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The 4th Widow of AyodhyA-Part 1 of 8

From: M K Sudarshan (sudarsan_at_batelco.com.bh)
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 01:12:21 PDT

                      THE FOURTH WIDOW OF AYODHYA
                      ---------------------------
     A short-story adaptation of an incident from the 'aranya-kAndam' of
Srimad RamayAnam
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Lakshmana woke up with a startle. 

He was surprised he'd actually been dozing off !

He'd thought he'd finally conquered sleep these many years now in the
jungles. How wrong he was !

The small camp-fire he'd been sitting beside was dying away; its embers
smouldered weakly in the darkness of the forest. It's warmth, too, had
ceased. The fierce winter wind had chosen the very moment to whip in through
the woods and sting him with its icy talons. He'd shivered and woken up
instantly from a  state of half-sleep made feverish with half-dreams.

Lakshmana, rubbed his tired eyes, gathered himself up and hastily fed pieces
of tree-bark and twigs into the fire and revived its crackling dead soul.

The flames, at first meek, soon sprang to life and blazed; the warmth spread
again around the camp-site that Rama and he'd set up the night before in a
small forest-clearing on the banks of the River Godavari.

Lakshmana leaned back on his haunches, stared into the camp-fire and took up
sentry-watch again.

He suddenly noticed that the forest was eerily quiet. It was the hour before
dawn when it was proverbially the darkest --- especially during chilly
"dhanUr- mAsam".

The sounds of the previous night had died away into the murky depths of the
woods; but they'd not yet been replaced by the welcoming noises of daybreak.
The trill of crickets, the baying of a lone wolf and the flapping wings of
giant bat-colonies had all died down in the night. The sounds of sunrise ---
the chirping of koyals, the roar of a wild buffalo or the trampling of
elephant-herds at a watering hole deep in the jungle --- those kind of
sounds were all still a few hours away.

All that Lakshmana could hear was the gurgling waters of the Godavari as she
flowed swiftly past a narrow gorge nearby.

Then he suddenly heard Rama stir a little in his sleep. 

He looked at his brother, the Lord of Ayodhya, lying supine on a bed of
rough and wild forest-shrubs. Strangely, his brother looked to him every bit
as regal as he did when Lakshmana'd seen him in the grand retiring quarters
of the Ayodhya palace. 

Lakshmana thought he saw his brother shiver a bit in the biting cold. Was
Rama feeling cold ? Was the camp-fire not warm enough for him ? 

Lakshmana wasn't sure; so he reached across and pulled out the deer-skin
from a rucksack and spread it softly over the Lord of Ayodhya to keep him
warmer.

Lakshmana looked at the deer-skin spread across the handsome outlines of
Rama's body. The piece of animal-skin seemed to glow like solid gold in the
camp-fire lights dancing in the darkness.

Lakshmana smiled to himself in a mood of bitter-sweet recollection. At least
the pursuit of "mArichA" back in Chitrakoota was not entirely futile, he
said to himself ! It's at least yielding you now Rama, he muttered under his
freezing breath, it's at least yielding you some warmth in bed on a cold
night out in the middle of the jungle ! 

Alas, Rama !(Lakshmana thought to himself wryly) but if you turned now to
ask me of what comfort the wretched warmth of "mArichA's" hide in your bed
is to you when the soft and scented "warmth" of your beloved Sita has left
it .... if you ask me that cruel, heartless question .... my dear brother
.... how can I ever answer that ... ever ? 

The flickering flames threw weird lights and macabre shadows all around the
camp-site; they danced strange and ghostly whirls around the surrounding
trees and bushes. In a haze of flickers Lakshmana saw Rama's handsome face
seemingly lost in deep sleep.

The face looked as noble as ever.... care never seemed to wear it
away...tragedy never creased its brows ....it was the face of the Lord of
AyodhyA.... as lustrous as ever .... in sleep even ... in the middle of the
night in a jungle where no sense of direction or bearing was certain !

Lakshmana wondered if his brother could really be resting so peacefully in
the loving arms of Sleep : that fair Maiden who bestowed her Kiss only on
the truly carefree of the world.

He pondered if the Lord of Ayodhya was truly asleep or was, perhaps, only
pretending in order to silently persuade Lakshmana himself to relax and
snatch some rest!

If you're pretending Rama, thought Lakshmana, you're wasting your time ! If
you think by watching you sleeping restfully I too could be persuaded to do
so, then you are mistaken. For how could I ever sleep again, Rama, after all
that has happened to us ?

How could one rest one's uneasy head on the soft, comforting breasts of
Sleep when one's mind is infested with vicious ghosts and hideous
apparitions ?  

Lakshmana remembered how his mind and body had both lost the ability to
sleep all these years in the forest.

Until the times in Chitrakoota, he'd never WANTED to go to sleep because
he'd so much enjoyed standing guard all night listening to the soft sounds
of affectionate conversation between the royal couple as it wafted through
the misty night to him down and across the distant hillock where their
little cottage stood. Sita's soft voice and Rama's gentle responses had all
sounded so much like a wonderful serenade in the woods; to Lakshmana's ears
it'd had the cosy,chirpy ring of the busy, bustling Raghuvamsha-household
that he'd known and grown up within in much happier times in a distant past.
Lakshmana'd silently enjoyed those tranquil and affectionate moments of
reminiscence --- moments he'd never wanted to trade for a few measly hours
of sleep his body demanded.

But now in DandakAranya, Lakshmana bitterly reminded himself, the reason he
couldn't sleep was because ...... he just COULD NOT sleep !

Lakshmana couldn't get to close his eyes for a moment even; for they seemed
to burn the moment he closed them. The moment he lay down his head he seemed
to instantly arouse and awaken, in some dark, inner cranny of his mind, the
hideous ghost of his dead father in Ayodhya lying helplessly on a pyre,
crying out aloud for Rama and Lakshmana to come and see him take leave to
the other world ...then father would vanish ....only to be replaced with
Sita, in the next moment, wailing out in the silence of the jungle, wailing
out to be saved ....and then Jatayu suddenly appeared, too ... his body all
bloody and tattered ....and then all three re-appeared another moment and
chorused their screams and hurled taunts at him .... for his moment of
"weakness" back in the Dandaka-thicket where he'd deserted his post and let
Ravana easily and vengefully besmirch the honour of the "IkshvAku" family
....they'd all howled in chorus --- the ghosts of old Dasaratha and old
Jatayu --- and screamed accusingly at him ....till he could bear it all no
more ...he could sleep a wink no more... 

Lakshmana realised he'd been mistaken into thinking that the creature-needs
of his body and mind --- like sleep, warm food, fine clothes and plain,
simple laughter --- had all been entirely extinguished out of his life like
so many bitter memories of a remote past in the city of Ayodhya. Every
night, as he wrestled with sleep, he realized, again and again, that while
memories could be wiped out from one's mind, if one wanted to, the ghosts of
the past, however, could never be exorcised completely. 

They always returned, the ghosts, to ruin one's sleep ....

The icy winds of "dhanUr-mAsa" continued to howl through the forest and wide
across the misty expanse of the River Godavari too.

Lakshmana sat beside the fire and kept vigil over his brother as The Lord of
Ayodhya rested through the night that wore itself away slowly to the
outbreak of yet another painful day ... another dreadful day reminding them
both ....of a sense of grave loss ...of utter failure.... of searing
despair.... of separation from Lady SitA.
                    ************************************

(to be continued)

sudarshan