Wednesday 18 December 2013

Write.....Edit......Publish..- Is it December already?!

It’s always nice to be here at Write...Edit....Publish, for the last time this year, wow! That 2013 went quickly!  I am posting a flash and since I have written several posts on seasonal festivals in India, and some of them have been for RFW, time for sharing something that isn't seasonal.  Hope you enjoy this glimpse of a living tradition that goes back unbroken for thousands of years. 

I will be travelling shortly, and possibly offline, so will catch up with you all as and when I am able to hook up.  Meanwhile, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2014!


Seeing Red.  And White.


Kushal woke uneasy, as though a dream had laid a huge weight across him that awakening wasn’t meant to shake off.  The ceiling was unfamiliar too, and flustered him before he remembered he had come away from home, and Maddie.   Maddie.  Madhavi.  They had bickered, a perfectly pointless disagreement.  It seemed incredible as he lay in the mussed but clinically impersonal hotel bed. When had he started caring about such nonsense? what she wore, the way she dealt with the baggage of a gen-next immigrant, whether she wore her marital status on her sleeve. 

But there was no time to brood, the workshop was to start soon, and there were the Mughal miniatures, the museum to check out.  He was in the city of his forefathers, much to explore, maybe some explanations, some connects to take away.  The phone rang as if on cue, Kushal jumped.  Maddie!

“Hey, wake up! When does it start?” It was only Pete, a fellow artist.

“Nine.  You ready?”

“In fifteen minutes.”

“Okay, see you at breakfast.”

He cut himself shaving, bled a drop onto the spotless washbasin.  Red on white.  Red and white.  Just like the bangles.  He still couldn’t believe the stupidity of the whole thing. 


The sound was annoying, the jingle-jangle of metal, combined with a hard to place clacking, neither stone nor wood.  He looked across again to where Maddie was sitting for him, reading.  She had an arresting face - a childhood accident, and reconstructive surgery that had not been able to wipe out all the traces; her flawless skin faintly patchy, puckered in a band across her left temple and cheek, her lips lifted by a hairsbreadth in a lopsided secretive smile – they made her face at once irresistible and intriguing.  The rest of her was draped on a slouchy armchair, her back against one armrest, her legs thrown over the other, her skirt swished sideways and trailing, almost touching the floor. The sun slanted in through the large bay windows and highlighted the planes of her face, deepening the hollows of her collarbones and waist.

“Take those bangles off, will you?” he sounded impatient, brusquer than necessary. “I can hardly see your arm.”


“The bangles. Take them off.  Can’t do the sitting with them.”

She put down her book obligingly and took off a mass of silver bangles, laid them in a heap on the floor.  All except the last two, a white, carved conch-shell one paired on each wrist with another deep red; the source, he realised, of the clacking noise as she moved her hands to pick up her book again.

“Take those off too, please.”

“No.  Can’t.” She didn’t lift her eyes from the book. “These stay put for the time being.”

“Wha-a-t?” He let bafflement slide into a sneer. “You believe that crap about ‘harm to husband’ if they come off?”

She glared a warning at him, “Kush! Paint me with them.  Or leave them out as you wish.”

“How does a girl who refuses her husband’s surname, wear red-white bangles signifying holy matrimony?  What happened to unfettered freedoms?  How come this sudden love for tradition, aren’t the bangles a tad hypocritical under the circs?”

Hypocritical.  One word leads to another; that word led to a few more. The tone suddenly turned vicious midway, the talk bitter.  His resentment surfaced perhaps, his neediness - as red and bone-white as the bangles on her wrist.


“This is how it is. Red-white bangles. Maiden name. Muddled up traditions.”  She had snapped the book shut and whiplashed straight up from the chair.  “I thought you knew me better.”

And she had walked out. Walked back to that husband no doubt, whose last name she shunned, but for whom she still wore the mandatory bangles for a long marriage, good health and fortune.  Were all women this strange or was it just Maddie?  Kushal had tried her cell several times, she ignored the calls.  The next morning he left.


The traffic was terrible, but the roads much wider than the childhood impressions formed as his mother had reminisced about the alleyways of Daryagunj.  He wished he had paid more attention, remembered the address of the old house she had described.  There was no way to retrieve it now, she had died some years back. But he mentally made vague plans to visit the neighbourhood one evening; asked the driver, “Daryagunj?” embellished with a hand gesture that universally meant ‘where’.  The response too came in a similar gesture that could only mean ‘not nearby’.

