Dancing milkmaids surround Krishna, but it’s not the Hindu deity they’re excited to be around. In Basudhara Roy’s gorgeous and erotically tinged poem, bodies undress and dissolve to the music of their own longing.
Mostly, it wasn’t about him,
though yes, we did need that
magic cowherd in our midst.
No one will disagree he was
a heart-throb. We swooned over
his pearl-teeth, his tree-bark skin.
But it was chiefly his flute that
did us in. If you believe music strips
the soul, know his notes undressed us
till our scarves, grudges, obligations
were all blown away. That’s how
he stole our clothes, our butter roles,
ceaselessly inviting us to play.
And we went, all of us sakhis –
Vishakha, Chitra, Indulekha.
He knew we held each other’s souls
in sway, trembled like waves in the
other’s embrace. Radiant in sringara,
as we interlocked sandal-rubbed arms
to dance around his halo at the centre,
it seldom escaped Govind’s eyes that
our attention lay at our partnered sides.
How else could he explain conjugal bliss
in each of his sixteen thousand wives?
The village thought our ecstasy came from him.
We played along. Between whining children,
jealous sister-in-laws and disinterested husbands –
this hour alone was ours. Surfeit with
freedom, limbs supple like vines we danced,
thrilled to be where love was recklessly returned.
In those moments, they say, we became
Krishna. Well, we became Radha too.
In love’s river, it is difficult to say who is who.
After the cowherd left, we sang by the Yamuna,
oiled, bathed, pleated rajnigandhas into each
other’s hair, our hearts blooming like lotuses.
They have many stories about us but Krishna
alone knew the script of our souls, our breath.
Some men, you see, are not afraid.
About Basudhara Roy
Basudhara Roy teaches English at Karim City College affiliated to Kolhan University, Chaibasa. Her poetry is featured/upcoming in Madras Courier, Lucy Writers’ Platform, Berfrois, RIC Journal, Gitanjali and Beyond, The Helter Skelter Anthology, Café Dissensus, Yearbook of Indian English Poetry 2020-21, The Aleph Review, Mad in Asia, Teesta Review, EKL Review, The Poetry Society of India, Muse India, Setu and Triveni among others. Her recent (second) collection of poems is Stitching a Home (New Delhi: Red River, 2021). She loves, rebels, writes and reviews from Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, India.
This poem was commissioned as part of Frankie Dytor’s series, BAROQUE
The ‘baroque’ is an intemperate aesthetic. Once a period term to describe the visual arts produced in the seventeenth century, its use and significance has exploded over the last fifty years. No longer restricted to the fine arts, the baroque has fallen into pop culture and become an icon.
Inspired by the work of Shola von Reinhold, this series takes ephemera and excess as its starting point for a new exploration of the b a r o q u e. It wants to look back at the past and queerly experiment with it, to rip it up and reclaim a new space for the future – or, in von Reinhold’s words, ‘to crave a paradise knit out of visions of the past’. The b a r o q u e is present in moments of sheer maximalism, in ornament, frill and artifice. It celebrates the seemingly bizarre and the unintelligible, the redundant and fantastical. Disorienting and overwhelming, it offers a decadent way of experiencing present and past worlds.
In von Reinhold’s debut novel, the forgotten black modernist poet Hermia Druitt is rediscovered one day in the archives. As Mathilda goes on a hunt to find out more about this elusive figure, a kaleidoscope of aesthetic joy ensues. Mathilda, we are told, is one of the Arcadian types: those with an “inclination towards historicised fragments”, but not one infected with the more insidious forms of history-worship. Instead, as she explains, “I would not get thrown off track: I could rove over the past and seek out that lost detail to contribute to the great constitution: exhume a dead beautiful feeling, discover a wisp of radical attitude pickled since antiquity, revive revolutionary but lustrous sensibilities long perished”. This series likewise wants to use the past in new and unexpected ways, that trans the archive and queer the record.
Join us to celebrate the dazzle of the b a r o q u e!
Send your creative and critical writing, audio recordings, films, art work and reviews to Frankie Dytor, guest editor of b a r o q u e, dytorfrankie[at]gmail.com
Submissions are open until the end of the year. For more information and for review titles see the full Call Out here.
Feature image: Krishna Dancing with Gopis in Vrindavan, Folio from a Balagopalastuti (Praise for the Young Lord of the Cowherds). India, Gujarat, circa 1450-1475. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. View its record here: https://collections.lacma.org/node/170854