In The Works
By PRIYANKA VORUGANTI Photography MELISSA NELSON
I never truly understood the fact that I was Indian until I was about fourteen. I had found a huge pile of wedding photos hidden away under my mother's bed showing her and my father during their traditional Hindu ceremony. Finding the photos of my mother and father (together! smiling!) was quite a shock, but the bigger thing that struck me while flipping through the ancient film was the beautiful sari my mother was adorned in. It was gold with brown highlights and had tiny silver beads handing from every end. It started at her chest and cascaded down to her ankles to reveal two feet, covered in henna and on them hanging two pristine, shining anklets.
I had never really worn Indian clothes, and if I did it was for events or get-togethers and I would often make a gigantic scene about wearing traditional clothing. But staring at those photos, absorbing the beauty of my mother, her clothing, the country she was in- it made me want to wear my lehenga and go everywhere in it. So I immersed myself in the culture I so much so admired.
The Priyanka that has bark colored skin and loves it emerged, and I began to regularly wear clothes from India or experiment with different colored bindis and even practice different henna designs on my hands. When I began to read Indian literature, determined to finish the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in less than a week without relying on the English translation, I became stuck.
While reading the Ramayana, I took a liking to Seetha, the wife of the main character. She was beautiful, could dance like a princess, and sang like a bird. She was just like my mother in that wedding photo. But in the story she was exiled from society, abused, and left to die. And- for what? Nothing, absolutely nothing. What came out of this outrage was Seetha's Story, a poem retelling the Ramayana but from Seetha's point of view, to illustrate the misogyny in Indian mythology. After writing it this last winter I showed my mother and she almost began to sob- there were so many parallels between the story of Seetha and the things my mother experienced in her life. So, this is for my mother, and all the other women whose stories are not heard.