Thursday, March 03, 2011
When Shakuntala's Right Eye Throbbed
I was in class twelve or 2nd PUC (Pre University College) as it is known in this state. It was the most important turning point in life or so everyone thought – parents, relatives, friends, neighbours, college lecturers and everybody.
It was a life and death situation. Do or die. If you did well and got into engineering or medicine your future was made. Otherwise, it was the end of your life.
My exams were looming bigger and bigger by the day. And my studies became more and more serious. I had started studying 4 months before the final exams.
I was a last minute worker. I still am.
I had drawn my time table such that I should finish my portions just in time. There was no buffer. No cushion.
When there were just a few days left, something happened. My left eye started throbbing. That’s the earliest memory I have of my eyes throbbing ever.
The throbbing was so continuous, so frequent that I sometimes had to pause while studying my notes and wait for the throbbing to stop.
I beamed with joy and hope.
It was a good omen.
Wait. Was it a good omen?
Yes it was. For women.
Left eye in women and right eye in men, when throbbed, meant a portent of good luck.
And right eye in women and left eye in men, when throbbed meant a portent of ill luck.
Apart from the fact that this was a matter of common knowledge among traditional families, I had just learnt about it in ‘Abhijnyana Shaakuntala’ by Kalidasa, which was part of my Sanskrit syllabus.
In this play, Shakuntala leaves her foster father Kanva and her forest hermitage, to join her husband Dushyanta in Hastinavati.
She is accompanied by 2 Taapasa’s, Shaaradvata and Shaarngarava and one Taapasi, Gautami. They ford Matsyateertha by a boat during which the signet ring given her by Dushyanta slips from her finger quietly into the water.
They reach Hastinavati and await the King’s arrival in his Homashaala (or Yajnashala).
And then, Shakuntala’s right eye starts throbbing and she begins to worry. It was a bad omen.
And surely, Dushyanta arrives with his purohita and shows no signs of recognizing Shakuntala, after all the appeals made to him by her and her companions! The curse of Durvasa had worked.
The great sage, known for his formidable temper, had arrived to the hermitage one day when she was lost in a daydream of her beloved Dushyanta whom she had wedded in the Gandharva Vivaha tradition and who had returned to his kingdom Hastinavati, having promised to soon fetch her.
Durvasa had cursed her thus “May the one in whose thoughts you are lost and because of whom you neglect me, may he forget you”.
After much pleading by Anusooya and Priyamvada, Shakuntala’s friends, he had given her some concession. He would forget her for sure, but if she produced before him any object that he had given her, his memory of her would be revived.
But alas! The signet ring that he had given her had slipped into the water.
Heartbroken & crestfallen, she returns from Hastinavati to her hermitage.
So when my left eye throbbed like it would take wings and fly away, I beamed. It was a portent of good luck. It could mean only one thing then. My exams were to go well. And my life was to be made. And if I was lucky (really lucky), that prince charming, whom I had been stealing glances at for 2 years would confess his love to me!
A few days before my exams, an evil aunt of mine had a heart attack.
And she survived.
My father, ever ready to sacrifice his all for his beloved si(ni)ster, brought her home. She did not have a son, you see.
And along with her came her battalion of daughters and the children of those daughters.
Lamenting, whimpering, whining, sobbing, moaning.
In such an atmosphere, I plodded through my notes, half concentrating, half studying, taking it all in my stride like a fool and not realizing at all, that this was a grave matter.
When my exams started, I opened the lessons I had finished first, just for a quick revision and realized that my memory had failed me. My heart sank. It was physics, the first of my exams, I think.
When the exams were finally over, I sank. I had not been in such low spirits in all my life.
I got 73% in my core subjects. I bade farewell to engineering.
For all the throbbing of my left eye, I joined a degree college and sat in the midst of mostly losers who had barely managed to pass their exams.
But looking back now, it was not the end of life.
But that’s another matter. Another story.
What made me write this article was that, for a few days now, my left eye has been throbbing again.
After all these years.
With the same vigour.
And I am thinking of Shakuntala again.
And hoping that at least this time, the legend about ‘the portent of the throbbing eye’ will reveal its truth in my life!