The Birth of Kali is a refreshing retelling of popular Hindu myths. Anita Sivakumaran overturns the tales we’ve grown up hearing and lets the women do the telling.  In “Nandi’s Pain” it is Brahma impregnating Nandi the bull in an alternate ‘creation story’. An extract:

In the beginning, all is pristine. On a sterile cloud rests single-headed Bramman. He dabs a finger on the inky nothingness, draws a kohl line under each eye and blinks prettily. He counts the cold, winking stars into existence. He counts them to help him fall asleep. Dreams never enter his slumbering head. He sleeps and wakes, sleeps and wakes.

Then one day, he dreams. He wakes with the whisper of something like a memory, a patchwork of alien visions and sensations. A yellow sun, a green earth. A patter of rain and child’s feet. A full heart. A catch in his throat. With his great clawed feet, he digs into his mattress, which is nothing but cloud fluff that dissolves around his talons. He spreads gossamer wings over his dream-stained eyes and shuts his ears to the boom and thrum of potential life.

But a drop of moisture slips from his eye just as he shuts it. From this drop rise Vishnu and Sivan and their devotees and their fetishes. They depart from the opposite ends of Bramman’s cloud to found their homes and clans.

Bramman is pleased they have left. He did not intend to create them. But then he yawns out a hell breath and wakens into life the rakshasas.

Bramman is pleased they have left. He did not intend to create them. But then he yawns out a hell breath and wakens into life the rakshasas. Livid pink, they gather in swirls, moaning pitifully from the pain of existence; they also, thankfully, disappear into the cracks of his soles.

Time passes.

Vishnu establishes his clan, marries, sleeps, listens to praise from the devotees he has created, looks for something new. He casts an eye towards Bramman, who remains supine, his eyes closed, resisting dreams. All that power, Vishnu thinks. And I need new toys.

He summons Narada, his stubborn devotee, who has a great gift for mischief, but doesn’t know it yet.

Narada begins a praise song, but Vishnu cuts him short.

‘I’m sending you to do something of grave importance,’ he tells Narada.

Bramman remains supine.

‘. . . shuvishnuvishnuvishnu . . .’

With this constant evocation of his Lord Vishnu upon his lips, Narada appears.

‘. . . SHUVISHNU . . .’ chants Narada, louder, to wake the sleeping Bramman.

Bramman rises, rubs eyes, sulks.

‘Who are you?’ he asks.

‘I’m a humble servant of Lord Vishnu.’

‘Can’t you show your devotion silently? Must you say his name all the time, disturbing others while they are trying to rest?’

Narada plucks the strings of his lute. ‘You are the beginning,’ he sings, ‘You are the Father.’

Bramman is pleased. He grabs Narada’s lute and breaks a string, then hands him a better lute, to show his benevolence.

Narada simpers. He kisses the new lute, then plays a tune to summon the first of the temptations. A celestial beauty. Thilothama, the youngest and the most unspoilt.

Necklaces adorn her sweet chest, caressing her bud-like breasts. A dew dampens her coital lips ready for kissing, and a sweet river flows from them. She cannot stop touching herself.

Bramman turns his face away in disgust. ‘She will spoil everything,’ he mutters.

Perplexed, Narada takes Thilothama aside to check that there is nothing wrong with her. Clear eyes, wide and vacant of guile. Hair, coiling and fragrant like jasmine vines. Neat, pearly teeth. Alabaster arms, small hands. Hands that now tug at his apparel playfully.

‘Shuvishnu,’ he says, trying to banish the sensations created by the hand that has found things to grasp and play with, even though her eyes are still wide with innocence.

‘Shu,’ he says.

Thilothama closes her eyes, sighs an invitation.

Narada sighs along, abandons the lord.

He brushes his lips against her nipples and drinks from her river. When she moans assent he mounts her, holding on to a fist of her hair for support. As he thrusts, he remembers his mission, and immediately grows limp.

He returns to Bramman, only to find him fast asleep. He plays a tune again, summoning the three remaining apsaras.

