Saturday, 30 July 2011

It's Customary

They winced once, just before snipping a bunch of locks right above Leela's shoulder. Thick silky black strands clumped together in a loosened plait as they lay there, defenseless, on the floor.
Maasi began sharpening the razor blade against the waterstone, looking in Leela's direction for a hint of pain. But she sat there stoically, staring at the chipped wall in front of the verandah. 

One of them came to her side, while the other parted her scalp. The vermilion in the center was still fresh.
"It'll be over before you know it," they assured her as she sat there, without blinking.
Maasi came ahead with beads in one hand and a sharpened blade in the other, like a devi in her avatar. She smeared some ash on Leela's forehead and continued to dust her scalp with more granules of burnt wood and sand. With a few crisp wrist movements in the opposite direction, the curtain of hair dropped to the floor. Maasi splattered a cup of sandalwood paste to soothe the bruises and puffy hair follicles on that unprotected skull.

The noise had tuned out. The women were retreating.
They would never have to focus on her again.

It took a while to get accustomed to her new demeanor. The sharp jawline suddenly opened into a wide barren forehead, like a delta melting into the expansive ocean. Her tired eyes had lost its soul.
All that was left of the hexagonal diamond pin was a little perforation on her nose. 

"It's for your good," Maasi whispered. 
"With so many men in the house, you're better off this way. At least you won't ask for 'it'."

"If that is the case, how does this change?" Leela questioned with no change in intonation.

She continued staring at the chipped wall. The eyes were still dry.

Her voice trailed out, hardly leaving her trembling lips. 
"They did what they had to, despite him being around. Even though I hadn't asked for 'it'." 

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