Friday Focus: An Unlikely Goddess by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar


UnlikelyThe Hindu goddess, Sita, is said to have been born from the Earth. King Janaka discovers the beautiful infant and in her beauty, believes in her divinity. He raises her as his own daughter.


Unlike her namesake, Sita’s first mistake was being born. A girl, her mother thought, eyes dark in abject terror. What if he leaves me? She swallowed, increasing the dryness in her post-delivery mouth, the stiches across her abdomen itching. No water. Only ice chips until her bowels passed the tests. Mythili pressed back against the pillows. She closed her eyes, pushing her fingers into the sockets until the darkness was punctuated by bone-white stars. She wished she could as easily tune out the gurgles of the baby in the bassinet beside her.

Yet, even premature and unwanted, Sita was obliviously happy to enter the world, beaming her infant smile at anyone or anything she saw: the nurse, her aunt, her mother’s back, the noxiously-pink cement walls of the Madras hospital in which she found herself. Several pounds underweight, she was otherwise fine—a petite, brown-skinned baby with tufts of black hair crowning a smooth scalp. How could she be expected to know that from her first breath she was, and always would be, a living reminder of her mother’s failure to produce a first-born male heir?

Though swaddled and placed in the bassinet immediately after delivery, her eyes were alive with motion. She blinked up at the faces of passersby, but they were admittedly few, so instead, she followed the blinking lights, the creeping shadows and the occasional appearance of a nurse. Everything about the world kept her busy with delight until sleep washed over her little body

“Look at that smile,” the young nurse said, cradling Sita against her flat bosom.

“Aamam,” Priya, the childless aunt, agreed, rubbing a forefinger across the baby’s somewhat wrinkly face.

Instead of replying, Mythili, Sita’s mother, pulled a see-through blue sheet up to her chin and turned her face away.

“Vaa ma,” Priya said, lovingly reclaiming the baby from the nurse’s professional arms. “See, see?” Priya urged Mythili, her sister-in-law. “Look at her, the sweet little one. You can’t be sad.”

But the words missed their mark; Mythili’s eyes remained secluded behind veined eyelids.


Days passed. Baby Sita’s bold smile stretched open across her toothless mouth. She laughed at everyone and everything. If she could have, she would have sat up, gripping the edges of her glass bassinet, and, without blinking, taken in every sight and sound of the overcrowded maternity unit she sensed beyond the swinging door of her mother’s private room. She would have craned her head to peer at the nurses in their worn cotton saris, scurrying around the male doctors whose sweat-dampened lab coats testified to the scathing Madras summer heat.

Instead, she made do—a trait she would need sooner than anyone knew – by shifting her head left, then right, straining to see what she could against the limits of her peripheral vision.

“She won’t stop looking at me,” Sita’s exhausted mother said when her sister-in-law returned with new clothes for the baby.