(Earth Songs is a series of stories of women in a patriarchal society where they are definitely the second sex, created by a lesser God. But these women are fighters -and they usually emerge as winners, though their ways of waging battles are different from men’s ways and the price they have to pay for their victory is often great. These women are all like us - of blood and flesh, with our longings and frustrations, with our strengths and weaknesses. But there is magic in every one of them - thrilling, tantalizing magic, through which the sheer beauty of these women sparkle.)
Once again you abandoned me without a word to me, Lakshmana. This time you knew you were leaving me forever. This time you knew it was your final parting. This time you knew there was no coming back. This time you knew it was a journey without a return.
You were going to die. To commit suicide. By entering the waters of the Sarayu. By offering yourself as a bali, as an oblation, to the Sarayu. As an ahuti, a sacrifice.
But the Sarayu would have known it was not to her you were offering yourself. The Sarayu would have known that she had no place in the life of Lakshmana, in the heart of Lakshmana. She would have known that you were offering yourself as a bali to your brother. To your brother Rama. To your God. That you were just using the Sarayu as the Brahmins use Swaha, to carry their offerings to the gods. Or more like they use Swadha - as a carrier of an offering of bali, of shraddha, of tarpana.
For, this time it was an offering of death. This time it was an offering of self through death. This time the sacrificer and the sacrifice were one.
All your life had been a sacrifice offered to Rama. An ahuti offered to Rama.
Your death too shall be a sacrifice offered to him.
So you were going to the Sarayu to offer yourself in a final sacrifice to Rama.
And you left without a word to me. Once more, you left without a word to me. To your wedded wife. To your life-partner. To your sahadharmini - to your partner in dharma.
I have heard from the acyharas, from the sages, from the brahmins, that a sacrifice offered without a wife as partner is not acceptable to the gods. Is not a valid sacrifice. It would be null and void.
Your sacrifice too was null and void, Lakshmana. As null and void as your life was. As wasted as your life was. For you made the sacrifice without me, Lakshmana.
God did not send men to the earth to be slaves to others but to be masters of themselves. But you chose not to be a master of yourself and to be a slave to another. It does not matter who the other was - but you chose to be a slave. That is what counts. You refused to live your own life. You rejected God’s gift to you. You rejected the dignity in which God created you.
And, in a final act of self-negation, of self-annihilation, you decided to walk into the waters of the Sarayu. To offer yourself as a sacrifice.
And you decided not to tell a word of it to me.
No, it is not that you decided not to tell a word of it to me. There was no such decision. You just did not feel a need to tell me. The very thought of telling me did not come to your mind.
You just did not think of me in those moments. You did not remember me in those moments. I was not in your mind. I was not in your heart.
I was never in your mind, Lakshmana. I was never in your heart, Lakshmana. I was never in your life, Lakshmana.
I never existed for you, Lakshmana.
True, you begot two children in me. You begot Takshaka and Chhatraketu in me. You made me their mother.
And for that you had to do that act with me - that intimate, physical act. But even in those moments I know I did not exist for you. It was just a physical act. An act whose only meaning was that it sowed seeds in a woman’s womb and brought forth children. It did not mean anything more to you, Lakshmana. It was a duty for you. A duty you were bound to perform. And you performed it as a duty, as something that could not be avoided but had to be done. The act did not touch you, Lakshmana, in any way. I did not exist to you even in those moments, Lakshmana. A female body existed, but I did not exist to you.
I know it because I saw it. I know it because I looked into your eyes in those moments and found that I did not exist for you.
A woman closes her eyes in those moments, I am told. Out of shyness, they say. And out of the intensity of emotions, out of the intensity of sensations, they say. But I did not close my eyes. I kept my eyes open. Because I wanted to see. I wanted to see if I existed for you at least in those moments. And because I wasn’t shy. I wasn’t shy, Lakshmana. It was ashamed that I was. Ashamed that I was doing it with you. Ashamed that I was doing it with you in spite of knowing that I did not exist for you. In spite of knowing that you did not love me.
That act is supposed to be an act of love - but I knew you did not love me and yet it was being done to me. I was ashamed. But not shy. There was nothing for me to be shy about. There was nothing for me to be shy about because I knew I was alone. I knew I was not with anyone else. You don’t feel shy when you are alone. I was alone. Very, very alone. Utterly and completely alone.
You were not with me.
I did not exist to you.
A body existed to you, a female body. Over which you had certain rights. Over which you had all the rights. More rights than I myself have. But I did not exist to you. You were not watching me. You did not see me. And so I wasn’t shy. I was ashamed - that I was. But I wasn’t shy, and so I did not close my eyes.
And as for sensations, as for the overflowing of passion, a woman does not feel these unless she is loved. Unless the act being performed is one of love. Unless the union is the flowering of the love of a man and a woman.
