Image credit: Sanjay Patel ( http://www.amazon.in/Ramayana-Divine-Loophole-Sanjay-Patel/dp/081187107X )

Janaki stirred in her sleep like the faint light of dawn creeping over the hills. Her hands searched for Rama and as she rolled over, her tender breasts swayed, jasmine buds in a spring breeze. Her fingers found only the hard mud floor of the hut. He had woken before her, like always. She smiled an intoxicated smile.

Vaidehi was awakened by the drone of the palace’s machinery. Almost immediately, her eyebrows twisted into a frown. Even as she rolled over and her hands felt the soft fabric of the silken sheets next to her, she knew that he had woken before her, like always. She shook her head and smiled a wan smile.

Still supine, she languorously let her hands slide over her neck, her breasts and down to her navel. She half smiled and gasped as the touch evoked memory of the previous night’s sport. Almost reluctantly she covered her breasts, deliberately lingering over the many bruises on them.She collected her drunken thoughts and her unruly tresses and knotted them neatly. The day now awaited her advent.

By the time she had pushed the sheets off and put her feet on the foot stool, an attendant was kneeling with a bowl of water. She cast an empty stare on the bare walls as her feet were washed, her night clothes removed and her hair unknotted. The day now awaited her.

He was bathing in the river as she reached the banks with her pot. She put the pot down on the sand and sat down beside it. With her hand supporting her chin, she leaned forward and drank him in. His chest shone in the sun, the water drops glistening like fresh rain on the gem studded Himavan. Her lips parted and a hungry sigh escaped them as he raised his hands over his head and offered the very sun protection with sanctified water. She licked her lips at the thought of bathing in that same river that caressed him.

The musk in the oil was more nauseating than usual. She wondered how the many attendants in that tiny enclosed bathing space went about their duties when being suffocated by this smell. She tried to engage herself by closing her eyes and guessing which of the attendants was oiling which part of her body. Breasts, the nubile one whose fingers still trembled at the touch of another woman’s body. Shoulders, that forgetful girl whose hands slid away like lost memories. Calves, that jaded old woman whose grip was cold and firm. A dry laugh escaped her lips.

Jaded old woman.

That thought warmed her bath water a little more than usual that day. She wondered if one these many girls too gossiped about how their queen had returned from barbarian lands learning not just the Veena, but something more.

Her hips swayed with a deliberate slowness as she neared the river. She looked over to see if she had caught his attention. But apart from that one moment where as he got out of the water, he glanced at her with a flash of desire; lightning cleaving a mountain, he kept walking towards the hut, unmindful of her, like an arrow speeding towards its target. She pouted her lips. He’ll pay for this tonight, when he hungers for the many buds of her body. She giggled and plunged into the water, her mind submerged in dreams of many evil erotic games.

She crossed his path as she was walking out from the palace towards the temple. They moved on like ill fated planets surrounded by satellites of their retinue, each caught in the others’ orbit never to escape till all of creation submerged in Mahadeva’s dance. He looked back at her after she went by. Should he perhaps change his agenda and join her in the temple? It was after all spring. Even as he was lost in these thoughts, Vasishta brought him back to earth. This was serious. A shudra had been performing penance and the sin had resulted in a Brahmin boy’s death!

She never turned to look at him, even though she knew he did. His gaze pricked her with many arrows, each of them finding their mark truly, even though they had left his bow many years ago.

“I need some more firewood.”, she stirred the pot one more time.

“Lakshaman, can you get it?”, he was planning to snatch another kiss.

“No, you get it.”, Lakshmana was indignant. “I chopped the wood. So it’s your turn.”

“Oh come on don’t be childish. Get it quickly. I am your elder brother, you have to obey me.”

“No, you get it.”, she said with a naughty smile on your face. “How will you make a good king if you are not just, Rama?”

Lakshaman laughed. Rama glared at both of them.

“Fine, I’ll get it.”, he ran his hand over his matted hair angrily and stormed off.

For a few minutes Janaki and Lakshmana sat silently, the only sound being that of the ladle scraping the pot.

Suddenly Lakshmana spoke in a falsetto voice.

“Fine, I’ll get it.” and ran his hand over his hair affectedly. They both burst out laughing and she hit his knee playfully with the ladle.

Rama walked in right at the moment. The two froze. Janaki then spoke in a deep guttural voice.

“Fine, I’ll get it.” and pouted. Rama rushed at both of them and yanked their hair. The little hut echoed with innocent laughter.

And then suddenly, outside, there was a beastly growl. The brothers looked at each other and grabbed their bows and arrows. Before he stepped out of the threshold, Rama turned and blew a kiss at Janaki. She caught it in the air and went back to her cooking.

He barely looked at her as they sat down for lunch. As was his wont, he refused the ghee and got the attendants to serve her an extra portion, the loving husband.

“Will you be late today as well?”, she asked as her fingers played with the food listlessly.

“I hope not.”, he brightened. “I am planning to wrap up the durbar early. Maybe we could head out to the forest in the evening. I’ll get the chariot prepared.”

“No. I’ve promised to teach Lakshmana today.”, she looked up at him with an almost cruel smile on her face. “The veena.”

His face fell. Without looking up at her, he muttered.

“Once. It was only once. And I had a right to know. It’s not like I put you to trial by fire.”

“Oh you did. You did indeed.”, She brushed her hair behind her ears and went about her meal.

There was no sound except for the drone of the palace’s machinery. And then suddenly, a palace guard rushed in and knelt before the King.

Apologies, your majesty, it is the washermen. They are agitating outside the palace. I think it is best you come and take a look.”

He looked at her one more time, washed his hands and then went out, his lunch unfinished.

How they scared her with stories of demons out there!

How they scared her with stories of demons out there!

She did not fear any demons.

She did not fear any demons.

He was with her.

He was with her.