The light seeps in through the crevices of the haveli that stands incongruously in the dry and barren lands of Chittauni, located in Uttar Pradesh, India. The intricate mesh like patterns carved carefully on the numerous dividers and doors segregate the magnanimous haveli into spaces for mere existence but maybe not living.
Her hands unfold as she rises from a sacred early morning Puja session, praying to the Gods and Goddesses to bless her entire family for a peaceful existence, silently wishing for her own liberation as well.
She silently prays for an unknown freedom, an inexperienced emotion in her lifetime and ardently wishes that her grand daughter Saloni does not go through the stifling atmosphere that she experiences everyday.
The patriarchal society of India with its rich and historic traditions maybe a colourful and stylish iconography for cultural modernity for the myriad NRI’s thronging this Nation for photography and yoga, but it has metamorphosized Sharda’s world into a claustrophobic habitat of inert existence.
As she moves around the myriad corridoors with her arthiritic limbs spreading the light of the morning puja all around the haveli, her mind fluctuates to the numerous tasks that need to be completed for the day so that her aged husband of 70 can live comfortably.
She still remembers the day of her marriage, the way according to Indian traditions she was dressed with solah sringaar, the careful washing of her body with ubtan, the insertion of gold bangles studded with diamonds onto her wrists, the detailed application of mehendi on the palms and the gentle piercing of the nose with pearly fortunes. The blessings of so many people have now translated into a vacant bungalow inhabited by an equally desolate couple. It’s a tradition to cook for the husband. So no matter how weak in fever she might shiver, the steaming white rice has to be served to Him in the dining room that is far-away from the kitchen.
She breathes with vigour as the chula brightens up and releases flames to engulf the curry to be cooked. The ghunghat covering her face creates an atmosphere so stifling that her mind wanders to far away lands to explore and enjoy. She desires secretly to travel, visit temples at various sites.
The whole day passes to serve her husband and other family members who become rare guests to the bungalows. In all these activities Sharda has been taught to find pleasure. But now, at the end phase of her life cycle she really wonders whether the traditions and norms to be truly imbibed and followed could have been bent.
As her husband shouts out for his meal, Sharda walks with her weakened limbs holding the steel plate traveling through the myriad mesh like dividers and long corridoors to serve her loving life partner, silently praying for his awareness to her quest for freedom.
I hope that freedom comes soon. I pray that the general awareness for what is culturally rich and stagnating is demarcated. I wish the Shola Sringaar of India truly becomes immortal in its meaning than transforming into passive puppets of torture.