She stood at the edge of where heaven gave way to earth and gazed at the sky. The otherwise blue horizon was shrouded with dark clouds that looked as foreboding as she felt inside. She wanted to escape. Where? How? The answers appeared daunting.
“Lakshmi, I have prepared your favourite pakoras and chutney. This is the weather to have them,” a voice from behind called out. Lakshmi turned around. Parvati, her best friend since more eras than she could remember, flashed a welcoming smile.
“I have not even rung the doorbell of Kailash Nivas, and you have made me feel at home already,” Lakshmi said, walking towards her friend. “How did you know about my arrival, Paro?”
“Friends know,” Parvati replied. “I also know something is bothering you, isn’t it?”
Startled, Lakshmi averted her eyes before stepping inside the entrance of Kailash Nivas. Her friend had the uncanny ability to articulate her innermost feelings and desires, sometimes even before she had fully realised them for what they were. She had half a mind to return from where she came from, but it was too late now.
“Will you do all the thinking at the door itself? Come inside. I have tried some new spices today, and can’t wait to hear what you think about them. Pakoras first, Chai afterwards and Gupshup later. What say?”
Lakshmi smiled. Parvati’s energy was always infectious.
A sense of awe and wonder overwhelmed her as she ventured inside the dimly lit cavernous halls, notwithstanding it was her umpteenth visit here. The rock-cut walls had intricate carvings of animals, birds and scenes from the world — each image more striking than the last. Cool, damp air stroked her body. The place was filled with silence broken by the sound of dripping water and the occasional chirping of birds.
Lakshmi followed her friend to the labyrinthine interiors with the narrow passageways leading to hidden chambers and shrines, each revealing new wonders. Parvati finally paused her steps inside a vast hall with a retractable glass roof looking up to the sky, and sat cross-legged atop a rug of tiger’s skin.
“Why are you standing, dear Lakshmi? Come and join me,” she beseeched her friend.
“You know that I can never stop marvelling at this place of yours,” Lakshmi replied, settling beside her friend. “I am in awe of your housekeeping skills, Paro. You maintain Kailash Nivas really well.”
“Vaikunth Vatika is equally enchanting, Lakshmi. I ask you to share some of your housekeeping tips every time I go there. And I always forget! I must be getting old.” Parvati’s lips widened to reveal dimples at the corners of her mouth.
“Nonsense. I am the same age as you. So, I would not allow you to call yourself old.”
Their tinkling laughter ricocheted off the caves and trickled into the atmosphere, causing a pleasant breeze to engulf all things in heaven and earth.
The laughter gave way to a comfortable silence that was only possible between those who have shared their travails across countless years, eras and sagas.
“Happy to see you laugh, Lakshmi. A glum face and sour expression don’t suit the Goddess of Wealth. Now, tell me, what bothers you?”
A pair of two-legged bulls carrying vibrant yellow pakoras with green chilli chutney entered just then, bowing to both of them. Lakshmi acknowledged Parvati’s loyal retinue.
“You do take great pains to pamper me, Paro,” she said, gorging on the snacks.
“So do you when you are the hostess. We, women, are like that, aren’t we?”
“Well, I suppose so,” Lakshmi said. Parvati raised an eyebrow.
“I am tired. Tired of hosting planned and unplanned meals at Vaikunth Vatika for the creatures and Gods who come with their grievances and prayers. Tired of patiently grinning at the requests I receive while secretly hoping that the fellow in front of me would take some action on his own rather than passing all his worries to me. Tired of being worshipped by those on earth who seem to remember me only when it is time for them to burst some fireworks only to conveniently forget about me for the rest of the year,” Lakshmi lamented.
“Well, you can’t stop the people on earth from worshipping the Goddess of Wealth.”
“That’s what. I am tired of being put on this pedestal. I didn’t earn this title; it was bestowed on me. I feel I am no one. What is my identity apart from being my husband’s wife? Sita to Ram, Radha to Shyam, Mira to Girdhar and Lakshmi to Vishnu—where is my identity in the entire scheme of things? Who am I?
