I walked into my home with my mother at about ten thirty after sending off my cousin to the Trump country. My tenant Mohini akka was out in the biting cold with a maroon scarf covering her silky hair. Her dark face had a smear of white running across from cheek to her chin. She held a small cup of White chalk powder in her hand. I forgot about it completely. It was New Year’s Eve.It was Rangoli time.
“Help Mohini with the Rangoli!” my mom staged a loud whisper and walked into the house.
I sighed. I knew it was going to happen. I went inside and changed into my nightie and came back outside. Mohini akka had finished the skeleton layout by then. The beautiful floral pattern started with a six petal flower and bloomed into an elaborate pattern of concentric circles. It was mesmerising. We discussed the colour combinations and started mixing the glitter to the many colour powders, and that’s when I saw the earthworm.
It was slowly dragging its way from the petal pattern towards the first circle. I asked Mohini akka to remove it with a stick and cast it aside. She cringed.
“It gives me the creep, can you throw it away!” she mumbled.
“I don’t want to disturb it. Let it crawl through” I said. “Let’s continue with the colouring.” We made short work of the petals and came around to colouring the area where the earthworm was slowly crawling its way out. I started putting the colour powder on top of the worm assuming it wouldn’t hurt the thing that lived all the time in the muddy soil. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. It gave a sudden jerk, shuddered and curled itself into a protective ball. It remained that way for a minute or two, slowly unfurled and continued its journey. Unfortunately, it happened to pass my way again, and I threw little more colour powder on it because, hey I wanted to finish this Rangoli and get back home. The same thing happened to the worm. I stood staring at it with fascination. That’s when I heard them walk by.
They were a group of rough looking boys, probably aged between 17 and 21. They shuffled unsteadily walking hand in hand. One of them did a wolf whistle. Mohini akka and I proceeded with our task, ignoring them. They started getting bolder.
“I like ripe mangoes” he slurred. He tapped at the stocky looking guy beside him.
“You can peel it machan! I’ll keep sucking at it all day long.” Both Mohini akka and I exchanged nervous glances. A chill crept through my spine, but I chose to ignore it and continue my work. I watched the earthworm again. I had accidentally put colour on it the third time. It shrivelled back to its protective posture. I kept staring at it. I heard another voice behind. This one was explicit and ten times more skin-crawly in nature.
“There are certain derriere’s in the world that are broad enough for five long sticks” the stocky one purred. The most comfortable position is when two of you can hold the legs and hands. The men leered. I looked down at the earthworm again. It was slowly unfurling from its fetal position and tried to move forward. Its movements were sluggish, thanks to my constant throw of colour powder. It dragged itself along trying its level best to escape from another possible assault. I knew it would die if it had one more round of hell circle to cross. I took a deep breath. I picked up a stick and placed it near the earthworm. It went back to its protective mode thinking it was another assault. It realised the help a few moments later. It slowly crawled up on the stick. I picked the stick up gingerly and placed it near a Neem tree; far away from the threats of danger. I took the black stone that lay nearby. I turned and hurled it straight at the group of men.
There was initial shock from the crowd. I started throwing stone after stone on them, and Mohini akka seized the chance to call the people from our home. As they rushed in the guys started retreating. The women folk gave us some free advice regarding the danger of instigating such men. Our Rangoli still had two more circles to go. I turned to Mohini akka‘s husband with pleading eyes. He took up a small colour bowl and started colouring. My dad followed cue. While the men folk did the colours we completed all the motifs that went inside the circles we finished it up in comfortable silence and the men started wrapping up the leftovers. We agreed to do it together for the next event. I added the words “Wish you a very happy new year 2017” warped around the Rangoli in a circular pattern. I brought out my mobile and clicked a photo of our handiwork. I turned towards the Neem tree and spotted the earthworm slowly crawling towards a dead yellow Neem leaf. “Happy new year” I murmured to it. I think it turned back and gave me a smile.
Akka: Tamizh term for sister.