She looked at the basil plant, placed in the midst of the decorative splendor called the backyard of her authentic home. The plant was her favorite, for she was named after it. A name that was frowned upon by people, other than her mother and grandmother. Krishna Thulasi. That was the name given to the beautiful girl, who was cast back into a dark sanctum by the hypocrite hands of the society. The sanctum called ‘The Devadasi clan’.
“Krishna”! Her grandmother called out. “Where are you my dear?”
“I am in the back yard Kanchana amma” Krishna called back.
“Do not touch the thulasi plant!” her grandma called out hurrying to the backyard.
“But why can’t I touch thulasi ? “ Krishna whined. “She is my best friend”.
“Because you are in theetu my dear child.After 10 days we have the Pottukattu ceremony, after your dance performance at the Jaya Madhava temple.You cannot touch the thulasi anymore”. Her grandma said.
“But she is the only friend I have” she said, looking longingly at the basil plant. “Other girls won’t talk to me”.
“Krishna! Grow up now.” Her grandma said in a stern voice. “You have attained age, now you are ready to become a Devadasi. Now get back inside and stay there.”
“I don’t want to be a Devadasi” Krishna cried. “I don’t want to be anything you say if I can’t speak to my thulasi”. Krishna ran inside her home, tears running down her smooth cheeks.
Kanchanamala stood staring at the retreating form of her granddaughter, with tears in her eyes. At sixteen, Krishna was a beauty in the making. She had inherited the family’s exclusive golden tan and thick cascade of black hair. That was further enhanced by the fragile feminine body, with gently blossoming breasts and sculptured figure. Her thick brows were very black, winged naturally like a beautiful bow. She had full sensual lips that were as pink as the sky of a sunset. The only resemblance she had to proclaim her father was the gray, stormy eyes. She had the softness of a rose petal, freshness of a dew drop, elegance of a peacock and perfection of an apsara. All that will be gone in another 10 days. She would be crushed by the cruel chains of the society, her body viciously used by men, who sit at the epitome of that aristocracy. In the end, Krishna will up end like a stony statue just the way her mother and grandmother had become.
Krishna lay down on the mat that had been accompanying her since the dreadful morning when she saw blood coming out of her body. She had a terrible stomach ache followed by that. Instead of being cared for and pampered, like she had expected her mother and grandmother to do, she was forced to be curled inside the darkness of the granary room, dressed up with finery that made her uncomfortable, stuffed with food that made her queasy, scrutinized by men that gave her a nauseating feeling. The men, who leered at her mother every day, started shifting their gaze to her all of a sudden. They started touching her casually, their hairy hands fondling her breasts and back. She ran away from all of them, hiding herself whenever one of these men came to her home. The men kept coming every night, and each night her mother took them inside her bedroom and they left only in the morning.
“We are waiting for the day, when you will start serving us.” The big man with a scary mustache told her with a cruel smile. “I’ll be the first man who you’ll serve, and that day I catch hold of these without the fabric hindering the view” he said, pulling her blouse to reveal more of her bosom. Krishna cried, without understanding the true meaning of the Gothic words, utterly scared by the cruelty of the men. That night Krishna peeped inside her mother’s room, standing at tip toes near the window. The scene she witnessed, scared the living days out of her. Her mother was devoid of clothes, and there was a bear like man who was pushing and pulling her, beating and biting her. Her mother was smiling throughout the ordeal, her mouth gently repeating a single word.
Krishna went to sleep that night, desperately wishing that all of this would dissolve like a bad dream.
The day she dreaded the most, blossomed with thundering clouds and rain. Her mouth barely touched a morsel of food, her lips seldom smiled. Her mother started dressing her up, braiding her long hair.
“Amma!” Krishna called, her voice betraying her nervousness.
“Tell me Krishna”.
“The lady in the street corner, called me a “thevidiyal”, what does that mean?”
Menaka stared at her beloved daughter, her heart silently crushing inside.
“It’s not thevidiyal my dear. It’s ‘Dheiva Adiyal’, meaning, one who serves the God. “
“I’ve never seen you going to the temple”. Krishna said,” All you do is chant Gopala every day and in the night you take all that big uncles to your room and they do bad things to you.”
“We are servants of Lord Krishna dear”.Menaka said, “Everyone has a way to pray and serve God. We serve him by surrendering our body. You’ll understand it in due time darling. Krishna cannot come to us directly right? So he comes in the form of those men and I serve the God himself by making these men happy.”
“You call all these people who beat you as Kanna ? “ Krishna asked in a disgusting tone. “All these men are Kamsa’s in disguise.”
“Kanna will come some day!” her mother said losing none of her serenity. “You’ll know it in due time”
Krishna stepped on the stage, after touching the feet of her guru. She prepared herself for her dance performance, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. "Kanna! Mere pyar…" The song started and soon Krishna was lost to the rhythm, the sensual longing of the song, she started searching her Kanna with the eyes of her mind, begging him to come for her. She has reached the fast phase of her dance and suddenly the crowd parted. He was standing there, tall dark and handsome. Everything else was a blur, except his sparkling brown eyes, flawless smile and beautiful body. Her Kanna was here. He had heard her prayers. She went round and round in elation, finally losing balance and consciousness, falling off her feet. Strong hands went around her and they gently touched her cheek, her eyes opened the width of a hairline, only to see a very concerned set of brown eyes.