“I have been lost for so long, Paro, that I don’t know where to find myself or if I can find myself at all,” Lakshmi concluded with trembling lips.
Parvati looked at her friend. She had felt the same way not so long ago.
She touched Lakshmi’s shoulders lightly. Lakshmi gripped Parvati’s palm. Tears coursed through her cheeks and dropped to the ground, causing rains and landslides.
“Look at me, Paro, crying at my plight. Goddesses are not supposed to cry. You will tell me to stop crying now.”
“I will not say any such thing. We have a lot of work to do, and it is but natural to get overwhelmed. It is ok to cry.”
“But what would humans say if they come to know I am crying?”
“The nice ones will think that Gods are more like them than they thought. The not-so-nice ones don’t matter. In any case, it is not important what others think about you. More important is what you think about yourself.”
“I think I am a good-for-nothing deity. All I do is cook, clean, instruct, press my husband’s legs, attend to the visitors and sleep. Then also, my pakoras aren’t as tasty as yours. I am a wife and the housekeeper of Vaikunth Vatika, with no locus standi of my own. Separate my revered spouse’s name from mine, and I have no identity left.”
“That’s what you think. The reverse may also hold true.”
Lakshmi looked doubtful. “Well…does it? Seems unlikely. They are talking of establishing Ram Rajya on earth; there is no mention of Sita despite all her sacrifices.”
“Hmm…true that. What do you plan to do about it?”
“Me? What can I do?” Lakshmi was flabbergasted.
Parvati got up and stood facing her friend.
“Humans worship me as Durga. They pay homage to me in temples built solely for me and keep fasts to earn my blessings. How do you think this happened?”
“Hmm…I…because….” Lakshmi’s face cleared. “I see now….”
“All this wouldn’t have happened had I not expressed my angst and demonstrated my prowess. My raudra roop first came out of desperation, when I was pushed to a corner. But then I realised it would be more beneficial for me, and the world, to know what I truly stand for. Yesterday, it was my turn. Today, it’s yours, Lakshmi.”
“Yes. No one else—your husband, parents, children, or friends—can give you what you want. First, how will they know what you want if you don’t ask for it? Second, everyone has their own life and is busy with it. You will have to make you and your dreams your priority. Because no one else will.”
Lakshmi got up and met Parvati’s gaze. The two ladies rivalled each other in height, form and beauty—their dark skins glowed brightly in the afternoon sun. One stood smiling while the other looked on with eyes widened.
“So far, you have spoken to me about what you don’t want to do or be. Tell me about what you want to do,” Parvati said.
“Umm…that’s a good question. I want to be known as a brave, decisive and steadfast woman who consciously chose to embrace the perils of the forest and risk the wrath of a demon to make the world a better place. I want to tell people that worshipping me alone is no substitute for hard work. Above all, I want to motivate the womenfolk on earth to follow their own path instead of listening to those around them; I know they are capable of much more if only they believe in themselves.”
“That’s wonderful, Lakshmi. What better way to motivate them than leading by example? You are worried about your lost identity. Then why not embark on a new road—a road you haven’t taken till now?”
“What can I do, Paro?”
“Don’t ask yourself what you can do, but how you can do all you want to. How will you go about realising your dreams?”
Lakshmi paced the room while Parvati stood calm, knowing that her friend would need to find her own answers.
Lakshmi ceased her circular moments eventually. “I can request and guide a prominent pandit to rewrite Ramayana, this time from a woman’s point of view. Or maybe write a new epic that mentions Lord Ram but doesn’t revolve around him entirely.”
“That is a good idea, Lakshmi,” Parvati encouraged her.
Emboldened, Lakshmi continued, “I can enter the dreams of mortals and enlighten them that ‘Goddess of Wealth’ is a misnomer. Instead, I am the ‘Goddess of Endeavour’, and they should worship me as that and vow to remain steadfast in pursuing their goals— whatever that may be.”
“About the last bit of motivating other women….” Lakshmi bit her lip.
“Yes, what about it?”
“I can take birth on earth as this strong, independent woman with her own mind who fearlessly pursues her dream!” Lakshmi exclaimed.
