I was a child of eight,
my frail hands
in the old dirt-stained mirror;
cuffed with glass bangles,
my little body was wrapped
in a bright red saree.
I didn’t like this imagery.
It was never in tandem with my own scenery.
That was the year I was worshiped as the kunwari,
the pre-pubescent nymph
on the eighth day of Devi-puja.

Years later,
I sat in front of the same dirt-stained mirror.
It was the ninth day of Devi-puja.
I retrieved a red bindi from the wooden frame,
and placed it between my brows.
My body was in conflict with my Self
Yet, I didn’t howl.
My dark frail fingers
pressed onto the dark kohl
resting atop an earthen bowl,
and grudgingly,
spread it
over and under
my lids.

I am sixteen,
carrying a tray full of seasoned ripe fruits
into the pandal of the Goddess.
under the spectacle of Goddess worship,
I was touched by a man
who wrapped a white cloth around his body
and danced with fire for the Goddess’s glory.
He abhorred the pants on my body,
desiring the satin petticoat of a Nari.
After his legs were charred and burnt
by gleaming coal,
he found me behind the pandal,
and grabbing a hold of my wrists,
exerted correction
all onto me.
He desired me as Parvati,
but all along, I was Ardhanari.

I am now a hag of sixty.
Exiled by society
I live by my lonesome,
far into the distant desert.
I am the object of folklore
that is whispered to little children each night.
In the whispers,
they call me Ardhanari:
the mythical synthesis of nar and nari,
who too is a deity.
But in their tale,
I could never avail
the recognition
I desired for,
and wailed.

At night,
when little girls are asleep,
I sneak into their village
to draw two buckets full
of water.
I turn my back
and silently walk away,
away from your world,
away from its shackles,
with my feet
to your norms.

And as I walk home,
my silver mane dances,
to the
wicked winds
of the west.

Radhika Pradhan

Radhika Pradhan is a student of Gender, Development and Globalisation at the London School of Economics. Radhika has worked in the field of Gender and Development, while working on gender-based violence and the empowerment of adolescent girls in the urban slums of Patna, Bihar. Formerly, Radhika has been a Young India Fellow from Ashoka University, and also worked as a journalist with the Mojo Story for a brief period. Radhika aims to understand the power of on-ground collective action in bringing about practical change in everyday lives. She wants to dedicate her work to gender and development in India.