A Tragedy Of Indian Social Evils Told Through 48 Heartbreaking Images

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Photography is a very powerful medium because one frame can evoke so many emotions without the help of words. Sad, happy, or worry, a good photograph can drive the message seamlessly.

‘Avani’ is a brilliant photo shoot by Arjun Kamath, constituting 48 photographs that convey the story of a woman in a patriarchal society. Avani’s story can be the story of you and me as the struggles and setbacks that she faces are the common problems of India, a country which is still deep-rooted in patriarchy.

Here’s her story.

Avani was the most beautiful and educated girl in Pravadh, a little hamlet in central India. She was the only daughter of the Mistla’s, a humble couple who owned a small sweetmeat shop. With a comely figure, saffron complexion, and kohl-black eyes, Avani was gorgeous

 

It was Avani’s big day. Her parents, the Mistla’s, had left no stone unturned in the search for a worthy groom for their beloved daughter. Although Avani was against marriage, she had never openly expressed her own feelings on the matter out of respect for her parents’ wishes

 

As Avani walked toward the mandap escorted by her parents, beautiful memories flooded her mind and heart. She recalled how when she was a little girl her father, Mr. Mistla, would return home from the sweetmeat shop, tired and sweaty. Even so, he never let it show on his face

 

The wedding was arranged to take place in the middle of the Kashyapi Forest, at the border of Pravadh and Bandhunagar. The forest was considered auspicious by the Sayans, because the sacred Vimala River had its origin there

 

The sweet scent of jasmine filled the forest, as Avani and Aadisesha stood opposite each other in complete silence. And as the pandit started chanting the mantras, the forest came alive with its own orchestra, playing one enchanting symphony after another

 

The ceremony was over in a flash. To Avani, it all seemed like a dream

 

Mr. Mistla wiped furiously at his eyes as he watched Avani walking away.
Avani wanted to run back and throw her arms around him one last time, but Aadisesha had gripped her hand tightly

 

Time flew. On her first morning at the Sayan home, Avani was up and about early, before anyone else. Just as Avani was about to enter the front yard with her aarti thali, her arm was grabbed from behind. Avani quickly turned her head, and realized it was Guru Tai. She sat on the top stair at the entrance to the Sayan home, looked at Avani, and pointed to her legs. Avani understood what she wanted right away. She knelt down and started massaging Tai’s misshapen feet

 

Avani continued pressing Guru Tai’s legs for over an hour without a break. As the sun rose higher into the blue sky, powerful rays flooded the Sayan home, lighting every blade of grass, shining from each leaf. Tai stood up, almost pushing Avani aside. She noticed the Aarti Thali, which she had earlier put down. She picked up the Thali instead...

 

Aadisesha had quietly observed Avani all morning; she accidentally woke him while getting dressed. Once awake, Aadisesha could not go back to sleep. He witnessed how his mother had prevented Avani from performing the Tulsi puja

 

Within minutes of Aadiesha leaving for the forest, Avani finished the Tulsi Puja and bowed her head down one last time when a violent scream ripped through her heart and jolted her senses.
“How dare you?” the angry voice echoed

 

A huffing wind rose, stirring the flags in the Sayan home as Guru Tai lunged for the Aarti Thali, taking Avani by surprise. Fatigued and emotionally drained, Avani, released the Thali, thinking that Tai had already grabbed it, but Tai, who was screaming furiously, hadn’t quite gotten her hands on it yet, which sent the Thali crashing to the ground...

 

The little mirror from the Aarti Thali crashed into the ground, shattering into shards and tinkling pieces. A dazed Avani turned towards the ground instantly, only to catch a glimpse of her face in one of the broken pieces of glass

 

The sun followed Avani like a lodestar through the tangled crowns of the trees as she scurried through the thick bushes, the clicking of her heels echoing through the forest as she searched for her husband, Aadisesha...

