17th Sept was Ganesh Chaturthi – the main festival in G‘s culture, preceded by Gowri Puja which is of special significance to married women. The picture is from the prayers in 2012, something I found in his photos. We had just been married for a little over a year, and the imprint of my vermillion stained hands can still be seen on the wall. It was done the day I was married and came in to the house. It’s all gone now, like everything else.
As rituals, all the women got together for Gowri puja and de-husked coconuts and decorated them (seen in the plates above the idol in the image). Coconuts have special significance in Hindu rituals – they are considered very pure and auspicious. We exchanged them with each other and gave one to our respective husbands. And then we had to touch their feet. I always scratched G’s feet when I did that because it bugged me. It made me feel of less significance somehow. Yet, if he was around this time, i’d have kissed his feet!
We also got threaded black beads that we had to add to our Mangalsutra – a sacred thread worn by all married women. We also exchanged haldi-kumkum, a symbol of good fortune and long and happy married lives.
In my new situation – a widow – I am not supposed to wear the mangalsutra any more, nor put vermillion on my forehead. I was dreading the festival, dreading being excluded, hating the fact that i can no longer do things that I chafed at doing earlier. Still, I went to his parent’s house. They had taken down all decoration from the small temple inside their house before I arrived. They were as worried about hurting me as I was about getting hurt. My plate of decorated coconuts was conspicuously missing this time. I always decked up when I went for the festivities. Wore my best silk sarees, wore a lot of gold jewelry, of course my mangalsutra and the red dot on my forehead, and did my makeup. This time in a simple suit, not a piece of jewelry and no makeup I was a sad sight. I know it hurts my mother to see me like this, but I can’t seem to bring myself to wear nice clothes. Even my mom-in-law cried to see me like this.
We spent the day pretending that it’s just another day and nothing special. I am quite scared of my new status. I feel tainted, that anything good that I might touch will spoil itself. That day, we got a new cycle for my nephew – his first. My mom-in-law said I should put vermillion on it (we say a prayer for new things that we get), It felt good; her saying that, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
And then when I was just leaving she asked me to come and sit near the small temple they have in the house (same one as in the pic). And then she gave me a coconut and put haldi-kumkum on my forehead. It felt terrible, because he wasn’t there. What was the good fortune for? I didn’t deserve it! My sister-in-law gave me one too, put the haldi kumkum and touched my feet and all I could do was cry.
It must have taken a lot of effort from my mom-in-law to do this. To put a red dot on the forehead of her son’s widow. When that’s considered the most integral part of a married woman’s getup. She cried too, and told me she’d done it considering me her daughter. She didn’t want me to feel left out. She didn’t want me to feel anything has changed. And I felt sort of absolved with that dot of vermilion. That it was okay for me to be a part of things too. And I really really appreciate their gesture, and i’ll forever be grateful.
He loved his mother, I am sure he is watching us, and if possible, he’ll love her even more for doing this – for mending a tiny little piece inside me.