Since 2008, I have been a single parent to two wonderful brats. In 2011, I decided to move out of my parents' house. It was a well thought out decision to give all five of us much-needed space and also to teach me how to live life on my own terms and conditions. At the same time, I was also looking for newer perspectives and fresher definitions on what it meant to be a single mother in India
Let me first tell you about Varalakshmi Vratam, an elaborate ritual practiced by married women in Andhra Pradesh and other southern states to ensure the longevity of their spouses. In my 20s it seemed romantic to dedicate an entire day to praying for a spouse, but in my 40s I was seeing the harsh realities of both matrimony and the practice.
• I saw women in abusive marriages waking up at the crack of dawn, preparing a feast and performing a Pooja for a spouse who clearly did not deserve their devotion.
• I also saw how women who had lost their husbands would discreetly refuse the turmeric and kumkum offered to them; those who had chosen to step out of an abusive/ unfulfilled marriage would slip out unobtrusively when such offerings were taking place. It was as if by doing this, they were apologising to the others for being there in the first place.
Indian culture, I was finally seeing, placed an exceptional weight on "sumangali" - a woman's auspiciousness or access to it was measured by the weight of her marital status. It was ridiculous. Yet I found myself for the first time in my life wondering about my weight self-worth. The answer ironically came to me during a wedding I attended.
" I realised Varalakshmi Vratam was not a treatise to discriminate. Instead it was a paean to the strength of sisterhood -- something which would bring women together instead of drawing lines between them."
A woman, a distant relative, came and stood before me with a silver plate in her hand.
"Can I?" she asked looking me in the eye. I stared long and hard at the tiny silver bowls of kumkum, haldi and sandal.
"Yes... please," I murmured.
The lady looked askance, but nevertheless put a dot of kumkum on my forehead and applied sandalwood to my throat. The rest of the evening passed in a blur. I had finally found the weight of my self-worth. It weighed more than my sense of isolation and loneliness!
But let me not digress. I realised Varalakshmi Vratam was not a treatise to discriminate. Instead it was a paean to the strength of sisterhood -- something which would bring women together instead of drawing lines between them.
My mother helped me in my efforts. One afternoon as we sat listening to Ashtalakshmi Stotram, the meaning and the manifestations of Lakshmi became clearer.
While you can find the exact translation of the Ashtalakshmi Stotram here, this is my humble attempt to interpret the incantation entirely from the point of view of a woman who is single, but who refuses to be singled out for exclusion.
So here I go bowing to every manifestation of Lakshmi and in the process adding some value to myself during the journey.
Adi Lakshmi (Primeval Lakshmi)
"O! Mother show me my true essence
Within which my entire being resides
Grant me freedom from prejudices, biases and falsehoods with which I have chained myself to this Earth."
Dhanya Lakshmi (Lakshmi of Grains)
"O! Mother nourish and nurture
Both my body and soul
Fill my being with energy so that every day, every moment I find myself nearing my personal goals of emancipation and freedom."
Dhairya Lakshmi (Lakshmi of Courage)
"O! Mother grant me the courage
To look at myself as I look at others
Grant me courage to fight the darkness that shrouds me at the moment and let me walk into the light of knowledge."
Gaja Lakshmi (Lakshmi of Strength)
"O! Mother as I now emerge from darkness's fears
Knowing my demons both from within and outside
Fill my limbs and mind with strength so that I fight my everyday battles tirelessly and with renewed vigour."
Santana Lakshmi (Lakshmi of Progeny)
"O! Mother fill my heart with endless love
For my progenies -- both from heart and womb
Fill my heart with compassion for the ones who are not as fortunate as me in terms of both wealth and wisdom."
Dhana Lakshmi (Lakshmi of Wealth)
"O! Mother fill my coffers with wisdom and prudence
So that I discharge my responsibilities with dignity and grace
Let me protect every rupee that I have righteously earned and clad my inner being with the power of informed decisions."
Vidya Lakshmi (Lakshmi of Knowledge)
"O! Mother let me be
In a constant state of learning
Shield me from the sorrows and darkness of ignorance and adorn me with the studded ornaments of knowledge."
Vijaya Lakshmi (Lakshmi of Victories)
"O! Mother grant me victory
As I embark on a personal battle every moment
Fill my heart with humility and gratitude as I embark upon hitherto unknown paths to understand the true essence of success."
The chants come to an end. Outside the shadows lengthen. Women step out dressed in silks and get ready for yet another round of Perantam. The fragrance from their jasmine sticks to my skin. For a moment, my aloneness fades and then reappears. I feel happy that I have the net below me.