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  • In the Maze of Brindaban
  • Intizar Husain and Alok Bhalla (bio)
    Translated by Nishat Zaidi (bio)

It was in a lane in a maze of lanes in Brindaban. A lane within a lane. We walked out of one lane and into another and emerged into a third lane. Followed and led by monkeys. “Ya Maula! Are these lanes or is this a maze?! Where are we really headed? Which lane? Where is the door we are supposed to knock on?” We looked down at our feet and saw that our shoes were covered with dust. I turned to Gitanjali and asked, “Gitanjali, do you see how dusty these streets are?! Were they like this even during that blessed era? If so, it would’ve been very difficult for Radhaji to meet Krishnaji. His flute must have been enchanting, but could Radhaji have really walked through these lanes barefoot?”

As I said this, a white “Mem,” wrapped clumsily in a white khaddar sari, passed by barefoot. She was followed by a young white man, tonsured, a sacred thread around his neck, a long tilak on his forehead. Bespectacled. Wrapped in a saffron dhoti. How at ease he looked walking barefoot! My question answered, I didn’t pay attention to Gitanjali’s response.

I saw large images of Radha in every lane we walked through. When people met each other in a lane, they called out “Radhe Radhe” and walked on. I recalled that in our Dibai, when the Hindus greeted each other, they said “Ram Ram” instead of “salaam.” Those who were very formal said “Jai Ramji Ki.” Here in Brindaban, “Ram Ram” was never heard. People said “Radhe Radhe.” So where was Krishnaji here? There were no images of him; no one called out his name. This was the first question I put to Goswamiji.

Who was Goswamiji? Arre, the man whose ashram we were trying to locate! We were to be his guests. But where was his ashram?

At last, we managed to find it. A lovely place. The rooms reserved for our stay were cleaned, washed, and scrubbed. I asked him, “Swamiji, forgive me, but Brindaban has me baffled. Everywhere I turn, I see Radha, only Radha. I don’t see Krishnaji anywhere. Radhaji alone seems to reign here.”

Goswamiji burst out laughing. “Arre, that butter thief! He abandoned this city and went away. Radhaji stayed on. That’s why she rules over the city.”

Then Goswamiji said, “Bhai, how could you be familiar with Brindaban? Let me guide you.” He leads, we follow. But before we started off, he turned to Gitanjali and said, “Why are you carrying this purse? Leave it behind. The monkeys here are after two things: ladies’ purses and men’s glasses.”

I looked at Goswamiji. He was wearing glasses. I said to myself, “He’s a goswami, so the monkeys of Brindaban must have special regard for him.” [End Page 213] Well, Goswamiji led, we followed. How many lanes we did pass through! Each lane was like a grove. Who could have guessed which lane Radhaji lived in? We walked through more lanes. Eventually, we found ourselves walking on the banks of the Jamuna. I was shocked. What had happened to the river on its way to Brindaban? It was like a nullah, a sewer, and not a flowing river.

Walking along, Goswamiji suddenly stopped and, pointing excitedly, said, “Look at that kadam tree.”

The tall kadam tree was dense and old. How many monkeys were jumping among its sprawling, twisted branches! And how many red, yellow, and blue scraps of silk and cotton were tied around the old tree!

“This is the tree where Krishnaji hid himself after stealing the clothes of gopis. Those poor girls were praying in the river, in water up to their necks, to get a chance to dance with Krishna Kanhayia. He instead played a trick on them: he surreptitiously stole the clothes they had taken off and left on the bank, then he climbed into that tree and hid in the thick branches.” Goswamiji paused and then added, “Guess how this tree was identified? How was Brindaban itself discovered? This town had been forgotten for...


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pp. 213-219
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