A couple of days ago, my maid, Shymala, requested a day off. She warned me well beforehand, about five days beforehand. More and more excited as the day approached, she filled me in on the small information about the ceremony of opening a new temple in her parents’ village, only about half an hour off.
Fangen wir an
An avenging god, Gangamma searches down the rapist chieftain of her village who attempts to molest her. In her horrible anger, she presumes various guises, each more mad than another (almost akin to Kali). Finally, disguising herself as Palegadu’s (the chieftain’s) overlord, she lures the rapist out of his hiding spot to kill him. Today, the villagers appease her fury with a jatera or festival.
They expect to calm down her she may bless them with rain. In the scrublands of Rayalseema resides a woman deity who’s an icon of anger against men’s misdirected sexuality. Feminist icon could you say? On the afternoon looked forward to so eagerly, Shymala arrives at my door with tears in her eyes. I’m really puzzled now. Shymala describes to me. You know, dear reader, if you have come this way what Gangamma the ferocious represents!
That was it, closing edict. Shymala remained back in Puttaparthi, and all of the rest of the enormous joint family–husband, sisters-in-law, mother-in-law (who’s also her grandmother), brothers-in-law, and various assorted children all went off to celebrate the installation of Gangamma’s idol. Yes, she left the next day to see her mum, but just after the pooja/ ritual was Gangamma safely set up with no contamination of Shymala’s monthly blood. Only about 23 decades, Shymala appears younger than her true age.
As an only daughter, her parents had been fiercely protective of her, even removing her from college when she refused to continue after getting her period. Beginning to menstruate when she was about 14, she worried about walking alone to get to college. Menstruation is a big deal, not just for the girl, but also for her family in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and many of India too. Often, the event calls for public service.
A couple of years back, a few buddies and I drove to the only decent hotel on the outskirts of Puttaparthi, a Government of India Tourism enterprise. The whole place, quite huge, was lit up with strings of lights, and we were advised they would’t be serving dinner since the hotel was booked up for a private purpose. I asked, really at sea. Padma duly filled me , at least what she understood about shared hindu practices, being a Tamilian who lived in the States.
The woman had to sitdolled up and garlanded, getting well wishes and gifts from the people invited. I could not quite take it all in as I understood that menstruating women suffered from diverse restrictions. The same woman, now bedecked and the thing of good wishes on her coming of age, would later be outcast, banished from religious festivals, unclean for her period. Ramachandran’s daughter sitting on a float, with people invited to celebrate her first period, was an archaic humiliation to me.
There she sat, item for future trades of marriage and dowry, made ready to be bought and sold as a commodity while people rejoiced. Indian girls, with the red dots on their foreheads, their fur rings after marriage, and their’mangalsutras’ or wedding bracelets are labeled as possessions for guys. And, with no visible outside markers, not even a ring, married Indian men are free to roam, no Gangamma to keep them in check nowadays.
Though I advised Shymala to stay at her home for three nights to compensate for her banishment, she was back in Puttaparthi following two nights. I enquire of her grandmother who helps me out in Shymala’s absence. Or, as I afterwards learnt from Shymala, they are not permitted to travel on full moon, on no moon, and other illegal days; but guys can travel any old day. Hearing these edicts, I mutter,”You know why girls aren’t permitted to travel about, do not you? Your guys want to tie you up and keep you at home.” She moans, these restrictions are merely a part of her life, and she takes her lot, albeit with a few tears.