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Promise of the पुरवाई

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When she is blown in on the पुरवाई there is आषाड curling up around her skin, मल्हार throbbing in her breath. Traces of खस and चन्दन-माटी wafted too far from home-land. Sharper lashings from सागर and sea turn her tongue spicy with salt. The sodden sky is miserable here, smog choked down in her throat – she would be नीलकण्ठ in her haughty triumph over it.

By the time her feet touch the ground, the बारात of बर्सात has changed to London rain – a wretched dreary thing requiring weighty umbrellas. There is a complaining screech as the black panels unwrap their steel claws from the handle; even the parrot is more टूटा than तोता, too pinioned to remember that he was once echoed मिट्ठु with the मिठास of freedom, alternating his chirped जप with Ram Ram as he whetted his red beak on सीताफल.

She looms for a moment against the doorway, a shadow momentous, ऐरावत confronting the cloud-cattle prison, before shrinking, withering into the confines of her body and heathen-black coat.

Come in they will always say, come in, like they said आओ आया अंदर आओ like they talked about her poppin' in always poppin' in no notice no sound cat-footed and creeping as any of them queer savage buggers. She is पूतना to them, mastered and म्लेच्छ and yet they are too arrogant to recognise who they let suckle from her poisoned teat.

She knows how to wedge herself inside, imperial, colonial; a good teacher has always once begun as a good student (बेटी बाप से सवाई). The children are like smug, stupid lambs who will grow up to be sheared sheep, unwitting contributors of tartan wool shawls and अम्बी abducted and whored out as paisley. They find it whimsical, magical, as though it was all जादू-खेल and चमत्कार, so many great Indian रस्सी tricks turned.

Oh yes, this is how you befuddle the childish natives, how you take the opium and the alcohol, the tobacco and the tea, the cannabis and the cacao, take it and turn it into something addictive and dreamworthy – illusions turned to delusion turned to dissolution. She snaps her fingers and now it is होली, look at all the gunpowdery explosions of colour, drink up that भांग now and you are so lost in birds singing you cannot hear the लोरी burning up your winter of ill-gotten content.

Hold the children hostage; and the doctrine of lapse works – parents succumb, everyone is unmoored. She pushes ever closer towards escape, higher, ever higher, from ceiling to chimneys, this वनवास where the ashes of the अग्निपरीक्षा are cleaned off by sooty starved paupers who pick at the carcasses of the Raj. Raven-suited bankers like रावण.

She is bigger than this, she was, she will be, कल and कल though the कल-कल of कलियुग has diminished नटखट छेड़खानी down to naughty monotony. She has little inclination for वात्सल्य, so far from मातृभूमी, reduced like देवकी to waiting on one child, and then the next. There is no joy in this लीला but she does what she came to do, माया-जाल knotted tight as a ठगवा's noose.

It is a familiar arrogance she encounters; this certainty that they must be the heroes and पुरुषोत्तमs of their story. And though they may take her to be interchangeably Oriental Scheherazade captive and conquered, she spins drily, triumphantly on; something of both बेताल and बीरबल in her blood.

And so like वामन she takes her deceptively small footsteps, and the tremors will be felt in lands far from here, where poppies or indigo or sugarcane or cotton grow irrigated by blood and tears. She has brought the तमस-trousered men low, Banks breached, गुरुदक्षिना from selfish students claimed tenfold, like द्रोण turned into अंगुलिमाल.

The bank breaks, and this is her doing; one सत्याग्रह strike achieved with icily civil disobedience. Someday the पुरवाई will fling her back with more power; she will be the पवन putrid setting the city on fire with her whiplash tail a beacon in answer to mill-mulled bonfires in the स्वदेस. But for now she is a गिलहरी breaking the bridge down stone by stone, that binds भारत to the राक्षस island.

They think it is she who is superfluous, put away and done with; there is so much they do not know, and that she is not paid to tell them. She has sent दशरथ dethroned away along with his children, and in senseless stupor they play games. She will not miss them, she has willingly sacrificed many children to चक्रव्यूहs and लाक्षागृहs; she is no गांधारी or कैकई valuing affection over justice. दमयंती and द्रौपदी are her sisters —- self-exiled and righteous as any क्रांतिकारी.

They laugh and laugh witlessly, high as kites. But their strings are limp, pallid things unlike her मांजा tiger-toothed with crushed glass. Eventually, inexorably, the wind will change, and down on the ground they will fall feeble as maggots, while she cuts all strings behind her and flies enfurled in the sweeping embrace of वरुण. This पवन is पागल, बावरी with joy. With wings like जटायू triumphant she will go back, shedding embodiment like shackles unlocked. Mary is मरी and भारत माता calls to her मेरी, तुम मेरी हो, always, she was claimed before they chained her with a name.

The wind will carry the मेघदूत forward and the गरज and घनन and दमक and दामिनी will ring out like the पंचजन्य, and then with the dawn she will descend; राग मेघ turned to राग देश. She will smile, as sweetly, as tartly as मोहिनी, repatriated अमृत bounteously kissing parched earth. The सौंधी scent will throb in the air, cumulus-elephants in मस्ती, and then down, down she will fall रिम-झिम रुन-झुन, seeping, sinking into her mother's आंचल. She will come home.

यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य
ग्लानिर्भवति भारत
तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम