Ragini, a 10 year old, was the most cheerful girl Mandari Village had seen in years. Everybody in the village loved her. Every morning, she would be seen coming out of a place as good as heaven, with a pot on her head. She would walk till the river, to fill water. They had a huge well at the backyard; this water was used for household purposes. They needed the water from the sacred river only for the rituals. She would wear a long skirt, a matching blouse both with zari border. She would have 2 thick long plaits, and a strand of Jasmine buds adored one of the plaits. She had a dozen of glass bangles to match with her dress. But there was one way, which couldn’t prevent anybody from noticing her. Her silver anklets, with a numerous small bells. The moment stepped, the anklets would catch the attention of everybody around.
With a pot of water on her head, Ragini playfully would walk thru the fields; greet everybody on her way towards the house. The house where she stayed wasn’t less charming. Small hills surrounded the huge house. The entrance of the house was a beautiful arch, with iron rods shaped like arrows pointing down, forming the border for the arch. There was a long corridor, adorned with classy antique artifacts and paintings. The house had a smell of fresh flowers.
It was the rainy season, as soon as Ragini entered the house with the pot of water, it had started drizzling outside. She loved the rains. She had heard stories from the elders at home, about heaven and gods. And when it rained, she would run to the backyard, and lean at the door and watch the scenery change. It looked like heaven, same as the stories she had heard. At front, the arch seemed like a waterfall, with water dripping from the arrows pointing down. Once the rain stopped, the drops of water at the tip of the arrows would shine like crystals. Ragini would try to jump and touch these crystals. She could never succeed and the guards near the house would lift her up so that she could touch them. She always told them “I will grow tall one day, and you will not have to lift me anymore”. They could only smile at the little girl’s innocence. She would then run into the house, and into her father’s arms. He would lift her up and turn her around. She would get a thrill in rotating, just like a fan on the roof. Her mother would see this from the kitchen door, smile at Ragini and her father. She would serve the breakfast and Ragini insisted her dad feed her every morsel she ate.
Years passed by, Ragini was turning into a fine young girl. She would still go to the river everyday, to fetch the pot of water. Their house was still the heaven she imagined it to be. There were just minor changes. She no longer needed anyone’s help to touch the crystal like water droplets, for now she could jump a little and reach them easily. Her father couldn’t lift her up and twirl her around. But she insisted, he hold her hands, and they make rounds under the fan. She would still like to be fed breakfast by her father. But now her mother no longer smiled at this. Instead there was worry on her face, a tear drop in the corner of her eye. Ragini tried to ask her mother, but was shooed away saying she was imagining.
Then came the auspicious month of weddings, many of Ragini’s friends who were younger than her, at the age of 13 were getting married. She would wonder at times, why her parents unlike others never worried about her wedding. It was not that she wanted to go away from her parents. But the unusual behavior of her parents haunted her. But everytime she would look at her mother’s worried face, she understood, probably mother was thinking about Ragini’s wedding, and that is why the worry.
It was a special day, Ragini would turn 15. She was dressed up in the most expensive saree and ornaments. The 2 plaits which showed her innocence, was not present that day. Instead it was one thick plait, and she looked like an elegant lady. The sting of jasmine buds, added to the beauty of her long hair. Everybody in the household was ready, with fine clothing and jewellery. There was just one thing missing, on them. The smile. Ragini was the only cheerful girl in the entire house. She couldn’t understand, why were everybody mourning. She went and asked her father if she was dead. He was holding back his tears all the while, and on hearing this question, he burst out crying aloud. For her this was a horrible sight, she had never ever seen such a sight in her life. Her father was crying.
Everybody boarded the horse carriage, she insisted, she sit with her father. She wanted to know the reason for him crying. As the carriage moved forward, she kept asking her father, why he cried. His eyes were closed, but she could see the tear drop in the corner of the eye, trying to have a leap from his face on his shoulder. She took the end of her saree and wiped off the tear. She wanted to change the mood of her father. She started talking about the trees, the animals, the river, her friends to cheer him up. Her father managed to give a fake smile to her. She was content; she had managed to bring a smile on her father’s worried face. As she turned back, she glanced the carriage her mother was in. She was crying too. All the ladies in that carriage were trying to console her, but were not successful. She could sense they were going in the same route, which they usually take to visit her maternal grandparents. She was concerned, and hoping, her grandparents were safe.
Just before entering the village, the carriages took a turn, and stopped near a huge ground. It seemed like the whole village had gathered. As people from the carriages went in, a couple came up to Ragini’s parents and greeted them. Ragini’s family were shown a place to rest, It was under a huge banyan tree. A confused Ragini, now pleaded her parents to explain the happenings. Finally her father told her about something, she was unaware in her lifetime.
She was 3 years old, when Ragini was married off to a boy. He was not more than 6 years. When he was around 10, a deadly disease struck the village, and most of the kids lost their lives. As fate would have it, Ragini’s husband parted with the mortal world. Since Ragini was still a kid, when this happened, elders decided she should live her childhood as a happy child, and not knowing about this unfortunate event which had ruined her life. Today, as she was crossing the threshold of childhood and entering adolescence, she would be made aware of her life.
Ragini was shocked, even though her physical body had grown out of the innocent childhood, her mind had not.
“Father, What will happen to me now?” was a innocent question she asked him. Before he could answer, a few ladies took her away. Her father could listen to her cries, her mother couldn’t take all this and wanted to save her daughter from the rituals, but was not allowed to go anywhere.
Within a few minutes, the beautiful, cheerful and colourful Ragini changed into a lifeless body. Her soul was taken away. Now all that stood in front of her parents, was a body, who did not know how to react to the situation.
In a few minutes, after the soul parted from her body, she was placed in the sacred fire, for a ritual named ‘Sati’. Her lifeless body turned ashes.