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Oormi stood there with her husband Lakhan. The morning was cold and she felt different from those milling crowds that have come to see the same God that today she is so keen to see.
Women. They outnumbered men. Impoverished and desperate, some with a sort of ecstasy that Oormi had never experienced. Where do they come from, she wondered at them. Suddenly she realised why she felt different.
The difference was out there stark and telling. Oormi had never felt such sort of ecstasy before any idol. She had lost it twenty five years back, the day she got married. She had conjured up an image of Lakhan, a god like image in her mind ever since she was betrothed to him. She did not want to think how she lost him somewhere inside her mind, home and in the world that she never wanted to comprehend.
Oormi was different because she had dressed differently. The silk sari that she chose to wear that day was a gift from her mother on her wedding day. She felt the smell of twenty five long years and the fragrance of her mother. It was mixed with stories, dreams and tears. An odourless fragrance, disembodied and impalpable that only daughters could feel it when they thought of their mothers.
These wretched of the earth were wearing the most sad looking clothes and yet they carried themselves so elegantly in them. They did not look awkward or shy. Many were not even wearing blouses to cover their upper body. However, the clumsy wrapping of those saris soiled with dirt, sindoor and turmeric powder covered their shame. There was no obscenity in it. Their parched and shrivelled bodies craved for something beyond that bodies could desires. Patiently they stood in the queue that snaked into the majestic temple.
Ululating of those women woke Oormi up from her reverie. Something choked her. She wanted do the same and articulate the non articulated stories of those twenty five years through that primordial clarion call of women to their sleeping gods and goddesses. Oormi felt her vocal chords moving and tongue twisting but in silence. She had been talking all those twenty five years to Lakhan, to her sons, to her relatives, to the maid, to the grocery seller and to many people whom she had come across. To her surprise she realised that she did not remember a single thing that she had spoken all those years. She knew that she had lost her words. The only urge she had at that moment was to ululate. But she felt incapable, inadequate, spent and wasted.
Oormi felt the cold floor touching her soles. Something moved inside her; in an inappropriate spot of the body that should not have agitated at a holy place like this. But Oormi did not feel shame. For the first time she felt elated but she hid her emotions for she had never allowed her face betray her real feeling before Lakhan. In those early days Oormi had to try; slowly it became a habit, then second nature and eventually her nature. She felt something inside her which like the undefinable fragrance of her mother was mysterious. A platonic shift? She wondered. She just could not figure out what went inside her at that moment. She struggled a bit to contain her excitement.
Lakhan was busy on his mobile. The temple does not allow mobiles to be carried inside. Oormi looked at the metallic glaze of his expensive mobile's cover. It glinted in the morning sun rays. Then she looked at the golden clutch that she was holding and the gold plated mobile inside it. She tried to memorise everything inside that clutch. A packet of wet tissues, platinum cards of a couple of premium banks, a few bank notes, a bunch of silver safety pins: she felt like a primary school kids taking a memory test. She tried hard to remember. Oh yes, an amulet that her father had given her when she was first sent to hostel during her graduation years. What else? She remembered something but the image that appeared in her mind was vague. She wanted to name it but in vain. Again something moved inside her. This time it was not in the inappropriate place in her body but she could not locate it. She felt the unease.
Lakhan came near and she felt his body's warmth so close; a familiar temperature that had propped up a glacier inside her, a fire that transformed her into frozen lake in the mountains. She moved aside without really making an effort to do so; twenty five years of practice had made her a master choreographer of avoidance.
The mobile phones cannot be taken inside the temple complex.
Perhaps for the first time in their life together they looked at the same direction so naturally as they did a few times in their honeymoon days. This time they were not looking into the horizon with hope but to the parking lot half a kilometre away. The coffee brown Mercedes Benz with a hard earned single number was parked there. As it was their twenty fifth birth anniversary Lakhan had decided to drive himself.
No driver. Walking back barefoot to the parking was unimaginable for Lakhan. Oormi looked at him. Lakhan thought for a moment. "You go first and come back. I will wait here and once you come back I will go," he said.
It was their twenty fifth anniversary of marriage yet Oormi did not find his decision strange. Lakhan was the embodiment of practicality and she knew it. She also knew that it was their silver jubilee of strangeness.
Handing over her clutch to Lakhan, Oormi walked towards the tail end of the serpentine queue. She stood there like a misfit bead in a rosary of deprivation. The beads moved, slowly, consistently like an incantation made to walk on feet on the ancient granite slabs.
Oormi turned her neck and looked at the spot where Lakhan stood. He was there firm but lost in his conversation to someone somewhere which Oormi never had cared to know all these years. The metallic frame of his mobile shone like a mirror. So was the studded rings on his fingers.
More than two hours passed and Lakhan was already through several calls. Now he was sitting on a stool that a tea stall owner had kindly given him. Lakhan kept staring at the huge carved wooden doors adorned with brass bulbs through which Oormi had passed into the temple a few hours back.
It was evening and the crowd had increased. Lakhan sat there and he almost knew what was going on. He did not call anybody. He considered informing the police but left it at there for he knew that Oormi would never return.
Women were going in and coming out through that huge door and the lights had come alive everywhere. Lakhan for the first time on that day thought of opening her clutch. He was reluctant but finally he unclipped it.
Nothing was there inside except a damp vacancy. And in a corner of it Lakhan found an amulet like a promise of no return.