Prasadam | Heather Mercer


By Heather Mercer

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award



The sound of the conch awoke him. Param Vijaya dasa stirred inside his cabin, his bare feet following the well-known grid of cool terracotta tiles into the bathroom. In the distance, the low tones of the Friesians called to him across the valley. Holy Gau, your generous ears are tuned to my own! After temple kirtana I will see you!

Minutes later, Param smoothed the creases from his crisp white kurta as he began following the gravel path through the hillocks of lush green grass towards the temple. The Ranges were a distant blue horizon encircling the farm, reminding him of the soft blue arms of the Krishna child. He heard the thumping of the mridanga drum begin, its pulse matching the beat of his steps. Soon, Tribusavi’s cries, gentle and bright, drifted through the dawn.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

He recalled his daughter, Sukumari, twirling on the lawn at last Sunday’s feast, her pink Gopi skirt flying out around her. Param smiled. If Krishna willed, he would see her again soon. His heart filled with the thought and he held it firmly, as though his hands were cupping cow’s milk and not wanting to spill a drop.

Radhiki stood heavily in front of him as he stroked her creamy charcoal coat. Sitting on the milking stool, Param leant forward and pushed the top of his head into the heifer’s bulging side. He breathed in her leathery scent. Urvasi updated him from a few metres away as he milked.
‘The vet said Radhiki’s blood tests were good. Examination positive. I pray third time lucky.’
Param closed his tired eyes. ‘I will rest her in the near paddock today. And start the evening checks until labour begins.’ He recalled her last birthing, and the look in Radhiki’s eyes as she had nuzzled and licked her stillborn calf, willing it to live.
He began to silently chant with the rhythmic movements of his milking, and allowed joy to rise in his heart like milk filling a bucket. ‘Be merciful, Lord Krishna!’ he whispered.

‘Fresh nectar, Madhuri!’ called Param as he wound his way past a row of apricot hibiscus and approached the Govardhana farm kitchen. His palms were sweaty from the mid-morning heat as he gripped the buckets of fresh milk.
‘About time! All glories to Radhiki!’ Madhuri Kesavi reached for the milk and carried it to the freshly scrubbed counter. ‘Is she well?’ She took her eyes off the milk for a moment and glanced at Param.
‘Labour should begin any day now.’
‘Good news! I will turn her precious milk into paneer, for Krishna!’ She adjusted her faded yellow chadar, tossing it gently over her shoulder, and patted his cheek. ‘Don’t worry. The Lord loves paneer. He will watch over her.’
Param had no such certainty.

Param tickled Sukumari’s toes as she sat cross-legged on the grass mat, blonde hair tangling on the shoulders of her yellow Gopi dress. She giggled. The late afternoon was filled with the chatter and hum of voices as they sat on the lawn eating the Sunday prasadam. Dahl – rich with spices and fresh ghee. Suku picked up a piece of Madhuri’s paneer in her fingers and pushed it into her mouth. She chewed the soft cheese and closed her eyes.
‘Is this from Radhiki’s milk, Daddy?’
‘Yes, sweetheart.’
‘She tastes good. Will her baby be born soon?’ her eyes were wide.
‘I hope so. ’
Suku paused and looked up at him.
‘I think its here now! Let’s go see!’ she spoke with the certainty of a five year old.
Param held his breath. What would she see? Death? Life? Only Krishna knew. What would her mother say if he sent her back crying for a stillborn calf? She might not send her to visit again.
‘Come on!’ She was dragging him from the lawn and soon running ahead down the hill.
‘Suku, wait!’ he called.
He scanned the paddock for a small calf shape amongst the waving spikes of green.
Had she birthed? Had it lived this time?
Sukumari suddenly stopped and was pointing at Radhiki. Her face was pale.
Param’s beloved Friesian gave a low moan, and lowered her head. She stood still in the dark shade of the trees.
They joined hands and walked towards her.

As they edged closer, a small dark head stretched out its neck from behind her and began to suckle. The tiny bullcalf drank and snorted. His bent legs trembled. They watched thin trails of milk run out of the corners of his mouth.
‘What is he doing, Daddy?’ Sukumari whispered, her eyes dark and serious.
‘He is drinking love from his mother,’ answered Param. ‘Milk is love. He will live.’
Suku squeezed her father’s hand. ‘Love,’ she murmured.

One thought on “Prasadam | Heather Mercer

  1. beautifully crafted story rich with the feeling of all characters, including the non humans, and milk.

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