I did not see your eyes growing liquid with desire for me. Burn with desire for me.
Sensations did not overpower me. Passion did not overpower me.
I felt fear, though. Fear that someone can do this act too so mechanically. That was frightening, that thought. That realization. The mechanics of the act frightened me.
And that fear too helped me keep my eyes open.
And I looked into your eyes. With despair. And, I am sorry to say, with longing.
With desperate longing. With furious despair.
I wanted to see that I existed for you. At least in those moments. At least for once.
And I saw that I did not. That I did not exist. Not for you.
I saw it in your eyes. I watched the emptiness in your eyes. I watched the farawayness in your eyes. They say that in these moments a man becomes aflame with passion - obsessed with the act. Becomes intense. Becomes intensity itself. Becomes one with the act. Becomes the act itself. Ceases to be himself and becomes the act itself. I have heard that. But all I saw in your eyes was emptiness. Emptiness and farawayness. And I knew I did not exist for you. Not even then.
So I did not come to your mind as you decided to end your life. As you decided to make that final offering of your life. And you did not tell a word if it to me. You did not come to take leave of me. I heard you were weeping. But of course those tears were not for me. They were for HIM.
Did you think of your children in those moments, Lakshmana? Did you think of Takshaka and Chhatraketu in those moments? I am sure you did not. You felt no need to take leave of them either. You did not feel the need to tell a word to them either.
They did not exist to you either. Just as I did not exist to you.
Those tears were for HIM.
Everything was for HIM.
For your Rama.
For your God.
Incidentally, Lakshmana, did you know that I used to wait for you? Wait for you in lonely nights?
Not in the initial days of our marriage - I was too young then. And I did not know what it was to wait for a man in lonely nights. But over the years. As I developed from a child into a woman. And the longings natural to a woman awakened in me. Took roots in me. Took possession of me. Recast my world, remade it. So that my universe started spinning around those longings. So that those longings became the meaning of my life, of my existence. I breathed because of those longings. I lived for the fulfilment of those longings.
Simple longings. Every woman’s longings.
In those days I waited for you, Lakshmana.
My friends used to tell me I was beautiful. That my body was made of moonbeams. Butter-soft. With a thousand spots waiting to be touched by a man. To be caressed. To be felt with his lips. To be adored.
Sita used to tell me I was as beautiful as she was. More beautiful than she was.
I was pleased to hear these words. But I wanted to hear them from you. Hear them from your lips.
And I wanted to hear them from you in a hundred other ways. With no words spoken between us. While your hands travelled all over me. While your lips travelled all over me. Sending tremors through me. Tremors of ecstasy.
And I wanted you to come to me and take me in your arms. I wanted to be crushed in your arms. To know what it would be to be crushed in the arms of a powerful man like you. To be smothered.
And I wanted to hold your powerful body in my arms as I lay in my bed. And to grow breathless with you in my arms. To gasp for air. And gasping, to melt. And melting, to float out of my body, to be free, to soar into the skies free from the bondage to the body. To ride the clouds.
To roam with you, free as twin birds, in the vast expanses of the endless skies. On the wings of love.
To ride the waves of the oceans. To rise to their crusts and then to plunge into their depths, and to rise up again.
And I waited. With the moon peeping into our room, I waited. As the night filled the world with its scent - a scent that I had only recently learned to recognize - I waited. While that scent filled me with restlessness. With despair. While that scent ignited fires in my body. In every limb. In my mountains and valleys. In my curves and smoothness. Fire that threatened to consume me. Fire given to those limbs, to those mountains and valleys, to those curves and smoothness, by the creator himself, so that his work of creation can go on, so that man and woman can be part of his work. So that they can sing his songs with him. Dance his dances with him. Celebrate his celebrations with him. Feel his ecstasies. Thrill in them. Be like him. Be him - for a few moments.
My heights and my depths cried out for you in those nights. My insides and outsides screamed out for you in those nights. My skin, my flesh, my breath, my heart, my soul, my entire being cried out for you.
In those nights I used to wait for you, Lakshmana. Wait with the purity of a maiden’s heart. Wait with longing. Wait with passion.
Wait with hunger. With thirst.
Wait in innocence. In ignorance.
Wait in vain.
You never came.
You never, ever came to me, Lakshmana. Never, ever.
I have heard that union with her man is every woman’s right. Once she becomes ritusnata, has had her ritual bath after her monthly periods, it is every woman’s right to expect her man in her bed.
My bed was always empty.
It is every man’s duty to go into his wife on those days.
I remained empty.
For you never came into me.
I remained impure because you never came into me.
They say that a woman into whom her man hasn’t come is inauspicious. I remained inauspicious.
You failed in your duty to me. You failed in your duty to the ways of the world. You failed in your duty to God.
