I was born at a strange hour. It was a Friday night. All was quiet in the village of Mihalpur and, I believe, within the small one-room hut, too. The threadbare curtains must have been closed. I am told that my mother never held me, and I suspect that she never looked into my face. A girl child. I can see her now, dark like me, her long hair matted with the sweat of labour, curled up in a corner on a hard, bare cot as tears leak down the sides of her face, limp with exhaustion and misery. That particular sequence of events is not such a mystery to me. I saw it happen many times, with other women. I was the silent witness at these funeral-like affairs.

I was also there on other days – when the entire village celebrated, and sweets were handed out and people danced in the streets. I danced too and shouted for joy. The world was brighter on those days, the sky so blue, the pale blue that comforts at the same time as it hurts the eyes, the earth beneath my feet almost soft, as if she were smiling, that great mother to whom we are all bonded in life. We were allowed to sleep outside on cots, the stars swirling in the skies overhead our colourful night blanket. We barely slept for our hearts hurt from being too full. Those were the days on which a boy child was born. He was special, he came marked for the benefits of this world, palms open in trust, knowing he would receive. His cries were loud and lusty – the clarion call to all who could hear that he had arrived. The mothers of the boy babies were queens, crowned with such joy. I remember those little circles of exclusive membership – mothers and sons, small dark heads nestled against brown breasts, maternal arms that held and cradled, and fathers who smiled and walked tall. 



I was happy often, I think. While the boys went to school, we girls would go with our mothers to collect water from the river that flowed through our village. Dip the pot, wait for the water to pour into it, and then slowly pull it out. Settle it on your head or on your hip. I carried it on my hip. It made me feel like I was older, like I had seen things through my mother’s eyes. I walked delicately; I walked like my mother. The water played against the sides of my pot in time to my every step. I would not race ahead like the other girls and break my pot, or trip and fall and spill all the water. Sometimes I carried the pot on my head, cushioned on a folded cloth. I would stand straight, with one hand supporting the pot, and I would look neither left nor right but only ahead, and I would count my steps. To the river and back, to the river and back. 

I belonged everywhere and nowhere. I was Mausam, ‘season’. Not one season, not summer or winter, but all seasons. I was the leaf that fell as the weather grew cooler, that floated in the river, sometimes alone and sometimes with other leaves; I was the tide of the river as she swelled her banks when it rained, and I was the cricket on hot summer nights, creating rustic music. 



Radha was my closest friend and I stayed as often in her house as I did in mine. She was fair and had strongly marked eyebrows. Once, a fortune-teller came to the village and he told Radha that her eyebrows would bring her family luck. All the people present scoffed to hear this. What girl could bring luck? If you hoped to catch a fish, you did not throw a stone into the water. Radha smiled at the fortune-teller’s words and she brought him a large glass of fragrant chai.

Radha was older than me and she was beautiful. I liked to touch the little dark spot on her cheek. We held hands and sang as we walked back to the village from the river, and her mother sometimes gave me food in the evenings.

I ate in this house or that house; there was always food and I never went hungry. My mother expected me to help her with the chores during the day, and after that I was free. To my mother, I was like the girl in a picture I had once seen – only the girl’s hair and her skirt were visible among the high grasses and you could not see her face. 


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