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The Flame of the Forest

By Sudhin N. Ghose

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Myna’s soprano voice was like that of a song-bird in ecstasy, pouring its heart out in melodious notes. And the words of her chant! They were as exquisite as her voice. She recounted Radha’s story in songs and dances to the enthralled listeners: they sat cross-legged in serried circles round her on the stone-paved courtyard of the Kala Bhairab sanctuary. The glorious full moon of Ashwin was overhead. Its resplendence obliterated the stars from the sky, and inundated the earth with unearthly beauty, transforming the weather-worn cobblestones of the yard into ravishing moonstones of rare quality; the crawling Adi Ganga was metamorphosed into a silver stream sparkling with precious pearls and scintillating sapphires.

The listeners sat in respectful silence, carefully attending to every word that came from Myna’s lips, to the minutest modulation of her voice, and to her slightest gesture. They heard what every one of them knew by heart: a tale told so often that it had no novelty whatsoever. Yet they listened with such rapt attention that a stranger, were he there, would have thought that a new mystery was being revealed by a sibyl to a hypnotized throng. And had the stranger been acquainted with the language in which the twice-told tale was being recounted he would, in all probability, have been deeply shocked. He would have found nothing edifying in it. For it was, in Kolej Huzoor’s terms, ‘plainly erotic—the story of an illicit love-affair’—Radha’s amorous longings for the fickle cowherd, Krishna.

~

‘I want him,’ Radha whispered to her companions. ‘I am love-lorn. I am dying for him. Yet I want him not if he does not desire me. Therefore I have hidden myself in this secret grove. Let him seek and find me.’

Radha’s cheeks were wet with tears.

‘But,’ Radha sobbed, ‘I am unhappy. What shall I do should he try to find me and fail to discover my hiding-place? What would you do if that were the case? Tell me, my kirtanis, what should I do? I cannot live without him. Yet how can I humble myself? Do you think he wants to spurn me?’

Radha’s tongue uttered what her heart desired but her reason disavowed:

‘Go to him—win him hither—whisper low
How he may find me if he searches well;
Say, if he will, joys past his hopes to know
Await him here; go now to him and tell
Where Radha is, and that hence she charms
His spirit to her arms.’

Meanwhile, Krishna himself was in quest of Radha. However, he, too, did not know if his beloved Radha wanted him or not. Where was she? Not in her usual arbour? Where was she hiding herself? And why? Was it because he was unworthy of her love? Perhaps she was ashamed of his profession of a cowherd?
Krishna talks to his flute, and receives the response, ‘Breathe into me, Lord! Caress me with your lips.’ At the touch of his lips the reed instrument sings.

Its sad strains complain of Radha’s absence and Krishna’s sad plight.

If I were a bulbul, a trilling bulbul, my Radha!
I would stray where’er you pray
to chant your sacred echo.

If I were a bee, a humming bee, my Radha!
I would fly where’er you hie
to chase your scented shadow.

If I were a coral, a burning coral, my Radha!
I would hide where’er you bide
to steal on your sweet lips’ bow.

The trials of Radha and Krishna moved everyone to tears. And I was no exception.

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