Or perhaps you did not. For, to you the world was HE. Your God was HE.
And you did not fail HIM.
As for me, I did not exist for you.
So you never come to me.
Not for years.
And then you came.
Years later, after I had given up all hopes, after all sweetness had disappeared from my life, after my land had lain famished for so long, after I had given up all hopes of it ever bringing forth, you came to me then.
And when you came, you came empty.
Your heart empty. Your eyes empty. Your soul empty.
To do a physical act.
To pay back the debt to your forefathers - to free yourself from pitr-rna.
Did you ever know what it is to live an entire life rejected, Lakshmana? Live an entire life abandoned, lonely, devastated, Lakshmana?
So I was not really surprised when you decided to walk away from my life forever without a word to me. I was not really surprised when you decided to offer yourself to the waters of the Sarayu. To make that final offering of yourself to HIM through the waters of the Sarayu.
I wasn’t surprised. Pained? Yes. I was. I could still feel pain after a lifetime spent with you. I was pained, Lakshmana, though I hate to confess it. But I wasn’t surprised.
And I remembered the other time.
Strange days those were.
Days when strange whisperings went all around me all day long. Days when I heard strange whisperings late into the night. Whisperings that I failed to understand. But whose significance communicated to me at some level beneath my understanding. And made me uneasy. Dread each step I took. Dread each breath I took. For the air around me was poisoned. It was the air of conspiracy. The toxic air of conspiracy.
Bharata and Shatrughna were at Kekaya, as always.
I knew that the whisperings had something to do with them.
And in my ignorance I feared for them. For they were dear to me. Not just because they were my sisters’ husbands. Not just because they were your brothers. But because they were loveable people.
I particularly loved Bharata.
And I knew the whisperings had something to do with him in particular.
Everybody seemed to understand them. Everybody except me.
And one other person.
Bharata’s mother. Mother Kaikeyi.
She was the only one who seemed utterly ignorant of it all. The only one who was completely ignorant of it all. Who did not hear a single whisper. It was as though they fell silent around her. So that she did not even suspect their existence.
The walls that whispered to me did not whisper to her.
That is how Kaikeyi was.
Intoxicated with love.
She loved two people in the world.
One was her husband Dasharatha. The king.
Oh, how she loved him!
I often wondered how someone so young could love such an old man with such intensity.
The other was HE.
Yes, HIM she loved best of all in the world, after Dasharatha. Perhaps even more than Dasharatha. HIM - not her son Bharata, but HIM.
Kausalya’s son. Rama.
He had been her darling from the beginning. The centre of all her motherly affections. From the moment he was born while she was still carrying Bharata.
‘Rama is my first son,’ she used to say. ‘And Bharata, my second.’
And it was so. To Dasharatha’s youngest wife, Rama was her first son.
Dasharatha’s only accomplished wife. Before the beauty of whom the beauty of the other queens faded like the moon before the rising sun. Dasharatha’s brilliant wife.
Unearthly beautiful was the king’s youngest queen. Dasharatha often said that when he first saw her he thought she was perhaps an Apsara or a Kinnari, one of those heavenly damsels. Or perhaps Maya herself. So irresistible was her beauty.
And equally accomplished was she. The only queen who could ride a horse - in fact, the only woman I knew who could do that. The only queen who could drive a chariot. A woman who could sing - of how she sang! Who could do a hundred other things the other queens couldn’t even dream of doing.
She had driven Dasharatha’s chariot in a battle.
She, Kaikeyi, did not hear a single one of those whisperings.
Lost in her world of love for the king was she. Lost in her love for her Rama was she.
They said she was ambitious. I felt her only ambitions were to love Rama and Dasharatha and to be loved by them in turn.
It was said that Mother Kausalya and Mother Sumitra secretly resented her and her influence over the king. It was said they felt she owned the king. That she had bewitched him so completely that he was just a puppet in her hands. That she could make him do anything she wished. Just anything.
And then, one day I realized the meaning of those whisperings.
King Dasharatha had called for a meeting of all his important relatives and dependants. I would learn later that he had left out our father King Janaka and the king of Kekaya – Kaikeyi’s father and Bharata’s grandfather. In spite of the fact that none was closer to him in relation than these. And in that meeting he announced his intention to do the abhisheka of Rama as the crown prince.
The abhisheka was to be done the very next day. I wondered why there was such hurry. Then I heard that the king had insisted that the abhisheka should take place before Bharata came back from his uncle’s place. Again I wondered why. I also wondered about the whisperings.
And then a vague memory came to me. Something that I had heard a long time ago and had forgotten. In my early days in Ayodhya - or was it in Mithila? - I had heard a rumour that Dasharatha had married Kaikeyi with a promise to her father that her first-born son would be the heir to his throne.
