Penguin Books will soon release The Poison of Love, a new novel from one of India’s most well-loved authors, K.R. Meera. This is a spell binding tale of love and sacrifice, pain and retribution, and will take the reader’s breath away.
Read an exclusive extract from the book:
Love is like milk. With the passage of time, it sours, splits and becomes poison.
Madhav gave me that poison. I did not die; instead I killed him. I, the widow, came to Mathura’s Vrindavan. That was twelve years ago.
On the very first day, old Ghanshyam Pandit, a retired schoolteacher sporting a tilak on his forehead, had pointed to the old women with shaven heads, hobbling along slowly—walking stick in one hand and tiffin carrier in the other—through gullies reeking of manure and urine, girdled by five thousand temples, and introduced them thus: ‘Madam, look at these women. Haven’t you heard of Bhakt Meera? The devotee of Lord Krishna who wrote Meera bhajans. These are refugees, widows. We call them Meera sadhus. They sit in the bhajanmandap from dawn to dusk and recite the name of Krishna. That is their sole work. They get a daily allowance of two and a half rupees. Some milk, ten grams of rice and dal. Pitiable creatures! The contributions of Krishna devotees like you are their only succour. If you wish you may donate to the temple trust.’
Something shattered inside me as I stared at the women. Feeling dizzy, I followed Ghanshyam Pandit up a flight of winding stairs. A dim green signboard—the word ‘Dharamsala’ written on it in Hindi—hung above a narrow door. I was horrified when I entered. There was a sea of shaven heads. Reverberating, incessant crying, as if someone was being strangled—Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare . . . Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare . . . Outside, the afternoon sun was subdued. Disoriented, I started confusing the faces of the human beings with those of the animals moving relentlessly on the streets. It was a dirty hall with more stone pillars than were required. Right in the middle, a Radha–Govind statue draped in yellow silks and garlanded with marigolds stood on a small pedestal. Seeping in through the window bars, the weak sunlight gleamed on the shaven heads. Faces filled with pathos. Skinny bodies. Tarnished eye glasses. The smell of dried flowers, soiled old clothes and sweat. The sound of broken hearts.
I caressed my shaven head. I felt I was Meera too. Indeed, in reality, I was Meera.
That evening, I met the temple trust in-charge and requested permission to join as a Meera sadhu.
I bought a stick. Also a tiffin carrier made of aluminium. After a ritual bath in the Yamuna, I went to the Maighar with my stick and bowl. Thus, I too became a Meera sadhu.
Everybody addressed me as ‘Mai’. I too woke up at the crack of dawn, bathed in the Yamuna, smeared sandalwood paste on my forehead, shouted ‘Bolo Krishna Krishna Jai,’ and shuffled through the streets with the aid of the stick. In the scorching summer, in the torrential rains, in the biting winter that froze the bark on the trees, I vengefully begged in front of the Govind Dev temple.
The extract is used by permission from Penguin RandomHouse India.