“Bubbles”they called her - for the day she opened her eyes, happiness and joy simply bubbled out of her.
Her pink face, her cherub smile, her goldenish hair which curled up just right, her twinkling eyes, her hyper active need to attract attention and make people smile – she simply “bubbled”!
SoBubbles Mehta - it was!
She spent 20 years studying her butt off and getting the best grades ever - her energy never waned for a minute... she was after all Bubbles.
She had her fair share of scrapes with the school and college authorities. She did end up in detention many many times.
Once she was almost thrown out of school. And that was the one scrape she was most proud of – she had climbed the school clock tower 22 feet off the ground to save 3 abandoned kittens. The Principal and Warden – both after having a near coronary attack on seeing Bubbles’ vertical climb; sent for her parents when she finally came down.
The next scene was simply 2 shouting women, a set of sheepish parents, an ever smiling Bubbles with 3 kittens who must surely be wondering why the decibel levels were so high. The end result was Bubbles simply dumping all 3 kittens in the screaming Principal’s lap. And the rest, as school legend had it – was history.
Bubbles seemingly lived from one mess to another – but nothing serious or earth shattering ever resulted from it. She bounced right back with the beatific smile on her face and more joy to spread.
Her worst critics – criticised her with a smile on their faces. It was as though a naughty angel had ‘struck lightening’ in their backyard, and they didn’t know whether to feel blessed or exasperated or annoyed!
Now this “Naughty Angel” did have her own Vice...
Her only vice was TRAVELLING!
She loved visiting new places and meeting new people. And as her Deeda (Granny) always joked – “making the lives of new people miserable was her hobby”.
It was this very VICE which changed Bubble Mehta’s life forever....
This was to be a change which she had not even imagined for herself. It was almost as if the Gods in the skies gave a conspiratory smile and ‘awaited’ that moment in time.
Now our Bubbles Mehta was a rather sorted kind of a girl who planned extensively. She had everything from her daily routine set and her whole life mapped out. And if you are wondering how such an organized girl always landed in the scrapes she did – well Bubbles being Bubbles ‘planned for the googlies of life too’.
Her motto – ‘ Just live THAT new google moment – Bubbles-Style’
The Life which Bubbles had planned was simple - she would be an Army Officer, Fight off the “Pakis” - make her country proud and at the same time give Senior Mehta (her Dad) a heart attack!
Oh yes Senior Mehta had wanted his Princess to be delicate and dainty and obviously very intelligent and sit for the UPSC exams and become an IAS officer. The other road Senior Mehta had planned was Bubbles joining the family business in case she could not crack the UPSC.
But since his Princess decided to add Warrior Princess to her title and manage to do everything in her power and beyond to scare the living daylights out of everyone around – Senior Mehta now had started planning for a good hospital for himself when he finally caved in from a heart attack.
Bubbles landed up in Varanasi (Banaras) when she turned 20!
(accompanied by her 2 super crazy besties - Ruchika and Priya)
You should know the “tale of the 3 Princesses” before we go on – Bubbles, the bubbling and effervescent volcano met Ruchika – the padhakoo and Priya the dada in Kindergarten.
Day 1 saw all 3 sets of parents summoned to play school for a dressing down. Bubbles and Priya had been trying to ‘kill each other’ (in the words of the harried school in-charge). On being asked why, they both confessed that each had wanted to ‘kill Ruchika – and they couldn’t decide who shall have the first hit’.
By Day 10 the entire play school was aware of the 3 not-so-Princess-like Princesses and their constant desire to kill each other and anyone who ever dared intervene in the “killing process”.
A rather sage looking senior teacher had predicted that these 3 shall die trying to kill each other when they were 90yr olds. Seemingly that was the path the 3 embarked upon – each was 20, so 70 more years of ‘killing’ to go.
At the banks of the Ganga Bubbles lay contemplating on major issues like where they would be eating next and whom Priya would “pataao” next...
She was surprised at the cleanliness near Assi Ghat and Tulsi Ghat. ‘I guess the Swach Bharat thingy did work’, she smiled.
The gentle breeze and the bobbing fishing boat – bespoke of a calm and quiet life. Bubbles wondered, how would she ‘survive’ this calm for the next whole week.
“Leave me, leave me, let me goooo” the wails grew louder and shrieky and turned to a flood of crying and moaning.
That was the 1st time Bubbles saw Sujani!
2 days later - Bubbles again found herself restless at4amand went for a walk towards the banks of the Ganga.
