Githa Hariharan

Becoming a Woman

Becoming a Woman
Demons’ Child, Calcutta, photo by Rosalind Solomon, 1981

Once, in the hottest hour of the day when everyone sensible was indoors, a little girl stole out alone. The sunlight blazed outside the one-room houses stuck together in a row. The treeless courtyard was full of almost-goddesses and almost-demons, waiting to be given their costumes.

The sun shone hard. The girl squinted at the naked sun-bleached bodies of the almost-women.

Their stony breasts and the blank space between their legs reminded her of something. She thought of what her mother had yelled at her that morning: “Behave yourself, you’re almost a woman!” And a hand like an angry brown whip had flown out at the girl so that she had to duck and run.

The sun was burning up everything.  It set alight her mother’s voice and reduced it to ash. It devoured slapping hands and other parts of bodies that flew at each other some nights. The sunlight’s greedy jaws went to work on the rooms, the tattered body of the city resigned to the final blow.

Then as the girl watched with grudging admiration, the sunlight’s hunger breached the invisible wall that keeps real life safe from dream life.

One of the almost-goddesses woke up; her beatific smile wavered. “I had a nightmare,” she said to the others. “I dreamt they didn’t make me the kind of goddess I want to be. The kind that kills demons and drinks their blood.”

“I wish I had dreamt that,” said an almost-goddess with a lovely long face and perfectly rounded breasts. “I can’t bear the waiting – why can’t they hurry up and finish creating us?”

“You pretty ones are so selfish,” an almost-demon snarled. “Do you have any idea how I feel? It’s obvious I am going to be a demon. But will I grow a new head every time a fighting goddess chops off the old head? Maybe this brat’s father and grandfather will make me a demon that will be scorned, mutilated and defeated in full public view. It’s just not fair…”

And all of them turned to glare at the little girl as if she had the answers to their questions. She ran indoors and snuggled next to her mother, who sleepily put an arm around her.

“Ma,” whispered the girl, “I don’t want to be a goddess or a demon. I want to be a woman, just like you.”

Her mother didn’t stir. But the girl thought she heard a gravelly chuckle and the words “Good luck!”

What did her mother mean? Did she have to be a goddess or a demon? The question tired the girl so much that she fell asleep.

When she woke up, the sun was no longer so fierce and her mother was back to her everyday scolding self. Then the girl heard that some of the idols outside were going to be dressed up and taken away in a truck. The girl, as excited as any of the other children, ran outside.

Githa Hariharan

“Becoming a Woman” was published in Spanish translation as “Volverse Mujer” in fotografia,
DGE / Equilibrista, Santa Fe, Mexico, 2005.
Text © Githa Hariharan, Photo © Rosalind Solomon.
No part of this text may be used without permission.

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