 

Cresting the hill, Avani broke free of a dense patch of needle leaves as she rolled freely down the embankment, a natural landslide more effective now that it was covered in damp mud. Despite the thorns pricking the soles of her feet, Avani continued to run, even when she stumbled over the fallen branches on the forest floor...

 

Avani’s eyes were wide. Wild. They found a mark on the wolf’s neck. Pushing Aadi aside, she leapt forward, sinking on her knees and then using her full might to stick the sharp edge of the dagger into the ferocious wolf’s thick neck, twisting it mercilessly back and forth

 

Lunging forward to come between Aadi and the hungry wolf, Avani selflessly put her own life at risk and attacked the beast’s head with the sharp dagger. So deeply had Avani lodged the dagger into the wolf’s neck, that as she freed the weapon with all her might

 

Come what may, Avani insisted that Aadisesha tell everyone that he beheaded the dreaded Kashyapi wolf to protect his pride in the conservative Pravadhi community. All she cared about was that her husband was safe

 

The dreaded Kashyapi wolf, responsible for the death of over a dozen villagers, had been slayed, and by no better man than Aadi of the illustrious Sayan clan – the most respected and revered family in Pravadh. However, it wasn’t for their wealth alone that they were celebrated; their courage and fearlessness ran deep in the veins of their men as well

 

Days turned into months, and Tai still refused to allow Avani to perform the Tulsi Puja. While Avani attended to the regular household chores every morning, Tai performed the daily ritual. Most days when Tai wasn’t around, Aadi helped Avani with the household chores and this made her smile

 

Aadi’s frazzled nerves jumped all at once as he saw Avani staggering backwards with the Aarti Thali in her hand. Dropping the broom he was holding, Aadi bolted towards her, his head bobbing from side to side with each footfall and his eyes enlarged in their sockets

 

Anxiously, Aadi sprinkled water on Avani’s face from the water pot resting next to the Tulsi plant. When Avani didn’t open her eyes, Aadi began to panic; he frantically sprinkled more water while patting her face

 

What Avani whispered in Aadi’s ear was insurmountably beautiful and something he’d never expected to hear in his wildest dreams. As Avani’s words started to sink in, Aadi’s lips slowly stretched wider into a gaping grin, his eyebrows arching for the sky

 

“You’re going to be a daddy soon!” Avani had softly whispered in Aadi’s ear, much to his joy. As the young couple hugged, soaking in each other’s happiness, Guru Tai peered furtively from the window above like a cobra seeking its prey

 

Guru Tai had shrewdly sensed what was transpiring in the front yard of the Sayan home the moment Aadi and Avani embraced. Quickly realizing that Avani was pregnant, Tai sent a messenger to Mukaddeswar, Pravadh’s chief astrologer, requesting that he grace the Sayan home with his holy presence

 

The pregnancy had brought joy and nervous anticipation. Days turned into weeks, and with Avani now a few months pregnant, Aadi had new responsibilities

 

True to her word, since the day Mukh Baba visited the Sayan home, Tai stayed away from Avani. Before Baba’s warning, Tai would always find ways to keep Aadi and Avani apart. When Aadi returned from the woods, Tai would purposely send Avani to draw water from the large well

 

The weeks passed, and Avani started to feel a light tickling sensation, as if someone was running a fingertip lightly over her skin…but on the inside. As Baby Surya grew, the light tickle began to feel like a finger flick...

 

Avani was just over eight months pregnant, and at Aadi’s insistence, she had been indoors the entire time. However, she needed a break from the dreary hallways and ancient arches of the Sayan Home. She wanted to be one with nature, even for a brief moment

 

Just when Avani thought she couldn’t be any happier, Aadi surprised her yet again. Asking her to close her eyes for a brief moment, he disappeared into the woods, quickly returning with baskets heaped with marigold petals. “Keep your eyes closed for just one more minute,” Aadi gasped

 

Little did Avani know, the pain she had ignored to escape the dark hallways of the Sayan home would come back to bite her hard. As Aadi continued to push the swing, Avani’s stomach started to tighten.
“Aadi STOP!” she screamed at the top of her lungs