The throne was Bharata’s by right. That was one of the conditions on which the old king had married the young princess who would be Bharata’s mother. But it was as though everyone had forgotten this. Including Kaikeyi. She never thought for a moment that anyone other than Rama would be the crown prince and the future king.
After all, that Bharata would be king was a promise made before the marriage. When Dasharatha did not have any male children. Kaikeyi’s future son was expected to be Dasharatha’s eldest born male child.
And then all the three queens had become pregnant after the sacrifice. After years of hopelessness. The yearlong life they and the king lived under the strict disciplines imposed by Rishyashringa and the sacrifice performed at the end of it had borne fruit. The gods were pleased.
And then the king did something which I have never been able to understand fully. When time came to distribute the payasa from the sacrifice, Dasharatha gave exactly half of it to Kausalya. The other half he divided into two equal parts, one of which he gave to Sumitra. One-fourth of the payasa was left now - meant for Kaikeyi. Suddenly Dasharatha changes his mind. Instead of giving that one-fourth to Kaikeyi, he divides that again into two equal halves and gives Kaikeyi only one half of it. The other half he takes back to Sumitra and gives her.
Kaikeyi gets one-eighth of the payasa. Had it been divided equally, she would have got one-third.
Kaikeyi was supposed to be the queen the king loved best. She was his youngest wife. The most beautiful. And undoubtedly the most accomplished. Which the king kept telling her again and again. Which the whole palace talked about - adding that Dasharatha was a slave to Kaikeyi.
Yet when it comes to receiving the sacred payasa from the sacrifice, she gets exactly one-eighth of it. Sumitra, one-fourth and one-eight. And Kausalya, exactly half of it.
I never understood why. I still do not understand why.
Or perhaps I do.
In any case I never heard that Kaikeyi complained about it. It was not in her nature to do so.
Her love for Dasharatha was such that in its intoxication she missed many such details.
Playing the games of the palace was not part of her life.
And who knows, she perhaps never discovered the betrayal.
Anyway, soon the queens became pregnant.
And Kausalya gave birth first.
And Kaikeyi forgot all about the precondition of her marriage - the condition her father had imposed on Dasharatha. She loved Rama from the moment of his birth. It was as though she was his true mother, not Kausalya. She adored him.
But obviously everyone had not forgotten.
That is, the promise made to Mother Kaikeyi’s father.
Dasharatha hadn’t forgotten, for instance.
He was in a hurry to crown Rama before Bharata came back.
He said so. ‘The abhisheka should take place while Bharata is still away from the city’, these were his exact words. Then he added that while Bharata was a good brother, devoted to Rama and follows the path of dharma, one could never be sure when people’s minds changed.
No time to lose, he said. Let’s hurry, he said. Let’s have the coronation tomorrow itself.
Tomorrow! The very next day! Everybody was aghast. The abhisheka of a crown prince is not such a simple affair. It requires elaborate preparations. It requires sending invitations across the length and breadth of Aryavarta and beyond its boundaries, which will take months. The whole city, the whole country, has to be decorated. After all, no event is bigger than this. Not even the coronation of the king, in a way of speaking, for that is just a formality, a confirmation of what is done in this abhisheka. This is the event that decides the future king. That gives the right to the throne to one and only one individual. The event that makes him the future ultimate authority and all others his future subjects. Decides the future of the kingdom and its people.
But Dasharatha said no. Let us have it tomorrow itself, he said.
And he sent for Rama to give the news to him. Rama came, listened to the news and went back.
He did not object to the coronation. He did not object to the hurry. He did not object to anything that the king had to say. He just obeyed his father.
Rama - the always obedient son.
Rama did not object to his coronation as crown prince, in spite of knowing full well that the throne was Bharata’s. In spite of knowing full well that the throne had been promised to Bharata - to Kaikeyi’s future firstborn son - at the time of her wedding to the king.
He knew it - because he himself would later tell Bharata as much when Bharata met him in Chitrakoota. ‘Listen, my brother. A long time ago, when our father married your mother he paid your grandfather rajyashulka - he made a promise to your grandfather that her firstborn son would be the future king of Ayodhya.- These were Rama’s exact words to Bharata.
He knew it and he did not object to it. He knew it and he did not object to the hurry. He knew it and he did not say a word when the king told him that the coronation had to take place before Bharata came back.
He did not remind his father that the throne was Bharata’s.
Rama’s friends rushed to give the news to Kausalya. Mother Kausalya and Mother Sumitra went immediately to the shrine to give their thanks to the gods for making this possible.
They did not think of asking Mother Kaikeyi to join them. They did not ask Rama’s friends if they had given the news to Kaikeyi. They did not ask them to do so.
