A Bygone Life?

The strains of the flute permeated the air, the fragrance of incense sticks wafted into her nostrils; she closed her eyes and drifted…


Images of decorated mud homes, cowdung dried courtyards, clay pots, open wells, colourful cholis and lehengas, kohl-rimmed eyes, long, plaited tresses, hennaed hands, jingling bangles, chiming anklet and the mellifluous strains of the flut.


She was churning the curds; her hennaed hands pulling at the twin ropes . The frothy cream swirled in rhythm around the wooden churn paddle. She hummed absent mindedly; her kohl rimmed eyes gazing vacantly into the distance, a half smile lingering on her crimson lips… Kanha! Kanha! Kanha!


Suddenly the strains of the flute reached her ears! She started, her heart skipping a beat. Beads of sweat glistened above her lips. She wanted to run, run to the banks of the Yamuna, where her Kanha would be waiting. But the butter was yet to set.


She grew restless. How would she steal past the watchful eyes of her grandmother, and mother? She tugged at the ropes frantically. The frothy cream splattered around her. She looked around frantically. Her gaze fell upon a pot filled with water behind the back door. She gingerly tiptoed up to the pot, emptied the water into the basil platform, and slithered back to churning butter. She looked up to see if her grandmother had noticed, no, she was still bent over the hearth. Her mother was busy in the backyard; and her brother and father were out grazing the animals.


She resumed churning the curds vigorously and then as soon as the ball of butter set around the churn paddle, she deftly scooped it with her fingers and placed it in the butter pan. She called out to her grandmother, “Ba, there is no water in the pot. I will have to fetch some water, shall be back soon.”


She did not pause to wait for a reply; quickly gathering the folds of her long lehenga, she swung the empty pot onto her slim waist and sprinted off to the river side.


Her grandmother gazed at the disappearing figure of her granddaughter, puzzled. She was sure the pot was full a few moments ago, or was she mistaken? Radha’s feet found wings, her hair flew behind her, her anklet and bangles created a clamour. The strains of the flute was now nearer.


Radha stopped when she saw the silhouette of her beloved Kanha leaning against the Kadamba tree. Her bosom heaved partly due to the exertion of running, and partly due to the increasing excitement in her heart. Kanha was still playing the flute as if oblivious of the world around him, but she knew he was waiting, waiting for her.


She kept the pot on the ground without a sound, tiptoed to his side, carefully trying to not make noise with her mischievous anklet and bangles. Kanha’s eyes were closed. Radha kept gazing at her Lord’s form, and the world came to a standstill.


Suddenly he opened his eyes, and looked at her, the beginning of a smile on his lips. Radha’s cheeks burnt, her eyes lowered, her toes traced absently on the mud.


“What are you doing here at this time? Don’t you have chores at home?” he taunted her.


Radha raised her eyes, offended, “Yes, I do, plenty of chores, I’m going.” And she turned to go.


Radha was suddenly pulled to him by her waist, he slowly and deliberately tucked the flute into his waistband, then lazily pulled up her chin. Radha melted into his arms, her back and neck arched backwards; her eyes closed and lips parted, the fragrance of sandalwood seeped into her being.


The waters of the Yamuna swirled and churned in gurgling symphony.


The music stopped. She opened her eyes. She was seated in the “Padmasana” posture on the grass mat in the hall of her home. The silence loomed large; a pang rose and died in her heart…


~ Nirmala Sasi Varier | Edited by Afreen Zeb


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