Authors: V S Khandekar
Suddenly, she remembered something. She quickly moved away and returned to the bed. By now, I could see a little better. Was it Alaka standing by my bed? — Perhaps not. It was a fairy standing by me.
I smiled at the thought. Is beauty also subject to tides like the sea? Who knows? But Alaka was every moment looking more and more beautiful. I was gazing at her. She was flustered and murmured, ‘What is the matter with me? I brought medicine to put it on the pack and forgot about it. Please close your eyes.’
‘This medicine is very strong. The physician has strictly warned me that not a drop must go into the eyes.’
‘But my eyes will not shut.’
How could I tell her that I wanted to keep looking at her? She might not like it. Her mother had fed me at her breast. She had brought me up in her lap. Even Father respected Kalika and as for Mother, she looked on her as a near relation. Mother used to say Kalika took greater care of me than she herself had. With Kalika’s daughter —
Alaka said, ‘If you do not close your eyes now, I shall stop even talking to you.’ Those childish words brought my childhood back to me. It was as if the waters of the river which had flown into the sea had receded again.
I quickly closed my eyes. Alaka was wetting the pack drop by drop. There passed before my eyes the gradual transformation in many forms, from the childish Alaka refusing to talk to me to the Alaka now in attendance on me, near my bed. The bud was the same but in blossoming everyday it assumed more attractive and pleasing forms. Every form of Alaka that I saw was attractive in a different way.
Alaka had grown up in the palace with her mother. But till today, she had not attracted me so much. Why should it be? I reminisced we were playmates till I was six. Then we parted. As prince, I strutted about the palace, the town, the court and the festive celebrations. She was a maid’s daughter and hung back. She ran little errands in the palace. I was destined to be a king and a world renowned warrior. She was destined to be a maid in eternal service of somebody. That is why our ways parted.
A heavenly fragrance intoxicated me. My eyes were still closed. I slowly lifted my right hand. Alaka was bending over and carefully pouring the drops of medicine. One of her tresses was rubbing against my cheek. I felt that lock of hair with my hand and that soft touch sent a thrill through my whole body. I knew that Alaka would suddenly move away from embarrassment if I opened my eyes. Eyes closed, I said, ‘Alaka, where is this delicious fragrance coming from?’
‘It comes from the jasmine flowers in my braid.’
‘Let me smell them where they are,’ I said. Alaka did not reply. I added, ‘If you do not let me smell them in your hair, I shall scream. Then, they will all wake up and ...’
‘If you scream, they will all rush in panic and Mother will take me to task saying, “You wretch, can’t you even make a good attendant?” She will hang me for it.’
‘Don’t you think,’ I said, ‘it would be better to let me smell the flowers in your hair than be hanged? They say a good deed should be done on time.’
All the flowers in the garden of Eden must have contributed their share of fragrance to those jasmine flowers. I was intoxicated by the fragrance of Alaka’s hair. Apart from the flowers, the feel of her hair on my nose and cheeks was the height of pleasure.
I forgot myself when I realised that Alaka was withdrawing. I opened my eyes. She was moving away. I said, ‘I have not had enough. I must have more ... much more still.’
Before I realised what I was doing, my arms were round her and our lips met. Delicious is not the word — her lips were full of nectar. Like the traveller in the desert, my lips were dry. I was dying with thirst. I drank deep of that nectar. I kept demanding for more and more of it. I was only conscious of one fact. I was swimming in happiness but its waters were not deep enough.
The nectar of which I had drunk deep was burning me like poison. 1 had to have more nectar to quench it.
I was struggling to my feet. There was a shooting pain in my right leg and like a bird shot down, I screamed in agony and fell back on my bed.
It took me three or four months to get over my accident. But my piercing scream of that night brought joy to the palace. Everyone was heartened that I had regained consciousness and had practically come to life from dead. The old physician, in fact, rushed into my room and wept with emotion like a child.
I was soon rid of my fever. But, the injury to the bone was more intractable. The physician had, however, imported from East Aryavarta a tribal known for his skill in bone setting. He set it well and there was no defect left, but those three or four months were very difficult for me. I was irritated with my disability when I saw birds flitting outside the window. I felt like going out of the window in the manner of a bird without caring for the consequences.
