The hazy smoke and fragrance of the dhuni still lingered in the air. The rhythmic reverberations of the dhak could still be felt long after the drummers had stopped playing. The smell of the bhog wafted through, from the left. The chatter of the crowd blended with the chants of the mantras. If you could perhaps let your gaze move away from the protima in the front of the pandal, beyond the bling of the new sarees and the colourful kurtas, you would have noticed her sitting in a corner.
She sat with some white flowers in her hand. The heady shiuli. Unlike the people around her, she was dressed in a simple cotton saree. A little crumpled maybe, but neatly draped around her frail shoulders. Her greying hair tightly tied into a knot. If you didn’t know her, you might not have seen anything different. But those who knew her, might have noticed that the red bindi was back on her forehead — almost after eighteen years. What you couldn’t miss was her gaze.
She glared at the idol of Durga. Right into her eyes. Unblinkingly. Not in reverence. But almost in rage. It was a penetrating accusatory glare. Her jaw tightened and her lips pursed into a thin line. Her expression forbade anyone from approaching her. She sat still for over an hour, as if she had a thousand questions to ask the Mother Goddess. Not bothering to interact with anyone else in the pandal. And then as quietly as she had come, she got up and walked home. As if she had found her answers.
The next morning, there were whispers and indignation. The neighbours were outraged. Rumours multiplied by the minute. After all he was her son. How could she throw her son and daughter-in-law out of the house? Would she stay alone? At this age? Why couldn’t she adjust? She needed them, more than they needed her. What kind of mother was she?
She knew what kind of mother she was. Even if nobody told her. She knew when and where she needed to draw the line. She could live without anything. But not without her self-respect. Her strength came from there. They hadn’t named her Durga by mistake.
(Featured painting is Autumn of Life, by Arti Chauhan)