When Rama later came to meet them at the shrine, Kausalya would bless Rama on this great good fortune and say that both Kosala and Sumitra’s land would celebrate this, that her people and Sumitra’s people will be delighted at the news.
Not a word about Kaikeyi. Not a word about celebrations in Kekaya. Not a word about Kaikeyi’s people being delighted.
Obviously, they would not have been. For, they were waiting their Bharata to be anointed as crown prince of Ayodhya once of those days.
And Kausalya claimed that it is because of her prayers and the vratas she had been performing that the throne came to Rama.
Didn’t she mean that otherwise the throne would have gone to someone else?
Kausalya too knew of the promise the king had made at the time of the wedding. She too knew of Bharata’s right to the throne.
And if Kausalya knew, then Sumitra too knew.
Rama had come to Kausalya to give her the news and had there met Sumitra too. He did not go to Kaikeyi to inform her either. Or to seek her blessings.
No one informed Kaikeyi.
And then, later, much later, seeing from the terrace of Kaikeyi’s palace the preparations going on all over the palace and the city, Kaikeyi’s old maid Manthara would ask a servant what was happening. And would learn that these were preparations for the coronation of Rama as yuvaraja. The abhisheka was to take place the very next day.
Manthara would rush to Kaikeyi with the shocking news. But to Kaikeyi no news was happier news. Ecstatic, Kaikeyi would remove one of her priceless ornaments and give it to Manthara for giving her the wonderful news. Manthara would of course fling it on the floor in fury.
Kaikeyi would not listen to a word of what Manthara had to add to the news. Not a word against Rama. Not a word against Dasharatha. Not a word against Kausalya. She would ask Manthara to shut up.
The frustrated woman would be humiliated again and again trying to convince something evil was going on in the palace. That an injustice was being done to her. That an injustice was being done to Bharata.
In the meantime, Kausalya and Sumitra would continue their prayers at the shrine. No enemy should stand in the way of the great fortune coming to Rama. No evil eye should fall on him. No shadow of darkness should fall on his bright future.
They had Kaikeyi in mind - specifically. Kaikeyi the enemy. Kaikeyi’s evil eye. Kaikeyi’s dark shadow.
Kaikeyi who was ecstatic at the news of Rama’s abhisheka. Whose heart was overflowing with love for Rama. Whose heart was pouring out blessings on him.
On Rama who had not gone to Kaikeyi to meet her.
He did not feel the need for it.
Kausalya and Sumitra still prayed to save Rama from the dark shadow while Kaikeyi battled against Manthara.
Eventually, Kaikeyi would go down. Fighting a losing battle over a long, long time, Kaikeyi would eventually fall.
And she would decide to claim the throne for Bharata.
I have no idea what exactly happened when the king finally went to give Kaikeyi the news. It was in the Kopa-bhavana where Kaikeyi had gone in a fury that the king met her and what went inside its chambers remained mostly unknown. But of course palace walls whisper and the whispers had two different versions of what went behind them to say.
One, that she reminded Dasharatha of the promise he had made to her father at the time of the marriage. The promise to make her future firstborn son heir to the throne of Ayodhya.
And the other, that she claimed from the king the two boons that he had promised to her years ago.
I remembered what I had heard of those boons.
Kaikeyi was with Dasharatha in the battlefield. The battle had been fierce. And Dasharatha had been seriously wounded. His charioteer was killed. Enemies were crowding on him from all around. With supreme skill, with skill unheard of in a woman, Kaikeyi drove the chariot through the enemy lines and beyond it, away from it, with the wounded king inside. There, far away, in safety, she cared for him and then, eventually, eluding the eyes of the armies of the enemies, she brought him safely home.
It has been said her only regret at that time was she couldn’t wield Dasharatha’s weapons herself and finish off the work he had left half done.
The king had then offered her two boons. She had said she didn’t need them. His love was enough for her. What did a queen of Dasharatha need boons for, she had said, if she had his love? But he had insisted and she had said, all right, but later.
I have heard that he had offered her other boons. At other times.
In bed. Delighted as he had never been delighted in his life.
I have heard Kaikeyi knew how to make a man happy in bed. As few other women knew. She was a mistress of the arts of Rati. Those sacred arts which could transform the ordinary and the routine to the extraordinary and wonderful. The arts of ecstasy. The arts of rapturous sex. The arts that would help the wingless to fly. The old to be young again. And soar into heights unknown, each height higher than the one before. The art that made every cell in the body rapturous. Created explosion after explosion. Made you feel the sky is within your closed palm. Made you feel you are floating in an ocean of ecstasy. Made you say no to heaven.
Another time was when he was captured in a battle by a border king and Kaikeyi led an army to release him from the enemy.
I have heard he had given her boons then.
She had always said she did not need them.
But on that day she asked him to grant her two boons.
That is what the second version said.
