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Three thousand stitches, p.10
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       Three Thousand Stitches, p.10

           Sudha Murty
 
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  I sat back and my mind wandered over the journey of Bollywood from black and white to colour movies, from Prithviraj Kapoor to Ranbir Kapoor, and from the touring talkies that operated for only three months a year to the movie-on-demand access that we have today.

  Bollywood has graduated from being a part of the movie industry to becoming a vital partner when it comes to business generation. All in all, it is a great ambassador for our unique country.

  9

  Rasleela and the Swimming Pool

  Harikatha is a traditional art form from the state of Karnataka wherein a narrator or dasa, along with a small troupe, goes from village to village and shares stories from the Hindu scriptures and epics. When they visited my village, Shiggaon, the audience eagerly assembled in the temple for an all-night performance. Multiple stories were depicted through dance and to the tunes of tamburas. The enactment was dependent solely on the expertise of the narrator and the dance.

  One such evening, I accompanied my cousins to the Harikatha of Gopika Vastra Harana. The Harikatha dasa of this troupe was a well-known promoter named Gopinath who was known to portray stories from the Bhagavata Purana and deeply involve the audience. The stories would usually contain descriptions of Krishna’s mischief, his mother’s love and the cowherd girls’ (or gopikas’) adoration.

  That day, Gopinath began, ‘Everybody, please close your eyes. Today is a warm day in the wondrous city of Vrindavan. Come, walk with me to the banks of the river Yamuna. The water is cold, the lotuses are blooming and the river flows lazily. Once we are there, just look around you. You will see beautiful gopikas sauntering along. What is the colour of their clothes?’

  ‘Red and green!’ a young girl said out loud.

  ‘Yellow and orange,’ said another.

  ‘Now look at that big beautiful green tree near the river,’ said Gopinath. ‘The gopikas have changed into their bathing robes and left their dry clothes on the branches of the same tree. It is time for their bath and they get into the water and begin splashing each other. Now let’s search for Krishna. Where do you think he is?’

  ‘He’s behind the kadamba tree,’ someone shouted from the audience.

  ‘He’s next to Yashoda!’ said another voice.

  Gopinath continued, ‘Let’s approach Krishna. There he is—sitting on the high branch of a tree nearby and wasting his time.’

  ‘Oh, he is such a prankster,’ said a young girl from the troupe—one of the gopikas. ‘But I like him. He brings a smile to my lips. My mother, however, gets upset because he takes away all the butter from our home.’

  Then the troupe took over and the Harikatha continued.

  A woman added, ‘My mother-in-law has instructed me not to speak to Krishna because he drank all the milk in our house after entering through the back door.’

  A voice complained, ‘Whenever I take my pot to fetch water, he throws stones at it and breaks it. My husband is quite upset.’

  ‘We must teach him a lesson,’ insisted another from the troupe.

  ‘Krishna overheard all of this,’ interjected Gopinath, ‘and stealthily hid their clothes. Once the gopikas had finished their bath in the river, they walked over to the tree but alas! Their clothes were nowhere to be found! How would they go back home in minimal and wet clothing? Who had stolen their clothes? Just then, they heard melodious tunes that seemed to originate from above them. When they looked up, they saw Krishna holding their clothes in one hand and playing the flute with the other, with his eyes closed. Of course! He must have heard them complaining and decided to take revenge. He wasn’t going to return the clothes easily. So they began to plead with him. What did the women say?’

  A girl from the audience yelled, ‘O Krishna, please give back my sari.’

  ‘And mine too!’ shouted another. ‘It’s my favourite!’

  The women began giving descriptions, with their eyes still shut.

  ‘And that black sari with the red border is mine!’

  ‘Oh, please, give me that green and mango-coloured sari!’

  Gopinath was happy. ‘Ah yes, all of you have seen Krishna now,’ he said.

  The conversations between Krishna and the gopikas and the audience continued until they raised their hands and surrendered, ‘O Krishna! You are a kind-hearted boy and you understand our hearts. Please give us the saris. Otherwise we are left with no choice but to walk home in our wet robes. We are completely dependent on you.’