 

A piercing pain engulfed Avani as she felt Surya’s head press against her pelvis. Sweating profusely and in distress, Avani continued to push while Aadi offered his comfort and support as best he could. Pushing was the worst, but it somehow seemed to ease her pain slightly

 

Guru Tai had kept her silence all these many months as Mukh Baba had advised, but she was growing more restless with each passing minute. The news of Avani and Aadi’s newborn baby girl had spread across Pravadh like wildfire, and while the elated young couple were rejoicing in the birth of baby Surya, a distraught Guru Tai was sending one of her trusted aides to summon Mukh Baba

 

As Aadi walked Avani away from the Sayan home, Tai’s loathsome words echoed in his ears, making him feel weak and powerless. He couldn’t believe his own mother had just called Avani a witch and refused to bless his newborn child

 

As worried as Avani was about Aadi, he was equally upset about the way his wife had been treated by his mother. Tai had made Avani feel like an outsider in her own house. Instead of embracing her grandchild, she spewed venom

 

It was now high noon and the sun beat down with unrestrained brutality, as a few withering trees cast patches of pathetic shade onto the smoldering Kashyapi floor. Aware of the encroaching heat, Aadi released Avani, worried that the dancing would be too much for her and little Surya

 

Her eyes stayed glued on Aadi from the moment he kissed her goodbye, hoping that he would turn around one last time before completely disappearing, but he didn’t. She watched until he fell from her sight behind the green hillock in the distance

 

Aadi, now a fair distance away, was frantically running to get to the Vimala River and back before sundown, while Avani was still trying to comfort Surya, whose cries pierced the silence of the Kashyapi. Her eyes still closed from sheer exhaustion, Avani instinctively kept her ears wide open and alert, ready to fend off any unwanted intruders

 

Avani jumped to her feet the moment she saw the swords in the men’s hands. Holding Surya tightly to her chest, Avani stood perfectly still in fight mode, assessing her next move. An adrenaline injection had replaced her sheer exhaustion

 

Avani was now completely surrounded by Tai and the rest of her men, as the other two continued to punch and grab her in a frantic attempt to snatch Surya

 

The revolting sound of Tai and her men shook Avani to her very core. She knew they would soon be upon her if she didn’t pull herself together quickly. Wounded and terrified, Avani collected herself, and scrambling to her feet with Surya in her arms

 

As the panic-stricken Avani darted in the direction of the river, she suddenly had a flashback to her childhood when, as a little girl, she would often aim at a little mango tree in the Mistla’s backyard

 

Tai marched ahead, looking down at Avani as if she was a piece of dirt. With her powerful arms, she grabbed Surya from Avani’s arms, not caring for even a moment that it was a little child. Avani, now severely weak and feeling powerless and helpless, could do nothing but let go of her baby

 

Tai marched away with Surya. Standing only a few feet away from Avani, she placed Surya on the hard Kashyapi ground close enough for Avani to see. Avani had wrapped Surya securely in the cloth, fearing injury, but now Surya was in Tai’s control, and all Avani could do was watch helplessly

 

As Tai stamped the skull of the baby with her giant foot, a sharp, stinging pain pierced her leg like a bolt of lighting. She stamped the baby’s head again, and this time her heel cracked open, sending fountains of blood onto the cold Kashyapi floor

 

“How dare you speak to me like that?” howled Tai as she stomped towards Avani with a sword in her hand.
Tai’s men wouldn’t hear a word against their Mai, and before Tai could even reach Avani, they had already punched Avani several times in the face

 

After Avani had attacked Tai’s men with the sharp stones, they had tumbled to the ground in a heap, wailing and screaming in distress and pain

 

As Avani breathed her last on the Kashyapi floor, Surya safely reached the banks of Bandhumati where she was picked up by a fisherman and his wife…All of us were created equal.

A gripping story that will leave all of us thinking.

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