Helpless in god’s own land
The Braj, as painted by Goswami, appears to be obsessed with death. It is also means of livelihood or an entry into heaven.
Reviewed by Parbina Rashid

The Blue-necked God
by Indira Goswami. Translated by Gayatri Bhattcharya Zubaan. Pages 190. Rs 295

a rebellious young widow finds her ‘self,’ an orthodox father crosses religious boundaries to choose love over righteousness for his only daughter, a power-stripped Thakur gives up his life under the wheels of Sri Rangaji’s chariot, an artist chooses a Gandhi topi over his generations-old practice of making Murlidhar’s idols and hordes of widows die a little every day in order to save money for their last rites. Braj, the holy place where Lord Krishna spent his childhood and adolescence, comes across as a complex abstract painting that reveals some hidden meaning every time one looks at it. Only, this painting is not executed in colour and form but in meaningful words woven by the late Indira Goswami, the literary giant of Assam.

The Blue-necked God, Gayatri Bhattacharya’s translation of Indira

Goswami’s novel written in Assamese, Neelakantha Braja, published in 1976, highlights the plight of widows living in this sacred city who are left by their relatives to live an undignified life and die an even more undignified death.

The Blue-necked GodThe protagonist Saudamini, a young widow, is forced to leave her Christian lover and make Braj her new home, along with her parents. She roams around the streets in search of an answer to her question — is there anyone in Braj as lonely as she? She finds her answer in characters that she encounters. Of these characters, Shahsiprova is another young window who shares a room with a priest in the name of jugal upasana. There are the old Radhesyamis, who sing bhajans in praise of the Lord on an empty stomach so that they can accumulate whatever pittance they earn from the temple priests in order to afford their last rites.

Mrinalini, a middle-aged woman, is forced to lead a frustratingly lonely life, taking care of her mentally deranged mother and almost-blind father. Chandrabhanu Rakesh considers himself a useless descendant of ancient ashtadhatu sculptors of Braj. At the end, he trades his art for a clean Gandhi topi.

The Braj, as painted by Goswami, seems to be obsessed with death. For most it is a means of livelihood, for some it is an escape from the drudgery called life and for others a direct entry to heaven. Saudamini’s character is the autobiographical element in the book. The writer, a young widow at that time, tried to come to terms with her loss by emerging herself among the widows of Braj. This was also the basis for her research. The emotional upheaval felt by Saudamini comes across as deep, her desperation to find the answers real and the narration about the plight of widows in Hindu society in general is very heartrending.