But I didn’t believe this version - this must have been the version spread by her enemies. Because she didn’t need any boons. The throne was Bharata’s.
I believe that Kaikeyi asked for it, asked for the throne for Bharata, angered at the betrayal when she realised it. When she realized the meaning of the hurry to crown Rama as crown prince. When she realized how they had all kept her completely uninformed. And then she must have realized other betrayals. Like the betrayal with the payasa from the sacrifice. Dozens of other betrayals.
She must have asked the king to keep the promise he had made to her father at the time of their marriage.
But, yes, Kaikeyi must have used one of the boons - for sending Rama to the jungle.
At the end of the day king Dasharatha eventually went to Kaikeyi’s palace.
Some said he went there to give her the news of Rama’s abhisheka. Others said he was so charged up by the day’s events he sought Kaikeyi for sex.
In any case, Kaikeyi was not in her chamber. She was in the Kopagriha - where you retired when you were in a fury. The Pratihari told him so, though there was no need - the state he found Kaikeyi’s chamber in was sign enough. The chamber that had always so heartily welcomed him rejected him on that day. The always spotless room was a mess.
In the Kopagriha the king clung to her feet. He told her he had already made the public announcement, what could he do now? He spoke of his humiliation. And then he cursed her.
A string of abusive words attacked her.
In the madness of his anger the king would give Kaikeyi up. Disown her. He would say she was no wife of his. I give you up this instant - he would say. He would say that when he died she would be denied the rights of a wife - she would not be allowed to offer him jalanjali.
And along with her, he would disown Bharata, too. For no fault of his. He would disown Bharata who was ignorant of the whole affair. Bharata who had long been away at his grandfather’s, at Kekaya. As though Bharata was only Kaikeyi’s son. As though he was not his son, too.
I wonder if the king would have been in such a hurry to disown Rama if he had been angry with Kausalya.
He cursed Kaikeyi calling her by evil names by the score.
And the next moment he begged her calling her a goddess and his heartthrob.
And then he cursed her again.
But Kaikeyi had made up her mind.
Eventually the decision was made known. To Rama. By Kaikeyi. In the presence of Dasharatha. Bharata would be crowned. Rama would go the jungle for fourteen years.
Sita decided to go with him.
She should have. She did right.
You, Lakshmana, too decided to go with him.
Should you have? I don’t know.
Would I have let you go? I don’t know.
Would I have insisted that I too come with you, just as Sita insisted on going with Rama? I don’t know.
All I know is that Rama went to Sita to give her the news of the change in the plans, just as he had earlier gone to give her the news of the abhisheka. And she insisted on going with him.
You, Lakshmana, never came to me.
You left for the jungle without a word to me.
You did not think it necessary to tell me a word before you abandoned me for fourteen years, to follow your brother to the jungle.
Not one word, Lakshmana.
Not one word.
So this is not the first time, Lakshmana.
This is not the first time you left me without a word when you walked away from life leaving me abandoned.
When you walked towards the Sarayu to end your life, without a word to me, it was not the first time.
But that time I stayed back in Ayodhya to wait for you. To wait for your coming back after fourteen years.
What shall I wait for now, Lakshmana?
I hear tomorrow morning Rama is taking the entire Ayodhya to the Sarayu. There will be a mass suicide there, so that all Ayodhya could go to the worlds he is going to.
The entire population of Ayodhya would commit mass suicide tomorrow morning.
But I shall not be with that crowd. I shall not be in that crowd
Tonight, while others wait for the morn, I shall walk alone to the Sarayu. There, I shall light a pyre. I know I’ll have to do it by myself. When Sita wanted a pyre made in Lanka, she asked you to do it. She said, prepare a pyre for me, Lakshmana. And you did it. But in my case I will have to do it by myself. I shall do that.
Sita entered fire to prove her purity. But I am entering fire not to prove anything. I do not want to come out of the fire unscathed. I just want to annihilate myself.
Urmila has nothing to prove. And no one to prove it to. She just wants to end her life.
Tonight shall be my last night on this earth, Lakshmana. And hopefully the last night of loneliness. The last night of rejection. Of abandonment. Of longings.
Everything shall end tonight.
As the Sarayu flows by silently.
The Sarayu flows silently tonight, Lakshmana.
Very, very silently.
And tonight shall be the end of Urmila.
Everything shall end tonight for Urmila.
With my own hands I shall prepare my funeral pyre. And, with no one watching, I shall walk into it.
I know no god will come carrying me in his hands out of it. But that is all right with me. I am only Urmila. I am not Rama’s wife - I am the wife of a slave of his. Of a mere slave of Rama’s.
I hope the winds will scatter my ashes in all directions so that not even the remnants of the pyre shall contain anything of me.
I will do that. Tonight. After Ayodhya has slept.
