My Sakuntala, she flowered there, she invented herbal dyes with which she painted the ashram walls, she also grew to be a bard of the forests, of its silences and cries and its rustling lights; the first of her compositions she sang to her newborn son, Bharata. He grew up surrounded by solitude and song. No wonder he became Bharata the wise king of this splendid and sad geography.
I have changed; my flippancy flipped out of me for there is no longer any need for disguise. My heart is like a water balloon waiting to burst. Indralok is now more remote than a faded dream. I tried to maintain contact with my colleagues Rambha, Tillotama and Urvashi. No response from them, for millennia, though garbled versions of their adventures leaked through the stratosphere. I tried reaching Lord Indra thinking he must have deliberately ignored my petitions. But even He has disappeared, His powers usurped by a succession of Gods in a series of avatars.
During the Mahabharata era Lord Indra’s power struggle was with Lord Krishna, though more recently it is Lord Rama who is often construed as being on the warpath. But I have different memories of Lord Rama while He was an avatar on earth. He was an exceptional God. Of course He took His duties extremely seriously, but He was mild-mannered, and a keen ecologist, as was His wife, Sita Devi. They spent no less than fourteen years in the forests. In fact, as I recall, She loved the wilderness so much that soon after Their return to Ayodhya for His Coronation She opted to return to the forests to bring up Their twins, Lav and Kush, in this environment rather than the palace with its intrigues. The Twins grew to be fine, curious adolescents. That’s when Sita Devi decided She’d done Her duty and wished for Her space; She chose to return home to Earth. Her mother, the Earth, received Her as all mothers should their daughters: Earth tore Herself open to surround Sita Devi. I remember still the fragrance that flowed from the Earth at that moment.
All this happened long, long ago. I’m flying low in altitude and emotion. I gaze at multi-coloured mountains, sigh and rise to skim the Himalayan snow peaks. Suddenly I spot a man tottering out of an icy cave in high fashion Indralok apparel. I dive and do a slow fly past, disbelieving my eyes.“ Hey you apsara, “ the decrepit mortal commands, “ come down. “ I’m visible to the naked eye! What was that Lord Indra said – about the last man I slept with etc? This relic must be Vish, father of my Sakuntala, she of the pearly ear lobes, long dead. “Nymph, come down instantly to pleasure me, “ he bellows, as if I were instant coffee. Vish has survived, but has forgotten.
I remember Lord Indra’s last words: Should any mortal regret his action and take responsibility after feeling my dance — this Curse will end. Or I will. Maybe at the beginning of yet another millennium humankind is finally capable of being true to its name—being both human and kind. It’s a slim chance.
There’s no way am I going to entrust this chance to Vish. I’ve to do it by myself. For I’m doing this out of my belief that tenderness is the groundwater of our existence. “Dance,” he snorts, trembling, “ I’m an impatient man. “
Who knows of my impatience?
I’m going to Air Tumble, pirouette 360 degrees in space and circumscribe the earth like a rainbow on fire. I’m going to flame with dreams and scents sacred. I’m ancient, and determined. I’ll dance like never before, with my love embodied in every gesture, my caring in every glance; my sorrow a secret.
And this too: I, Menaka, have decided to throw my story to the winds, for the winds to gather in their laps and let it there grow and spread with dew and mist and rain. Maybe my story will cover the earth as speaking dew that spreads without distinction, touching all; and as mist that dissolves the distance between heaven and earth, wrapping us in its soft hands, letting us into the secret that we see little and so must be loving with each step we take. Maybe my story will fall to earth through the rain, each raindrop holding a fragment, a word, which will release on falling, redolent with truths. Maybe the time is propitious; maybe my story will be heard at last.
I, Menaka, desperate and hopeful, am going to take a deep breath and leap into dance.
This story was first published in Inner Line by Zubaan.
Priya Sarukkai Chabria is a poet, writer and translator. Twice awarded Fellowships for Outstanding Contribution to Literature from the Government of India. Academy of Literature Golden Jubilee Imprint, ( 2005).
Forthcoming are Immersions Bombay/Mumbai with photographer Christopher Mark Taylor (Niyogi Books, 2012), Indian Cinema 1900—1970 (Harper Collins 2013) and translations of mystic Tamil poet Aandaal (Zubaan, 2013).
Her publications include the novels, Generation 14 (Penguin-Zubaan, 2008) and The Other Garden (Rupa&Co, 1995) and poetry collections Not Springtime Yet (HarperCollins, 2008) and Dialogue and Other Poems (Indian)
She edits Talking Poetry at www.openspaceindia.org, has curated two seminars for the Indian Academy of Literature and collaborated with artist from classical dance, cinema and painting. Her work is published in numerous national and international journals, anthologies and websites. She’s at www.priyawriting.com