Leela sat in the dark tool shed in the backyard. A wave of painful cramps had just ended their tyranny on her gut. The beats of the damarus and cymbals floated from the procession making it’s way to the temple. She knew there would be a splendid display of fireworks at the end of the procession. Sweets would be distributed after the religious ceremony. Every year for as long as she could remember she had attended the Kali Puja - the festival of Goddess Kali. But this year it was different. She wanted to be a part of the celebrations underway in the village streets. Or better yet she just wanted to go back inside the house and lie down on her warm bed.
But her family would hear none of it. Her father was the head priest of the only temple in their village. It just wouldn't do to let a girl going through her menstrual cycle in the house let alone the temple.
At this time of the month, she was impure, her mother had explained. And it simply wouldn't do to allow something impure within the temple walls. The sanctity of the place would be ripped to shreds.
Leela had nodded and here she was. Sitting on the damp earthen floor of a tool shed on a cold night.
The shooting pain coupled with the harsh cold had put her on edge.
All her life she had spent nodding and mumbling timidly “Yes mother”. Questioning her parents hadn't crossed her mind. And all her obedience had earned her this. Stowed away like she had the plague while they were out celebrating.
She had been nine years old when she had bought a packet of samosas from the neighbouring village on her way back from her aunt’s house. With the few rupees, her aunt had given her as a gift she bought the fried snacks. She devoured one on the way. The remaining two she had saved for her parents.
She remembered the force with which her father had struck her face when she told him chillies, onions and ground beef were the contents of the savoury snack. His face had turned sickly purple before he spewed venomous words and stormed out of the house.
She was a naive little girl who initially thought her father’s rage stemmed from the fact that another living being had been slaughtered to make the dish. But then again she had seen him feast on meat before. Her mother had dispelled her notions.
“We worship the cow, child. It is our mother. You cannot disrespect it. I cannot understand you, Leela. Do you want the wrath of the gods upon you?”
Befuddled, she had apologized and walked away.
Incidents came flooding into her head. Her father beat her, her mother armed with a foolish explanation all in the name of religion.
She didn't know how long she sat in the dark with rage bubbling inside her. She opened the door of the shed and stepped outside. The air still had traces of ash from the bonfire. The festivities of the night had ended. The sky was still black but was threatening to slowly turn into a sickly reddish pink to herald a new day.
She took hurried steps towards the temple.
Once she was inside, she breathed a sigh of relief as she looked around. The statue of the Goddess Kali stared back at her. They had spent all night chanting the name of a goddess, a woman whose "modesty" - as her mother liked to say - was on full display. The full breasts of the statute threatened to break loose from the flimsy garment covering it, the midriff bare and legs apart the goddess stood with a trident in her hands.
Yet, she had been slapped for not covering her head with a scarf when she stepped out to go to the market. Yet, she had to stay locked up because she was a woman on her period. Leela stifled her laughter at the irony of it all.
She drew a trident of her own on the white temple walls with the very same impure blood that made her untouchable to society every month.
The next morning the priest awoke the village with his exulted shouts.
“It’s a miracle! The Goddess is pleased with us. She has bestowed her blessings on our modest village,” he said and placed his forehead on the bloodied trident painted on the walls.
People slowly trickled out of their homes to witness this miracle. Everyone wanted to get a glimpse of it. It was a sign from the heavens, they said, a mark of happiness for the grand celebrations they had organized in the honour of the Goddess.
The sixteen-year-old painter lay fast asleep on the floor of the tool shed.
The angels above watched the foolish humans run around with unbridled excitement, some had tears in their eyes, while some dropped to their knees and prayed to the heavens above.
They were thankful to Leela and her masterpiece. Watching humans and their daft ways play out was the best form of entertainment the angels favoured.