But before that, Lakshmana, I have one or two things to tell you.
One or two things I have long wanted to tell you but couldn’t because you were not available to listen to them.
One thing: I have heard that you, with Rama, built a raft for crossing the Yamuna on your way to Chitrakoota and then you built a seat for Sita on it while Sita sat watching you both at work. I wish I had been there to see it. I wish it had been me who had sat watching you building that raft and that seat.
I always admired your body - the way your tight muscles moved knotting and unknotting themselves. Do you know that I have many times watched you as you bent a bow or climbed into a chariot or did something that brought your muscles into play? Though I could never see you in the battlefield, I have heard you were wonderful there. I have heard that apart from being a superb archer, you were also equally gifted as a swordsman. I wish I could have watched you at these.
I have watched you practising, though. Quietly slipping into places forbidden for us women, I have watched as you practised the bow and the sword. I have watched you as you practised the mace and the spear. I have watched you as you tamed wild horses. And as I watched I have felt thrills running down my spine again and again.
You excelled in all of these, Lakshmana.
And as I watched, Lakshmana, I wished I could be to you what Kaikeyi was to Dasharatha - an equal partner, equally fearless, equally daring. They say I’m as beautiful as Kaikeyi was in her younger days. How I wish you had taken me into battlefields with you! How I wish I had driven your chariot as you fought the enemies! One of my fantasies had been that you were wounded in the battle - the gods forgive me for such a thought - and were surrounded by powerful enemies and I drove you to safety from among them.
Speaking of that there are other fantasies in which I’d like to substitute myself for Kaikeyi and you for Dasharatha. But these are forbidden fantasies. At least forbidden for a daughter-in-law to think about her parents-in-law.
Be that as it may. But I’d certainly have loved to sit and watch you worked at that raft. Sit and watch as the raft took shape as your expert arms worked at it. Sit and watch while you cut down branches from a tree from the jungle and with your own hands, built a seat on it. I’d have loved to watch your muscles rippling as you raised and lowered the axe, watch the woodchips flying in all directions as the axe fell on the wood with all your strength behind it. I’d have loved to sit and watch as you tied twigs and branches together to make that seat.
I’d have loved that.
And didn’t you build a hermitage for Sita and Rama in Chitrakoota? I wish you had built one for me, too, Lakshmana. For me and you. That hermitage would have given a thousand times more, nay, a hundred thousand times more joy to me than the palace at Ayodhya ever gave.
And as you built it, as you cut down trees and cut them into smaller pieces, as you gathered twigs and leaves and grass, I’d have loved to sit and watch you. I’d have loved to watch the miracle of a new dwelling coming into being in your expert hands - the trees of the jungle, their branches and twigs and leaves, with vines and grass gathered from the jungle, being transformed into a house for people to live in. For you and me to live in.
I would have loved to do that.
Did you know that I too was a tree waiting for your touch to transform it? To transform it into- I don’t know, maybe a small dwelling on a riverbank, a beautiful chariot, or just that raft. Or maybe I was a tree waiting for that magical touch of yours so that my soul which is really a tree nymph could come out and spread her wings that had not been spread for ages. A nymph imprisoned in a tree by an evil yaksha waiting to be released by your touch.
Oh, how I’d have loved to stand just behind the gate of our cottage, waiting for you to come back from your hunting with a deer on your shoulders! And to cook that deer for you as you reclined watching me with loving eyes!
I’d have loved to roam the jungle with you, Lakshmana. To chase each other among its trees, to swim in its streams, to bathe in its waterfalls- To dig up roots and tubers from its soil, to pluck fruits from it bushes and trees and to explore its caves, holding your arm tightly as my whole body shivered in excitement and fear. Maybe, we would have walked into a magic land on the other side where everything was made of pure ecstasy. And maybe there, surrounded by so much beauty, you’d have lain on your back in a meadow and pulled me down onto you and then, rolling me over, make wild, passionate love to me.
I would have loved to hear you laughing then. Laughing forgetting yourself.
One of my desires had been to see you laugh, Lakshmana. See you let go of yourself and laugh. Once. Just once. And I wanted you to make me laugh with you, Lakshmana. Once. Just once. Make me laugh forgetting myself. Forgetting the world. Becoming the laughter. Once. Just once, Lakshmana. But you were always wound up. You could never let go. Never let go of yourself. Lest you fail your god in some way. In some way unknown even to yourself.
There is something sinister about people who can’t laugh.
Perhaps you would have laughed there. On that meadow.
A million dreams, Lakshmana, that were never to be. A million ordinary dreams. A million every young woman's dreams.
And there are things I wouldn’t have you done, too, Lakshmana. Other things, apart from that you hadn’t abandoned me so.
I wish you had gone to Sita to bring her to Rama at the end of the war after Ravana had been killed.
