifice this way? And were the neighborhood kids playing some kind of prank on her?
However, this continued for days and it felt strange to her – what was causing these stains and why wouldn’t they go? And by now, she had no clean white saris left. After about a month, she had finally given up and had stopped questioning the entire matter. She mutely accepted this as her fate as well.
She wore the colorful saris even though awful comments were passed about her and even though the local women had begun to socially boycott her. They called her names but mostly, they thought she was “selfish” and “ungrateful” for not respecting her late husband as all women ought to do. The comments had bothered her initially but with each passing day, a new color appeared on the saris she wore and they brought a certain amount of peace within her soul. She began to eagerly look forward to her mornings, a time when she could be lost in this trance-like state with nothing but the silence and a strange spirit that seemed to seize her and fill her with happiness. It was as though this spirit accompanied her each morning as she left her house, lamenting with her and trying very desperately to make her feel better. The void in her began to heal with this unseen force of nature. She didn’t understand it but that didn’t bother her. It made her happy, it made her whole again.
The neighbors thought she’d gone mad but who were they to understand anything so magical? Perhaps she really was caught between life and death and perhaps it wasn’t the worst place to be anymore because in that state of being half-alive and half-dead, she had found freedom in colors.
Dol – a festival very similar to Holi, celebrated in Bengal