Her fingers danced nimbly on the wet sand and she looked down upon the result. Funny how those few squiggles could hold her captive, as once again she sat entranced at the sight of his name. That feeling was as fresh as ever even after all these years. As fresh as the strange feelings that awoke in her the first time she saw him, striding by the waves.
He had seemed lost, looking for something or someone. His eyes wore a haunted look, muddled, wild and stormy as the seas on a full moon night. Something just broke in her that day when he came to a standstill in front of her and stared into her eyes. It seemed like all the torture in the world came to roost in those eyes. Pain, inexplicable and unbearable was etched into every pore of his being.
“Are you alright?” she asked the stranger as she held her hand out to smooth that brow.
She couldn’t understand why, but she had to. He flinched away as if her hands were burning coals. Later, much later he would let her smooth away the deep furrows on his brow as he told her of the horror he carried within his tortured self. The terrible memories that haunted him, of his beautiful wife – fiery, proud and passionate – who had thrown herself into the fire out of humiliation. Humiliation at the hands of her own father, for having married a vagabond. He could never forgive himself for having sent her to her death.
He rued his last words to her, “Go if you must. But don’t come back to me if he humiliates you!”
Like always, his words proved true. She had been humiliated and she had been too proud to go back to him. He had stormed and he had raged and try as they could, no one could douse his fury. Unable to endure the wrath of his blazing anger and towering pain anymore, everyone slowly left him for it seemed to be solitude that he craved; to grieve his loss in his own way. And crazed with sorrow, he had started his wanderings again. From the cold cold climes of his mountain abode, he had come down to the seas, past the great plains, the vast desert and the blue mountains. And everywhere he passed, he had left his mark. Those who had met him once could never forget him. Such was the aura of power that clung to him.
And finally, it was like some power had drawn him to the seas. A voice kept calling out to him and he had walked in its direction and did not stop till there was no more land for him to walk further. And as he stood with the waves thrashing against his strong legs, he actually heard that voice, no longer disembodied, asking him, “Are you alright?”
He just stared, puzzled by the intensity of those eyes as deep as the sea, set in that luminous face that looked up at him. Then with a toss of his unruly mane, he turned away, unable to face the concern in those eyes. It took a while before he would speak to her, but he never left the place. He made his home a short distance away from hers and slowly but surely, the two of them set off on a journey of love such as never seen on heaven or earth. They loved with a passion that was beyond passion, all consuming, powerful and all encompassing in its own absoluteness. It was like the whole land celebrated their love as the seas raced to touch their feet and the winds embraced them, all in the hope that some of that love would rub off on them. The sun seemed to shine from her smile and the very pulse of life seemed to emanate from him in a steady beat.
But theirs was a love not meant to be. On the day they were to be wed, as she anxiously awaited her groom, word came to her that he had gone back. Back to where he had come from, just like that, with no word or explanation, as a cruel destiny charted out for them was set into play.
For a while, their lines had run along each other. But they were never meant to meet. And that was what came to be. And so the years passed.
But deep within her, the emptiness always remained. The emptiness of the soul. She wondered if it was retribution for what her brother had done. He too had loved a woman. Loved her and left her to a life of loneliness while he went on to conquer hearts and minds. His ladylove meanwhile still pined away in the woods, ears straining to catch the melody of his flute, on the banks of the soulful river where he had loved her. And on moonlit nights, her joyful laughter and louder sighs could still be heard, echoing from long lost nights abandoned to love.
And here she pined away by the sea, seeking something over the horizons. Waiting, waiting for someone she knew would never come back to her. The waves that travelled from the west told her about his majestic house that stood by the sea and how he had saved the cursed moon god from fading away into nothingness. In gratitude, he had built him a house of beaten gold. And on the full moon night in the month of Chitra every year, the moon god himself came to see her, carrying news of her lord. He swelled with pride and glowed golden as he narrated to her the glory of her beloved and how he, the moon himself, had sworn to adorn those rebellious locks for eternity.
The winds that blew in from the cold north, from his favorite abode up on the snowy peaks told her about his marriage to the daughter of the mountain king. Told her about the tales of how, powerless to fulfill his promises to her, he had gone back to his days as a yogi, and how the lovely, golden skinned daughter of the mountain king had served him with love till he opened his eyes to her devotion and finally wed her on the mountain tops, in a joyful celebration in which all the worlds joined. The whole of creation had rushed to witness the marriage, to behold the scene that was the sight of sights, eventually setting askew the very balance of the universe.
The short yet powerful sage Agasthya, had been finally called in to stem further damage and he was sent, down south, to singlehandedly restore balance. For his efforts, he was rewarded with the blessed vision of the divine marriage, which he alone got to enjoy from where he was, down south.
He had called out to her, “Come behold the great wedding with me. This is not a sight you see every day!” But she had declined. How could she watch him become another’s?
“Maybe it is the dark tone of my skin,” she wondered at unguarded moments as she gazed down at the glowing honeyed tint of her arms.
“She is as fair as the purest snows on the northern mountains, with lips as red as the prized roses that grew in the valleys of her father’s realms.”
But when the hot winds blowing in from the arid eastern interiors told her that he dwelt in the City of Temples with his beloved who had transformed into a dusky beauty with luminous fish like eyes, for her handsome lord, she couldn’t help but wonder.
On nights of the crescent moon, she sat on the well-worn rock where they had once sat amid howling winds and looming clouds. In the deep stillness of the night, in the stillness only unbearable pain can bring, she listened to the waves crashing mercilessly along her shores.
