* * *
It was late morning. Rosalin pushed open the door of the church and entered it. The church was brightly lit from the sunlight that filtered across from the stained glass windows set high up. Fr. Kane’s voice filtered across to her ears. She walked in to find a group of 20 odd boys and girls in their early 10s seated for a bible class in the front pews.
‘…People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.’
Fr. Kane looked across at the children who were listening patiently. ‘Jesus loved you. He gave up his life so that your sins may be forgiven. You too should love Jesus and be like him. Just like Jesus obeyed his parents, you should obey your parents too. Just like Jesus forgave others, you should forgive too. You should never hurt anyone. Love Jesus and love your parents and others. Now you may leave. But don’t forget to be here again tomorrow at the same time.’
The children got up and picked up their respectively bibles. Rosalin had wandered to the side of the church and as she moved around was admiring the carvings and frescos in the church.
‘They are Manueline style of painting. It’s an art where you mix natural elements in detail with your main subject.’
She looked around to find Fr. Kane behind her. She looked over him. The children were all gone. She looked back at him as he stared at the painting of the Jesus with the cross and Mary Magdalene wiping the blood on his face with a piece of cloth.
‘You know a lot about art.’
‘If not priesthood, I would have been a painter. But love of God came first. You see those rich carvings?’ He pointed out high up. ‘That’s Gothic style. Very prominent in Portugal and other nations around it.’
Suddenly the door of the church banged open and a villager rushed inside the church and hastily looked around in fright. He saw them across and ran across towards panting heavily. He quickly bowed low in reverence at both of them.
‘Yes?’ Fr. Kane goaded him gently.
‘Senora, come to the village quickly.’ He shot out.
‘Why what happened?’ Rosalin looked at him strangely.
‘Kayani’s husband Narayan died and…’
‘Oh my God!’ Rosalin gasped, her hand quickly covering her mouth in pain.
The villager continued. ‘It happened this morning your highness due to some epidemic and now Kayani’s in-laws are forcing her to follow her the sati tradition.’
‘What? But she is too young to take up sati.’ She said earnestly.
Sati was an age-old tradition of the Hindus whereby the widow immolates herself on her husband’s pyre thus going directly to heaven. The act was considered very honorable and virtuous but she was so young to undergo this act, she thought to herself.
Rosalin knew that the pagans didn’t keep the bodies of the dead ones too long in the house. She quickly ran outside and down the lane. Fr. Kane and the villager ran after her. Tears had started flowing for her friend. They had been the best of friends since childhood and now…
She reached the village and she ran towards Kayani’s house. Villagers walking by stopped to look at her curiously. Some nodded their heads knowing where she was headed. Finally she reached Kayani’s house. A group of villagers were standing and talking to each other in hushed tones outside the house. There was a grim atmosphere. Seeing Rosalin and Fr. Kane behind her, they huddled together and whispered something animatedly, their eyes on Fr. Kane. Rosalin paid no attention as she sped inside the house.
Inside, she found Kayani’s dead husband’s body being readied for cremating. She walked briskly in the inner room. Kayani was seated on the bed dressed in bridal costume. There was no expression on her face absolutely.
Rosalin called out to her but there was no reaction. She took Kayani by her shoulder and shook her. ‘Kayani, my Kayani. Please you don’t have to do this. Please look at me Kayani. Don’t do this.’ She pleaded tearfully. There was no reply. Rosalin gently lifted her face. ‘Please Kayani, just say it once and I’ll get my Pai-in-law to stop this. You know this is wrong. I’ll get the Viceroy to send his soldiers to stop it.’
Kayani’s mother had entered the room. ‘You stay out of this Rosa. This is our religion and our tradition. You and your family has no right to interfere in our practices.’
‘But Tia, Kayani is so tender and young. You can’t ruin her life.’
‘I am her Mae and I and her in-laws decide what’s right and wrong for her. You and your family have betrayed us by converting to this foreign religion. Now you have no say in our matters. And when we kick these foreigners out of our land, you make sure you go with them.’ She yelled.
Rosalin looked back at her in anger. ‘I am not here to listen to your banter.’ She turned back to Kayani. ‘Please Kayani, please talk to me. Tell me you don’t want to do this. I have the power to protect you. Just say it once that you don’t want to be a part of this. Please Kayani, please…’
A single line of tears flowed through Kayani’s eyes and down her cheek. She opened her eyes and lifted her head slightly to look at Rosalin. Rosalin excitedly embraced her. ‘Yes Kayani, yes.’ Kayani spoke softly. Rosa, I’ll do what you say. But what after that? My family will shun me. My people will shun me. Nobody would want to marry me again. I’ll have no place to go, no one to turn to, no one to take care of me… no one to…
‘Please Kayani, I am there for you.’
Kayani looked at her for some time and then slowly shook her head sideways that kind of indicated she didn’t trust her. Rosalin’s heart sank. She slowly crumbled to the ground in gloom. Behind her, Fr. Kane had entered the room. He gently took her shoulder and helped her up. She turned her face to look at him. She then looked at Kayani to indicate him to talk to her. He shook his head in no and led her out as she continued to stare back at Kayani. As he walked out of the house, he could feel their hostile eyes on him. The pagan villagers were all looking at him with deep hatred. He led Rosalin to the bench in the courtyard and gently made her sit on it.
Musicians had arrived and Fr. Kane eyed them curiously. A horse was also brought in the courtyard. A short while later, Kayani was gently led out of the house and made to climb on the horse. A lime was placed in her right hand. A villager carried an umbrella over her head to protect her from the sun. There was no tears in Kayani’s eyes. Her face was completely devoid of any expression. A small crowd had gathered. The musicians started to play the music as they walked out of the courtyard. Narayan’s body was carried out by four villagers on a wooden stretcher that was made out of bamboo sticks tied together in the form of a ladder and covered with a white cloth. They followed the musicians. Kayani was led out on the horse by the horse caretaker behind her husband’s body. The villagers followed. They started to sings songs of her praise. Rosalin cried hoarsely as she watched the procession go out of the house. Fr. Kane gently lifted her on her feet again and they followed the procession. Fr. Kane turned around but couldn’t notice Rosalin’s family or any other Christians taking part in this funeral procession.
The procession had reached the crematorium. Kayani was gently led down from the horse. A wooden chair was arranged and she sat down. The villager still shielded her from the sun with the umbrella. She looked across as the others carried Narayan’s body and laid it on the pyre and after a short prayer, the body was set fire.
By the time the body burnt to ashes and cooled down, dusk had settled. Kayani got up and slowly followed the priest to the pyre. Firewood was arranged and she slowly climbed on to of it. She closed her eyes and prayed. The crowd started chanting her praises loudly and as the chanting reached its frenzy, the pyre was lit. As the flames engulfed her, Kayani felt no pain as her mind drifted off in prayer to the goddess.
From afar, Rosalin watched helplessly as the flames from the pyre rose high. She was filled with deep anguish. Fr. Kane found himself holding her arms to steady her as he watched her tear filled face. The flame leapt up engulfing Kayani as Rosalin cried in despair.