Empty Canvas

Empty Canvas

Shanthi fell to the ground with a thud. She pulled herself up and jolted at Shera, who had pushed her so hard. She looked down at her messy, soiled dress and paused for a second. But this wasn’t the time to relax. She made a fist and punched his nose hard.

“You think I am weak? Oh, poor baby. Look at your nose bleed.”

“Shanthi, Shanthi!” her mother came running down, “Oh God, what have you done?”

“Spare the drama amma. He started it first. He pulled my skirt, the super colourful one that Baba bought from the bazaar. I am going to…” 

Amma pulled her back, “Stop it! He is the mukhiya’s son. Don’t get us into trouble. You are thirteen but look at you, still running around like a hooligan. At your age…”

“Ya, ya I know, you were married.”

“I just hope your father packs you up and sends you across at least this year,” her mother said as she dragged Shanthi back home. 

“You wish. Baba loves me, unlike you. He has promised me that I can study further.”


The day she dreaded arrived sooner than she had foreseen. The whole house and the surrounding areas were lit with sparkling lights and colourful flower decorations. Decked up in a bright red and gold saree, her mother escorted her to the mandap. Mantras were chanted, festivities were shared, and finally, the sacred thread was tied around her neck. As her husband applied the red vermillion on the partition of her hair, her heart filled with an unknown sense of responsibility. An aura of adulthood engulfed her. 

She soon embraced her new life. Shanthi loved to dress up, and she was extremely happy to do the same as a newlywed. But, her life came crashing down within a month. Her husband was swallowed by the rusty river.


“You unlucky witch,” glared her mother-in-law, “Is your appetite full, or will you gulp more of us. Get rid of this ill-omened girl at once.”

Shanthi begged and cried, but there was no one for her rescue. Her beloved lord Krishna was also nowhere as she prayed. Her in-laws dragged her, forced her to wear a white saree. If this wasn’t enough, they cropped her tresses. 

“So, you pray to Krishna, go stay with him. You have no place here.” 

Shanthi was stumped. She had nowhere to go. Wearing the white saree, she pictured her clear black future. She was sent to Varanasi as a stray widow.


Lying by the lane all day, Shanthi would shy away from the thirsty stares of strangers. 

“Such a young widow?” everyone would gossip around her. 

She found a small charitable home and spent time there with the older women. Her life was rendered meaningless. She wanted to end her life but did not have the courage. Her only solace was to write small bhajans and recite them at the Krishna temple song with the other widows. Days ran into months.

The month of Phalguna arrived. Every lane geared up for the festive season. There was an untold zeal among the women in the charitable house. Shanthi enquired with one of the seniors, 

“Its the month of Holi. We will forget all our troubles, our past and rejoice with colours. We will be the gopikas dancing with our Krishna.”

With Holi, a new tide of happiness filled Shanthi’s heart. As she rubbed the gulaal on her cheeks, she felt oneness with Krishna. As she stepped outside the house, she felt the warmth of mother earth. They all danced along the streets of Varanasi in joy. 

Suddenly, Shanthi heard a loud cry. She looked around to find a small girl crying for help. When enquired, the kid revealed that she had escaped from her abductors. Shanthi ran along with the kid as fast as she could to the police station. 

While handing her over, a few people came forward to appreciate her.

“Hi, I am Ganesh. We work for an NGO. There are tons of children kidnapped each year, and there are many who need help. You are young and energetic, would you like to join our team?”

Shanthi stood speechless. She had never felt wanted and important. Tears of joy filled her eyes. Finally, Krishna had sprinkled hues of colours in her life by giving it a path and purpose. Her future would not be black and white but it will colour the lives of many in need.

“Aise aaye tum Kaanha mere,

Gulal, Lal, Peela rang chadane;

Bhool gayi main Subah ka Sawera,

Raaton ki chandni mujhe na Bhaaye.

Main Baawari bas Chaahun,

Tumhari hi rang main kho jana,

Shyama Mere;

Main itna hi chaahun ki,

Mari kaya bas Shyam rang ki hi Sur gaye.”

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