My hands itched at the sound of a horse and the thighs strained for a mount. I did not know where to wreak my irritation at the disability. In annoyance, I would gaze at my limbs. I had spent every day of ten long years to cultivate a strong and beautiful body but it had failed me. There is no limit to a man’s love of his body but the body does not reciprocate. Indeed, on occasion, it lets him down.
Lying in bed, I tried to discover what was it that the body was antagonistic to, but never succeeded. I often thought there was a Yayati in me, different and distinct from the body. But how was one to understand the nature of that other Yayati? I knew that mind, heart and intellect were not parts of the body but had their separate identity. In the eight days of my unconsciousness, when with the rare drugs given to me, I would have quietly swallowed even poison, where was my mind? And the intellect? And the heart? There was no answer. I was completely in the dark.
When, in exasperation, I gazed at my limbs, something whispered into my ear, ‘You are wrong. Has your body always been your enemy? What about the pleasure of that night, when you kissed Alaka? Was it not made possible by your body alone?’
That night was a sweet immortal dream. The thought of it made me forget all pain in my life. Even the bright sun outside was obscured in the memory of that night and it all came vividly back to me, like the indelible impression of a young maiden, setting out for worship with an oil lamp. That maddening fragrance of the jasmine flowers, the softness of Alaka’s tresses, the sweetness of her lips — the memory of it all was thrilling.
Together with this sweet memory of Alaka, there was another which served to bring me happiness. The tribal who set the bone had travelled widely in Aryavarta. He recounted enchanting tales of the caves, forests and cities, the sea and the hills, the old temples and the men he had come across. From those tales I conjured up a beautiful dream.
In my dream I was escorting the sacrificial horse let loose in challenge of supreme sovereignty. In the end I returned as the victorious hero, conquering the world and at the head of the maidens waiting to worship me was Alaka with the oil lamp.
I was well again. I mentioned my dreams to the Prime Minister and my tutors. They all liked the idea and inspite of Mother’s protests Father announced the sending forth of the victory horse.
I still remember those days!
* * *
I was away for nearly eighteen months escorting the horse. Everywhere I saw the grandeur of this ancient sacred land. I was enriching my mind with the countless folk songs sung to her glory to the tune of the elements. I stored in my eyes the ever new folk dances. We first headed north, then west, south and east. How exquisitely pretty was the countryside everywhere. With the changing seasons the land wore a new attractive garb and was bedecked with various ornaments. Sometimes I thought the motherland was standing before me in person. The rivers and streams like jets of milk, flowing from her breasts, the mountains. The thought that it was this milk which sustained her children was thrilling.
We were challenged in only a few kingdoms. Father had in his time put awe into the whole of Aryavarta by his bravery. It was the victory horse of that very King Nahusha who had defeated Indra. Who dared challenge it? Those who thoughtlessly threw a challenge soon learnt that Yayati was the worthy son of a worthy father.
I was extremely happy in all such minor conflicts. I was an adept hunter and bagged with ease most kinds of animals. But the joy of vanquishing an army which is as well armoured as your own, is quite different. It is on such occasions that a warrior is really inspired. Victory in war is more heady than hunting. It was that kind of heady victory that I was aspiring to. When I had risked my life during the festivities, it was because I had realised the intoxication of victory, but after all, that was only a victory over an animal.
I was often unable to sleep during the campaign. Not that I was restless thinking of Mother or something important. It was an undefined worry that dispelled sleep. I was weary.
one lively horse of a chariot
to gallop unmindful of his slow mate
my mind ignore the weary body and indulge in wild fantasies. It used to dwell on things like death, love, religion and God. It was difficult to free
from the web of that maze. Every atom of my body wanted above all
o live.’ At this, the mind would intervene with the question, ‘Why then are you escorting the victory horse? You maybe challenged, when there will be a fierce battle and you may fall on the battlefield. Why should you
who wants to live, go where death is disporting wildly?’
