a sculptor’s manual to womanhood.

Girls are made from clay- they dry up, they crack, and they finally break into a million little pieces. It is better to begin shaping the clay early on to avoid any damage. When the dough is still soft, it is pliable enough to take on any form. At a young age, a girl can be moulded into a woman. She can absorb the rules and become the perfect wife. But, if too many years go by, a girl hardens and becomes forever lost. Then, she crumbles until there is nothing left of her. Follow the rules and stay intact; stray and turn to mud.

Rule #1: Never express personal emotions. The dangling bulb flickered in the darkness, illuminating the matchbox room where the two men ate in silence. Mitti was not afforded the privilege of light in the corner next to the gas cylinder. It had been another day where the ration had run out and there were only enough chapatis for her brother and father. Her own terracotta plate lay uninhabited, gleaming as if to mock her. It reminded her of the full moon, on the day of Karva Chauth, that finally permitted wives to eat after a day-long fast. She was neither married nor religious, but her mother had chosen to follow traditions when she was alive. As Mitti’s mother appeared in her mind, her stomach began to grumble once again. She longed for just a burnt edge of the chapati but she knew it would be wrong for her to do so. What stopped her from breaking bread with them? Was it the pit in her gut or the seed in her brain? If only Mitti knew. She grabbed the circular dish and hurled it against the canister, leaving the dust to spray on the ground. She knew she would be cleaning the shards for the next few days, but it did not matter. The men who never looked up from a meal had turned around to look at her. 

Rule #2: Never go out alone at night. The two pairs of glaring eyes had moved into the corner to confront Mitti. They did not speak to her but their blazing orbs had already said what had to be said. No one had ever been disappointed in Mitti before. After her mother passed away, she had spent her days providing for her tiny family. Her bottled up angst began to overflow and all she wanted to do was apologise so everything would go away. She pictured herself, thrust upon her father’s feet, weeping to be forgiven. She would be like those heroines in all the Bollywood movies she secretly watched. She prepared to open her mouth and let the words flow out, but her legs did not do what her mind was telling her to. She did not stop to grab the matchsticks from the windowsill or the rolling pin from the floor. There was no door to slam or shoes to be worn. Her feet slid straight onto the the sludge and became covered in dirt. She did not bother to look down and wipe her feet on her dupatta. She ran into the night, her arms flailing on either side, as her face exploded into a beaming smile. 

Rule #3: Never speak to a stranger. After several minutes of running, Mitti soon realised that she had no idea where she was. She had taken off without thinking twice and had found herself in a field. Her dark skin was dripping in moisture and she needed a place where she could simply cool off. She positioned herself under a banyan tree and began fanning herself with her hand. All these years of being the most desirable girl in the village and look where it had gotten her. How would they see her now? Would she only be the runaway girl or more than that? Her thoughts were interrupted by a pair of shoes that suddenly became imprinted on the soil beside her. She looked up to find the shadow of a man, towering above her. She had never been one to engage in small talk and this was certainly the wrong time. But, there was something about his pale blue sneakers that intrigued her. She had never seen those criss-crossed white ropes atop of footwear before. She could not contain herself any longer. She asked him what they were for, why he was wearing them, and most importantly, how he had come across them in a place where shoes were never sold. 

Rule #4: Never show any kind of skin. The shadow revealed the ropes to be laces that were purchased in the city. He explained that he got gotten a scholarship to study in the city and he had finally returned home. He was used to the city lights and could not sleep without then. So, he chose wander the field at night, trying to find a location that would allow him to rest. Upon hearing his story, there was something that sparked within Mitti. Perhaps, it was the laces or the shoes or the city. It was less likely to be the man himself who stood a full inch shorter than Mitti. The heat began to surge through her body, causing to forget all about the two men in her life. She had turned into plasma but she did not know how to conduct the electricity that flowed through her. For a moment, she thought of the light and the darkness back in the hut. What would her father do to her if he found her? Would her brother still speak to her? She resolved that, no matter what, she would not do anything that would let them down. While she made resolutions in her mind, she slid her dupatta off  and exposed her collarbones for the first time. 

Rule #5: Never engage with a man. Once Mitti had revealed her bare neck to the stranger, he had no words left to say to her. Unlike her, he had been adequately trained to comprehend the intricacies of language. He should not have stood there, with his mouth gaping, fixated on her flesh. Mitti could sense that something was amiss but was not equipped with the vocabulary to scream or shout. As he grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the field, all she wanted to do was yell. But, just as he had been conditioned to see skin as sexual, she had been taught to stay quiet. She knew that she had been the one to break the rules, even if she had no mother who had drilled them into her. When he had discarded her on the mud with blood streaming down her legs, she knew he had taken something from her. Had breaking the plate been enough reason for him to break her? Would she ever be able to put herself back together? She clawed the sand with her fingernails, trying to keep her senses intact. There was a deep burning in her abdomen but it was not the same fire she had experienced before. She remembered the day her mother threw herself into the well, when she had gone home crying and no one had spoken to her until a full week later. At the time, she had no idea why her mother would do such a thing, but for the first time, she understood why. Girls are made of clay- they have no choice but to return to the mud when they dissolve. 

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