My story has already been told. Not just by me. But this woman is persistent.
We have to tell people your story again, she insists. I ask why? She says because you have given a legacy worth preserving. Your poetry has proved seminal in its creativity, memorable in its artistry, inspirational in its devotion. Your life story fascinates with its subtext of miracles. The world has grown smaller because people of our subcontinent are spread around the globe now. They will find your story fresh and stimulating.
She claims our people have forgotten how to read my work six hundred years later than my time. They don’t read the original with attention. Lots of people sing my songs, mostly the comforting ones and some of the more spiritual, philosophical ones. Those that do read with attention argue about which of the songs are truly mine and which ones others wrote in my style or about me. Others just talk about how brilliant I was to create such wonderful works that inspired so many to imitate me and retell my stories. People quote my lines and say he is indeed a divine poet, divinely inspired. When people tell my story now most of the time they only talk about the miracles. Krishna came to save me so many different times. How good I must have been to be blessed. I am now only a saint-poet, or is it poet-saint?
We can’t allow that. Can we? I think some of those other songs tell so much more about you. What about this one?
What good karma flows from my past that I am born a woman,
And God Himself courts my favors?
Immortal, inexpressible, beyond understanding,
the Lotus Lord clings to me.
Performing rituals, meditation, penance precisely,
Hari comes not even in a dream.
That same Hari appears most easily,
When sought with devoted passion.
Shesh Nag’s comfortable cradle we gain
In the heavenly palace, for our pain.
Greater than that is my temple; adoringly the
Yellow-Garbed One comes to my bed.
The vedic puranic scriptures declare
Proclaim him devotee lover. I say
Well met are You, Narsinh’s Lord,
Granting me grace, knowing me frail.
As a paean to womanhood, I think just that first line is pretty amazing. The way you capture the satisfied woman’s sense of fulfillment seems like you have literally felt that emotion.
I always wrote from the moment, I admit it.
You mean you experienced that love fulfillment yourself?
Listen, in Vrindavan, color, rhythm, music, and dancing ruled the scene illuminated with torches as Krishna seemed to dance with every single person there exclusively. Each milkmaid thought he was hers alone. Every man there felt he was a milkmaid dancing with the one beloved.
Tell me how that came about.
Bhabhi was upset with me. Here was my pregnant wife, Manek. I was not a child any more. Fatherhood was looming again and it looked like I had no thought about taking responsibility for my family’s welfare. Did I have no shame?
Her words stung me. I immediately turned around and left the house, the neighborhood, and the village. I kept walking through the jungle till I ended up at some small ruined temple to Shiva, our household God. I decided that I would stay there and pray to Shiva without food or water till he helped me solve my problem. Seven days passed by. Then the blue-necked, snake-garlanded, crescent-moon-crowned Shiva appeared to me, clad in leopard skin with the sacred Ganga flowing from his dreadlocks.
He asked me what I wanted. Can you imagine? The chance of a lifetime and I forget my purpose and ask for what he himself, that mountain-dwelling, cemetery-habitué loved best! Delirious and weak with fasting, I must have been close to hallucinating. That’s my only excuse.
But I was lucky. Shiva, the embodiment of asceticism, chose to share Vishnu’s earthy, joyous lifestyle as Krishna, ensconced in the kingdom of Dwarka on our western shores. So he took me there. At the wondrously splendid court of Krishna, he was surrounded by brilliant, gorgeous queens and accomplished ministers. Everyone immediately bowed to Shiva for though he rarely appears in the mortal world, he ultimately takes the responsibility for clean-sweeping this world with his powerful dance of destruction whenever evil is out of total control. His tandava dance is the origin of all dances.
He told Krishna I was a devotee who wanted to share joy in the world as Krishna alone could achieve it.
Show him around. He might really like your raaslila in Vrindavan.
Then he vanished.
Hard to believe isn’t it?
As if that was not enough, the next thing I know is that I am at Vrindavan and the raaslila is in full swing. Now you know that Krishna grew up in that area, in Gokul village. He charmed all the milkmaids and cowherds, totally mesmerized his foster mother, Yashoda, stole Radha’s heart, much butter and yogurt and anything else he could lay his hands on. I have told those stories in so many poems.
In fact all I did for the rest of my life was to sing songs of his adventures.
Well, all things come to an end. So did my visit with Krishna. I am not sure that Krishna made any promises to me. I certainly had no riches. All I wanted to do was sing and tell people of my wondrous experience. So I did. And you know, people seemed to enjoy it. Spontaneously they offered money and gifts in appreciation. Some group of pilgrims returning towards my hometown invited me to join them. They must have clothed and fed me on the journey as I entertained them with my songs.
Such pilgrimages were taking place at the same time in other parts of the world too. A famous pilgrimage that a poet named Geoffrey Chaucer sang about is called The Canterbury Tales. A group was traveling to the shrine of Canterbury and he said he heard some of the best, funniest, clever, naughty, and serious stories, just like the people themselves.
I remember more the time when people kept pestering me to explain how soon after my second child, a daughter, was born, I no longer had to go through life as a young man living on the hard-earned income of his brother. My songs attracted a genuinely interested and large enough audience. Their offerings allowed me to provide sustenance to my little family. But, you see, I was not following tradition. We are scholars of the priestly arts but we do not perform ceremonies for payment as other Brahmins do. That is why so many of my community worked as farmers, accountants, administrators, even warriors and businessmen.
For my brother and his wife and for other respectable members of our community, I was a disgrace. What I did seemed too close to begging in their eyes. I should be ashamed they thought. They were certainly ashamed of me. They were reluctant to acknowledge me as kin. I could not blame them.
My life’s work is to sing about Krishna. That’s what I do.