Akarsh stood with his newly wedded bride, Neha, outside the main entrance of his house. As per the tradition, the couple had to be greeted and welcomed home together by performing a small arti by the groom’s mother along with other ladies, generally married, present there. Akarsh’s mother and his aunts, all dressed up in their finery, came smiling and laughing towards the couple. Akarsh was very happy to bring home his childhood love Neha but suddenly he noticed something amiss. Anandi Kaki was missing. Akarsh always had been kaki’s favourite, so where was she at such an important moment of his life.
“Maa, where is kaki?” He questioned Amala, his mother. Before Amala could reply, Kanika aunt, chewing paan, beetle leaf, replied back,
“How can Anandi be here Akarsh? You are not a baby anymore to not know that she cannot be here, right?”
“Why can’t kaki be here? I don’t care, I want kaki to be here along with mother to welcome us.” snapped Akarsh. Everyone looked shocked at hearing Akarsh’s demand. Did Akarsh not know that widows were to stay away from such auspicious events lest any ill befalls due to their ill fated presence?
Akarsh lived in a joint family where his father and his two brothers lived under one roof with their respective families. Akarsh’s father was the eldest. Anandi was the wife of his youngest brother, who unfortunately succumbed to a very fast spreading cancer of the lungs, just six months back. Anandi was now a widow, who was in the inner most quarters of the house with two other widows of the family. Those two were very old and they were Akarsh’s father’s aunts, who did not have any other family to stay with.
Anandi was extremely beautiful as well as accomplished. She was a well acclaimed Bharat Natyam dancer and also sang like a nightingale. Her love and care had won everyone’s heart in the family. Though she herself was childless, yet she was The Pied Piper for the children in the house. Akarsh doted on her and did almost everything in the house with her. He grew up more with her than with his own mother, Amala who too never minded this love. Their’s was a very loving, harmonious family and that is how Akarsh got strongly attached to his kaki Anandi. With his uncle’s sudden demise, his kaki was left a widow at the age of forty five. Everything now changed for Anandi. According to the two old aunts, in the name of tradition, she was made to follow a very strict lifestyle. Akarsh who was working abroad was unaware of this. Now he had come for his marriage and such a milestone in his life could just not happen without kaki.
“Mother, please get kaki here with you or else we are not stepping inside the house and I do not want to argue on this,” threatened Akarsh. Amala was in a dilemma but she knew her son too. She went inside and spoke with her husband about it. Actually everyone in the house loved Anandi a lot but the fear of angering God and bringing harm to a loved one, made everyone let the two widowed aunts dictate the rules for Anandi. Now when Akarsh put his foot down, his parents, called Anandi out. A very disturbed Anandi stood there clutching at the end of her saree. She loved Akarsh with all her heart and there was a fear lurking in her heart too lest because of her, any harm fell on the newly weds.
Akarsh finally had his way and kaki along with his mother, performed the arti and welcomed them in. The two aunts brewed up a storm and would keep taunting Anandi how selfish she was that not caring for anyone, she broke the rules that she, as a widow, should follow. Their words would pierce Anandi’s heart but she never opened her mouth in protest for she knew that it was impossible to change their mindset at such an advanced age. Time passed and the news of Neha, going to be a mother, filled everyone in the house with joy. Every one started building their own castles around the to- be- born baby when suddenly one day all the castles fell flat on the ground with Neha’s miscarriage. The two old aunts got a solid point to torture Anandi now.
“See what you have done? Your unlucky presence at the very time of stepping into the house for the first time as a bride, has brought about this misfortune. How could you do it Anandi? Akarsh loves you more than his own mother and this is what you give hime back? Shame on you! You are so heartless and selfish,” cried one.
“You show such a sweet face to everyone but your heart is filled with poison. You never could have a child so you couldn’t bear poor Neha to have one either,” joined in the second.
Anandi was, as it is, in so much pain. She couldn’t imagine how her children Akarsh and Neha, were bearing this pain all by themselves, thousands of miles away. Her heart wept for them. She had never ever imagined such accusations to be thrown on her face by these aunts. How could they? She was unable to take it any more and that night when the whole house was sleeping, she took a few clothes in a small bag and left the house. She went straight to the station and asked for a ticket to Vrindavan. The man at the ticket counter pointed out to a train and Anandi boarded the train that was standing on the platform.
