100 Baths of Solitude
Malini had just finished her bath, and the rest of her annual orchestration could begin. She walked over to the Gods’ cabinet to continue. It was at this point that Vinay, her five-year-old grandson, who had just woken up, came rushing over to give her a hug. What could she do?
His mother came by to take him away, wagging her finger at him. His paati needed to be clean, and now she would have to start over. Malini returned to the bathroom.
When she reemerged, she noticed Vinay, who was now face down, his body subdued from being restrained by his mother. She looked away and turned toward the cabinet. As she reached for the doors, she felt two tiny hands on her left calf. She looked down, and Mallika looked up at her, smiling.
After her third bath, it was Ramesh; after the fourth, Lakshmi. Kanna tapped her lightly to show her the comic book he had just received, and Vijaya was running away from Janaki, who was close behind, before she came crashing to a halt as she tripped on Malini’s leg.
Malini picked up Vijaya and returned her to her father. He apologized profusely to Malini as his daughter cried from her contact with the concrete floor.
As Malini filled the bucket for the seventh time, she started to laugh. In a way, these baths were as much for them as it was for her. It was training for soon they would be adults, who would need an appropriate fear of their dirty hands and the dirty hands of others.