“Be good and behave yourself. You know why is Divya didi taking you to her house, Right?” Amma asked me. I stood there combing my hair over what Amma had already combed.
“Remember, you are going for Kanya pooja. Today is when you girls get the power of being a goddess. You are one of the nine incarnations of goddess Durga. No mischiefs, okay?” Amma warned me and looked at Divya didi who had come to take me along with her for the Kanya pooja that was to be held at her house.
Amma said that Kanya pooja is to be conducted with the girls of my age. They wash our feet, feed us with sumptuous food, give gifts and we, in return are supposed to bless them. That’s my favourite part, we get the power to bless people. Isn’t that cool? I am a god!
Divya didi needed one more girl to complete her mission. On our way to her house, we saw Meher. I waved at her. She was a ragpicker who stayed in a nearby slum. She says that it’s a job. We study so much to get a job and here she is, already with a job. Amma says it’s a bad job. And as per her, I should be friends with the children of only my society. When I ask for reasons, she looks at me angrily. Amma always silents me when she is answerless.
I have a secret friendship with Meher. She teaches me to play marbles, make best out of waste and also fight with boys better.
“Can’t you call Meher for the pooja? She is of my age.” I told didi. “Pagal he kya? My mother will kill me if I take her with you. They are not of our class silly!” Didi told me in alarm. I didn’t understand why every adult had this problem of class. No one sees how kind and loving she is.
Meher heard didi. I knew she might have felt bad. Meher is hated unnecessarily. I agree her clothes are a bit shaggy and dirty. She never combs her hair nor she knows to talk in English or tables till 10, but she loves to play with me. And she says her mother is in heaven with goddess Durga.
She stays with her Baba who is cruel to her if she doesn’t take back money to him. Poor Meher.
My baba gives me pocket money and her baba searches her pocket for money. So strange. Her stepmother and stepbrother are not good with her either. She keeps complaining about some strange game that her stepbrother wants to play that involves undressing her. So ugly and stupid!
After the pooja, I blessed the family. As I said earlier, I blessed all of them wholeheartedly because that’s how we act like a god, granting wishes.
But they could have called Meher. She would also have blessed them. Anyways, didi gave me a pink lunchbox with lots of sweets in it. On my way, I saw Meher running. I called her. It was dark and she wouldn’t stop. I ran behind her, calling her name. After running till the next society, she stopped.
I saw bloodstains on her beige top. I got scared. I looked at her in horror. “What happened Meher?” I asked in haste.
“Will I be a goddess even if I wasn’t invited to any Kanya pooja?” She asked.
“Amma said all girls of my age, so yes, you are like me but why do you ask this?” I enquired.
“What does a goddess do? Why she is called a goddess?” She asked me in fear.
“Goddesses kill evil. That’s why celebrate Navaratri! They are called goddesses because they have powers to destroy the bad people.” I answered timidly.
“I used my power then. He was trying to tear my clothes. He tried to make me play that game again. He said he will beat me if I don’t allow him to undress me.” She said in tears.
“Who said so? What did you do? Are you hurt?” I asked her.
“I stabbed him with a knife. He was hurting me and I tried telling my stepmom. She won’t listen. She asked me to do as he says. I had no other options.”
I was losing my mind. It was a lot for me to digest. I didn’t know what to say. I knew she was running away. I will never see her again. Tears started pooling in my eyes.
I saw her noticing my hand and the pink lunchbox with sweets in them.
“I am hungry. They didn’t give me food from yesterday. Can I take this lunchbox with me?” She asked me.
I gave it to her without hesitation. I blessed her with all my might for the nine-year-old me believed that I do hold powers of good luck that day.
The goddess who killed the evil was tired. Teary-eyed, she tucked up the box in her sack. She ran away. I stood there till she was out of my sight.
Today, when I think about the dirty game, I know it’s an attempt to rape. If we were more aware that day, you may not have to run away Meher. On one hand, the goddess was being worshipped and on the other, a girl was being mercilessly crushed. If this isn’t irony then I don’t know what is!
She was indeed a goddess. The goddess who wanted my pink lunchbox and the one who fiercely fought for herself when no actual gods came to her rescue.