  ‘Krishna smiled and started throwing down the clothes,’ said Gopinath. ‘The gopikas wore their saris and after they were well-clothed, Krishna descended from the top and the dancing began.’

  The sounds of music and dance filled the air and the night ended on a joyful note. The Harikatha dasa told us to open our eyes. That’s when we found out that two and a half hours had passed.

  As a young girl, I had a vivid imagination. It was easy to visualize the flow of the river Yamuna, the pink lotuses, the bright and colourful gopikas, Lord Krishna and his naughty but compassionate face, and the music floating from his flute. I was enchanted!

  Years later, I went to Vrindavan. To my utter disappointment, the Yamuna was dirty and more of a rivulet than a full-bodied river. The place was now commercialized.

  Almost all the priests I observed were directing the devotees to a tree with pieces of cloth tied to it. ‘Lord Krishna sat on this tree and threw the clothes down to the gopikas,’ they said.

  Devotees bowed to the tree and tied a small piece of cloth to it.

  The image was not what I had associated with the story. So I closed my eyes and turned away. ‘I don’t want to see this and ruin my childhood images,’ I thought.

  I also realized in my adulthood that a story such as this might be considered harassment in the modern world. But the truth is that such a concept did not exist in the olden days. God is considered to be an omnipotent friend—someone who is approachable and whom we can speak to at any time and anyhow we choose. These tales are meant to bring out the human side of the Lord, while retaining the devotion towards him. So he is depicted as a naughty young lad, no more than eight years old, who enjoys spending time with his devotees and teasing them with love and innocence. This is why the women also play along until they completely surrender to the Lord—a gesture of faith after which he gives them whatever they need.

  Decades later, I became a grandmother to two little girls—Krishna and Anoushka. When they grew from toddlers to young children, I decided to share some of my childhood stories with them. I thought that they would visualize the scenes just like I had.

  One day, when I was playing with them in their residence in London, they asked me for a story. I told them the same tale of Lord Krishna and the gopikas. Since I had their attention, I added the story of Akshaya Patra too.

  ‘Draupadi was very hospitable and entertained many guests when she was living in Indraprastha. Unfortunately, due to a turn of events, she had to accompany her husbands on a long exile and felt sad that she could no longer take care of the guests like she used to.

  ‘Her husband, Yudhishthira, prayed to the sun god, Surya, and explained their difficulty in taking care of the guests. So Surya blessed them and handed them a vessel. “This is a special vessel known as Akshaya Patra,” he said. “You can use this to feed as many people as you want. But on one condition . . .”

  ‘“What’s that?” asked Yudhishthira.

  ‘“You can’t cook any food after the lady of the house has eaten. The vessel can be used again only after the next sunrise.”

  ‘Yudhishthira nodded.

  ‘Happily, Draupadi began feeding her visitors with different varieties of food.

  ‘Soon, the news of her pleasing hospitality reached Duryodhana’s ears, who felt jealous despite the fact that his cousins were in exile and led a much humbler life than they were used to. A few days later, the short-tempered sage Durvasa arrived at Duryodhana’s palace and was treated as an esteemed guest and given all that could be offered.

 
‘Pleased, he blessed Duryodhana. “I am happy with your hospitality towards me and my disciples. Ask me whatever you want and I will fulfil your wish.”

  ‘Duryodhana and his evil uncle, Shakuni, had already pre-decided what they would ask for, should Durvasa give them such an opportunity.

  ‘He smiled. “My cousins, the Pandavas, are devout and pious,” said Duryodhana, pretending to care for them. “I will be grateful if you could bless them too. If you leave now, you will reach there late in the evening. That is all I want.”

  ‘Durvasa agreed and set out with his group.

  ‘On the surface, the request was a simple one and seemed to show the largeness of Duryodhana’s heart, but the truth was far from it. Shakuni and Duryodhana knew that by the time Durvasa and his disciples reached the Pandavas’ home, Draupadi would have finished her meal and the Pandavas wouldn’t be able to feed all of them. This would immediately fuel the sage’s wrath, who was then highly likely to curse them.

