mona’s story


It was the 26th of January in Delhi, a crisp, clear, spicy-radish-and-tomatoes-in-the-sun winter morning that makes you glad to be alive. On this date, some fifty years ago, India had become a republic. Mona had chosen the anniversary to celebrate the birthday of her adopted daughter Ayesha; it pleased her that Ayesha had come into her arms precisely on the 26th of January. She would be free, like India. The route to the graveyard, the walls of its compound, the pillars at its gate, were plastered with posters inviting all and sundry to the party; it was certainly the most unusual invitation I’d ever seen. Beside a somewhat makeshift, unfinished structure stood a wall about five feet high, and behind it men and women cooked food in large vats. Pakodas were being fried, their delicious aroma wafting out along the clear morning air, vying with the mouth-watering smell of meat curry and hot, oven-baked rotis. At one end of the compound, next to a cluster of graves, two people were busy chopping bananas, guavas and oranges into a spicy fruit chaat. Mona, large and imposing, hennaed and cropped hair spiking every which way, teeth stained with paan, her dark skin catching the winter sun, walked among her guests, offering food to one, a cold drink to another. But something was amiss. She didn’t seem dressed for a party; her clothes were rumpled and somewhat grimy, her hair dishevelled. She looked distracted and unhappy – and there was no sign of her child.

more from Urvashi Butalia at Granta here.