Yayati: a classic tale of lust (page 6)

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Once a tiny little affectionate girl dragged us to her house. She wanted to show us the first bloom on a tree she had planted. But she seemed steeped in deep thought. There were two guests and only one flower. She was puzzled whom to give it to. She gazed at the flower in deep thought. Kacha saw her dilemma and said, ‘Child, you should give that flower to the Prince.’ I said, ‘No, you should give it to this great ascetic.’

She was about to pluck the half open flower when Kacha took her hand and said, ‘Child, I am grateful for your lovely gift, but let it remain on the plant. Let it blossom there. I shall come and talk to it every morning. Would you not like that?’

The girl was happy at these words, but I was restless. I brought it up that evening. I said, ‘That flower will be in full bloom in a couple of days and wither in three or four. Then it will drop. What is the pleasure in seeing all this? Are flowers only to be admired from a distance? On the other hand, there is greater pleasure in plucking them for their fragrance ... for making garlands and braids, for beautifying the hair and for spreading them on the bed.’ Kacha smiled with the words, ‘There is joy in it. But it is transient and derived from indulgence.’

‘Is indulgence a sin?’

‘No, not if it does not violate ethics. But life has other joys to offer, which are greater than those from indulgence.’

‘For instance?’

‘The joy of selfless sacrifice.’

I asked again, ‘Is renunciation the only way to happiness?’

Kacha was grave and emphatically said, ‘No, not at all. Your duty is to look after your subjects justly and to strive for their happiness. Kingly duty is as great as asceticism.’

I asked, ‘Is it possible to live like an ascetic while yet a king?’

He said with deliberation, ‘Prince, man’s most natural instinct is for family life. It follows that in doing so he indulges his senses in different ways. If God had meant that man should not so indulge, he would certainly not have endowed him with a body. But mere indulgence is not the object of life. With the body God has also given man a soul; all bodily desire must be regimented by the soul. It is, therefore, necessary that the soul should at all times be alert. A driver under the influence of drink, loses his control over the reins and the horses run away with the chariot, which crashes into an abyss and is smashed killing the brave archer inside for nothing.’

He paused, then gazing up at the starry sky said. ‘Prince forgive me. I forget myself talking in this vein. Certainly, but do not forget one thing. Like you I am also an inexperienced youth.’

Not only now, but he often talked thus. I could notagree with his views. Skirmishes betweengods and demons had been going on for years. WithMaharishiShukra’s power to revive the dead, their differences were obviously going to flare up into a major conflict. It was just to avoid such a calamity thatMaharishiAngiras was performing the sacrifice for peace. While Indra and thegods were preparing for war, this son of thePreceptor ofGods was here contributing to the sacrifice for peace. He often said, ‘Gods are addicted to the pleasures and the demons are blindly worshipping power. Neither can bring happiness to the world. Nothing can come out of a war between them.’

He had a curious mind. I was so near him but yet unable to fathom his mind.

Yet one fact remains. I was restless at the thought of the imminent separation from him. The time for it however came unexpectedly. Father was very ill, almost on his deathbed, and I had to return immediately. I did not know what to do and went to Maharishi Angiras for advice. Like a father he stroked my back and said, ‘Prince, you must return at once. You need not worry about the sacrifice, the principal part of which has been possible owing to your presence. You owe a duty to your father as much as to religion.’

I bowed to Maharishi Angiras in devotion. With paternal solicitude he said, ‘Prince, I will not bless you to be happy. I am not yet clear, even after my long penance, whether happiness is the shadow of misery or misery follows happiness like a shadow. Do not waste your time thinking of it. You have a kingdom to look after. Religion, wealth and desire are the three principal prongs of your duty on earth. Of these, wealth and desire are very sharp weapons. As the beauty of a woman is enhanced with modesty, so are wealth and desire when allied to dharma. The conviction that one must do unto others as one expects others to do unto one is to my mind, the essence of religion. Let such religion be your guiding star.’

I was distressed by the news of Father’s illness. What was the curse on Father? Is Father’s illness due to that curse? If so, whatwas the remedy?

I could not contain myself and said to Maharishi Angiras, ‘I want to ask you something. Does Father carry a curse?’

He was sad and silent. Then he said in a heavy voice, ‘Yes, but every man is born with a curse.’

‘Every man?’ I asked. The tremor in my voice frightened me.

He smiled and said, ‘I, Kacha, your father, we all in one way carry a curse. Our lives are circumscribed by chains of circumstances. Some are limited by actions of previous lives, some by the actions of our parents.’

‘Is life then by itself a curse?’