  ‘After a journey that took many hours, Durvasa reached the Pandavas’ abode and said to them, “Your cousin Duryodhana is an excellent host. He has requested me to experience your hospitality too and bless you. My disciples and I will first go for a bath in the river nearby. Please have our food ready for us by the time we return.”

  ‘The moment Durvasa left, Yudhishthira rushed into the kitchen and to his dismay, saw Draupadi washing and cleaning the Akshaya Patra. “Draupadi! Durvasa will soon come here with his students for a meal and you have already eaten yours! I don’t want to get on his bad side. What should we do?”

  ‘Sunset was fast approaching and Draupadi was at a loss. Unable to think of a solution, her thoughts turned to Krishna, who was as good as a brother to her. Just then, she heard the sound of horses and a chariot pulling up outside the home. She walked towards the entrance but within seconds, Krishna walked in through the open door.

  ‘When he saw Draupadi and the rest of the Pandavas with long faces, he asked, “Why are you all so sad?”

  ‘Yudhishthira explained the situation to him. “Bring the vessel to me,” said Krishna.

  ‘With reluctance, Draupadi fetched the Akshaya Patra, “There’s nothing there, brother. See for yourself.”

  ‘“Sister, you may be a queen but you are definitely not a good cleaner. Look at this—you have left a grain of rice.”

  ‘Krishna picked up the grain, ate it and burped rather loudly. “I am happy and my stomach is full. May God bless you,” he said and immediately left before the Pandavas could stop him.

  ‘Meanwhile, Durvasa and his students were finishing their bath in the river when they suddenly felt as if they had just had a full meal. Their stomachs felt extremely full and satisfied.

  ‘They looked at each other. “Sir,” a student gathered his courage and spoke to Durvasa. “We are feeling full and can’t eat any more. Let’s skip the visit to the Pandavas’ home because we won’t be able to eat anything and that might offend them.”

  ‘Durvasa smiled and said, “Yes, my children, I understand how you feel. While there is no end to greed in life, hunger is one thing that has its limitation. Once you are full, no matter what you say or do, you just can’t force yourself to eat. I will bless the Pandavas from here and we can leave.”’

  Once the story had ended, both Krishna and Anoushka looked at my face.

  ‘Now that I have told you two stories today, you must think about them and repeat them to me tomorrow!’ I said.

  The two girls waltzed their way to their room, discussing the last story with each other.

  I was happy that I had taught them two important mythological stories in a very simple manner.

  The next morning after breakfast, Krishna came and sat next to me. ‘Ajji,’ she said. ‘I have changed a little bit of your story.’

  ‘Tell me then.’

  Anoushka also joined us and Krishna began, ‘Krishna was a cute little boy who was very naughty. He would frequently visit his friends’ homes, open the fridge without permission and eat whatever he wanted to. This upset the mothers and yet everybody was fond of him.’

  ‘He took pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, cheese, butter, yogurt, fruits and everything that caught his fancy,’ added Anoushka and giggled.

  ‘Be quiet! I am the one telling the story,’ said Krishna. ‘It was the Christmas season and all schools were closed. One day, the girls and their mothers decided to meet at the indoor swimming pool. Once they were there, they changed into their swimwear, kept the clothes in the lockers, left the keys on one of the benches in the changing room, showered and jumped into the pool.

  ‘Soon they were in the heated pool splashing around, despite the freezing temperatures outside.

  ‘What they didn’t know was that Krishna was also there. He saw the girls from the first floor and opened the window overlooking the pool.

  ‘The girls were talking about him. “Oh, Krishna is so adorable but he troubles me,” said one of them. “The other day he ate my cookies but I didn’t complain to anyone.”

  ‘“Oh, he steals my pencils so often!”

  ‘“Your pencils? He takes my toys!” another girl whined.

  ‘“We must inform the headmistress.”

  ‘Krishna heard the comments, went to the changing room, found the locker keys and slipped away.

  ‘After the swim, the girls and the mothers showered and went to gather their clothes from the lockers. But the keys were missing!

  ‘“Who has taken our keys?” they asked the staff.

  ‘“Ma’am, only girls are allowed here at this time of the day. Nobody else can enter.”

