Daughter of Kali
by Priya Chawla (United Arab Emirates)
Audio: "Daughter of Kali," read by Neeraja Kumar
Kal. The Hindi word for tomorrow and yesterday, interchangeable based on context. It’s the word Roshni paid the least mind to, always tuning out if the word ever began a conversation.
Yesterday would wash away with yesterday, and who has the time to worry about the stains and pains that come with tomorrow? Instead, she could give her attention to more valuable things. Like which new people of different ages and different faces would come to the tea stall today? What new stories would she hear and what new places would she visit?
Because to Roshni, all that ever mattered was Aaj. Today.
The sun peeked from behind the hills of Shimla outside the wooden window right next to her single bed, a sight that never got stale. Beams wafted lightly over her tiled floor, her shelf, wooden like everything else in the room, hollow of books, her cupboard and the empty space in the corner she dreamed of filling with a desk.
Sprinkled across the room were trinkets she had received from travellers at the tea stall. A miniature elephant from a middle-aged traveller who told her tales of Ladakh, a comb from this thirteen-year-old boy who she thought fancied her, a letter in a foreign language from a thirty-something man who looked at her in a way that made her uncomfortable. She kept the last one to remind herself that the next time someone looked at her like that, she’d gouge their eyes out.
Roshni got up from her creaky bed and sat down on the edge with her eyes closed. “5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1.” As soon as she finished, the rooster punctually croaked.
She washed up and got ready for another day of work. About to depart, her mother called out for her, “Where are you going?’
“Shyam’s as per usual. Is there somewhere else I should be?”
“Come back in. Go wear your nicest anarkali and come back down to the kitchen. They might be here anytime soon.”
“But I have work-”
“I’ll tell Manoj uncle to go inform Shyam that you won’t be able to come today. For now, just do as I say.”
“Who’s coming? And why do I have to get all dressed up for them?”
“So many questions,” her mother tapped her back as she obediently walked back in. She climbed the flight of unkempt stone stairs at the corner of the living room to go change her outfit. She came back down to the kitchen only to be immediately ordered by her grandmother to make chai for nine people. She wordlessly followed, confused by the commotion caused amongst the five women of the household packed in the kitchen all at the same time.
About thirty minutes passed when she heard new voices followed by her father's baritone, sounding somewhat like an exchange of greetings at the five-foot-wide veranda outside their house as they moved to settle on the couches at the centre of the living room.
“Who are they?” Roshni asked her aunt as she poured the chai into different cups, not letting her confusion interrupt the routine work she was used to doing. She made sure to ask Sarita aunty, the aunty younger than the others who usually didn’t treat Roshni like a child. She brushed Roshni off as if she was too naive to understand the circumstances. Or maybe she just didn’t want to be the one to explain.
Just as she filled up the last cup, she heard the voice of her dad call out for her, “Roshni beta, could you come out for a bit?”
Roshni did not have the time to scoff at her father’s phoney politeness because a tray was immediately shoved into her hands, the teas placed on it swiftly, and she was shoved out of the kitchen before she had any time to process what was happening.
“Serve our guests first please,” her father pointedly looked at her and gestured at the new faces that sat at the other side of the couch. Roshni finally got a glimpse at the guests. Two middle-aged men, both seemingly nearing forty and with scattered grey hair here and there, and an elderly couple.
Roshni approached each guest one by one, presenting the tray to let them take a cup of tea of their choice. The guests, she couldn’t help notice, seemed to be fixated and kept observing her every movement. Especially the old lady and one of the men. Once she was done, her father told her to come sit down next to him.
“And how old is she?”
“She turns thirteen in five months.”
“Perfect,” the old lady said as she kept staring at Roshni. “She will be perfect for our Manish.” She placed her hand on the thigh of one of the men, the one who she could only assume was Manish himself.
Roshni’s brain was muddled with questions. Perfect for Manish? What was that supposed to mean? Why did the lady make it sound as if Roshni was some garment in a store that Manish was going to wear? She couldn’t make heads or tails of what was happening, and she definitely didn’t feel like she had a say in it either.
Her father sounded delighted. “If you approve, then we should set a date for the engagement soon?”
“That sounds wonderful. Congratulations Mr Ramachandran.”
All the people sitting in the room got up and greeted each other, but Roshni stayed frozen in her seat. The word “engagement” repeated in her head, sometimes as faint as a passing wind and sometimes with the force of the gong of a bell. She felt lightheaded, nauseous, and numb all at the same time. She suddenly realized it was the time of her life that all her aunts had mentioned to her. The one her mother had prepared her for. The one her grandmother had warned her about.
She was to be wed.
For the first time in her life, Roshni feared the word Kal.
Priya Chawla, 18, is an emerging author currently studying at the University of Warwick. Growing up in a traditional Indian household, in this piece she reflects on the cultural sexism that persists.
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11/24/23, 4:42 PM
I'm amazed by your deep perception towards little things of life! Keep glowing dear Taieba.
10/4/23, 10:28 AM
I'll like to see more of your writing
10/4/23, 10:26 AM
Gsk I love it!
10/3/23, 7:58 PM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
9/29/23, 2:03 AM
Wow..just wow. Ridiculous words I know. I just stumbled across your poem as this is my first time on the website and I landed this masterpiece. As an immigrant myself, I could relate to several aspects of this. Your use of imagery, symbolism, and allusion is outstanding
9/17/23, 8:43 AM
Powerful. Spreading the truth some don't think about, some don't have to worry about. A great and strong piece.
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
9/16/23, 2:41 AM
8/25/23, 10:35 PM
Excellent and amazing
8/17/23, 7:00 AM
Absolutely beautiful poem! The words were picked meaningfully and used it a descriptive way. Very relatable.