‘No ... no, life is a glorious blessing bestowed by God in His mercy. Only the blessing is tainted with some curses.’

‘What then is the purpose of human life?’

‘Man must strive to free himself of the curse. The perception of the rest of the animate world does not extend beyond bodily pleasure and pain. Such perception is given only to human beings. It is by virtue of such perception that man has risen above the animal kingdom and is mounting the steep ascent of civilised culture. He will one day reach the peak, and he will be free from his curse. Never forget that bodily pleasure is not the principal aim of life. Its principal aim is the satisfaction of the soul.’

He stopped there and said, ‘May you have a good journey and God bless you.’

Upto the time I entered Hastinapur, my mind was lulled by the philosophy propounded by Kacha and Angiras. But the lull vanished as soon as I entered the town. I was constantly troubled by the thought that I might not have the good fortune to see my father alive.

I sat by Father’s bed. I called to him. He murmured something, but did not respond to my call as if he was not of this world.

The Prime Minister came to me and, placing his thin hand affectionately on my shoulder, led me out. With a lump in his throat he said, ‘My Prince, you are young and unfamiliar with the ways of the world. This world is mortal. You will not be able to bear the agonies of your father. A couple of miles from here is Ashokavan ... a beautiful haven of comfort. It is quiet and restful like a cave in the Himalayas and there is an underground passage from here to Ashokavan. It is very near that way. You should live there for sometime and visit your father twice a day.’

The Prime Minister had provided well for my comfort in the Ashokavan, but I was bored. There was very little I could ask them to do. Among the maids was one Mukulika, evidently new. She was very clever and pretty. She was about twenty-five. To ensure quiet and peace for me, she used to send the other servants away as much as she could and remain in silent attendance on me.

I was striving night and day to keep the shadow of death off my mind but my effort came to nought everytime I went to see Father. Death is supreme and sovereign in this world; the mind was distressed and helpless at the thought that none can defy it. I realised all the time that I would also be lying on the deathbed some day like Father. The childish thought kept recurring that I should run away and hide myself in a cave, where the cold hands of Death could not reach me.

Death must be even more horrible as was evident from Father’s condition in that illness.

Occasionally, the delirium would abate. Once when Father did not know that I was also there, he beckoned to Mother. She leaned forward. With difficulty he lifted his right hand and caressed her. In a low voice he said, ‘I must go leaving all this splendour and beauty behind.’

Mother was confused. She did not know how to bring my presence there to his notice. Father was sobbing like a little child. ‘I have not had my fill of this honey but ...’

Mother sent me away but that pitiful crying of Father’s kept ringing in my ears and rankled in my mind. It was uncanny. They were the tears of a hero whose prowess was acknowledged with reverence even in heaven. They were the tears of the Supreme Lord of Hastinapur. Those tears were unintelligible to me and I was baffled by the thought that some deep mystery of life lay behind them.

Yet the experience which burnt in my heart was quite another. Mother was tired from keeping awake all night. I sent her away to rest and sat by my father. He was unconscious for a long time and the physician was administering medicine from time to time.

The daylight was fading and it was getting dim and gloomy outside. When Father once opened his eyes he must have recognised me. Grasping my hand, he screeched like a terrified lamb, ‘Yayati, hold me fast! I want to live! No, I will not go. Yayu, look, there are the messengers of death. You are so mighty ... then how did they get here? How did you let them come here?’

His hand was trembling. He screamed again. ‘You are all ungrateful. Even if you give me one day each of your life ... Yayu, Yayu, hold me fast!’

He relapsed into coma. His hand told me what he could not put into words. How tightly that hand was clasping! That clasp contained all the fear of a stag mortally hit by an arrow.

If death is the inescapable end of life, why is man born at all? I tried to recall to my mind the philosophy enunciated by Kacha and Angiras. But it did not provide a satisfactory answer. The darkness of the new moon night is not dispelled by a few glowing fireflies.

I went to the Ashokavan in a dazed condition. Darkness was gathering outside. Mukulika came in quietly and lit the golden oil lamp. The place brightened up. In that glow, her bent figure by the lamp with her back to me, looked very beautiful.

She was slowly moving towards my bed. Her steps were graceful like those of a dancer. She said softly, ‘Are you not feeling well, Prince?’

‘I am baffled, Mukulika, seeing Father’s condition ...’

‘They say, now there is no cause for anxiety. Only today, the royal astrologer was saying that all evil stars of the King will soon ...’

‘Bring me some wine. Stars, illness, death ... I want to forget everything.’

She did not move. I shouted in annoyance, ‘I must have some wine.’

She hung her head and said, ‘Prince, the Queen has directed that wine may not be kept here.’

