AND I NEVER thought this day would come, but here I am, sitting in front of the ritual fire, repeating Sanskrit mantras I don’t understand. He’s looking at me now, and I can feel it on my skin. We are getting married. Damini is locked away somewhere in a room, Lakshmi’s at Lord Krishna’s feet in the heavens, and I’m going to be his wife.
We moved into the new house on the corner of the street next to the village well, and that’s when I first saw her. They made her walk around the house, to bring us good luck. She smelled like warm milk and hay, was covered in turmeric paste, and a bell was hanging around her neck. Her hock looked so bent I thought she was born deformed. When her hoof touched the mud-plastered ground, it made a noise like the click of chalk on a blackboard. She chewed and dribbled as she walked around the house with her mother, and I asked my father if I could keep her.
I did not know then that a day like this would come.
Father had said, ‘The calf belongs with the mother, Kayal, my dear girl. Look, she’s so puny. She needs to get strong first.’
‘Iyo! Appa, how long will that take?’ I had asked, not looking away from Lakshmi even once. That’s when I named her. I always knew she’d be mine.
‘Maybe two months or so,’ Appa had said, and started discussing something important with Udayan Maama. And Amma always told me not to interrupt men when they were talking.
Lakshmi did look thin. Her coat of white-and-brown hair was patchy and looked soaked. She wouldn’t leave her mother, Bhagyam, and was very shy. I tried to separate her from Bhagyam every way possible, so that I could play with her. I tempted Lakshmi with grains, hay, terracotta toys, even my favourite cart. She had a glaze over her eyes, and I wondered what she thought about.
The cow boy, Ramu, who had accompanied Bhagyam and Lakshmi, said they lived nearby, in a shack behind Kittu Maama’s house.
Amma forced me to go inside to participate in the rest of the ceremonies, but I wanted to play with Lakshmi. The mantras the priest chanted while sitting next to the fire – I never understood a word of them, they were all in Sanskrit, but Amma and Appa always looked mesmerized. I don’t think they understood what the words meant either.
‘Kayal, pray properly,’ my Amma prodded me, but I could not help peeping out of the main door to see if Lakshmi were still there.
I reminded my parents about Lakshmi every day of that first month in the new village. Even all the games I played revolved around her. That’s when I became friends with Damini, Udayan Maama’s daughter. We became close right away. She showed me around the whole village, the mango farms, the lakes, and the temples of the scary goddess, Kali. I told her about Lakshmi, and she was immediately interested, but I did not know then that this day would come.
Damini and I used to play in the cowshed where Lakshmi lived, getting our long skirts dirty, which our mothers hated. Kittu Maama’s wife had no children but she liked me, and let me play with the cows as long as I wanted. She did not like Damini much, because Damini would always break things like water pots or ploughs in that old cowshed of grimy pillars.
My favourite game was to hold Lakshmi’s long tail and run behind her. I made sure that Lakshmi saw me every day, so it wouldn’t be hard for her when she came to live with us.
Appa decided to buy Lakshmi for me only after Amma convinced him: ‘It’ll improve our standing in society, to own a cow,’ she argued.
‘That is true, but it’s so expensive to maintain one, we’d need a shack, a cow boy . . .’
‘Iyo! Don’t argue so much. It’s auspicious to own a cow. All of Bhagvan’s blessings will be on us,’ Amma said, pursing her thin lips but somehow grinning at the same time, smiling the way she did when she wanted Appa to concede to something. I always wondered what secrets that smile held.
Appa did buy Lakshmi the very next day, and I swore I’d become like Amma when I grew up. Even though I knew I was not as beautiful, I learned to smile like her. She has a delicate, parrot nose, but I have Appa’s nose, bulgy like a red pepper. She is fair, but I’m dark like Appa.
Please subscribe/sign in
to view article.