Widow’s Woe

Knee-deep in the water,

splashing goddesses pray.

Glorious sweets

forbidding

new love,

passions,

joy.

Desire unrolling,

whatever happens,

on the rain-washed temple.

This poem is a found poem (“black out poem”) pulled from around the middle of Bapsi Sidhwa’s 2006 novel Water– my Kindle doesn’t offer page numbers. I finished the beautiful book about a week ago: spoilers to come!

The novel Water is set in 1938, when India was under colonial British rule and Ghandi was first becoming a presence. Sidhwa’s Water is rich, dynamic, and complex, featuring a female child as a protagonist, an intersex “eunuch” servant, and a beautiful widow forced into prostitution in order to support the lavish lifestyle of the leader of the ashram, or the house of widows. Poor Chuyia, wedded before the age of seven to a middle-aged man, is robbed of her childhood when her rich long-distance husband takes ill and dies, transforming his child-bride into a widow.

According to Brahmin caste traditions, Indian widows must wear white and live in prayer and poverty for the rest of their lives. Little Chuyia cannot understand why she suddenly must live among white-clad women with ash on their foreheads instead of her parents. Her mother, who always was against Chuyia’s early marriage, is distraught. But Chuyia, a precocious child, adapts, making friends with the lovely Kalyani, the one woman allowed long hair as the price of her prostitution; the devout Shakuntala, whose daily prayers Chuyia finds beautiful but boring; and the rich young man Narayan, a follower of Ghandi.

I won’t give away the ending. Water is available for a couple dollars on Amazon, and it is a great read for anybody interested in India, history, feminism, or good books. I tried with the poem above to capture some of the layers of Sidhwa’s masterpiece. However, if you want the full experience, I’d suggest you read the novel.

As always, thank you for reading.

JM

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