“Bravo. Yes, you can. You must.”
“No ifs and buts, Lakshmi!”
“I have never assumed an avatar on my own. Sita, Radha, et al. l…I assumed all these avatars in obedience to my husband’s wishes. I don’t think he has plans to take birth on earth anytime soon.”
“His plans are immaterial to your aspirations. The fact that you have followed him earlier doesn’t mean you need to follow him forever. Women need to follow or take permission from men for their actions— yehi soch to badalni hai.
“Inform others about what you would like to do. Seek their suggestions if you’d like. But do what you want to do. Don’t allow others to hold you back.”
“What you say makes a lot of sense, Paro. I know what I have to do to get what I want. But still, I feel so scared.”
“It is natural and ok to feel scared. You achieve something despite your fears, not in the absence of them. And you can never be hundred per cent ready before taking the plunge. There would be a lot of setbacks, and you will figure things out along the way. Don’t let your fears stop you.”
The dark clouds had dispersed, revealing a glorious afternoon sun that soaked Lakshmi in its warmth.
“I am so happy to have a friend like you, Paro. Time and again, you have acted as a mentor to me, nudging me towards the right path.”
“I have benefited greatly from your support, too, all these years, Lakshmi. Women should help, encourage and stick by one another. One day, together, we will correct the inequity that exists in heaven and earth.”
“Surely, Paro. I have a lot to inform my husband. I must take leave of you now.”
“I won’t delay your destiny by insisting you stay back. Best wishes, my dear.”
They warmly embraced each other, not sure when they would meet again. Parvati stood still till Lakshmi’s retreating figure was no longer visible.
The important first step is invariably the beginning of walking a tightrope. Balancing the demands from children and husband, answering the pointed queries of neighbours, ego clashes with spouse—the road to satisfaction for a woman doesn’t come easy. Parvati herself was treading thin ice between compromises and ambitions daily; she did get overwhelmed sometimes, but the struggles enriched and added more meaning to her life.
Lakshmi — and other goddesses — would face similar challenges someday. And, like her, they would have to arrive at their own solutions.
It was a different Lakshmi who set foot in the Vaikunth Nivas after two hours.
As Jaya and Vijaya bowed to the goddess and opened the golden gate, she took in the house of pure gold adorned with precious stones and jewels. The place was a thousand times more radiant than the sun.
Lakshmi was engulfed with peace and tranquillity as she made her way to Vishnu’s inner chambers. The fragrance of blooming flowers, the lush-green surroundings, and the sight of numerous crystal-clear water bodies scintillated her senses. The exotic flowers and fruit-bearing trees, which never wilted or withered, tempted her. The music of the celestial beings and the chanting of hymns could be heard throughout the realm.
The things that seemed monotonous till a few hours ago now arrested Lakshmi’s attention. Has my prescient husband gauged my intention, and this is his way of holding me back? She wondered before hastening her pace.
She loved her home, yes. She had to love herself to continue loving her home, husband, and family.
She stopped before a gold and diamond studded door, knocked slightly and went inside.
Sleeping on the coils of Sheshnag, reclined on his back, with his right arm as a pillow and his left arm resting by his side, her blue-hued husband appeared as magnificent as ever. Wearing his characteristic crown and jewellery, he held his signature weapons — the conch shell, the discus, the lotus, and the mace— in his four hands. His lotus eyes were closed in deep meditation, and a serene expression lingered on his face.
Lakshmi drew her breath as Lord Vishnu’s blue skin changed from the pale blue of the sky to the deep blue of the ocean every nanosecond.
She felt guilty for disturbing Vishnu’s sleep and guiltier that she was about to disrupt his peace. But she knew that if she dithered today, she would not be able to take the necessary step to build her self-esteem. “My Lord,” she said, taking a deep breath.
Vishnu stirred slightly but continued to sleep.
“Wake up, my Lord,” she said louder.
The daylight turned brighter as Vishnu slowly opened his eyes.
“Yes, dear,” he said, smiling at Lakshmi.
“Regret interrupting your siesta, but I have something important to say.”