The morning saw Anandi missing from the house. No one could think of any place that she could go to. They tried looking here and there and then gave up the search. Akarsh was shocked to know of this after a few days but unfortunately Neha was not in a position to travel and he couldn’t leave her alone as well. A helpless Akarsh with Neha came home after a couple of months but there was no trace of Anandi. Akarsh’s heart was torn to pieces but he could not find his kaki and nor could he find the reason of her disappearance. Time is the best healer, they say but Akarsh’s pain of losing Anandi, did not diminish with time. He was unable to forget her. He could not accept her strange disappearance.
Akarsh and Neha were blessed with a set of twins with in two years. They named the girls, Anandi and Sugandha. Years rolled by and Anandi took up Social Sciences as her major subject and Sugandha went to study law. Akarsh and Neha had seen to it that though they lived abroad, the girls were very well connected to India and their family out there. They would make a trip every year to India and the girls were quite familiar with the country. So when one day Anandi, now around twenty years old, told her father that she wanted to go to India to do a project, Akarsh was pleasantly surprised.
“What project requires your going to India, Anandi?” Akarsh was curious.
“How the hindus treat their widows” is the topic that I am working on right now. I have to go to Vrindavan, the city of widows. I really have read such terrible tales about the widows Dad; I can’t imagine people really being treated like that,” Anandi’s agitation was clear in her voice.
Akarsh’s mind went back to his kaki-Anandi. She had become a widow too and then she suddenly disappeared for ever!
“Anandi, would you mind if I too come along with you to Vrindavan? I have never been to the place before,” Akarsh seemed to be speaking to himself.
“Of course Dad! That would be great,”gushed Anandi. In a months time, Anandi and Akarsh were on a flight to India. Both of them were in a different state of mind. Anandi was extremely curious to see for herself, all that she had read about the state of the widows out there. Akarsh somehow had gone down his memory lane and was totally drowned in the thoughts of his kaki. Immersed in their own worlds, the two took a train to Vrindavan after reaching India. They reached the city and both were struck by the realisation that they could see so many widows, of all age groups but mostly aged, all around. In the next two days both were completely out of their mind to actually see the reality; human beings being treated so. Many had been just left there by their own children, who did not want to look after them any more. Some were ill, some were poor, very poor. Mostly clad in a white cotton saree, they were living there aimlessly. Many of them had their head shaven off, many got to eat only one meal a day, they lived like herds/cattle. There was no one to look after them, when ill. They were from all over the country. Anandi and Akarsh were going around the place and were beyond shocked to see these things for themselves. Anandi would be talking to many of them and could not understand that how could widows become ill-starred for others? If anything, they were unlucky to have lost their husbands and to be living life like this. Father and daughter were heading towards the river to meet women who they had heard, lived in ashrams along the river, when they saw a crowd on the road. Curious to find out the reason for all that commotion, they went near and froze at what they saw. A dead body lay there and crows and vultures were hovering above them.
Anandi gave out a scream. “Why does some one not cremate her? How can she be allowed to be eaten like this, by crows and vultures?” She found her way to the police station and asked for help. The police acceeded to her request and came to take away the body. Was a life really so unwanted? Who all would be there in her family? Would they ever know that she is no more? So many questions like this, were storming Anandi’s mind. It was very difficult for her to take in all this reality. She turned to Akarsh and flung herself on him. She held him tight and cried aloud. Akarsh kept holding her till she was completely spent. He was oblivious to the tears streaming, unrestrcted from his own eyes as well. Then the two of them started walking towards the river. It was their last day in the city and Anandi had to see the lives in the ashram too before she left.
Akarsh and Anandi reached the ashrams. They were all small set ups along the river. Akarsh sat on a rock near the river while Anandi went inside the ashrams to have a look. Akarsh was sitting there with a heavy heart. The heart wrenching state of the widows in the city had really depleted him of all life energy. Being dumped by one’s own! Being forgotten by one’s own! Can anything be more terrible than this, he thought. Suddenly he saw someone fall, not very far from where he was sitting. A metal pot filled with water rolled off, spilling all the water around while the elderly lady who apparently had missed a step on some pebble and had fallen, managed to get up. She was limping as she came closer towards him to pick her pot. Akarsh bent down, picked it up and held out for her. His eyes fell on her face and he stood still. The world seemed to be swimming in front of his eyes and the loudest of scream escaped his throat; but no one could hear it. He stood there staring at the widow in front of him. She was his kaki.