kiskiKAHANI (the Ramayana Project)

300 Ramayanas and Counting . . .
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Menaka Tells Her Story

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Thus began my wandering over skies and centuries. First of all I realized that I ‘became’ all sexual urge, the passion of its fragrance, the very pull. I did not mind this in itself, for as an apsara I know the pleasures of the Gods beggar the imagination of the most voluptuous and the most perverse of mortals. Why, I remember the time – and it wasn’t even the best—when I was turned into an octopus-like creature, every inch of my skin covered with scented sexual suckers and…. But let me not detract from my story. Cast out from Heaven I apprehended the full import of Lord Indra’s Curse. On earth, the free erotic play that was customary with the Gods had lost much of its charm, its mutual delights. Instead the dark, violent side of passion gained prominence, raked as if with its talons. Whenever I spotted a man lacking in tenderness The Curse came into play, so I believed. Like an automate or a zombie rising, my transparent bells would start tinkling in his heart; my invisible feet would start pulsing their rhythms through his blood…

Thus it happened that a zillion crimes against women went unpunished for the blame was solely placed on me: Menaka was goading them on, glittering, Menaka, the rampant desire that sings in every body, was egging them on… But pause for a moment and think of me. As the erotic impulse descended into that of assault there was no escape for me screaming soundlessly, trapped within the violator’s body, pounding to be free. You hadn’t thought of me, had you?

But I’m never passive. Through befuddling pain I analyzed: In no Time or Space or Meaning could such acts — where I am the cause, perpetrator, violence, victim and repercussion – be my doing even though cursed. Responsibility lies with each human being. I set to revoke The Curse.

Revolting against this use of my substance I slid petition after petition through spiralling warm wind currents into Lord Indra’s Lowest Heaven. Without resting I encoded my protest on each spy satellite: Not in my name! I sent it out on deep space probes, I swirled noxious factory fume to spell: Not in my name! In reply I heard silence. This made eternity lonelier.

This went on eon after eon. I had raged so incessantly that my curly tresses changed to dreadlocks, my golden complexion changed to the shine of clotted blood, my diaphanous garments changed to shreds of trailing smoke, I thought I was more Apparition than Vision. Though vision is what I possess: Created to birth lyrics that harmonize the Three Worlds into One; through my presence to bring forth impossible dreams and sing of the everyday sacred. For I am that which rages with fires unquenchable, that beauty without rules, that flow irredeemable. I range beyond the horizons of dawn skies, and of eclipses; I could fill ocean depths with light were I but acknowledged. I could create love like glitter bombs that show the expanse of sky.

I ask: Can anyone understand my anguish? Do you even dare?

I’ve skipped centuries in my storytelling. Let’s undo them for there’s one point I wish to clear. Yes, I’m aware of a certain recorded literary discrepancy: If I were invisible, how did I put up a sudden appearance on Earth as evidenced in Kalidasa’s lyrical play, Abhijanasakuntalam? I admire Kalidasa’s command over language but that’s about it. Let me tell you the famed poet-playwright got most of it wrong– though I did appear.

Hear my version: My child Sakuntala grew up in a forest ashram; she was a loving, strong-willed girl. My daughter was a minor when King Dushyanta — who was hunting in the vicinity — spotted her. He awakened her sexuality and seduced her with promises of eternal admiration. As a mother I know Shakuntala fell more for the storybook idea of romance embedded in that encounter than him, per se. Come on, he, a powerful king lay at the feet of this bare-foot girl from a hermitage; he wrote love poems to her on lotus leaves and slid them downstream to her; he even gave her, as a promise of undying love, his signet ring — which my child lost one day, splashing about in the river.

As you know he abandoned her soon after saying he had pressing official matters; my daughter believed his every word. She spoke truths like the day brings light and thought no less of anyone else. As her pregnancy advanced she grew impatient and constrained by imminent motherhood. She was told not to climb the trees she so loved, she couldn’t chase deer nor was allowed to go boating through she was a strong rower. Besides she was an adolescent who like all others of her age wanted to reap the benefits of being adult, she chose to go to ‘her’ man.

My doe-eyed Sakuntala presented herself at her husband’s court. Big bellied, trusting, she stood in his throne room – and was rejected. Can’t remember who she is, my son-in-law-to-be blandly stated to his court; not the faintest memory, he said. It was the same old story.

Sakuntala was weeping with rage, tearing at her bark garments, demanding Dushyanta remember her body, she was the focus of a hundred censorious eyes, and helpless; she screamed she’d rather kill the child than give birth to a lie. My Sakuntala was declared mad.

This is when I turned visible. For I, Menaka, am a mother first. It’s common knowledge that there’s a wee loophole in every curse and law, income tax et al. The loophole in mine was that only once in an eternity could I show up in a shadowy form. I, water nymph, summoned the powers of dew, mist and rainbow to coalesce around me and give me shape. Semi-translucent I descended from the skies to vindicate my daughter and carry her away to another forest ashram. I sang comfort to her in my divine tongue; she wept the coarse tears of mortals.

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