A unique kinship structure and its various manifestations central to the subcontinent’s culture is the storied, mythic, sometimes unfortunately actually real, relationship of the in-laws to the married couple. As in the western countries, but not at all as strong, is a degree of discomfort experienced by the groom or husband from his mother-in-law. In most cases it takes the form of excessive courtesy and attention which can overwhelm and smother the man. Much more significant is the mother-in-law of the bride or wife. Stereotypically, she pretty much rules the newcomer in work, dress, behavior, actions. Equally as controlling in a strangely jealous mode is the sister of the groom, who thinks she has the right to interfere and influence this newcomer regardless of her own age or ability. The fathers-in-law tend to be remote and forbidding but not much in evidence at all.
Narsinh Mehta portrays the lives of the milkmaids of Gokul village complete with these social constraints. For him the constraints are worldly encumbrances that the true love of the Lord easily negates. However, he illustrates vividly the actual experience of the woman faced with the issue of loving someone not her husband. [more on this below]
In this poem, he also focuses on the idea that Krishna in Gokul was a little boy and those that played with him were young too. This glimpse into child-marriage takes on additional layers of meanings but Mehta’s message stays on-center and very clear. When you love his Lord, you cannot have any constraints and are truly as innocent and pure as a child.
Narsinh’s Lord, નારસિયાચો સ્વામી, is Krishna. With a figure as vividly alive today as in the past seven to ten centuries and with the infinite number of his images, , traits, actions, meanings, significances, associations, wisdom, and personality, my choice is to talk about him in segments that deal with the individual poem. Telling the story of Krishna has been done and will be done again. I will do so myself at some point. But here let’s keep to the task at hand.
The Krishna story tells of his growing up in the village of Gokul near Mathura on the banks of the river Yamuna or Jamuna. As the son of a leading cowherd, he enjoys some special privileges. But he also takes privileges on his own account. He is a ringleader in playing with the cowherd boys and milkmaid girls. His habit of distracting the local youth so that they forgot their normal chores is legendary. From the perspective of one such young milk maid, already contracted in marriage, Mehta shows the simple protestations of a child caught in a dilemma. On the cusp of adolescence, the young girl knows enough to say that she won’t give him a favor until he gives her one. But then, with childlike frankness she says, she’ll respond with all her heart. Mehta’s editorial, “Lovely women freely run to meet such a lover,” slips in easily between the girl’s statements. Making Krishna voice the last stanza, Mehta ably illustrates the separation of the divine from the mortal and material.