Anyone who has read the mythological stories from our country would be familiar with the role Apsaras played in the making (and unmaking) of great stories.
Apsaras were artists of great finesse and incredible looks. Usually they danced, sang and played instruments in the court of Indra – the king of the Gods.
Occasionally Indra also entrusted a task which extended much beyond the usual call of their duty. They were ordained to descend to earth, perform before a person pointed out by Indra and distract him. And that was to be no ordinary distraction – it had to be so powerful as to sway that man from the path of research or a project he had undertaken, which, if successful, would weaken the power of Indra.
The problem of women researchers and entrepreneurs seems to have been solved by mortal men themselves by creating a male dominated society where women are not even allowed to discover their full potential beyond progeny and dependence. If there were male counterparts of the fabled Apsaras, men would not have liked to document their existence and activity since it might suggest that they were not capable of keeping their women ‘in control’.
Anyway. The famous men who fell to the charm of Apsaras include Vishwamitra, whose distraction is attributed to Urvashi – luckily for us readers, it led to Kalidasa’s famous, beautiful “Abhigyaan Shakuntalam” – which is what got me to think about Apsaras some time back.
I believe Apsaras exist. Even now. I have met them.
But when I did, they were not in their human form, whether male or female.
I have been working hard on my studies these days. What happens when my desire to study is confronted by an opportunity to travel to exotic places, like the Victoria Falls? A proposed journey like that re-invoked my childhood memories of the vivid, amazing accounts written by David Livingston, a missionary. I read those as translated in Gujarati, published monthly in the issues of a children’s magazine.
The description of incredible beauty whose equivalent does not exist in one’s own country, the tropical conditions in which the travel took place, whose equivalent was never experienced by the explorer in his own country,my own childhood curiosity – they all made such valuable impressions on me – they stick to me closer than my skin does, I believe.
So now I had ten days’ trip dancing before me and then there was my library and writing routine. What should I have done?
It was Kalidas who helped me with the story of Vishwamitra.
Who says Apsaras are only in human form? They exist in the form of tantalizing imagery, opportunities and possibilities, alternatives and what not.
When they dance, they put the resolve of the strongest-willed ever also to tough test.
What was I to do? I needed to tell my self what really mattered to me at that moment. Not to that form of me who was carrying baggage of unfulfilled wishes and desires, but me in today, and to my judgment of what was most meaningful thing to do in the current phase in my life.
Today another extension led to me ask: who says that these Apsaras have to be beautiful?
If someone rubs me in the wrong way, is that so overpowering that I allow my thoughts to sway from what I really need to think and feel and get preoccupied by the reactivist material?
They tempt men as well as women.
They can take any form – charmingly attractive and seductively ugly.
That is life. Not mythology.