[On Janmashtami Day, when Hindus all over the World celebrate the Birth of Lord Krishna, here's a story I wrote several years back on Mothers' Day.]
"Maiya", a high voice called, as a pair of pudgy arms wrapped themselves around the pretty lady sitting on the floor, churning butter.
Yashoda started. "Kannan, how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me like that," she said as she scooped him up, placed him on her lap and buried her head in his soft curls.
"Kannan thought Maiya had seen Kannan."
"How could I have seen Kannan?" smiled Yashoda. "I am not a frog. I do not have eyes at the back of my head."
"But if Maiya does not have eyes at the back of her head, how does Maiya know when Kannan takes butter from your butter-pot?"
"My darling little Makhan-chor," smiled Yashoda, hugging her son tight and rocking him the way she had ever since he was a baby.
Her darling little Makhan-chor. Yashoda still couldn’t believe her luck sometimes. After so many barren years, she had even stopped yearning for a child, and to be blessed with a child, and that too, a child as endearing as Kannan! On dark stormy nights, she still had nightmares of waking up in the morning to find that her years with Kannan were just a dream after all. She'd wake up in cold sweat and rush to the cradle to check that her son was still there - he would always be sleeping peacefully with a beatific smile on his face, and not a care in the world. Many were the nights she spent sitting on the floor next to the cradle, her head leaning against the hard wooden pillar, just watching her son's chest heave in even breathing while he slept, and marveling at the smiles flitting across his face. He looked so innocent while he slept - with not a trace of mischief on his face. Could any of her neighbours ever accuse her sleeping baby of stealing into their kitchens and polishing off all the butter they had churned?
Even before he could crawl, her Kannan had learnt to push himself forward and knock over the pot in which she kept her butter. By the time he learnt to stand up with support, she was forced to start hanging her butter-pots from the top of a pillar well out of her son’s reach. With tottering steps, he started going into other's kitchens, and in no time at all, the entire village realised that no butter-pot was safe on the floor as long as Kannan was around. When all the women started hanging their butter pots out of reach, Kannan organised the neighbouring boys to form a human pyramid to reach the butter-pots. All Brindavan called Kannan ‘Makhan-chor’, butter-thief, but looking at him asleep, who would ever guess that? Her darling Kannan - even though she had not given birth to him, could any mother love her son more than she did, and was ever a child more worthy of a mother's love than Kannan was?
"Maiya," Kannan sounded troubled.
"Yes, Kannan," Yashoda's voice was as tender as the thoughts he had broken through.
"Maiya, why is Kannan dark-skinned?"
Thought not totally unexpected, she was quite unprepared for the question. "Because, because," she stammered, then gathering up courage, she finished strongly, "because you were born on a dark and stormy night, when thunderclouds covered the moon and the stars like a thick blanket."
How well she remembered that night. The eight day after the full moon in the month of Bhadrapadha. The moon would have risen in Rohini, but the clouds obscured the heavens, so there was nobody to see it. The night, as dark as the inside of a Cobra's belly. Flashes of lightning illuminating sheets of pouring rain. Thunderclaps masking Devika's screams during her arduous labour. It was deluge the likes of which nobody remembered, and it was that which allowed Nand to smuggle out the newborn Kannan before his uncle could kill him as he had done all his brothers.
Milk had surged into Yashoda's breasts the moment Kannan was placed in her arms, and when Surya, the Sun God peeped into her house the next morning, he saw a contented Yashoda cradling an infant who was nuzzling noisily at her breast. From that moment on, Kannan and Yashoda were inseparable.
What made a woman a mother? The act of giving birth, or loving and nurturing a helpless baby till he became a child? Yashoda pitied Devika, Kannan's birth-mother - she hadn't seen Kannan's first smile, or heard his first words. Her's were not the fingers that Kannan first grabbed at or her's the hand that held Kannan's own when he took his first unsteady steps.
"But Maiya," Kannan still sounded worried, "doesn't everyone know?"
"Know what, Kannan?"
"That Kannan is dark because Kannan was born on a rainy night?"
"Of course, they do," his mother reassured him.
"Then why do they sing -
'Nand gora, Yashoda gori,
Tum he kyon shyam shareer?
Nand is fair, Yashoda is fair,
Why are you dark-skinned?'
- to tease me?"
Yashoda looked at her beautiful son. Was this the time to tell him about the Prophecy relayed to his maternal uncle, the Evil King Kamsa -
'Kamsa, you are neither invincible nor immortal. The eighth child born to your sister will kill you.'
Was this the time to tell Kannan that his mother and father had been plucked out of their palace and thrown into the deepest dungeons. That each of Devika's children had been crushed to death by her brother in front of her eyes. Was this the time to tell Kannan that when his uncle heard that Devika's eighth born had been smuggled out of the dungeon, he'd ordered that all babies in the kingdom be poisoned. That all the babies died except Kannan who just turned the deepest shade of blue.
Yashoda's son was staring at her with imploring eyes, begging her to wish his worries away as she had always done. She knew she would have to tell him the truth someday to prepare him to meet his Destiny. But today was not that day.
"Saturn is the son of Surya- the Sun God and Chandini - the Moon Goddess," she heard herself saying. "Yet he is dark and both his parents are fair."
Her son's face lit up. "Maiya, Chandini is so pretty. Can Kannan have Chandini please?"
Yashoda poured some water into a bowl and placed it in the courtyard. Pointing to the reflection of the moon, she said, "There you are, Kannan. You can play with Chandini now, but make sure you do not spill the water or she will get upset and run away."
She watched indulgently as her son tipped the bowl this way and that, watching the moon change patterns. He dipped his podgy fingers in the water setting off pretty ripples, then dipped his hand into the bowl and came up with something.
"Maiya, Chandini is so pretty, Kannan is going to wear her in his hair."
Yashoda stared open-mouthed as a tiny crescent moon perched itself on Kannan's curly locks bathing his face in an ethereal light. Her son was more powerful than she had imagined. She couldn't put off telling him the truth much longer. Her maternal love did not want to accept it, but it was Childhood's End.