In Muzaffapur, at the end of a very busy market, there is a small lane, with a tree hanging heavy with grapefruit. There is a small gate that leads to a large building, with small rooms, one of which is occupied by a group of women who are gathered there to meet us.
The women, as a collective, have experienced a lot. The list of violence and pain is endless. Acid, sticks and stones have broken many a bone and occasionally, their spirit. Yet, invariably, they all sing the same song of the phoenix – how they rose up from the ashes and now, are too brilliant to behold. It’s a siren song – it excites you with its allegro tempo and lulls you into a false sense of security with its redemption beat. It’s easy to believe if you want to believe in happy endings. And I so desperately do.
But life is not over when the story ends, and almost as an after-thought, the after-stories emerges. Money saved up for education is lost in an ugly legal fight. Jobs are gone, children fail within educational systems set up against them, husbands continue their harassment and abuse in different flavours, and there is no equal pay, no equal opportunity. . . hell, no equal anything anywhere in sight.
To me, the songs that emerge in these after-stories are that of the crow – The ubiquitous, cunning, practical, adaptable, pesky crow. These are songs of swollen feet and broken fingers, of hot khichidi and waist-high waters, of burned corpses and delayed justice, of empty stomachs and defiant daughters, of trickery and triumph, of patience and bitterness, of survival and continuous mind-numbing, never-ending struggle.
As I fly back to Bangalore, I begin to realise why the phoenix is mythical and the crow much more real. The song of the crow, after all, guarantees no happy endings.