Radha Krishna – The Timeless Love Story
“Vasude vasutum devum,” Radha clamped her eyes closed, lacing her fingers together to say her goodnight prayers. Her small wooden cot sat near the open window, her dark locks harmonizing with the winter wind and welcoming the sweet melodies of the koels chirped on the banyan tree outside. The streets were quiet, other than the occasional yell of the ghandu men stumbling outside who her mother told her to stay away from - cover her face with her dupatta, look down and come straight home. Just as she finished thanking Lord Krishna for the day, she quickly jumped out of bed, stepped to the front wall of her room and placed her forehead against it. “Krishna bhagvan, please let Ma come back tomorrow,” Radha whispered to the back of the temple in front of her house.
The Krishna Temple of Mandvi, Kuchh was the pride and joy of Radha’s family; her father was a priest who lead the best aarti’s in all of Mandvi, her mother tailored and dressed Krishna, and Radha was responsible for cleaning and offering the devotees mithai as they left the temple.. At five a.m. every morning, Radha would run to the temple and pray before sweeping the floors and opening the doors for people to enter. Sometimes, when Radha couldn’t hold herself back, she would stuff some moduks in her mouth, letting their warm sweetness dissolve on her tongue. Between aartis she would finish cleaning as fast as she could and then lay on the temple floor reading the Mahabharatas, losing herself in the mischievous tales of Lord Krishna and Gopi Radha. Her mother would always take the book away from Radha at bedtime because she could spend all night reading about the Mahabharata wars. Then, her mother would lay Radha’s head onto her lap and plait her wild curls into braids while telling Radha a bedtime story about how Krishna got caught stealing kheer from his mother’s ceiling and when his mother asked him to open his mouth, she saw the entire milky way.
Radha kicked her dupatta off her and groaned. Her stomach ached and she wished her mother was here to tell her the story of how Gopi Radha and Lord Krishna fell in love. For a few days every month, Radha’s mother would disappear. “You’ll know soon beta,” her mother would tsk when Radha asked her where she went and why. Radha never knew when she would leave or when she would come back. She would wake up in the morning to see her mother gone and wish for her to come back tomorrow every day. She sighed, curling into a ball and squeezing her tummy. The koels still cooed outside her window, she could see a sliver of the sky between the banyan tree, stars sparkling down at her. She wished she could be part of the sky, be one of the stars floating jollily above everyone’s head, a part of Krishna’s milky way.
Radha awoke with an excruciating pain in her stomach. Koels screeched outside, welcoming the morning sun. She opened the blinds, and sat up slowly. “Ma!” she screamed, her kurta and sheets were stained red. Her mother rushed into the room, taking in the blood spreading on Radha’s legs. “Come with me beta,” her mother’s bangled hand clasped Radha’s, pulling her out of the room, into the living room, out of the house and into the street.
“But Ma, I’m still in my night chunni and haven’t even said my prayers,” Radha said as her mother pulled her down the street, around the corner and into a small shed. “Why are we going to say hi to Dhoti now? Does she need milking?”
“No beta,” her mother said, leading her to the back of the stable where a mattress and pillow lay on a pile of hay, “Sit.” Radha did as she was told as her mother pulled out a pot of soil. “Put this on your underwear to soak up the blood.” Her mother crouched near her, helping her daughter finally become a woman. “Look, beta, now you’re no longer a little girl, you’ve become a woman. You are bleeding and that means that now you are a woman. You will bleed every month. This is why I leave every month. You will stay here until you are finished bleeding.”
“But Ma, what about the temple?”
“You mustn’t go to the temple Radha.”
“Because you are not clean now,” her mother patted the top of her head, “Don’t ask too many questions now, it isn’t polite. You are a woman now and you must be polite to get married.”
Radha spent five days in the shack, sleeping on the mattress near the cow. She missed the koels singing her sweet songs, she missed the banyan tree and the stars shining down on her, she missed her books, but most importantly she missed the temple. She still prayed every night but she couldn’t touch the wall to wish for things. Instead, she pleaded to Lord Krishna to let her be clean again. Finally the bleeding stopped, her mother came by to give her food that morning and Radha was ecstatic to go home and go to the temple.
As soon as they saw the temple in site, Radha had to control the urge to run all the way back since she was a woman now. Her mother lead her back to her room. “Can I go to the temple now?” Radha couldn’t contain her excitement.
“Not yet, beta, we have visitors. Here, put this on.” She slid gold bangles onto Radha’s wrist. “And put on your Diwali salwaar and tikka.” Radha pulled on her red kurta, confused why she had to dress up to meet someone – probably other priests from other villages. She put on her tikka as her mother braided her back. “Take some kajal, you are old enough now.” Her mother put the black eyeliner underneath her eye. “There, you look like a real woman now. Come downstairs, there are people waiting for us, and bring some chai.”
Radha was so focused on not spilling the chai, she did not notice the person sitting on the sofa. “This is Mr. Krishna,” her father boomed, as she set the tray down.
She looked up at the middle aged man, his hair was oiled back, he wore heavy glasses that didn’t sit quiet right on his long nose, his lips were curled into a yellow-toothed smile and a mole sat on his upper lip, dancing around as he spoke, “Hello.”
“Radha,” her dad began, “Meet you new husband. You will go with him to his house now.”
“No questions, Radha,” her mother whispered in her ear.
She nodded. She went upstairs to pack her things. As she returned, she saw the man give her father a brown envelope.
As they drove away from the house into the next village, Radha said a silent goodbye to Lord Krishna. Mr. Krishna lived in a big house in the city. He showed her where they slept. Her mother had warned her about what men wanted the night of the marriage.
There were no koels in the city – only crows. There was no banyan tree – only skyscrapers. There was no milky way – only clouds of pollution. There was no Lord Krishna – only the ghandu she had married.
After that night, Radha was sure she would never be clean again.