Many years ago, I read the great Hindi poet Maithilisharan Gupta’s poem ‘Sakhi, ve mujh se kahkar jate’ that expressed the grief of Queen Yashodhara, the wife of Prince Siddhartha. That poem transports us two thousand five hundred years ago to the fateful morning when Yashodhara wakes up find her husband has left the palace during the night. She is filled with dismay, sorrow, frustration and desire. She unburdens herself to her friend – Sakhi – and says in a tone that is at the same time accusatory, hopeful and resigned:
O friend, he should have told me and left
Would I have obstructed his path?
He respected me indeed
But did he really know me?
He was everything for me
If only he had realised this
He would have told me and left.
The poem is disturbing at various levels because we know from legend that Siddhartha had indeed come to Yashodhara’s bedchamber but found her in deep sleep with baby Rahul by her side. Perhaps the Prince would have said something if she were awake. We also know that the Prince who left the palace wordlessly that night, eventually became Lord Gautama Buddha, who taught humanity the path out of sorrows, the path of Nirvana. Yet, as readers we are touched by Yashodhara’s all too human desperate plight.
Suppose that night Yashodhara would have been awake, what would have Siddhartha said to console her? What answers would he provide for her copious tears? How would he justify his decision to leave behind his wife and baby son?
Perhaps he would have whispered the sentiments of Faiz Ahmed Faiz into her ears – Mujhse pehli si mohabbat meri mehbub na maang.
The black, savage sorcery of countless centuries
Woven in silk and satin and brocade
Bodies sold on every lane and marketplace
Congealed in mud, bathed in blood
Charred bodies from the ovens of diseases
Pus flowing from open cankerous sores
My gaze returns to them, what can I do?
Your beauty is still alluring, yet what can I do?
There are sorrows in this world, more painful than love
There are balms that bring more relief than embrace.
Don’t seek from me, my love, the passions of the past.
Poetry speaks of the finest, subtlest, most delicate human emotions. Poetry speaks in powerful metaphors that resonate across time and space. Poetry asks questions about human existence and also provides the answers.
– Paromita Goswami
Poetry translated by Paromita Goswami.