“I am sure you do, dear Lakshmi. I am listening to you,” he said, not changing his position.
Lakshmi sighed. She would have preferred her husband to sit upright when conversing with her, but old habits die hard. Or is it me who hasn’t made my expectations clear in the first place?
“May I please request you to sit upright, my Lord? That will make it easier for me to speak to you,” she said, trembling inside.
Shades of surprise appeared in Vishnu’s demeanour as he sat upright on Seshnag’s coil.
“Yes, Lakshmi. Tell me now.”
“I would be taking birth as a human and going to earth for some days. You need to manage Vaikunth Vatika in my absence.” There, she had said it. The words sounded easier coming from her mouth than they had inside her head.
Vishnu’s jaw dropped. It was the first time ever she had seen her husband like that ever since she had met him at the sagar manthan.
“Is this some kind of joke, Lakshmi?”
“Not at all. I have some goals to achieve, which will not be realised from the confines of Vaikunth. Women on earth are taking rapid strides, but they are still far away from getting the equity and parity they deserve. I have decided to help them in their battle for equality. You have also taken numerous births on earth to strengthen the cause of the weak before the strong. It is my turn now.”
Vishnu stood up and paced the room with his back to Lakshmi, as she kept mum. Finally, he turned to face her.
“I have no immediate plans to take birth on earth,” he said.
“I know, Lord. You don’t have to change your plans for me if you don’t want to. I will go alone.”
“Oh….” Vishnu was taken aback. “Who will you marry on earth when you reach a marriageable age?”
“I don’t need to marry anyone, my Lord. Women are perfectly ok being single; my status will further reinforce this point. So don’t worry on that count. Not a breath of mine will betray you, my Lord.”
“What about Vaikunth Vatika? Who will manage the house when you are gone?”
“The solar system and its planets, the countless galaxies and all the celestial bodies rest on your capable shoulders, my Lord. Managing this house with your trusted retinue will be child’s play for you,” Lakshmi remarked.
Vishnu didn’t know how to counter his wife. He had focused on things outside his home since time eternal, leaving the matters at home to his illustrious wife. With Lakshmi gone, he will get bogged down with domestic trivialities.
What had come over my obedient wife? This is serious. I better take the advice of my friend and mentor, Mahadev, on this matter.
“Give me a few days to think about this, Lakshmi. I will come back to you,” he said.
Lakshmi coughed. “I don’t have much time left, Lord. I have identified a noble lady who is due to give birth at any moment. I have asked the God of Life to delay the birth for a few hours; a few days is out of the question. I will get going now.”
A tinge of red appeared on Vishnu’s face. He clasped and unclasped his hands.
“So, you have made up your mind, Lakshmi. Why did you pretend to ask me then?”
“I didn’t ask you, my Lord, but informed you about my decision. I couldn’t have disappeared from Vaikunth without apprising you, could I?” Lakshmi folded her hands.
Vishnu sat back on Seshnag’s coils, thunderstruck.
“There is something else I have to say,” Lakshmi continued.
“What is it, Lakshmi?” Vishnu cried out. He had had enough surprises for a lifetime.
“I will miss you, my Lord. Before I leave, I will instruct the household staff and ensure you don’t face any discomfort in my absence. Please do take care of yourself until I return.” Lakshmi bowed her head. A solitary tear slid down her cheek, forming a new waterbody on the ground where it dropped.
“Lakshmi…I too…I don’t know….” Vishnu was tongue-tied for once.
“Goodbye, my Lord, till we meet again.” Lakshmi turned her back to her home and husband and walked ahead with her head held high.
She had taken care of Vaikunth Vatika all these years out of love and respect for her revered husband, but he seemed to have taken it for granted. The moment he had enquired who would look after the home in her absence, she knew she had made the right decision.
She was scared, but less scared than a few minutes before.
You can never be hundred per cent ready before taking the plunge. There would be a lot of setbacks, and you will figure things out along the way. Don’t let your fears stop you. Parvati’s words rang in Lakshmi’s ears as she prepared to take the leap of faith to rewrite her destiny.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!