Reena was at a kitty party.
She had almost talked herself out of it but then decided to go, after all, old friends mattered. She would be meeting them after a long time at Poonam’s place. Poonam had her home in Sadar Bazaar, an old part of Delhi, where shops lined narrow streets, and steep stairs led up to the homes above the shops. These homes were designed with a central courtyard, open to the sky, with rooms around it. Poonam had modernized the place with new tiles and flooring.
But the area and its atmosphere could not be changed.
The four of them, Reena, Poonam, Minna and Rupali, were sitting in the courtyard, sipping ginger tea, holding onto the cups for warmth. The talk was warming up too.
Minna was holding forth about how she worked with her hands in her new farm in Haryana. It seemed strange to the villagers that ‘Memsahib’ didn’t mind getting her hands dirty, she said. “But,” she continued, her tone conspiratorial, “this got me into their inner circle.”
“Inner circle?” Poonam raised artificially darkened eyebrows.
“The village women began to talk to me like a friend. You know, about womanly, household matters. They have money, and a lot of practical knowledge which we don’t,” said Minna.
So what, thought Reena. Minna was not going to go live in the village because she connected to the women there, was she? Reena was glad that lunch was over. She would soon leave.
“And the village headman’s wife, Santo, she began to confide in me. Her daughter, Preeto, was to be married, and had suddenly taken sick. They had already spent 2 lakhs on her treatment but nothing worked. Take me to her, I told Santo.” Minna paused for effect. “You know what I saw? Her daughter’s legs and arms were turned inwards, she could not move, and her eyes stared straight ahead. I had one look at her and gave Santo a mantra. I told her to sit in front of the girl and recite the mantra 108 times at one-hour intervals ...day and night. She mustn’t forget or lose count. That was all.”
“And?” Rupali’s multi-chinned neck lengthened in anticipation.
“Kali Ma’s mantra…had to work. In just 10 days, she was fine. They said they heard a loud screech and Preeto gagged and spat a lot as the devil left her.”
Reena gaped. This was not the Minna she knew.
“The villagers now worship me as Ma. But I am just an instrument of the divine light.” Minna’s voice had become heavy. Mesmerising.
Reena smiled weakly, saying she had to leave, and ran down the horribly narrow stairs.
Needing something to steady herself, she walked to the paanwaala shop at the corner. The shopkeeper watched her as he prepared the betel leaf, folded it, pinned it with a clove and handed it to her. “Take Kali Ma’s name three times, then eat this. It cures everything,” he said. Then he waited.
published 16 April 2012