Friday, November 04, 2005

Story of Sudhama as narrated by Raja Rao

The princes of Kathiawar, like the Rajputs everywhere, claimed their descent from the sun and the moon, and belonged to the clan of Sri Rama (the Ikshavakus) or of Sri Krishna (the Yadavs). For, after all, Dwaraka was just around the corner of the peninsula, and that was where Sri Krishna ruled, so that most of the princes of course belonged to the Yadavas, or so they believed. Remember, Sri Krishna married his wife Rukmini at Madhavpur, and that is just down the curve of the bay, and the Yadavs once (and remember too) on that fateful day when they went gambolling to the sacred city of Prabhas Patan and got into a fist-fight, and then to a brawl and then to a real battle, they sent for Sri Krishna.

But he was not to be found -- he'd so planned as to go and lie under a tree (and had not Gandhari cursed that the race of Sri Krishna come to an end) -- and a hunter took Sri Krishna's heel for the head of a deer, and the greatest of Indians thus played the game of even death. He had planned it all, so everything happened according to his intent -- for, for him intent and action were just experience, there was none to act, as it were for he was in action as inaction and in inaction as action.

And so too was that other game of Sri Krishna. He had, while at school, a poor Brahmin companion, Sudhama was his name and he was raggedly miserable. Life had been most ungenerous to him (again it was Sri Krishna's game) -- Sudhama had a wife with a tongue of charcoal cinders and hair made as of rough hemp. When she called, even the street dogs would thgink it was one if their kind talking, and they started answering back. But Sudhama was so patient; he would always speak, when humiliated by his wife, of his friend Sri Krishna who ruled in Dwaraka. "Fine thing to have such a friend. But what does he do for you, you son of tamarind tree hag."

Hearing this morning after morning, Sudhama said one day to his wife: "I go and see Sri Krishna today, this very day."

"Oh yes you will go, you and your cononut-head and bursted-bleak belly, and seeing your tousled hair and bent back and bamboo limbs, even the guards will laugh at you."

"Perhaps you're right," said Sudhama, "but give me please a handful of puffed rice and a piece of molass."

"What for?" She asked.

"Well, when ones goes to see someone, you don't ever go empty handed, do you?"

"A beggar," declared Sudhama's wife, "has no manners," as the buffalo have no courtesies."

"Well, so be it. Give what puffed rice and molass you have to me."

Cursing her stars for such a rice miserable destiny -- that even the little puffed rice she had, she had perforce to give part of it away -- she threw a handful of it to Sudhama's dhoti-edge, broke a piece of molass from the pot, and said with wide-fingered threatening hands: "And don't you come back plain-handed, you cononut-head, after all this. I'll howl till the very spirits in the crematoriums will be frightened. Let's see what your great friend Sri Krishna is going to proclaim and perform for you. I take the name of God and tell you he will have chased out of city."

Sudhama was so accustomed to his wife's tongue and breath, it was as if he heard sound but not meaningful speech. He picked his stick from the corner, and taking the thought of Sri Krishna, he started towards holy Dwaraka. Long was the road to Dwaraka, but such sweetness of love, the trees seemed to open up and spread wide-limbed shade, and cool breezes blew from the northern mountains, and the sea seemed to churn in fervered joy. For when you take the thought of Lord true, all things that seek him rejoice in your rejoicement -- they also wave up and swell with your joy. Sudhama arrived at the city gates and these opened themeselves as if by vestal deities, and even the palace guards did not seem to mind his looks.

"Could you tell His Highness," he begged, "the Lord of Lords, his poor school fellow, the Brahmin Sudhama is at the door?"

"Be so kind as to wait here, Pundit Sir," said the guard politely, and "I'll go tell the Chamberlain."

It was all as if the gods were playing a trick, the Chamberlain seemed just waiting for this event at the door, and Sri Krishna himself, when he heard the news, he had such joy, people could see tears run down his lotus eyes. "Prepare," he commanded, "water to wash my guest's feet." And as Sri Krishna clad in silken blue, his eyes clear as sleep, his gait as if made by the curvature of form when he stood, the washing-stool before him, there he appeared across the courtyard, Sudhama, his boyhood friend. In their high niches the pigeons and parrots began to coo, and the ladies peered from the top apartments at this wondrous happening [You can see this in many a Rajput miniature today.]. Krishna bade Sudhama stand on the ivory stool, and rich with jugs of silver swan-shapen and filled with water, first warm and then cold, and when these were thrown on the Brahmin's withered and dusty feet -- then did Krishna taking the silken hand-cloth from Chamberlain's arm, wipe the friends feet himself. Now Sri Krishna took his friend to the marbled court and before all his noblemen, he said, "Friend, be seated," and showed Sudhama the throne. Could a poor Brahmin occupy such an august seat? No. He would not. Krishna himself sat on a couch beside his friend. They now spoke to each other of all that happened and passed by since their boyhood. They wept and laughed but all around there was as if a wall of luminescent silence. Everything moved in the palace as usual, the noblemen retired to their afternoon siesta, the servants moved with agility and calm, from corner to corner of the palace, the nine diurnal musics sounded, the elephants trumpeted after a good feed, the cows lowed for their returning calves, and when the evening fell a great banquet was laid for the poor Brahmin, Sudhama and he ate as if he was eating his own food, at his home. For, for the first time he was at home himself. Krishna enjoyed munching the puffed rice his friend had brought, and some of it was sent upstairs to Rukmini, and all the palace was given bits of it. It tasted, did this puffed rice, as nothing one has tasted before. It had the delicate saffron smell of Sri Krishna himself. And when the night drums sounded and the meal was over, the hands were washed, the betel leaves served, a carriage was made ready, and beneath the high chandeliers, flower and fruit hangings, as Sri Krishna said farewell to his friend, he embraced him again and again, and they wept. Yes, Sudhama had to go. He had now to go back home. But he'd forgot his promise to his wife. He had asked nothing of Sri Krishna., Pray what can you ask of a friend who is King?

Yet Sudhama was so happy the very mind-picture of Sri Krishna brought him to tears. And when he came nearer and nearer his home, he began however to have fits of fearfulness. What would it be like coming back plain handed? But when the town came it was all a different -- the very walls were shining as if white-washed and much repaired, and when his carriage stopped, his wife stood, a gold plate in her hands, flowers and Kumkum water floating in it, and lighting the lamp of auspiciousness, she welcomed her lord befittingly, and fell at his withered feet. And from that day onwards the city came to be called Sudhamaputi, or the city of Sudhama, but due to the crookedness of people's speech, it became Puri, and later someone added bunder[Bunder means harbour, haven] to it so that today it's called Porbandar, Haven-city.

1 comment:

sj said...

Excellent writeup. The story telling is so vivid that it leaves absolutely nothing to imagination. Wonderful!!!