There was no moon that night. Everybody in the neighbouring households was fast asleep. In the homestead by the river, a woman was being chased, held down and doused with kerosene. She ran out to the backyard to the well and a well-aimed matchstick caught her. She tried to pour water over herself in vain. As the flames licked at her and danced around her, consuming her, she uttered in a piercing shriek, ‘Your daughters shall suffer for all eternity!’ A shiver ran down their spines. Her family, who were the perpetrators, soon forgot her ominous words in the business of waking the neighbours up and legitimizing her death.
Five generations had seen the statement come true in no uncertain terms. There was no escape from the curse. Across the state, country, the seven seas, problems plagued the daughters. It ran the range of domineering, inebriated, weak, dependent, impotent, philandering, obsessive, morose or sober husbands, indifferent or abusive sons, daughters, interfering or passive close family, friends or distant relatives, health issues, strange disorders, financial trouble, infamy, gossip, accidents, uncomfortable coincidences and anything and everything that was intended to harm, disturb or nag.
It was time this legend was put to rest.
In a social setup where the suffering of women was the story of every household, people were inclined to wave all reports away with a practiced hand of derision and condescension. But in this family, when it was observed that all the daughters-in-law were doing well, in fact too well for comfort, but the daughters, in contrast, were descending into unknown and undiscovered depths of misery, there was a family conference and everybody was summoned.
The sons were prepared to ignore the summons, but were persuaded by their wives to attend. What did the wives have to lose? Things were going their way and they could afford to be generous. They had it all: The infinite support of husbands and family, enough money. However, there was a hidden agenda: the pursuit of peace. Unfortunate daughters who were victims in astonishingly diverse ways over the years and a newly wedded daughter already showing symptoms of proving the curse true, gave enough impetus to the need for atonement.
So it was decided after a heated discussion that a special religious ceremony was to be performed at home to ward off the evil effects of the curse and to appease the spirit of the deceased. No amount of expense was to be spared and the daughters and daughters-in-law were given a fairly long list of dos and don’ts to observe at least a month before the great ritual. They agreed to follow every instruction to the t.
A month passed. Everybody descended on the ancestral home in the span of a day. The daughters settled down to a transient phase of relief from everyday trauma and the daughters-in-law got down to the business of being perfect hostesses.
Men were not part of the rituals for it was entirely a womanly affair. It was all about bonding and appeasing the ancient troubled spirit. The ritual was to be held by the well. The same well that was mute witness to the horrendous scene.
Dreams became deeper and darker as the day neared. All dreams invariably ended in an orange glow before the woman woke up in profuse sweat. She shared her dreams with her sister who felt her hair stand on end. The night before, after a prolonged dinner, everybody sat on the terrace and there was silence. Nine women and not a word disturbed the peace. There was turmoil in each heart. They felt numb, too dazed to even believe that things would be set right and too uneasy to hope things would change. Suddenly, one piped up,’ Let us turn in for the night. I can’t wait for the morning to come soon enough.’ Each walked away to her mattress and tossed and turned all night, sleep evading her.
Morning dawned and they got up in relief. Everything was readied for the ritual. The skies were overcast and grey clouds loomed over the horizon. Shivering, the women walked down the slippery steps of the river behind the house into the river. After another ritual of purification by the well, the women sat in a circle around the colorful circle drawn by the priest. The chanting began.
One of them felt a familiar cramp shoot up. Oh no, it wasn’t time. Not yet. She got up hastily with a guilty look. One look at her and the eldest daughter-in –law conveyed the news to the priest who shook his head and stood up as if stung by a scorpion. One began sobbing quietly and another woman laughed hysterically as he hastily departed. The priest refused to accept any payment for his efforts. He did not look at anybody in the eye and did not glance till he reached the riverbank. He quickly emptied the contents of his bag into the river and took a hasty dip. He fasted for the rest of the day, chanted the thousand names of the lotus-eyed Lord a hundred times.
Everybody sat by the well in silence. Then one looked up at the sky and got up. She packed her bag wordlessly and walked away from the household. The others followed. Raindrops fell heavily on the roof and the loud pitter patter woke the daughters-in-law from their immobile state. The business of life had to go on.
What about the sins of the father…?
Needless to say, the curse is still in action, the power still unabated.
Atonement? Not time yet.


2 thoughts on “Atonement?”

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