Ahalya was banished into invisibility by Gautama, the sage, her husband. Her crime? Giving into Indra’s guile and demands when he stood before her, disguised as her husband. Did Ahalya play with fire knowingly or was she a victim of deception? The myth gives rise to endless questions. Sucharita Dutta-Asane explore the possibilities..
‘Then Gautama cursed his wife. “You shall be invisible to all creatures as you do penance in this hermitage! You shall be purified only when Rama, the invincible son of Dasaratha, comes to this forest. Wicked woman, when you offer hospitality to Rama, you shall be freed of your lust and passion. You shall regain your earlier form in my presence!” Gautama left the hermitage …’*
When he had finished with what he came for, I lay back and let him sate himself on my beauty. I heard the milkman ring the bell twice. I let the cats slurp on the milk they had clawed out of the bag. Let them gorge too, I thought.
He sat up in bed scratching his handsome cheek still besmeared with the redness of my lips. He turned away from my limp arms.
‘What about your husband?’
What sort of a question was that? Hadn’t he come into the house using my husband’s voice, with his ardour, and with his own unquenchable thirst for what he had lost when my husband whisked me away with his wizardry? Oh come on! Did I know when I opened the door that it was he and not my husband who stood at the threshold? I was in my bathrobe, just out of my bath, expecting my beloved at the door, waiting to ensnare him all over again with my long tresses and fragrant arms. And whom do I find but this man wrapped in charm and long withheld hunger! Did I know then that he would step in through the door as I gaped at him, and take me in his arms? Did he know I was alone? Of course! He had left nothing to chance, but I didn’t know it then.
And yet, having seen through the ploy, I gave in.
Here are some reasons.
He swept me off my feet.
It was preordained. I had to, perhaps to tell this story.
I was helpless.
But wait! Do you think I am justifying my actions? No. I waited for what was to come, gauged the extent of my involvement. Could I prove how he, the desired of a million hearts, simply picked me up and placed me on the bed? Could I explain how I could not bring myself to say no to this man who ruled over the multitude? I? A mere mortal before him? I could not even open my eyes to look at him, hold his gaze. And I swooned before the ardour he offered at my feet. I couldn’t look at him directly but the mirror showed it all. His famous charm wrapped itself around my senses and I saw him come to me in a manner unimaginable for the countless whose hearts throb only for him.
I saw my beauty blaze in the mirror and burn in his eyes. I was helpless before his impatient, awesome craving.
Aditya returned on Saturday, jubilant with the new project he had wrested for his partners. He always knew how to wrest a win from under the opponent’s nose.
I waited. He would know. He could see through me.
In my mind I was inviolate.
But how could he not see the violation of my body?
At night, with the curtains drawn around us, the sheets crisp over our bodies, the lamplight muted, he quietly turned towards me.
‘I wish you would tell me yourself.’
I had nobody to speak on my behalf, no divine amanuensis to record my words. I told him how I was duped by the voice that pretended to be his; how I did not smell his adversary standing at the door. I did not tell him that I smelt his passion.
‘You welcomed him with open arms.’
‘Oh no! No! My arms were pinned to my side, dangling from where his arms held me in their grip.’
‘Why didn’t you prevent him?’
‘How could I?’
‘You didn’t want to.’
‘I didn’t want to …’ A world of equivalence crouches in that admission.
‘Was it rape?’
How would I answer this? Does one shut one’s eyes during rape? Does rape make one feel satiated with an unexpected thrill? How could I answer this question?