a poem by P.K.N. Panicker, India

You know me.
Try to remember, you will recollect.

I too was a ‘Me Too’ girl.

A few millenniums before,
in the midst of thick forests,
in the midst of trees, plants and creepers,
I grew up listening to the sweet music
and the roaring sound
of the flowing river-lets and rivers,
caressing the blossomed smiling lily flowers
in the calm serene ponds
and the young ones
of the deer stand hugging me.

And I grew up
in the midst of innocent loving friends,
petted, caressed and guided by godly sages.

On one of those days
when my foster father was away,
the famous, young, handsome king
reigning the country
by mistake during his hunting expedition
happened to arrive at our hermitage.

Purely out of courtesy we received him;
extended the traditional welcome for guests;
And he having got enamoured
by the natural beauty of the environment,
of the Ashram
opted to stay with us for a couple of days;
spent the days, relaxed, happily
and he was kind and courteous
to all inmates of the Ashram.

He liked me much and I liked him too.
Our minds knew each other; came closer –
a mutual admiration
beyond words to describe –
He proposed in all humbleness
that I be his wife, the Queen.

And those days when
Gandharva Marriages were socially acceptable
we came closer mentally and physically too.
Couple of days later, while leaving
he reaffirmed that he would return soon
to escort me to his royal palace
and have a regular marriage
in all splendour and gaiety.

But he never came!

My foster father on returning
knowing all that happened
got angry with me
but on mature thought blessed me.

As my pregnancy started showing
with the permission of my foster father
accompanied by a few close friends
I went to his royal palace.
On informing of my arrival,
he refused to accept me as his wife,
pretended not to know me,
abused and threatened to throw me out
– physically.
At that point in time
my mother who cast me away at birth
realizing the pitiable situation I was in
took me to her home.

Years passed by.

My son
grew up a warrior par excellence
a highly learned one.

In between, the sycophants around him
weaved a few stories justifying the king;
After all it was their duty
to keep the king’s reputation untarnished
– pure as glittering gold!

That the king presented a magic ring
to me to be worn always,
that I lost the ring because of a curse
I received from a sage;
And that the loss of the ring
caused the king
to lose his memory about me
and so on ...........................
All products of pure imagination!

On some later occasion
my son, nay, our son
met with him;
proved himself to be equal to the king
in prowess in every field;
And told him of the truth –
when I too confirmed the same
the king had no choice
but to accept our words – the truth!

That my son
was later accepted the king’s heir
ruled the country as a famous Emperor
are matters better left to history.

Won’t you accept the fact
that I too was a ‘Me Too’ girl-
yes, you shall.

You know me, don’t you?
Just try to remember.

Notes: 1. Gandharva Marriage – A Gandharva Marriage is one of the eight classical types of accepted Hindu marriage customs.. This ancient marriage tradition from the Indian subcontinent was based on mutual attraction between two people, with no rituals, witnesses or family participation. The marriage of Dushyanta and Shakuntala was a historically celebrated example of this class of marriage. In Mahabharata, one of two major epics of Hindus, Rishi Kanva, the foster father of Shakuntala, recommends Gandharva marriage with the statement “The marriage of a desiring woman with a desiring man, without religious ceremonies, is the best marriage. Elsewhere in Mahabharata,the epic says “No man any longer asks for the daughter, nor does a father give away his daughter, they (women) find the man for themselves.”

2. The narrative I have chosen is based on Mahabharata story and not Kalidasa’s version.

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