One such night, he had carelessly brushed away a lock of her hair that quivered in the wind and had climbed up her face looking for solace. His rough fingers brushed against her cheek and she felt the whole world come to a standstill at the tip of his fingers that met her cheek. Her heart flung itself deep down into some bottomless pit beyond her abdomen.
He sensed the change in her.
“What is it my love?” came his voice as soft as smoke and searing like fire.
“Nothing,” she tried telling him. Only, her voice had followed that treacherous heart down its plunging path.
Some part of her was grateful for the darkness that offered her some protection from the intensity of his smoldering gaze.
He drew her to him. She felt the hair on his chest grazing against her silken skin and found herself irrationally thinking how much softer it felt than she had expected. His scratchy stubble prickled on her cheek.
He fingered her nose ring that caught a stray moonbeam that glinted off it and transformed it into a thousand stars.
“You shouldn’t be allowed to walk around wearing this,” he gently brushed his lips against the tip of her nose. They felt dry and cool, with a hint of the saline air.
“You could wreck a ship with it on a stormy night. Some poor boatman’s going to think it’s a beacon on a harbor.”
His long fingers gently pulled at her ear lobe.
Suddenly the sky was cleaved by a sharp blade of light. Startled she drew away and looked up in alarm. Lightning streamed from a dark cloud, which ominously looked like an elephant, with its rider brandishing a sword of light. She jumped up and brushed away the sand on her clothes.
“I should be going.”
He pulled her back. “No, stay with me. Please.” She wondered how even a plea could carry so much command.
But the moment had passed.
“No…” and she was gone.
Her reverie was interrupted by someone calling out his name. It was a young mother calling out to her son who was running towards the waves as fast as his short stubby legs would carry him. It rang through her like a shot of steel. It never got old. The way everything stood still within her to hear his name being called out. The mother soon caught up with her son and smothered him in rebuke and kisses.
Smiling to herself, she turned away to her thoughts once more.
The pain of that cold, early morning came back to her. And the sound of the rooster’s crow that pierced her heart, like a burning shaft. He had left her then, turning back halfway, while on his way to the great hall where they were to be wed. If they were to get married, it had to be on that day and before dawn. With the crow of the rooster, the auspicious hour had passed, and there was no going back.
She was devastated. She had raged and she had grieved and all creation stood mute before the might of her fury and grief, waiting for her to realize the purpose of her birth. It came to her, as she stood on the rock by the sea. She stood there motionless for such a long time that it seemed like the rock itself had been carved to form her foot. And as she stood there deep in meditation, waiting and hoping that he would come back to her, she suddenly became aware of her purpose in life. It all came to her in a momentary vision, as clear as the cloudless skies.
Her existence had been carved drawing upon the essence of every force of Nature and each God had bestowed his power on her. In her, arms surged the strength of the thunderstorm and in her eyes, the flash of lightning. Her intellect as brilliant as the sun and through her veins coursed the roaring seas. She bore her destiny like the earth and deep within her burned the fire of fiery passions – righteous anger, enduring tenderness, infinite mercy and brimming love. She was Shakthi – the Power, the Mother.
Her Karma lay waiting for her and she was here to protect. She was here to destroy the evil Asura Bana – the demon that only a virgin could slay. As she came to terms with her destiny, the storm raging in her calmed down. Her mind was as clear as the placid ocean that stretched before her and in her formed a steely resolve.
Her love and her loss only seemed to give her more power, as she finally understood why her love had been thwarted. She was duty bound to help her people and she could do that only if she stood alone. Nothing else mattered. And eventually, on the battlefield, she finally fulfilled her purpose. Banasura, the lecherous demon, having heard of her beauty nonpareil approached her with a leer, wanting to make her his wife. The mighty Goddess rose as a tower of strength and vanquished him, bringing peace and prosperity to her people.
Aeons later, here she was, tracing her slender fingers along the red sands. How well she remembered that red. They were just the color of the ruby anklets she had once worn, and the bright yellow sands glinted like the gold she had once adorned herself with. She remembered the flowers, that had been harvested specially for her – the exotic tuberoses and fragrant oleanders for her wedding garland, purple amaranths and marigolds to deck the halls and sensuous jasmines for her flowing raven hair and to adorn her bridal bed.
She remembered the deep vermillion kumkum that was to embellish her beauty, the mark of the married woman she had longed to wear with pride. Everything that she had knocked away in despair and agony and anguish she had felt when she heard that she was never to be his.
On some days she could take the pain; days when it felt like it has settled into her rhythm as a dull throb, achingly familiar and comfortable and manageable. And then on some days, the pain just washed all over her like burning rain. Like a fresh gash bleeding anew, the scars ripped open and she felt raw and tender, on the hot sands melting under a merciless sun.
The serenity of the evening was broken by the chiming of the bells in the temple, telling her she was wanted in there. She slowly walked back towards the white and ochre painted walls of her home. Behind her, the sun sank into the ocean setting fire to the horizon.
She glanced over her shoulder. Way beyond, over the horizon, the sea and the sky did meet and a fiery eye on the expansive forehead of the horizon, looked out to her with such tenderness. A wild cloud passed by it, like a riotous lock of unruly hair and slowly a crescent moon swam into view. The waves pounded out the steady beat of a damaru and life coursed through her veins.
She smiled. Between the two of them, the world was safe.