Its frenzied journey commenced when it left its home, the snow-fed rugged mountains, flowing down the serene pine-clad hills. The river rejoiced, gurgled, and sang aloud the many stories buried in its heart to the montane forest.
Rhododendrons, sal, oak, juniper, deodar and the ferns awakened to its burbling. Then it cascaded into the mountain valley and boulder- laden gorge, flooding them.
Aching to unite with the vast briny ocean, it left its mountain abode every year. Its swift currents formed eddies that cut into mountainous crags, but failed to diminish the boulders’ size. They stood solitary, unchanged, frozen in that narrow chasm for a million years. Were these stark inanimate silhouettes penitent, burning with desire, like Ahalya, to be quickened with life?
Because of its serpentine path, it knew it must skirt through various landscapes: peripheries of festive towns; hectic towering cities; and rustic villages; but none was as bleak, intimidating, and grim as the gorge.
In the plains, it was struck by women’s musical laughter. And how it yearned to stay with them for a few weeks; and listen to the many tales they gigglingly whispered into each other’s ears. These young girls were giddy, they’d find husbands and settle into domesticity, like Gargi ‘s daughter-in-law, Supriya.
A young handsome Supriya had dreamt beside these very banks of marital bliss, her cheeks turning scarlet at the thought. But eventually she disappeared.
Thence, the river had greeted Gargi followed by a brood of unruly girls. As she bathed them, a tired gap-toothed Gargi would sit them under a tree:
“Today, I’ll tell you Ahalya’s tale.”
And the river wondered why she chose no happier story. Perhaps, women told their own tales through mythical stories.
Gargi would describe Ahalya’s single transgression in great detail, to train these unschooled curious girls. But pat came their reply ” Dadi, do men turn all women into stones if they are angry? Do men have no mercy?”
Each year the river longed to speak a few words of wisdom; and carry them to the stark boulder-laden gorge- awaiting a miracle. Perhaps each boulder was… the river changed its trail of thought, drifting away.
This year Gargi dragged a malnourished eight-year-old girl, Rani. On hearing Ahalya’s story, Rani’s tiny frame was racked by insuppressible sobs. She raised her head accusingly, her blazing eyes questioning:
“Why do you tell us Ahalya’s story?
Look at mother, hasn’t she become a stone?
Baba kicks and curses her, forces her to go to Baba Ananddev, just for a son!
Dadi, Ma has neither spoken to or laughed with us for five years!
Dadi, women are punished, stop living, and sacrifice, men are free like water, women frozen like stone, baah!”
And she gnashed her teeth in a fit of rage.
The stupefied Gargi grudgingly wiped her overflowing tears, exclaiming, “Truth from such a tiny mouth! Wisdom must awaken Ahalya!” She held Rani against her ample bosom. ” Child, carve your destiny! Listen to none other than your truth!”
1. Ahalya: a mythical character who was cursed to turn into stone by her husband,Maharishi Gautam and gains life when touched by Sri Ram.
2. Dadi: Grandmother
3. Baba: father/ sage or godman
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