“Kanna!” she said and everything went black.
She was sitting in a bed decorated with roses and jasmines. She opened her eyes to see a large hand moving down her stomach to her intimate parts and a bald head lying on her bosom, something hardly biting her nipples.
“Ah!” she pushed away, trying to move out of the grasp of the terrible hands, He caught the hem of dress , and while she moved it started tearing away, leaving her breasts exposed. She started running away, but he was too large and too strong. She started throwing random things at him and one of it hit his head with a thrashing sound.
“Thevidiya mavale!” the large man bellowed like a bear, and soon there were lots of men and lots of hands surrounding her. She was stripped of clothes, virtue and emotions that night. Men kept entering her and she lay there without any movement. Her legs remained spread, there was a trace of blood trickling down between her thighs, her body was hunted by lustful hounds, but she did not feel any pain. There was only numbness. Why didn’t my Kanna come? Her mind kept repeating the question and she slowly felt herself falling into oblivion.
“Krishna!” “Darling!” she could her mother’s voice from other side of the tunnel. Slowly she surfaced back and along with consciousness, came all the memories of the night and all the pain that she avoided feeling till then. She ran from the bed without caring for her clothes, went to the bathroom and threw up. She doused herself with buckets and buckets of cold water trying to wash out the bitterness that was engulfing her. She wrapped a towel around her, ran to the backyard and saw the basil plant that stood there looking withered and tired fighting the torrent of rain that drowned the night. It is then that she broke. She cried and cried and cried hugging the basil plant to her, till there were no tears left.
Krishna’s mother came near her. “Krishna!” she called gently touching her daughter’s head.
“Don’t you dare touch me” Krishna seethed, anger and hurt emanating from her. ”Is this what your God does?” she asked “Why do you want to live such an incorrigible and sordid life” With that she walked away from her mom, without realizing that it was her first step away from that life.
She went into her room to see an old man leering at her, holding a bottle of alcohol in his hand. She smiled her seductive smile and gently took the bottle from him. The next minute, there was a distinct crash of breaking glass, and the old man fell down, conquered by a sixteen year old, livid Goddess. Krishna packed her dresses, and walked out of her home, without casting a second glance. Menaka and Kanchanamala stood staring at door way. The former had a look of fear and agony, while the latter reflected pride and relief.
“Where are you going?” a rich male voice stopped Krishna in midstride. She could feel him without even looking at him.
“I am going away!” she said tears running down her cheek.
“And how do you think you are going to support yourself?” he asked, touching her shoulders gently turning her around.
“I do not know” Krishna said, avoiding his eyes.
“Have this!” he said giving her a stack of currency and a gold chain.
“No!No!” Krishna backed away.
“Think this is from your Kanna!” he said making her stare at him
“I have only my body to repay you", Krishna said, as she took it from the money from him.
“Your love is all I want” he said forcing her to meet his eyes.
“Why didn’t you come for me Kanna?” she asked her tone hurt and accusing.
“God helps only people who can help themselves and others” he said. “All the help you need, it’s inside you. Fight the battle kannamma!” he said gently kissing her forehead. “I’ll be watching over you and I’ll come for you when you are ready “.
His word was her gospel and there was a new determination in her eyes when she boarded the train to Madras.
7 years later:
Krishna was dancing in the middle of her garden, her favorite place in the spectacle called her dance institute. The ‘Krishna Dheiva Adiyal Nadana sangamam’ taught over 2000 students being the biggest dance school in Chennai. It was the house of many gifted women who were branded by the name of Devadasi and cast aside by the society. The institute however, stood as a reminder to indicate the true meaning of the word to the world. There was a revolution happening and she had accomplished her part. She was ready. “I’ll come for you when you are ready”. The words kept echoing in her mind, getting louder day by day. She knew who helped her with all the money, contacts and concerts throughout her journey and she desperately wished he would show up.
“Missed me?” the sound of that rustic voice sent a sudden surge of happiness through her system and she whirled around looking at the magnificent male standing in front of her.
There were no reasons given, no explanations required. They took to each other like hay and fire, and what started as a gentle exploration turned into a beautiful dance of emotions. She was proud of her nakedness in front of him, and he filled all the gaping holes in her body and heart with all the love he felt. They loved each other with a fierce gentleness that possessed and obsessed them. Her Kanna has arrived for her at last and that realization released the bitterness out her washed her sadness and made her pure.
She was lying on his chest, in middle of the garden, slowly getting back to earth. I never asked you, she said, “What is your Name?”
“Thulasi Krishna dhasi” he said, calling her by newly acquired name.
“Isn’t it obvious? My name is Kanna”.
Devadasi – The sex worker community in India
Thulasi- Tamil word for Basil
Thevidiya- Tamil name for Devadasi
Kanna – Krishna- Hindu God
Kannamma – An endearment in Tamil
Pottukattu – A ceremony where they officially make a woman Devadasi