Menaka, Ramba and Urvasi inspect the sleeping Bramman. Menaka plays with his hair, Ramba his hands, Urvasi his toes. He is stubbornly asleep. They become impatient. Menaka pinches his nose, Ramba bites a finger, Urvasi licks the sole of his foot. Bramman grumbles without opening his eyes.

He is stubbornly asleep. They become impatient. Menaka pinches his nose, Ramba bites a finger, Urvasi licks the sole of his foot. Bramman grumbles without opening his eyes.

The apsaras get up, curse Narada to remain impotent for a thousand aeons and stalk away.

Narada rushes to Vishnu for advice.

Meanwhile, a tiny discontent sinks a root into Bramman’s heart. He bites his nails. He searches for a reflective surface on the cloud mattress to gaze at the sadness seeping from his eyes. He mutters in his sleep. More and more, he dreams, and wakes, remembering. More and more, a sensation grows in him that he is missing something. He runs his hands over his own body. Face, shoulders, navel, thighs, calves, over and over. There is a palpable lack, more or less exactly in the middle.

More and more, he dreams, and wakes, remembering. More and more, a sensation grows in him that he is missing something. He runs his hands over his own body. Face, shoulders, navel, thighs, calves, over and over. There is a palpable lack, more or less exactly in the middle.

Narada arrives with Mohini.

Silks drape the sharp, clean angles of Mohini’s body. His thick, unmanageable hair is piled into a knot festooned with flowers, his flat chest is piled with garlands. His skirt rests just below his belly button, its display of puckering sweetness an invitation. He lets out a shriek of glee on seeing the delectable Bramman and runs to sit on his lap. As Bramman begins to protest, Mohini thrusts a tongue into his mouth, slaps his cheeks, pulls his hair. He grinds his bony arse into Bramman’s lap.

Narada sees an inscrutable expression dawn on Mohini’s face. He jumps to his feet and puts his hand into Bramman’s loincloth. Bramman shouts his objection, but Mohini ignores him.

‘He hasn’t a penis,’ he tells Narada. Narada is crestfallen.

Mohini transforms back into Vishnu. He says to Narada, ‘You’ve ruined my afternoon. I spent ages dressing up.’

Narada kneels down and sobs. He knows he must pre-empt whatever curse is brewing in Vishnu’s head.

‘Curse me to a rotten, deathless eternity, my lord,’ he sobs. ‘I have failed to get Bramman to spill his seed. He has not even a vessel to carry seed. How am I to manage this impossible task?’

Vishnu says, ‘There, there . . . how were you to know? Go to Sivan. He might have an idea. He consorts with freaks of all kinds.’

Narada sobs louder, terrified at the idea of approaching Sivan.

‘Do not look so miserable. Here, I will cheer you up. I shall now present you with a boon. You will henceforth be able to say my name no matter what form anyone might curse you into. Stone or tree. There. Go with cheer.’

Vishnu leaves. Narada tries to appreciate his new boon. After all, he wants nothing more in life than to be able to invoke Vishnu. His entire body is a vessel to contain meditations on Vishnu. He has known nothing else. But the Vishnu in his heart is usually less brusque and more generous than the Vishnu who manifests.

The Vishnu in his heart is usually less brusque and more generous than the Vishnu who manifests.

‘Surely you knew that about Bramman already,’ says Sivan impatiently.

Sivan sits on top of Mount Kailasa, oblivious to the ice, naked, toying with the snake on his shoulders. The snake hisses at Narada.

‘I didn’t, my lord,’  says Narada, his head bowed. It pays to be abject with Sivan.

‘Use your head. If he were to spill seed so easily, all kinds of monstrous worlds would be born day in and day out.’

A ray of hope. So there is seed, thinks Narada. ‘Of course, my lord. When you put it to me, all becomes clear.’

‘Is there anything else? No? Be on your way then,’ says Sivan, and closes his eyes.

‘But, my lord, a solution . . .’  Narada’s words fall on deaf ears. Sivan might as well be made of stone, which, at times, he is.

