Five Angry Women is an attempt to look at certain events in the Mahabharata from the standpoint of some of its central female characters, all brides of the Bharatas – Gandhari, Satyavati, Ambika, Kunti and Draupadi. These women are all angry – angry with their men, angry at what they have been subjected to by them, and their anger bursts out in torrents in these monologues.
I was but a field for the Bharatas. To Prince Dhritarashtra, to be precise. And that is how they referred to me often: Dhartarashtra-kshetra, the field of Dhritarashtra. Kshetra means a field, a spot of ground, a bit of soil, a patch of land, where you sow seeds and let time run its course for you to reap the crop.
I was never given any more right than a field has in the matter of its produce. How I had to stand and watch as a helpless bystander as my pretty children all grew up to be evil, masters in the wicked ways of the world, encouraged by a father whose greed for power was the very essence of his being!
Poor man! That is, if a field has the right to feel so about its owner, its cultivator, who tills it and farms it. Prince Dhritarashtra was brought into this world to be a king and the moment he was born it was proved he should never become one because he was blind. He grew up with the one cruel reality never fading from before his sightless eyes: that he shall never have power in his hands though he was born to wield all the power of the Bharatas. No wonder he became the embodiment of greed for power.
I came to Hastinapura precisely as that – a fertile field for the seeds of Dhritarashtra. The previous generation of the Bharatas had been very unlucky in the matter of offspring. The eldest, Prince Devavrata Bheeshma would not marry because of a vow he had taken; the second, Prince Chitrangada died before he was old enough to marry; and the youngest, Prince Vichitraveerya, died without issues though he was wedded to two princesses. The next generation was brought to the world by that strange abominable custom of niyoga whereby a brother of her deceased husband produces offspring in the woman. Well, not so abominable perhaps, if you consider women as mere fields – should it matter to the fields what seeds are sown in them, whose seeds are sown in them? Their only function is to germinate the seed, and nurture it so long as it needs its nourishment.
The assiduity of the Bharatas is renowned. They were particular that this time they needed a field that would give them plenty of yield and fast enough. And they came for me – it was widely whispered round that I had received a boon that I shall become the mother of a hundred sons. The most fertile piece of land! The Bharatas wanted it.
Men consider their wives as mere fields but strangely when it comes to their own daughters they are touchy! The daughters are not mere fields for someone! Would they realize that their wives are also someone’s daughters!
Matrimonial relations between the Gandharas and the Bharatas were nothing new. Even Emperor Hastin, the founder of Hastinapura, had desired connections with us and got a Gandhari princess for his son Ajameedha. Yet my father would not have given me over to the Bharatas on any account, except that if he had not done so it would have meant certain death to himself and all the male members of our family and to countless number of our men in a brutal war. Fangs of blood and violence would have ripped open all of Gandhara and all there would have been razed to the ground. Our land, and all in it, would have been destroyed mercilessly, as pitilessly as a wild elephant in a lotus pond destroys all its flowers. The name of the warrior who headed the Bharata family meant dread—both literally and figuratively. Bheeshma meant dread.
Yet father was reluctant. For one thing, the prince for whom I was being sought had no Bharata blood in him though they claimed he was a Bharata. His mother was the Kashi princess Ambika and father, the sage Vyasa. For another, he was born blind. And, besides, it was whispered that he was a slave to uncontrollable passions, his personality having got twisted by the violent winds of opposing forces amidst which he grew up thirsting for power and respect but winning only protection and pity.
When I stepped into the portals of Hastinapura, I made a shock. I was blindfolded, and had to be lead by a maid to make obeisance to my elders. I could feel the awesome stillness that engulfed the palace, after the sound of the quick hot breaths the lungs sucked into dozens of bosoms stricken by an agonizing confusion.
With that single act I had done what my father wanted to do with his weapons but could not. I had struck a blow to the mighty Bharatas from which they were never going to get up. They wanted a field, a fertile field, for the seeds of Dhritarashtra and they were going to have that fertile field. But nothing more. Love cannot be commanded by a threat of weapons and Gandhari was not going to be ordered to be a loving guide to the blind prince of the Bharatas.
Women do not necessarily grow to love the man they marry against their wishes. Often it is only to tolerate them, to submit to them that they learn. They learn to resign to their fate.
My act of blindfolding myself was not an act of self-denial in the sense of denying the pleasures of the world that come to us through our eyes because they were denied to my husband. It was not a noble act at all. It was an act of vengeance. Gandhari too was a kshatriyaa, a warrior-woman. If prince Bheeshma was mighty, so was she. He had his weapons and she had hers.
How I wished I could see the faces of those shocked men and women assembled in the reception hall of Hastinapura on that day as I stepped into it, alighting from my chariot helped by my maids and Brother Shakuni! But no, I can’t both give the shock and enjoy seeing it.
Vengeance is wicked, you might say. Yet, it is. I have suffered more than enough through my long life for it. And yet I say, no one has the right to force another human being to do what he does not want to do. And certainly no woman should be forced to wed a man not of her liking. A woman should be able to go to him with the most holy of attitudes, with love filling her heart to the brim. For she is to receive a part of him into her and hold it there, nurture and nourish it into a human being. For, through that act she is becoming a part of the timeless act of creation, she is becoming the creator of new life.
But if that man is hateful to her, there can be nothing more detestable, nothing more nauseating than having to submit to that act of receiving his seeds and ten having to hold his seeds in her. No doubt this is something only a woman can understand, only a woman who had had to submit to that unmentionably horrendous act…for instance, a woman who has been raped by a monster.
With love the act, the process of creation, is wonderful, but without love it is the most horrid thing in the world. The tragedy of it is that the child born is not only his but also hers. As much hers as his – in fact, much more hers than his. And every time she loves him because he is hers, she will be forced to love what is his. The most unenviable position of women! Having to take care of, with no alternative but to take care of, what belongs to a man she hates with all her heart.
I was given no option in the matter, I had no choice. I was forced to offer myself as a field to a man for whom I had no tender feelings in my heart; forced through a threat to my father’s life and to all else that he held dear in the world.
How conceited a man can grow in his own glory – Prince Bheeshma thought I would be happy once Dhritarashtra was forced on me.
A woman has a right for vengeance. Every woman has a right to her revenge if she is forced to become a field, an object, an abject thing and nothing more.
Where women are forced to submit their bodies against their will to men’s purposes, where women are significant only as female human bodies and not as human beings, evil shall flourish. The Bharatas had forced themselves on me. They had forced themselves on the princesses of Kashi, Ambika and Ambalika, and they had forced themselves on the princess of Madri, Pandu’s wife.
Perhaps I should have stopped my children from going the evil way. But I had no power to do so. They gave me none.
Princes are not brought up by their mothers. Men decide what they shall become, not the mother. The king decides what they shall become, not the queen. The queen is given no say in that matter. And that is right in a way, isn’t it? It is right that the field shall have no say in how the produce from her is to be used.
And yet I came to love Dhritarashtra – nature’s anaesthesia, perhaps. Or maybe that is what it means to be a woman – to love even those who trample her. But that is another story.