I brought myself to composure, and controlled my emotions. Maybe I was over thinking. It was possible that Leela and Nauheed were plainly visiting the ancient temple of Yellamma in Saundatti. However it was hard to believe that they were plainly visiting the shrine. Why would they do so? The ancient Devdasi system wherein young girls were dedicated to a life of sanctioned prostitution and their virginity was auctioned in the name of service to the goddess was banned in the 1980s. When I had read the history behind the whole concept I was flabbergasted by the orthodoxy and malevolence that kept this practice alive for so long, and continues to keep it alive clandestinely.
In the wake of unburdening themselves, poverty afflicted parents continue to see it as a means of ‘better work’. Better work – that is what Nauheed had told me. Nauheed couldn’t have been a Devdasi, could she? I had known her for so long. What about Leela? I was struggling to find the answers that were haunting me.
Leela and Nauheed were busy counting money and discussing some route details. I interrupted them saying, “Are you travelling to Saundatti for the first time?” The cab arrived. I was looking at Nauheed waiting for an answer from her. She was silent. The silence was killing me. “Why?” I asked. Leela was arranging the folds in her sari, and was sitting on the pavement now. The driver was honking. He opened the door of the car, and called out, “It’s getting late, madam.”
I sat inside the cab still waiting for an answer. Nauheed closed the door for me. The cab started moving, and then she ran behind the cab. The driver halted the cab. Nauheed tapped on the door. I lowered the glass to see her kohl-enamored eyes, again. “Didi, I was born as Nirupama. I was dedicated when I was seven. I was sold when I was twelve. I started working in the red light area in Bombay when I was fourteen. You keep this umbrella with you, Didi. You don’t like getting wet unwantedly, I know”, she said. “Madam, can we go?” the driver asked me. “Go” Nauheed, told him, and the cab sped past.
Life – the moment you think that you know it all, it will surprise you like never before. Servants of god – that is what these girls are called – the literal translation of Devdasi. What dogma dictates this? I fail to understand why humans are the most loathsome creatures on this earth when they have been bestowed with the most beautiful emotions. I had never imagined that one of those “Nine Lives” from Dalrymple travelogues will meet me in real life. As I alighted from the cab that evening when I was back from work, the rain came pouring again. However, this time around we were meeting at the perfect time – a time when I opened Nauheed’s umbrella to shelter myself and the rain’s twin adorned my eyes. I strolled back home. Taz was out for his evening walk with Aunty Daisy. I stopped by him again for our moment of love at dusk. I kept walking towards home remembering the black beauty. Becky was there to welcome me at the stairs. As I folded the umbrella, “What did you do all day, missy?” I asked her. She was jumping to sniff the folded umbrella – yellow colored with black spots all over it. A little butterfly came fluttering in from nowhere. It fluttered for a while around me, and finally rested on the umbrella. We all were home.