Is woman naturally intuitive? Or is it that she is very conscious of the power of her beauty?

Her eyes were cast down. How then did she know that I was devouring her with greedy eyes? For a moment she looked up. It felt like lightning in a clear sky. The enchanting smile and the dimple on her cheeks — I saw for an instant all this in the intoxicating golden glow.

I looked again. Mukulika was looking down. She was very near my bed. I had not taken wine but intoxication was coursing through my body. The next moment Father’s words. ‘Yayu, hold me. I want to live,’ were humming in my ears. I said, ‘Has Mother directed that wine is not to be kept here?’

‘This is a peaceful retreat far from the town. All the visiting rishis and ascetics are lodged here. There should not be on the premises things which are impure to them.’

Those piteous cries of Father were humming in my ears again. I was trembling all over. I was frightened of being alone. I wanted support. I turned on my side and held Mukulika’s hand.

That night!

Again and again I say to myself — I should be reticent about that night! Nothing at all should be said.

But I am going to bare my heart. It would be wrong if some parts of it remained in darkness when laying it bare. Coyness is the ornament of beauty, not of truth. Truth is naked like a new born babe. It must always be so.

That night I lay in Mukulika’s arms — No!

Mukulika lay in mine. No!

Even the God of Love himself would not be able to tell who was in whose arms that night.

I had only to take her hand in mine! That was enough to snap the bonds of the world! I was no longer prince nor she a maid. We were just two lovers. Two birds, two stars —

As soon as I put my lips to Mukulika’s my fear of death vanished.

That night, how often must we have kissed each other! Can one count the number of stars in the sky?

I had read poems of the beauty of women and I had been vaguely attracted by it for some years. The mad excitement of union with a beautiful young maiden and the spray of heavenly bliss which emanated from every part of her being, I experienced for the first time that night. I was wildly intoxicated with it.

I was woken up from the reverie by the twittering of birds. I looked out of the window. The chariot of the Sun was fast rolling up the Eastern Gateway. The golden dust raised by its wheels was very enchanting.

I sat up in bed. In utter dejection had I come to this bed last night. It was the same room, the same walls, the same bed and the same trees outside the window — but in that one night they had apparently been reborn. Now everything added to the happy mood gushing out of my limbs. The trees looked more green, the song of the birds sounded sweeter, even the walls of the room seemed to be winking at each other pleased that they had been witness to the greatest mystery on earth.

Mukulika came in to see if I had got up. She came near and said, ‘Did you sleep well?’

What a superb actress Mukulika was! Last night she had played the role of a lover to perfection. And now she was acting a maid just as well.

Unconsciously, I called Mukulika. She stopped and looked back. Then she quickly came to the bed saying, ‘Did you call for me, Prince?’

I had called to her, but why? I myself do not know. I kept quiet.

On this, she folded her hands and said softly. ‘Have I done anything wrong?’

‘You have done nothing wrong ... I have.’ I wanted to say some such thing but that was only in my mind. In fact, I said nothing. Just then one of her assistants entered in a hurry. The maid handed a letter sent by the Prime Minister and went out.

It was a letter from Kacha. It said:

Prince, I am also having to leave here after you. We saw the sacrifice for peace through. War between the gods and demons has flared up. You may recall that we had already heard of Maharishi Shukra having attained the power of Sanjeevani[2]. On the strength of that power, he is bringing back to life all their men killed in action.

War ... whether between two individuals, two communities or two powers, has to my mind always been something to be deprecated and outlawed. How vast and rich in resources is this beautiful world brought into being by the Creator! Cannot all of us live happily in it? I do not know if this foolish dream of mine will ever come true! At least today such a thought is more than indulging in moonshine!

It is evident that the gods will be defeated in this war. But it is hard to witness with open eyes the defeat of one’s community. I feel it my duty to do something to avoid it. I restlessly paced about all night in the courtyard before the hut. The stars were out in the sky. But my disturbed mind was in darkness. How much did I think of you! In the end, towards the morning I thought of ... no, an inspiration came to me. I became aware of how a poem comes to a poet!

It is only if the gods acquire the power of Sanjeevani that their defeat can be avoided. And that secret is known only to Maharishi Shukra, the Lord Preceptor of the Demons. Someone must therefore go to him as a disciple and acquire that power. It seems unlikely that anyone from among the gods will venture forth, so I have decided to go to Vrishaparva’s (the Demon King’s) kingdom and become a disciple of Maharishi Shukra for acquiring that power. The future is uncertain. Maybe I shall succeed in my object. Maybe I will have to lay down my life.

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