Blood gushed out of my wound as I was lying there, folded in the corner. I was losing consciousness because of the loss of blood. I knew if I lose consciousness, it won’t be all that I will lose. I will lose my life. And with everything that was left in me, I focused on what to do. But for that, I need to remember how I got here.
Hidoni was one of the many small villages scattered across the western belt of Thar desert. Very few people knew about Hidoni. There was nothing of any significance that happens here. Most of its 350 residents survive on the tourism industry in the nearest city of Udaipur. All the males in the town would go to Udaipur for 6 months during fall and winter, tourist season of the famous desert, before returning home for the brutal summer. The money that they would make as car driver, hotel attendants or kitchen helper would help with the bare survival of the family. It was a tough life but the only life that all of us village people have ever known. My dad, Manohar, and my brother, Kishore, left for Udaipur a fortnight ago. It was my grandmother, Sushila, my mother Renu and my younger sister Nanda at home. I was also there. Kalli. The black girl. My dad named me after my complexion, which was dark black. I hated my name and my color. I hated the fact that I was born so ugly. I hated, even more, my name, that reminded me of it every time someone called me. I tried to understand the reason I was cursed like this, but then with time, I gave up. I wish I could pay more attention to my skin, but there was so much work to do around the house that I could never get to it. I would go with my mom to the nearest forest, 8 miles away, to get the fodder for our two cattle — Jia and Tia. After I come back, I will help my grandmother with the chores at the house. After that, I and my sister would sew traditional desert clothes to be sold in the monthly village market to get additional income. In the evening, I would go to get water from the hand pump. This was something that I detested most, as I had to cross the infamous, abandoned village to get to the hand pump.
Everyone in the village knows about the abandoned village. It is said that in the 1800s, the king of Udaipur came around these areas for hunting and saw the girl of the village chief, Damayanti, drawing water from the well. He fell in love with her and send his men to the chief’s house to bring the girl. Chief asked for 24 hours so that he can plan for the marriage and send the men back home. He called a meeting of the entire village. Everyone was against the marriage since the King was of a different caste, but they also knew denying him the girl would not go well with the king. He would attack the village and kill everyone. But the dishonor of marrying the girl into a different caste was simply unacceptable. So, they came up with a plan.
When the king didn’t receive any news after 24 hours, he came to the village with his army and, to his surprise, there was no one. Everyone left the village overnight, taking whatever they could. King with his men kept roaming around the village until they reached the waterhole. And there it was. Damyanti’s head placed neatly on the edge of the waterhole, with her body nowhere to be seen around. It was a message from the village people to the king that honor is above everything and he can’t have it. No one knows what happened after. But it is said that Damyanti’s ghost still roams around these areas. People can hear a woman crying in the darkest of the night. There have been incidents where people have gone missing in that area. Everyone would take a long route at the night to avoid passing abandoned village.
That evening while I was getting water, suddenly there was a sandstorm, and I had to take shelter in one of the abandoned houses. I found a room that still has its roof intact and folded myself in the corner to avoid the sandstorm. It was one of those evenings where the sandstorm would not just settle down. It was the night before things calmed down. As soon as I came out of the house, I realized it was the darkest night of the month and suddenly Damyanti and all the folklore started popping into my head. It was so dark that I couldn’t see anything. I tried screaming for help, but all I could hear was my echo. I was panicking, knowing there was no help to come and I need to figure this out on my own. I started walking, but I wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction. My heartbeat was racing when I heard those muffled cries. I tried to ignore it, thinking that it was in my head, but the crying keeps getting louder. I got scared, and I started running. I felt a presence behind me. And when I looked, there was no one. I started running faster, looking behind, trying to make up anything in the dark. Suddenly, I bumped into something. Rather someone. I fell down and when I looked up; I saw her. There was blood dripping from her neck, eyes twisted, a look of pain and horror on her face. I didn’t dare to look for more and I started running back. Suddenly, I saw a light in one house. I didn’t spend any time thinking about where the light came from and why it was there. I started running towards it. I was just running with everything in my body when my foot hit a big rock and I fell down. As I was coming down, I felt this tremendous pain in my leg. I touched my leg to realize that I fell on a steel rod and it was now lodged inside my foot. I screamed, probably the loudest scream of my life. I knew there was no time to be lost here. I used all my strength to pull the rod out. Another scream came out with tears rolling down my eyes. I kept running while dragging my leg towards the house and the light.
As I reached there, I started screaming for help. I went inside the house and I kept looking for someone. But there was no one there. The house was very different from the rest of the houses in the abandoned village. This one looked like someone was living there. It surprised me that there is still someone living here. Somewhere I was glad that I might survive the night. But there was something wrong and I couldn’t keep my finger on it. It looked like a place where someone was living, but it also looked different. Like it was a home from another era. The utensils, furniture, and even the lantern, made it look like a house from the last century. And then it hit me that it was her home. And I wasn’t sure if all this was real or if my mind playing tricks on me. The only thing I was sure about was that I was trapped.
I started running around the house, trying to find a place to hide. There was a small room on the side of the verandah and I went inside and sneaked into the corner. And that brings us to why I was lying there, with blood gushing out of my wound. I think this is my last moment. This is how I die. But is this how I want to die? Hiding in the corner. Like I have always been. I would hide my face with shame and probably guilt for having black skin behind the pallu, the loose end of a sari, worn over my head. I would hide inside the room when the guest would come to our house. I have spent so much time hiding from the world. From myself. And I don’t want to do it anymore.
I gather all of my courage as I stand up and go outside. I see her sitting Infront of the mirror, sobbing lightly and trying pieces of jewelry. I go to her and tell her I am ready. She put down her jewelry and starts turning back. I close my eyes while I stand my ground. I can sense her presence coming closer to me. I had my face hidden inside pallu when I feel her rough fingers brushing against my cheek. I am done hiding. Behind my pallu. Behind my closed eyes. I open my eyes and my pallu slips away from my face. And I look into her eyes as she was looking into mine. Suddenly she stops crying, and I heard her muffled voice saying — Maa Kali. And then I see her disappearing.
Maa Kali. Hindu goddess who is considered to be the master of death, time and change. She is depicted as black in color, her eyes red with absolute rage and her hair disheveled. And I looked at myself in the mirror and I looked like one. And now I know why I was born black. And how it’s not a curse but a gift. And how I don’t have to hide anymore. I turned and started dragging myself as the darkness of the night starts disappearing with the sun rising in the east. I can hear my mom and grandmom and several other people calling my name from a distance. Kalli. What a beautiful name.