There was little time to feel hard done by or reminisce at the workshop, it absorbed all his attention.  Afterwards, they went to the Mughal miniatures gallery.  He had of course studied the ones in the British Museum; but a different experience to view them in their natural home.  The group had been allocated an enthusiastic docent - one Purnima Sen - who knew the paintings inside out.  Kushal couldn’t help but notice that she wore thin red-and-white paired bangles on her wrists.  The same clacking noise as she waved her hands around explaining the exhibits.  Also the natural home for them bangles, he wryly thought.

“Let’s go through to the Harappan galleries,” Purnima said once they’d finished.  “Really, the grandmother of all our sub-cultures.  You can’t leave without taking a peek –”

He browsed the exhibits lining the walls, the ancient pottery, the bronze figurines.  A child’s terracotta toy behind glass – a crude figure atop a wagon, but the wheels smooth, the axle perfectly balanced - clearly for pulling along.  Strangely touching.  His mind flashed back to a wooden engine he had got Maddie’s child. 

As he walked to the opposite wall, a burial site from millennia ago came into view in the centre, a skeleton on its side lay with bits and pieces around.  He drew closer, fascinated.  The label alongside identified it as a female, a married woman who had predeceased her husband.  The evidence, he read and his heart lurched, lay in the shell bangles still encircling the dead bones of both her forearms.


WC – 1015
All feedback welcome.
Red and white (shakha-pola) bangles - image courtesy Anindita Khamaru.

Incidentally, the colours red and white have a very special significance in Hindu culture, red is the colour of "Shakti" the divine feminine force, it denotes prosperity and fertility, white is associated with purity and spirituality. The red and white colour pair occur as a motif throughout Bengali/Hindu culture - a bride is dressed in red, while her groom's attire is white; women wear white sari's with red borders for religious occasions; married women wear these special red and white bangles; Hindu monks wear red and white markings on their foreheads and many other instances.

Read the other entries here

1. Loren Mathis 4. Nilanjana Bose 7. Jenny Brigalow
2. Lisa Buie-Collard 5. J.L. Campbell 8. Trisha @ WORD+STUFF
3. Denise Covey 6. N. R. Williams 9. Roland Yeomans


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  2. And the above was just too hilarious not to let through!! :))

  3. I loved this story, so many elements to it.

  4. Nilanjana, what a great story. I loved learning about the cultural tradition of the bangles. I notice Indian women wear a lot of bangles most of the time and wondered about it. I love how it ends. Very powerful.

    Enjoy your travels. Where to ? I'm managing to stay connected so far with good internet here in Paris and I expect Spain to be good too.

    Thanks for being such an enthusiastic participant of RFW now WEP . I hope you will continue next year.

    Happy holidays...


    1. Thank you, Denise. There are many different bits and pieces that Indian women use as marital jewellery, varies with the region and ethnic groups too. But some kind of bangles are usually worn by most, traditionally a married woman isn't supposed to have "bare" arms, which are a symbol of widowhood and considered inauspicious.

      I have enjoyed writing the posts for RFW and WEP both, thanks for creating the space.

      Am off to Jordan tomorrow, to Petra, been on my bucket list for the longest time. Not sure when/where I'll be able to hook up, so I am glad to connect with you before I leave.

      Happy holidays to you too! Have a great trip to Spain.

  5. I learned something here today about a tradition I'd never heard of before. Thanks! :)

    1. 4-5000 years is enough time to acquire a whole bunch of traditions I guess! Thanks for reading. :).

  6. A great story. What a wonderful insight into Hindu culture. It sounds very exotic, particularly the red bridal outfit.

  7. Wow, this was wonderful to read. I didn't understand all of it, but the message was endearing and heartfelt. I loved the tie-in at the end. I could feel it coming and what it would mean if he saw those bangles on an ancient woman's arm. I didn't know that about red and white. Thank you for not only a warming story, but for the new information I learned as well. Lovely.

  8. Such an interesting story about tradition and bangles. Thanks for sharing - I think by the tales end he understood the significance too!

    Have a wonderful trip and a lovely holiday season!

  9. Way cool story. I agree, the spam was most appropriate to the post, lol.

    Have a good trip Nila.


  10. Thank you everyone for reading. Back now at my usual place behind screens and hope to catch up with each of you over the next few days. Happy New Year!