The author recounts the days she spent at Vrindavan
I had reached Vrindavan — the abode of the gods — in the hope that the place would heal my bleeding heart. I was trying to come to terms with the sudden death of my husband Madhu. But I was yet to overcome the pain.
I then realised that I could drown my sorrow in my work. It was the perfect balm for an injured soul. So I started to look for work, if that was what would relieve me of the agony I was going through.
For some strange reason, I started with tantra, a subject I tried to study. But it was only for a short while. I soon found my calling in the Ramayan, one of the most magnificent Indian literary creations, which will never cease to amaze me. Strange as it may sound, my fascination for the Ramayan grew after meeting a Jesuit priest from Belgium, Fr Kamill Bulcke, who was also a professor at St Xavier’s College, Ranchi.
He was close to 70 at the time but held his lean and tall frame upright. The most extraordinary aspect of his appearance was his eyes. Set on a bearded face, those eyes were of the deepest blue and captivated anyone he looked at.
But what struck me about the man was his monumental knowledge about the Ramayan and the Indian civilisation. It was he who sparked my interest in Valmiki’s epic and propped it up with information about subsequent interpolations by unknown authors.
Some other works related to the Ramayan attracted me too — the Ram Charit Manas and poems on Sita’s travails written by Mollah Mesiah during Mughal emperor Jahangir’s reign.
I found myself being increasingly drawn to the beauty of the epic; and it was something I had never even dreamt of. Never had I thought that the Ramayan would take over my life and my very soul.
But that part came a little later.
There I was at Vrindavan, all alone, trying to sort out my life. I was virtually on the streets of the holy city; walking everywhere, yet going nowhere.
The place where I was staying was near the famous Gopinath Temple, built during the reign of Akbar.
The Gopinath market, too, was close by. But my interest lay in the hutments, where the widows lived out their days.
Those were heart-rending scenes. The condition of those women was so pathetic that I died a thousand deaths everyday. That was Vrindavan 30 years ago.
Close to where I stayed, around 10 widows lived together. The colour of their skeleton-like bodies was that of old earthen pots. Some did not even have the strength to walk, and crawled from one place to other. From time to time their shrill cries of pain rent the air.
But one incident is still fresh in my mind — as if I had seen it only yesterday.
One day, as I was on my daily aimless walk, my eyes fell on what appeared to be a heap of tattered clothes by the wayside. A woman — her body no more than a few bones — lay amidst the rags. Around her lay her earthly possessions — a few broken utensils, a worn out steel trunk, and a portion of a moth-eaten blanket.
I asked one of the Radheswamis — widows who earned their living by singing bhajans — about the woman on the street. “Why is she lying there' What happened'” I enquired.
Pat came the reply, “She has not paid the rent for her room for the past two months. So the owner threw her out today. That’s how it is here. Nobody cares about anybody”.
I saw the worst of humanity in Vrindavan, too. The place of God also has a dark side.