In the same city of Varanasi, a lone pilgrim stepped out of the temple of Vishwanatha. Despite the darkness following the sunset, the cumulative light of the thousands of glittering lamps made him feel like the sun would never set in the city. Stopping for some moments to appreciate the fervor around him, he moved on from ghat to ghat at a measured pace searching for something or someone. He stopped by some ghat seeming uninterested in the hustle of activity. But an intent eye following him would make out that he came to Kashi with a purpose, a purpose which was different from a mere visit to temple or a ritual oblation to a departed soul or a mere dip in the Ganga. After some deliberation, he traced back his path, all the while distributing his inquisitive gaze over the scores of faces around him, most of them presenting expressions of devotional fervor. He passed by the temple of Vishwanatha again and continued further towards those broken ghats which had few people.
As he escaped from the crowds and reached a serene settlement which he made out as a layout of humble homes of priests, his attention was drawn towards a group of children and adolescents clapping exuberantly. Some women also stood among the crowd of youngsters, holding their infants on their hips. The sight sent a flood of memories bringing a smile to his lips as he felt drawn to the small crowd, not caring that he would be the only man among many young girls and women.
A song sung by some child among the group had a sudden magnetic effect on him.
Did you see him, the dark hued one
Did you see him, the Lotus eyed one
The one from whom the grace and beauty flow
The one on whom the plumes of peacock glow
Smile bewitching, never leaves his face
To his call of flute, our hearts race
O thick and dark bushes of Vrindavan, Speak well
Is that one hiding among you? Do tell
His steps faltered as he hurried towards the children and he involuntarily laid his right hand on the shoulder of a boy of eight or nine years. He wondered if it was his usual habit raising out of affection for children or an attempt to steady himself.
At the sight of a stranger, the women hurried towards their homes pulling their toddler children. A couple of children saw his silk garments and the rich head scarf and instantly spread out their palms chanthing “Aum Namah Shivaya”. His reaction was mixed. His hands went into one of the money pouches he carried. His mind pondered about his own lands where young boys indulged themselves either in pursuit of knowledge or get initiated into their fathers’ professions in their own capacities. He consciously decided to let generosity get better of reason for this one time and handed out the pouch containing a few gold coins to an older boy.
“Boys of your age should seek the knowledge of universe at the feet of a learned Guru and not beg for alms.” He gently explained to the boys passing his hand over the hairs of one of them.
“No, I am not begging. This is for them, who sang and danced till now.” The boy explained and handed over the pouch to the girl who had sung the song.
Another close companion of hers grabbed the pouch and saw the gold coins. “We don’t want so much. Just enough to buy new clothes. All these people give us food too.” She took two smaller coins and handed back the rest.
“What is your name, child?” He knelt to match her height and smiled his most affectionate smile.
“Vrinda. This is Viraja. Noble Sir.” She replied.
“Where did you hear that song?”
“Everyone sings it in our village. Vrindavan.” Vrinda felt his grip on her shoulder tighten for a moment and then relax. “You know Vrindavan?”
“I…I spent my childhood there.” Words amidst two sighs escaped his lips. In a moment his gaze turned intense and his eyes lost the layers of emotions and became bright with new found focus. “Why are you here?”
“We.. we were brought here by some bad people.” Viraja piped in. “We escaped from them.”
“I shall take you back to Vrindavan.” His voice was firm as he stood up and led the two girls.
“No, we are waiting for someone. She was with us. We lost her because of those bad people.” Viraja protested.
“Who? He asked as his mind relaxed with satisfaction over what he felt as a partial success of his mission.
“Some guest of Lady Yashoda. She was a princess.” Vrinda answered, her heart strangely warming up to this stranger in whose presence she felt protected.
“Princess Abhaya?” He asked his expression softening into a smile.
“Yes, that was her name! She took care of us when those bad people kidnapped us. How can we leave without her?” Vrinda answered.
“Come with me, children. We shall search for your princess too.” He extended both his hands onto each of their shoulders now leading them firmly but protectively. Where did the princess of Anagha go? She seemed so much within reach in the last minute
“Who are you? You said you lived in Vrindavan.” Viraja could not hold back her inquisitiveness. “And where do you live now?”
“Dwaraka.” The stranger replied without looking at her.
“Why did you leave our village?” She continued asking. He debated within himself whether to keep answering and speedened his pace and slowed down only when he felt the young girls pant for breathe.
He guided them through the crowded ghats and finally reached the pilgrim guesthouse, He led them to a smaller room and pulled the curtain for privacy.
“You still did not answer who you are and why are you helping us?” Viraja demanded slightly annoyed at the way Vrinda had started believing in the stranger.
He knelt down and put a finger to her lips. “I shall tell you. But you should keep it a secret. Would you both do that?”
The girls nodded, their eyes growing wide with curiosity. He hesitated with a slightly mischievous gleam demanding more commitment from them.
“We swear on our mothers and our Kanha! We shall keep it a secret.” Vrinda offered earnestly.
“He is our everything. More than any God. That’s what our mothers told us.”
Before he could speak out, the curtain parted as someone hurried inside.