  ‘“But we are miserable, cold and wet,” said one of the mothers. “How will we go home?”

  ‘“My new shoes are also in the locker!” a girl yelled.

  ‘“I have a birthday party to attend after this and my dress is inside the locker! What should I do now?”

  ‘The attendant didn’t know what to do. “Give me a few minutes. Let me speak to the manager,” she said.

  ‘Suddenly, the tunes from a harmonica floated towards them. They looked towards the source of the beautiful music and saw Krishna on the first floor patio almost right above them. There was a bunch of keys dangling from one of his fingers.

  ‘Once he realized that they had seen him, he stopped playing the harmonica. “Girls, if you complain about me to the headmistress, none of you will get your clothes back.”

  ‘“We will sue you!” said a girl.

  ‘“You can sue me all you want, but you can’t go anywhere without your clothes. After all, it is snowing outside!”

  ‘“O Krishna, we are very sorry,” said the girls in unison.

  ‘“If we wanted to complain, we would have already done so. You are dear to us and we love your pranks! You know that it’s the truth. So stop this. We will catch a cold standing here like this. You don’t want us to fall sick, do you?” said one of the more logical girls.

  ‘Krishna smiled and threw the keys to the girls. Then they all got dressed and went with Krishna to the nearest café for a hot chocolate.’ My granddaughter ended her story.

  Anoushka clapped loudly and laughed. She had enjoyed the story!

  I nodded to show my appreciation. The truth was that I was completely unprepared for this new variation of the story that seemed to be set in London. The old story made me visualize the river Yamuna, its cold water, the floating lotuses and a flute-playing Krishna but this urban version of the Lord was too hard for me to relate to!

  Hesitantly, I turned to Anoushka. What version of the second story would I hear next?

  Right on cue, Anoushka started, ‘Draupadi was a beautiful and powerful queen. One day, she left the city and decided to stay in a village far away. She drank clear water from the stream, picked organic food directly from the trees and plants and cooked for all the guests who came home. However, the food was insufficient sometimes. She explained this problem to her husband, Yudhishthira, who, in turn, shared the issue with a friend, Sur
ya.

  ‘Surya was very resourceful. He gifted Yudhishthira and Draupadi a special cooker and some additives. He said, “Whenever you make rice in this, add these healthy additives. Two spoons of this cooked rice will be enough for one person. You won’t have to cook large quantities or spend hours in search of food. But Draupadi, once you eat, clean the vessel and don’t cook in it again that day. This will keep the bacteria away and ensure that the food remains hygienic. So be careful about the way you use it.”

  ‘Draupadi nodded. From that day on, she made the special organic rice for her guests.

  ‘One day, her uncle came without informing her, with many people in tow. He said, “Draupadi, I have heard that you make tasty rice. I want to try that today. My group and I will go for a swim first and then come back for the delicious meal.”

  ‘Draupadi was upset. First, her uncle hadn’t informed her in advance and second, he simply showed up on their doorstep with so many others to feed! Besides, she had already eaten and cleaned the vessel. She was about to give her uncle a piece of her mind but Yudhishthira stopped her. “Uncle has helped us many times, dear wife. Please don’t say anything to him. You know how short-tempered he is! Let’s not do anything that we will regret later.”

  ‘Draupadi was worried. How would she feed so many people now? She immediately called her brother Krishna who was kind, helpful and a strategic thinker. He came to her assistance and asked her to show him the vessel. He took the last grain of rice stuck at the corner of the vessel and ate it.

  ‘“Hmm, the rice is indeed very tasty but I am sure that your uncle and the other guests will not come back for it.”

  ‘“Why?” asked Draupadi.

  ‘“They know why,” he said with a mysterious smile and left for an appointment.

  ‘Meanwhile, at the swimming pool, each member of the group swallowed a little bit of the chlorine water. Since the chlorine level was high that day, all of them soon began feeling uncomfortable and kept running to the bathroom. Finally, Uncle said to the group, “I think we have all fallen sick and are low on energy at the moment. Let us not go to Draupadi’s home for the big meal. It is best to give our stomachs a little break.”

 
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