by Lakshmi Menon
(Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
Image Courtesy: Glass bangles ****
Every morning, the residents of our Layout waited for the flower girl. She brought fresh jasmine and kanakambaram flowers, both as flowers and garlands. We eagerly waited for her arrival. Some of the girls of our locality bought these flowers to adorn their neatly plaited hairs, but most of us bought the garlands for the pooja room.
Payal was the only daughter to her parents and she had three younger brothers. She was in her mid-twenties, with a fair complexion and bright and beautiful big eyes. She had long plaited hair adorned with jasmine flowers. She always wore a half sari and the pallu of which was neatly tucked in her waist. Both her wrists were decked with beautiful glass bangles, which made a rhythmic music resonating with her walk.
One day, just out of curiosity I asked her, “Why do you wear so many bangles?”
“The ladies in this Layout recognize my arrival with the sound of my glass bangles,” she said with pride. “Don’t you like the bangles on my hands? Aren’t they pretty?”
“Yes, of course. They look beautiful!” I said, touching the bangles on her hand.
“Then, don’t you hear the tinkling sound of these bangles when I come with the flowers?” asked Payal, with a twinkle in her eyes. She gently removed my hand from the bangles.
She deliberately made them make more sound by shaking her hands, gazing at me.
“Yes, I too recognize you from the tinkling of your bangles,” I admitted the fact.
Payal was the only vendor who was allowed to come inside our layout. She had taken special permission for her entry. No one wanted to stop her from coming inside. In fact, everyone thought it was a boon to get fresh flowers in the morning for the house through her.
After handing over the regular quota of flower garlands to me, she took the money and went away smiling, with a backward glance. Sometimes she waved her hand, and purposely made the tinkling of her bangles. The ladies of the other houses came out hearing the sound of her bangles, and bought their quota of flowers like a ritual.
“Aren’t you a bit late today, Payal?” asked one of them, in orange sari.
“Is it? I didn’t realize I was late.” She replied apologetically.
“Tomorrow we need more flowers. We have a pooja at home. I want you to come a bit early,” said the middle aged lady with a tinge of authority.
Payal agreed to her request and went away, smiling, like a butterfly.
I stood at my gate for some more time and when I heard my mother’s call from inside, I closed the gate and came in.
One day I decided to ask her a curious question which was in my mind for a very long time.
“Payal, when are you getting married?”
“When God wills!” she replied with a tinge of sorrow in her smile.
I felt guilty for probing into her personal life and immediately said, “I’m sorry.”
Changing her mood, she laughed immediately. “When are you getting married? I think you’re older than me.”
“I’m still studying, Payal, and after my studies, I should get a job. I will think of my marriage only after that.” I cleared her doubt.
She smiled and took her flower basket in her hand, to go to the next house.
“I know in our community, the girls of my age are already mothers of one or two children, and here I am still unmarried. The astrologer is telling that I have a bad horoscope and it will be difficult to get a good match for me,” she paused and then continued, “Don’t worry. The Gods to whom I am making flower garlands every day will surely show some mercy on me and bless me with a suitable husband, don’t you think so?” she said looking down, half-jovially and half-seriously.
“Why not? They may be waiting for the right person and for the right time,” I said, and sincerely hoped it would happen soon.
For some time, a new kind of anxiety gripped me. Since then, almost every day, Payal came into my prayers with or without my knowledge.
The following month I was very busy with my examinations and had no time to think of the flower girl. My mother continued buying the flower garlands from Payal and chatted with her for a minute or so every day, without fail.
My exams were over and I then decided to take over the job of buying the flowers from Payal. As usual, at the doorway I waited for the tinkling of her glass bangles to open the gate for her. Even after waiting for an unusually long time she didn’t turn up, and I was disappointed.
“I don’t know what has happened to Payal? She didn’t come today. We have to manage the pooja with whatever flowers we have in the garden,” I said, turning my face towards the door so that my mother could hear me.
“Ah, Sita, I forgot to tell you that Payal won’t be coming to the Layout with flowers any more. Her marriage is fixed. The boy is working in a government office with a decent salary, and he will be taking her to Chennai where he works,” said my mother, and after a pause she added. “Payal asked me to tell you that she will be coming to give her wedding invitation card soon.” My mother was also equally excited to tell me the news.
As I pictured Payal in her bridal costume and decked with flowers and glass bangles, walking as a shy bride behind her groom, I remembered her firm faith in the Gods to whom she had made innumerable flower garlands over the years.