At noon in the month of Bhadon, on the eighth day of the waxing moon, I was born to Raja Vrishbhanu and his wife Keerti Devi in the village of Barsana. While singing lullabies to me in my early childhood, my nurse-maid Vishakha, who had taken care of me since the day I was born, often spoke in hushed tones about the esoteric mysteries that surrounded my birth.

“You are no ordinary mortal, my darling princess,” she gushed. “Just look! You have perfectly formed conches on the soles of your feet. Ordinary mortals don’t have these. You are a special celestial being, gifted by the Lord Almighty to the people of Barsana. You are here on a divine mission, Princess Kanvi. You are no ordinary mortal.”

I doubled over to check if there really were conches etched on the soles of my feet. They were there. Dai Ma’s sensational revelations never failed to transport me to a world of fantasy where fairies and angels ruled. Where majestic swans and peacocks flitted amidst blue lagoons, dense foliage and exotic flowers. Where the celestial music of the spheres and a heady fragrance of heaven’s perfumery prevailed over the senses.

“As the story goes,” Dai Ma continued, while I listened dumbstruck with my little head tilted to one side, resting on her shoulders, “one day, while Raja Vrishbhanu was bathing in a lake nearby, he saw a golden lotus that had blossomed with a thousand petals, which flashed their radiance across the sky. Blinded by the sight of the extraordinary flower and wanting to touch it, he came closer and spotted a tiny baby girl curled up inside. Her complexion was like molten gold, and her doe-like eyes gleamed like a thousand full moons on a clear night.

“With tears rolling down his eyes, he looked up at the skies in earnest salutation, lifted the child gently from her flowery cradle and hurried home.

“;Come out, Keerti Devi. Come quick! Look what I have here! At last, our prayers have been answered,” he cried out to your mother. ‘Our dreams of having a daughter have been fulfilled. God has blessed us with this beautiful angel. Just look at her, Keerti, how splendid she is!’

“Your mother took the baby in her arms and planted a hundred kisses on her porcelain cheeks.”

“And was that baby me, Dai Ma?” I pouted impishly and looked into her crinkled eyes.

“Yes! Yes! My precious child. That was you, Princess Kanvi. None other than you.”

“We shall name her Radha Rani,” your mother cooed in delight as she smothered you again with kisses.’

“Tell me more, Dai Ma! Please don’t stop.” My eyes sparkled as I snuggled closer to her and tightened my arms around her neck.

Dai Ma smiled her sweet, benevolent smile and pushed my dark hair away from my face with her bony fingers.

“Yes, Kanvi, my baby, my Radha Rani, I will tell you all.”

Dai Ma had nicknamed me Kanvi, a name that resounded mysteriously with the innermost core of my being – a name that sent streams of music into my soul, that conjured the image of me in the arms of a dark boy, enveloped by a dazzling sheath of light – a light so bright that I had to shield my eyes to avoid its glare.

“Your growing up was not of the regular kind, Princess Kanvi. You were unlike any other toddler your age. Every milestone you attained astounded your parents, for your intellect and brain surpassed all. At four, you were doing all that fourteen-year-olds could barely do, so your grooming in the sixty-four fine arts of music, painting, etiquette and aesthetics had begun much before it was due. Your dancing, singing and painting skills were honed to perfection, and as you blossomed rapidly with each rising moon, the fame of your exquisite beauty and glory spread far and wide across the land.

“Even before you had begun to crawl, proposals from powerful families seeking your hand began piling up at Rani Keerti Devi’s door, so much so that when you turned six, the renowned and revered Rani Yashoda of Vrindavan came personally to ask for your hand in marriage for her brother Ayan Gopa.

“But your marriage was not going to be of the ordinary kind, the astrologers had proclaimed at your birth. “This child will be fair and beautiful and well-versed in all the arts,” they had said. “She will be a princess with all the angelic qualities of Goddess Laxmi and Goddess Parvati, and she shall have strange encounters with sages from other galaxies that will make her clairvoyant and wise.”

“And do you know what else they said Princess Kanvi,” Dai Mai continued, her voice dropping to an inaudible whisper. “There will be a man in your life; he won’t be your husband. One other man.” Dai Ma had cupped her mouth to my ears.

“But these things are not meant for your ears, Kanvi. Don’t tell anyone, but this is what your birth chart says. Your mother does not like to be reminded of this. She silenced the astrologer, and the rolled parchment of your horoscope in which this had been transcribed was buried in the cellars of the palace with other forgotten paraphernalia.

“So, when Rani Yashoda came with the proposal, Rani Keerti Devi was overjoyed. Her eyes brimmed over with tears, and she stood up and folded her hands.

“‘Jiji, we are delighted and humbled by your generosity and kindness,’ she had said.

“‘What better match could we have wanted for our Radha? And who would be so foolish as to refuse this grand alliance with your family? But just look at her, Jiji. She’s not even six and has still to master the arts of fine grooming. I beseech you, let her be with us till she crosses over from being a child to a maiden, and I give you my word that the day she attains puberty, I shall hand her over to you, to be betrothed to your brother.’”

Dai Ma’s mystical words, Rani Yashoda’s enchanting proposal and my mother’s promise! I was soaring high in the sky in a hypnotic trance, obsessing over love, romance and the subsequent betrothal to the dark boy of my fantasy world – the one who haunted me each moment of the day with enthralling dances and musical revelry.

Why would there be another man in my life?

I dismissed the thought cursorily and drifted back into my dream. Yes, it had all fallen into place.

I was soon to be the blushing bride of this divine entity. The thought sent me into raptures of ecstasy that lasted for hours. The dark boy of my dreams had become my sole and constant playmate.

I would sit alone on my garden swing, singing songs to him, playing tag, or running a race to the end of the vast rolling pastures till we stumbled and fell over each other and laughed and laughed till our sides threatened to split open or the voice of Dai Ma came floating through the green shrubs. “Kanvi, Princess Kanvi! Where are you? Your mother is sick with worry. Come home!”

Yet, despite dwelling with him all day and night in this intoxicating and ambrosial reverie, never had I seen his face.

“Who is this dark boy, Dai Ma?” I pouted. “He follows me all the time but always hides his face?” There was a lilt in my voice and my eyes twinkled with an impish gleam.

“Is it Rani Yashoda’s brother? Tell me. What does he look like? And why is he afraid to show me his face? Will I only see him when he comes on a horse to take me as his bride the night we are wed?” I persisted.

Without waiting to hear Dai Ma’s feeble retorts and mirthful giggles, I raced back to the centre of the courtyard, straight into my mother’s arms, to bury my face in her bosom before my dancing and singing lessons resumed.

And the mysterious dark boy of my dreams followed me.

Excerpted with permission from Radha: The Princess of Barsana, Neelima Dalmia Adhar, Westland.