It was impossible to settle this paradox and then even a couch of flowers pricked like a bed of thorns. I would stroll out, gaze at the stars and be soothed by the cool fresh breeze. The mango trees in the adjacent grove would rustle in a whisper and the
birds in the pond nearby could be heard wailing for each other. The mind was enchanted with such touching music.
Gradually peace and quiet would descend on me. The birds would have by then been stilled into silence and there was no sound of movement or flutter. The peace of the surrounding would inspire me to utter words of prayer. I would say them softly. In the end with folded hands, refreshed in mind and contented, I would look around at the expanse of heaven and earth in front and fervently say, ‘Peace and goodwill on Earth.’ Then sleep would enfold me in her fine silken garb and sing a lullaby.
I valued this peace at night, just as much as the pleasure derived from the rough and tumble of the day. I could not, however, reconcile the two. While I was escorting the horse, time was moving apace. In this roving life I experienced in many different forms both peace and intoxication.
I cannot describe the many varied forms in which peace and exhilaration came to me during these wanderings. There was the luscious green grass which looked like fur standing up, as if in ecstasy, and the tall stout deodar trees proudly poised as if to uphold the sky. There was the gentle drizzle of rain like Ganges water sprinkled by the priest in blessing and there was the downpour, like jets of water thrown up by an elephant. There was the tiny lovely butterfly which, descending on the finger, looked like a ring set in precious stones. The lofty minarets of temples and the inviting houses of dancing girls. The tall twenty foot statues of the warriors and the delicately carved figures of young maidens on the walls of caves.
I went to see one such figure of a lovely woman. My escorts were all outside. The figure was exquisitely beautiful. It was the figure of Rati, the Goddess of Love in mourning, when Lord Shiva had destroyed Madan, the God of Love. I gazed at it for a long time. Her sari had strayed a little. Her tresses were hanging loose. I forgot that it was a lifeless figure. And before I knew what I was doing I kissed that beautiful figure passionately on the mouth. If it were not for the cold feel of the stone which brought me to my senses, I would have gone on doing it indefinitely.
The region was alive with many elephants and I decided to indulge in elephant hunting. I had heard that wild elephants go to the pond for a drink at night. Once at midnight, I penetrated deep into the forest all alone and climbed a tall tree by the side of a pond. It was an exciting experience. It was pitch dark and you could not see even a yard away.
There was great satisfaction in getting an elephant under these conditions. I pricked my ears for stray sounds. I had heard that in drinking the elephant emits a bubbling sound. I was straining to hear it and gradually I lost consciousness of all other sounds. Every moment was like an hour.
A vague sound came to my ears. I thought it was a bubbling sound and was electrified. You could see nothing and had to aim by sound. When hit, the animal would squeal. I had decided to shoot quickly in succession in the same direction on hearing the squeal.
I shot an arrow. The sound of its impact on the target and a harsh human voice came to my ears together.
‘Who shot the arrow? You sinner, come forward. Otherwise ...’
Even a squirrel could not have got down as quickly as I did. I walked in the direction of the sound. The forest was thinner by the side of the pond and I saw in the faint moonlight, a human being. He seemed like a ghost. I hastened to fall at his feet without looking up. Suddenly the figure fell back with the words, ‘I must not be touched by a sinner.’
‘I am no sinner, Sire, I came for the love of hunting, thought I heard an elephant drinking and shot the arrow. I am a Kshatriya. Hunting is enjoined on me by my religion.’
‘You dare talk of religion to me, an ascetic under vow. I am a Brahmachari. Tell me the truth. Have not your lips been sullied by contact with those of a woman. You can touch my feet only if you are pure in that respect.’
I dared not tell a lie. The memory of my passionately kissing Alaka that night was vivid before my eyes. This ascetic must be omniscient and he would at once know whether I was telling the truth. He would blast me with a curse. I hung down my head. The yogi harshly named me a profligate.
The yogi said, ‘I have no time to waste on a degenerate person like you. In the early hours after midnight, I finish my morning ritual and sit in prayer.’ I knelt before him, folded my hands and said, ‘Sire, I crave your blessing.’