She made the mistake of not shutting the door fully. That languid summer noon, the cherry blossoms and the weeping willow were resting. Everyone in slumber and half woken siesta, Molina was awake. It was her time to her herself. She stood next to her overused bed sheets that had patches and were losing colour, to furtively open the cupboard. Those large wooden shelves had huge stained white potlis. All tied tight and no chance of ever any knot loosening its grip. Her security lied in all that her late husband had left for her. He never loved her – she was ugly, infertile and had a disgusting habit of never wearing any finery.
Molina came to terms with his mistress and her beauty. The more he travelled to spend time in Mumbai, the more unkempt she became. Her hair had an oily sheen, her sari was patchy that had not seen any detergent. Only washed with water and dried under the soft sun. Her large unproportionate breasts fell over her tummy. Her eyes were like an eagle that even a soft-hearted person wouldn’t notice. Teeth yellow from regular consumption of pan and tea.
I saw Molina Pishi and her soft-eyes moist, just that one summer noon. She opened one large potli with much more smaller cloth packing of jewellery inside, filled with Rubies, Emeralds, Diamonds and Gold. She held one necklace against the sunlight. This was her favourite, I could tell. She stared at it long and lovingly. It was an old Rajasthani piece, meant for the bride that she never could be, in spite of being a married woman. It was exquisite with round crystals that would clasp your vanity with pride and joy. I still just couldn’t feel sorry for her. She was too ugly to love. I was just 10.
Molina had this large house bequeathed to her by a handsome late husband. It was years back, she recalled, that he returned back from Bombay with a baby girl who looked exactly like him. Fair, petite, with a visage that you could compare to a Goddess from one of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. Molina was silent. He told her, “Let her be your companion. Bring her up like your own”. He said she was like his daughter and needed a home. Molina knew it was his daughter. She kept quiet. Again, those eagle eyes had sadness.
Who would feel sad for ugly Molina? It didn’t help her crooked nose with a growing mole. God was unforgiving with her. No one ever felt sad for her. She was a miser like Scrooge and nasty to everyone around. Khasi women always gave her leftover vegetables. She barely spent a rupee. Everyone disliked her. She was used to people catcalling her. Unperturbed, she continued her miserly ways.
Meera was her only love. As Meera grew, Molina knew she would lose her to a man. The insecurity kept her distressed like a raging mad woman. She matched Meera with a gambling addict and an extremely ugly man who couldn’t ever keep a job. His name was Rathin.
Rathin married Meera and sat at the jewellery shop that Molina had. Meera never loved Molina. Meera never called Molina “Ma”. Molina called Meera her daughter, knowing fully well, it was his mistresses umbilical cord remains. Rathin devoured Meera and she had 10 children. Motherhood didn’t tarnish Meera’s beauty. She continued looking every bit the beautiful wife, complexion like honey and hair falling to her hip. A small oval face, with doe eyes.
As the years passed, their hatred grew evident to all. Molina was neglected and treated shabbily by the children and Meera alike. Meera said, “Don’t see Molina’s face in the morning”, as infertile women were considered inauspicious.
My 10-year-old mind knew Molina had never been loved. She held the choker against the sunlight and as it caught her beady eyeball, I saw unrequited love and grief.
She turned around and saw me looking. She let out a scream and I ran as quick as I could. People told me Molina was evil. As the years have passed I wonder who was more evil, Meera or Molina. Maybe none. Both trying to find their own.
I know we all live in our little desolate spaces of loneliness and that dark space is covered with moss and non-flowering plants that are like creepers. They hold on tight to your throat many times. The muffled choke quietened by the perfect people around. The ugly will remain forever unforgivable and the beautiful will always be forgiven.
Molina’s memory is available with Arnav. Ashwini Oza recreated this piece with a salute to the transience of beauty and her passion for the arts. She too found love in her craft. In each and every piece of Arnav, you find yourself looking like the bride that needs nurturing with loads of generosity. Arnav just got me hooked with the finesse of craftsmanship and beauty.
Molina’s Qurbat will remain unspoken forever. She never found love ever.