She met her on a street...
Vrindavan. One afternoon. .
Some years ago.
She was on her way to see God. In Vrindavan. On a paid assignment. It was Janamasthami. Her car was an immaculate white. Her crinkled silk skirt a shade of burgundy. That colour of expensive Pinot Noir. Her blue Vaio laptop was stashed in an off-white neatly sewn leather case, her Nikon D700 smug in a black pack with a tiny brown teddy hanging precariously from the steel buckle. The road was pot-holed and traffic was crawling. All roads were leading to Vrindavan, the playground of Lord Krishna.
She knows God is everywhere. That is why she does not frequent temples. But she was on an assignment to see God. She had just huffed 200 steps up to the 5000-year old Radha Rani temple in Barsana. She had lost a million breath on the stone staircase. She has tiny feet. Wth a slight arch. The ground beneath her feet is always flat. An ascent leaves her breathless. But she was on paid assignment. To see God.
Vrindavan was a few miles away. Radha Kund not too far. Her chauffeur swerved the wheel on the rickety street to Radha Kund. She did not complain. She was ready to go wherever Krishna had been before. With Radha. The road was deserted. She was pensive. Thinking whether there ever was a Krishna who so loved Radha. Pondering whether a man – any man – can ever love a woman so much.
Then, she was distracted. Far away in the horizon, she saw a white speck. Moving speck. When the car sped through the meters in between, that speck gathered a form. Of a frail, old woman. Barefoot. Skeletal in frame. Wrapped in tattered white. Her steps faltering with the weight of a sack.
She stopped for the woman in white. It is her old habit. She always stops for those in distress. She picks stranded people and drops them to their door. She never asks their name. Never has a conversation. Not a word. Except the address to their door. She has done it a million times. It is her old habit.
That day on way to Radha Kund, her old habit took over. She stopped for the frail woman in white. She asked the address to her door. "Radha Kund", the woman in white muttered feebly. 27 kms away. She opened the car door for the frail woman to sit. The old woman had never been in a car. The old woman was hesitant. Uncomfortable. Overwhelmed. Reluctant. The old woman would have walked 27 kms; she was incredulous that the wheel will get her there in less than an hour.
The one in silk skirt did not have a conversation with the woman in white. She looked at her. Silently. The woman in white must have been pretty. She must had have a happy past. A dream she subsisted on. A man she loved. A house she pottered about. A garden she tended. A god she worshipped. Today, dreams no longer live in her gimlet eyes. Her eyes have sunk. Poignant with dreamlessness. Empty with nothingness. All she has is Krishna. His name scribbled on her forehead in sandalwood paste.
Radha Kund was crowded. Dirty. Littered. Smelling of yesterday's prayers and withered flowers. Suddenly, the woman in white whispered, “Here”. There was no door to her address. Just a square cement space on the pavement. That is her home. Or, a semblance of it. That is where she sat. Everyday. Begged for alms. And chanted the name of Radha and Krishna. That is all she had – that square space. And Radha-Krishna.
The car stopped. The journey was over. She held the old woman's hand. Their eyes met. She smiled. She said nothing. The woman in white struggled with a grin; she could not smile. Suddenly, the frail woman hugged the one in silk skirt. “Radhe". She muttered feebly. The old woman held her tight. "Radhe". The frail woman whispered again. Tears rolling down her cragged cheeks. The old woman was still holding her in her skeletal arms. Still calling her “Radhe”. And she, the one in a silk skirt the colour of expensive Pinot Noir, stood stoned. Speechless. Crying a silent tear. With a lump in her throat. A hundred goosebumps. The old woman thought the one in silk skirt was Radha. The Radha who is munificent. The Radha who answers her prayers. The Radha who lends a loving hand. The Radha who cares. The Radha who loves. Her. Everyone.
The one in silk skirt knows she is not Radha. But she did not want to shatter the old woman’s faith. She did not interrupt the Radhe monologue. The old woman believes there's Radha. Radha who roams the streets of Radha Kund. Radha who picked her from the street a little while ago. Radha is there. Everywhere. The old woman knows.
That moment, the one in a silk skirt the colour of expensive Pinot Noir, stood silent. Dazed. With tears trickling down the corner of her eyes. The old woman ran her wrinkled fingers through the face of the one in silk skirt. Haltingly. Yet, gently. As if scared of hurting. The old woman kissed her forehead. Hurriedly. As if to consecrate the moment before it vanished. The one in silk skirt surrendered. Completely. To the divine moment. To the old woman's faith. To holiness of a Radha she isn't.
It has been years. The one in silk skirt has forgotten the date. Not that moment. As she writes this, the moment returns. She can hear 'Radhe' piping in her room. As if from nowhere. She has vivid memories of that square cement space. Where the old woman begged. Everyday. She knows not the old woman's name. But those gimlet eyes are etched in her mind forever. She can still feel those skeletal arms wrapped around her. The old woman's kiss is still fresh, warm on her forehead.
The one in a silk skirt the colour of expensive Pinot Noir knows she is not Radha. But she still does not know what to do with a moment like that. A memory like that. What?