India with all its glory, rich culture and heritage is also home to some of the worst customs and traditions. The sad saga of widows is one of them. In the past, when a woman’s husband died she was either ill-treated or left to her own devices.
‘The Last Color’ is one poignant story of lives of widows in Varanasi who are devoid of basic pleasures of taste, colour, relations, touch! They are forced to live a life of abstinence.
The writer through the characters portrays the life of these widows who are forced to leave their homes and live in Varanasi in the ashrams till they acquire moksh…and the moksh could be acquired in few months or maybe not for eons, like Noor, the main character!
Noor was married off to an elderly man when she was just 10 years old. Within a few months her husband dies of ill-health. That day Noor is stripped off all the colour, beauty, taste, relations and touch from her life! Only left with ‘white’…the colour of her saree and ‘white’ the tasteless rice that she eats everyday!
She’s been living in the ashram for 60 long, ‘white’ years when she meets a girl of 9 years, Chotti. Noor is looked down upon when her ashram inmates come to know that her motherly instincts had surfaced due to a street urchin. How could she harbour such feelings being a widow?
My heart cringed when I read about the ill-treatment meted out to her just because she sipped a cup of tea, read a book by Rabindranath Tagore (the only item she had carried from her family heirloom and kept it hidden from the world), painted her toenails pink on Chotti’s insistence or harboured the thought to play Holi after 60 ‘white’ years in the ashram. She was made to realise that even the thought of colour and taste had made her sinner and she ought to do her penance.
Read this book to experience the life of Noor and other widows when they were prohibited from playing Holi few years back…to the present when they play Holi with a joyous abandon after the Supreme Court passed a verdict in their favour.