Narada walks down Mount Kailasa, his teeth chattering from the cold. He hurries past the vast white expanses, longing for dry earth and warm wind. He has a feeling there is more ordeal in store for him. And as if to show him he is right, the universe sends along Nandi, Sivan’s bull. Indefatigable gossip, mouth like a bubbling brook. The last person the exhausted Narada wants to meet.

‘What’s this, what’s this?’ asks Nandi, breaking into a trot to catch up with Narada, who is trying to merge with a tree.  ‘A silent, skulking Narada. In these parts? And without his Shuvishnus that warm the hearts of beasts and birds. Has Vishnu’s name left your lips? Have you switched allegiance to another lord? Is that why you are here? Mmm . . . might we hear of a new devotee in our humble ranks? Will you be rubbing ash over that pristine body of yours? Discard your richly embroidered clothes? Is that silk? How pretty! Oh, but you look so sad. Come here and get a cuddle from me. No? What is it? Did Sivan curse you? He is such a quick fuse. I always tell him. Or try to, anyway. He never seems to listen. He’d sooner sew my mouth than . . .’

‘Nandi, please, I’m simply lost in thoughts of the great evanescent lord that is Vishnu. How his very presence would warm this mountainside, the hearts of cold travellers.’

‘Has he sent you on some business with Sivan? Did Sivan refuse to see you?’

‘No, my business is done, and I am going on an errand to Bramman.’

‘Busy busy. Hmmm. I’m just here twiddling my hoofs. Parvati has gone off again, to do her own thing. Sivan is in a sulk. Shall I come with you? My gentle talk will warm your heart.’

Narada groans. Nandi takes it for assent and bats his eyes, swings his rump, clops his polished hoofs. He primps and titters, jiggling his plumpness. His constant, hysterical chatter makes Narada’s ears bleed. He is forgetting to invoke Vishnu. His soul is starting to wither.

They arrive back at Bramman’s cloud. Bramman is awake. Bramman and Nandi clamp eyes on each other.

A sigh leaves Nandi’s mouth and, for the first time since Narada has known him, Nandi is speechless for a long minute. His tail is high in the air, frozen like an icicle.

Bramman, on the other hand, is shaking all over in a sort of ecstasy. His teeth chatter, his limbs shiver. He sways his hips back and forth in a gentle, unconscious thrusting motion.

Narada no longer controls the situation. Someone else pulls the strings. At least, he hopes so. He stands to one side and lets the events unfold.

Narada no longer controls the situation. Someone else pulls the strings. At least, he hopes so. He stands to one side and lets the events unfold.

Nandi courts Bramman. He hoofs up elegantly into the air, glides round and round the Creator, batting his eyelashes. Narada watches, amazed, as Bramman sprouts a face on each side of his head so as not to miss a moment of Nandi’s flying. Then Nandi rises above Bramman, spreads his legs daintily and spins. Bramman grows a face on top of his head.

Narada hopes something else is growing too. Nandi descends, flirting, making eyes, presenting his backside to Bramman. Narada thinks he detects movement in Bramman’s loincloth. He is about to burst into laughter, in relief as well as horror.

Nandi minces, shuffles, prances backwards towards Bramman. His tail lifts.

Narada shuts his eyes. ‘Shu-shuvishnu,’ he chants in terror.

When Narada finally opens his eyes, he sees the old Bramman, passionless again, but now with five faces, sitting on a cloud. Nandi stands to one side, face haggard and creased with pain, looking ready to burst.

Narada leaves quickly, but sings a slow song and thrums his lute, pretending he is out for a casual stroll. He wants to be as far away as possible when whatever is growing in Nandi’s belly is pushed out.

(Excerpted with permission from The Birth of Kali by Anita Sivakumaran published by Juggernaut Books)

Feature Image Credit: Juggernaut Books

Also Read: Inspector Dorab Silva’s Story From Richa Lakhera’s Hungry Gods

Love books? Follow authors? Join the SheThePeople Book Club On Facebook. Click Here

Email us at connect@shethepeople.tv