She and her thoughts of ”how shocked Pa would be by her career choice” - and what Deeda(granny) say.....Deeda may actually and finally die (she was 70 and had been so for the last 15 years)
A preoccupied Bubbles stumbled on the slight sleeping figure of Sujani and fell onto her knees....
She remembered this slender girl – from a few days ago. She shuddered as she also remembered her shrieks and wails and crying – it had been animal-like in its tenor.
Sujana was in white - and had absolutely no hair!
“Wait a sec, how come she had no hair - wasn’t her hair what those men and women pulling 2 days back” mumbled Bubbles as she sat down, with a thud.
She tried hard concentrating on that fateful day – what all had she seen. She remembered seeing some well built men and tons of women in white. She distinctly remembered 1 woman who seemed to be ‘directing’ the other women – almost like a king pin.
Bubbles felt a cold shiver – as if someone had walked over her grave!
Bubbles had NOT acted! And that was not Bubbles at all...
She had allowed this monstrosity of a scene to pass. She had remained a mute spectator and then got in her own life.
“That was not Bubbles!” (this was like a litany she kept hearing herself say over and over)
3 hours later a numb Sujani and a determined Bubbles sat at the banks of the Ganga - watching the sun-rise!
Bubbles had found her “Pakis” right there...!
The “Pakis” across the border would have to wait. Today was a new day – and a new fight and a reaffirmed resolve.
Bubbles Mehta was back!
15 minutes later Bubbles took Sujani to her shared room and woke up Ruchika and Priya!
(The 3 girls were on a budget holiday and had taken a shared 4 seater and converted it into a 3 seater. 1 bed Priya had made their make-shift dining table and ‘adda’)
She (Bubbles) had a plan!
All the 3 girls gathered around the ‘adda’ – and detailed their moves! Sujani was mute – and seemed to hover like a wounded deer around them.
4 hours later after a huge shopping spree ranging from sarongs to flimsy gowns and colorful shades and multi colored osho chappals and loads of road-side make-up (Varanasi is famous for these) - the 3 determined girls returned.
Meticulously they spread their ‘loot’ on the floor and color-coordinated each ‘look’. Some 2 hours later – they were all done.
The room was a little chaotic – but organized and ready to be packed!
Another 45 minutes later - 4 gorgeous “chicks” from Mumbai in short crop tops and flowy sarongs and matched paste-on tatooes on their heads, checked out...
(YES all the 3 girls shaved their heads....)
Bubbles spent the next 2 days listening patiently to all the shouting and screaming at home - ranging from ”why the hell have you brought this strange girl home” to “who the hell asked you to shave your long beautiful hair” to “Ruchika and Priya why didn’t they stop you”
“I guess Ruchika and Priya must be hearing the same” thought Bubbles all the whole maintaining her hang-dog expression!
1 year later Bubbles Mehta andSaroja Mehta sat for the CDS exams.
(Common Defense Services Exams, India)
They had prepared together and studied like “crazy” and “run like mad” as they loved to share with their girl gang (Ruchika and Priya)
Sujani was one of the many many young widows who are abandoned at the ghats of the Ganga to fend for themselves inVidhwa-Aashrams.
The system was ancient and so well oiled - no matter what the age of the widow - she was to wear white and her hair was to be publicly tonsured.
The aashram where Sujani was placed in - demanded a punishment for women and girls who created “scenes” at the time of the ritual tonsuring and “shuddhi-karan” - which had them sleep at the banks of the Ganga on the floor - with no food and water for 5 days.
Oh and before I go on - Bubbles chose Sujani’s new name - Saroja (The Lotus)
She had heard her Deeda (Granny) always say: “kamal keechad mein hi khilta hai”
Do you know how many young women and girls are abandoned in Varanasi in Vidhwa -ashrams?
Do you know the “claim” of families is to help keep them pure it is necessary - else the other men-folk may/shall “attack” the widows?
Do you know the real reason for such abandonment - is property rights?
Do you know each of these Widows if “lucky” are able to live in peace - only tortured by the Ashrams mentally - BUT the unlucky ones are often sold for a price into the thrivingflesh-trade?
Do you also know that these very Widows are being forced into sexual slavery to serve the lord - quite like the Dev-Dasi system?
Is there any space for such a barbaric existence forced upon a woman mourning the death of herhusband ....
May eachSujani get the chance of becomingSaroja!
May eachSaroja find her soul-mate in her own Bubbles!