Draped in a Kerala kasavu, with intricate designs of kathakali dancers adorning the border, Sunanda strode towards the eastern end of the Chotanikkara temple. Her raven black hair, neatly plaited, tied at the end with the help of a scarlet rubber-band, swung like a pendulum over her buttocks. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her lips moved in faint, inaudible mumblings.
Her widowed mother wiped her tears. Kizhukkavi Devi was the last hope for her only daughter.
“Aiyyo! What are you mumbling?” Ambili Devi gasped, hands over her mouth.
“Amma! I’m serious. I murdered him.” Sunanda’s gaze could have hypnotised a person and coerced him to confess deeds he didn’t commit.
“Don’t speak rubbish. He had an accident. His death has affected you,” her mother wailed.
Sunanda shut the door of her bedroom with a bang.
Ambili Devi’s heartbeats tried to keep pace with the percussion instruments, as the drumbeats reached a crescendo. Under a banyan tree sat a priest, wearing a yellow dhoti. He beckoned the women to sit before him.
“Is this the girl?” he whispered hoarsely to Ambili Devi. The old woman nodded, quivering.
He dipped his hand into a bowl containing turmeric and lime mixture, and rubbed his hands together. His eyes bore into Sunanda’s, and in a sudden, swift motion, flung the reddish liquid over her face. The young girl winced.
“Who are you?” he thundered.
“I..I am S.. Sunanda.”
“I repeat! WHO are you? Why have you taken over Sunanda’s mind?”
Sunanda broke out into a giggle. Her slim body convoluted with laughter. Ambili Devi looked on with horror, as the priest picked up a thick nail lying beside him.
Getting up, he bored a slight hole into the bark of the tree. He grabbed Sunanda by her hair, and banged her forehead against the nail. Blood trickled out, making its way slowly to her nose. Sunanda’s breasts heaved against the thin fabric of her kasavu. The priest started to chant a hymn. At the end of every verse, Sunanda hit her head against the nail. Of her own will. A deep gash formed over her forehead, and the pallu of her white saree turned slowly pink. Her breathing became laboured. And her body fell in an ignominious heap at the root of the grand old tree.
The priest sprinkled holy ash over her, and left. He had other patients waiting for him, as they sought his divine intervention to fight their inner demons.
Sunanda sat on the rocking chair. The bandage around her head had been removed a week ago. Her eyes darted towards the photo frame of Sooraj. Her late husband! Poor fellow! It had been fun, boring nails into his eyes, as he had flailed his limb furiously. But, her Guru had assured her that Sooraj was the Saturn in her life. And Sunanda would leave no stones unturned to ward off the evil impeding her path to glory. After all, wasn’t she the worthy daughter of Ambili Devi?
P.C – S Karimi (Unsplash)