She had heard the news of Ravana’s death. The war had ended. And she waited for her Rama. Now there was nothing to keep her away from her Rama. From her Rama whom she loved so. Her Rama who loved her so. Who could not keep himself away from her even for a moment.
Sita waited breathlessly for her Rama in Ashokavatika.
Wondering every moment what was keeping him away from her. Now there was nothing between her and her Rama.
And she would learn that Rama was busy with preparations for Ravana’s funeral.
Couldn’t that have waited? Couldn’t he have come to her first? A whole year. She had been waiting a whole year.
A dread began gnawing at her heart. A nameless dread. Dreading, she waited.
And then she learnt the funeral was over.
Still he didn’t come.
He was busy preparing for Vibheeshana’s coronation.
Coronation? That would take ages. Couldn’t he have come to her first?
Poor Sita, Lakshmana. She didn’t know her Rama. She didn’t know him at all.
And then the coronation was over. While Sita waited for her Rama to go to her.
And then eventually it was Hanuman who went to her.
Not Rama, but Hanuman.
Of course she knew Hanuman. She loved Hanuman. His visit had been the only happy incident of her yearlong ordeal in Lanka. He had brought her hope. And with that, strength.
But sending him now? She had hoped Rama wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to go to her even for one moment. She knew how deeply he loved her. Knew how terribly he must have suffered. Knew how he had looked forward to this moment.
And yet it was not he who had gone.
Not even you, Lakshmana.
Not even you, Lakshmana. I still remember how much sadness was in her eyes as she told me that.
For all her love and respect for Hanuman, he was not family.
You were Rama’s brother. She could have understood your going. But Hanuman!
And then she learnt that he hadn’t gone to her to take her to Rama. He had gone with a message. Hanuman was only a messenger. Instead of Rama, what had come was a message. Just a message.
A million thoughts rose up in Sita’s mind as she looked at Hanuman standing before her with joined palms. A million thoughts and a million emotions. And a million memories.
Overpowered, she remained silent.
Rama’s message was brief and clear. Rama was always clear and precise. The message informed her of the recent events. It told her he had fulfilled his vow to save her from Ravana’s clutches. Told her that she should no more fear in Lanka - that she was in her own house now. And told her that Vibheeshana, filled with joy, was coming to see her.
But it was not Vibheeshana that she wanted to see. It was Rama that she wanted to see.
Why was he not going to her?
The dread had a clear shape now. A very clear shape. A very clear, dark shape.
And then, later, Vibheeshana went to her.
And told her that she should have a bath, wear fine clothes, have all the alankaras, ornaments, and then go to Rama with him.
But she wanted to go to Rama as she was. The bath could wait. Fine clothes could wait. Alankaras could wait. Ornaments could wait. She wanted to go to Rama.
Vibheeshana told her Rama’s instructions were clear. He wouldn’t take her to Rama until she had complied with his orders. A woman should obey her husband’s orders - he told her.
And she did.
Weeping. Weeping silently, weeping tearlessly, weeping all along.
And then, when she went to him, he rejected her.
You know that, Lakshmana. When Sita went to Rama, he rejected her.
I wish you hadn’t so obediently prepared a chita for Sita when she asked you to. I know you were not obeying her but Rama’s iron will, his unspoken words, which were always inviolable commands for you.
There was nothing Sita needed to prove. Her mind had always been centred on Rama. Not once did she waver from it.
True, Sita’s body had been touched by Ravana, but he had just touched her to carry her off. After that, once she was in Lanka, Ravana had never touched her.
And the scriptures say, the wise men say, that even if a woman has been raped by a man she becomes pure after a month.
A woman’s body is purified every month.
But you obeyed the unspoken command of Rama and prepared a pyre for her.
Perhaps, Lakshmana, you could have prepared that chita for Rama instead. Or maybe you should have. What was it he told my sister? My sister who had lived only on the strength of her love for him, whose every single breath was meaningful because she breathed them in the hope of one day uniting with her Rama? ‘I didn’t do these things for you, Sita. I did not wage the war for you. I did it for the glory of the Raghus - so that their name remains unblemished. Now, Sita, the honour of the Ikshwakus has been vindicated. And you are free. Free as the wind. Free to go where you like. Free to do what you want. I have no need for you anymore, Vaidehi. Go where you wish. Want to go with Vibheeshana? Go with him. He is now the king of Lanka. Want to go with Sugreeva? He is the lord of Kishkindha. Go with him then. Or go with Lakshmana, if that is what you want. Or with Bharata. With whoever you wish. Wherever you wish. But as for me, I do not find you fit for me. I will have nothing more to do with you.’
Cruel words. Cruellest of words.
Didn’t he say that, Lakshmana? And can you think of anything more shameful than that, Lakshmana?