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I thought he belonged to me only – my man. But how wrong I was. I still had a lot to learn about men and the position of privilege they were entitled to.
“Rain falls and ceases, all the forest trembles:
Mystery walks the woods once more,
We hear a flute.
It moves the earth, it is the god who plays
With the flute in his lips and music in his breath:
The god is Krishna in his lovely youth.”
— “Canons of Giant Art”, Sacheverell Sitwell
Radha could hear the faint melody of flute wafting in the moist breeze. The melody engulfed her in a trance, once more. The heady fragrance of jasmine flowers intoxicated all her senses, once more. The ground beneath her bare feet seemed cool. Was it the wet earth of Vrindaban, drenched in the monsoon rain? Someone gently touched one of her shoulders from behind. The sudden human touch jolted her out of her reverie. No, she was not in Vrindaban. The cool ground beneath her feet was, in fact, the cool marble floor in the royal palace of Dvarka. The jasmine flowers kept in a silver bowl in one corner of the room rendered the air inside the room fragrant. And she was standing right in front of queen Rukmini, in her royal bed chamber. No flute was being played anywhere. It all seemed a figment of her imagination.
“Please take your seat, Radha. I wanted to meet you in person. That’s why I sent my most trusted retainer Nalini to Vrindaban to bring you here.”, said Rukmini in her beautiful bass voice. Rukmini was, indeed, an epitome of beauty and grace. Her beautiful yellow silk saree and gold jewelleries only served to accentuate her beauty. “She is indeed worthy of being the wife of Krishna,” thought Radha.
“But why? What made the queen look for a village woman as ordinary as Radha?” Radha couldn’t hide her amusement.
“Do you think that you are ordinary? I never thought so.”
“That’s not the answer to my question. Tell me why you summoned me here.”
“Actually I wanted to meet you in person. I want to see what you have that I lack. I want to know why my husband is still in love with you.”
Radha cackled. “So you think that your husband loves me. I never thought so. I always thought that my love for him was one-sided. While I loved him, he took it only as flirtation. And apart from me, he had all the gopis of Vrindaban to engage in such inane flirtations. None of it was love.”
“That’s not true. I don’t exactly know what was there between the two of you, but surely it was not something as innocuous as flirtation, at least not for him.”
Radha’s mind drifted to her days of yore. “Do you know Rukmini that I was already married when I first met him? I was married off to Abhimanyu at a tender age. At that time, I didn’t even know the full import of the words ‘marriage’ or ‘husband’. But I failed to love Abhimanyu. He turned out to be an impotent man and consequently our marriage was never consummated. I accepted everything with equanimity as my destiny. And then I met him – Krishna.
It was a rainy and stormy night in the month of Ashada. Dark clouds hovered in the sky. I had come to Nand’s residence to pay him a visit that afternoon when the rains started. Nand was very worried as his son had not returned home till then. He asked me to take him home. Krishna was younger than me. Young and naïve. I found him standing under a large tamal tree, shivering in the rain. I held his hand and took him home. The road was dark, with only lightning to illuminate the road every now and then. That day when I held his hand, I felt the surge of a strange emotion inside me – something which I had never felt before. Perhaps that was what poets called as ‘love’.
Monsoon made way for the autumn. Then came winter. Finally it was spring. The tamal tree was no longer dark, but instead was adorned with yellow flowers. There was a riot of colours everywhere, with so many flowers blossoming – bakula, kimshuka, kesara, madhavika. The fragrant southern wind was intoxicating. My love for Krishna had intensified by then. But I found him flirting with all the other gopis. I was jealous. I thought he belonged to me only – my man. But how wrong I was. I still had a lot to learn about men and the position of privilege they were entitled to.
Finally when he left for Mathura, I was devastated. He besmirched my reputation. Everybody in Vrindaban gossiped about me. What kind of a woman longs for a man other than her husband! While I silently suffered the pangs of separation, these gossips made my life even more miserable. My life was ruined for ever. But I didn’t commit suicide. Neither did I run to Mathura to beg for his love.”
“Then what did you do, Radha? Life must have been hard for you.”
“Yes, that’s true. Nothing was left for me in Vrindaban any more. The only man I loved had abandoned me. I never knew the joys of motherhood. So I decided to live for myself. I adorned my eyes with kajal, applied a kasturi tilak to my forehead, painted a saubhagya bindu with kumkum, rearranged my tresses and put flowers in my braid. Then I went to the bank of river Yamuna and looked at my own reflection in the placid water of the river. I looked beautiful, even divine. I fell in love with myself. I smiled after a long time.
Krishna is an intelligent man, no doubt. While he will leave his own philosophy for posterity, my life will remind women of generations to come that a woman doesn’t need a man to live her life. A woman can not only live, but also thrive without a man.”
“Did you ever harbour any desire to marry him?”
“Not at all. I never wanted to become one among his many wives and be happy with the crumbs of his love that each of his wife is entitled to. To me, my self-respect and independence are way more precious than the love of a man.”
Now Rukmini understood what made Radha stand apart from others.
“Now grant me permission to leave. It’s almost evening. I think your husband will return from his royal court any time. I don’t want him to know of my arrival.”
Radha left. Only the sound of her anklets echoed long in the royal palace of Dvarka.
Image source: Flickr
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