Saturday, October 10, 2009

Draupadi: The Day of the Jackals


Her husband has been invited to a game of dice in Hastinapura. Invited by Uncle Dhritarashtra and his sons.

He knows their hearts are full of poison. They have recently gone back after spending time in Indraprastha where a glorious rajasuya had just been concluded. Duryodhana had stayed back along with his uncle Shakuni for a few days after the sacrifice was over. Yudhishthira had invited them to.

Not entirely out of charity, she knew, for, there was a purpose in Yudhishthira’s heart when he had invited them to stay back – insisted on it, rather.

Yudhishthira was proud. Proud of the wealth he had been able to acquire in a short while. Proud of the sabha hall he had Maya build for him. Proud of the tributes and gifts that had poured in ceaselessly from all corners of the earth. Proud of the homage kings from all over the world had paid him. Proud of the loyalty of his brothers. Proud of his beautiful wife Krishnaa. Proud of the gifts he had paid to the Brahmins. And proud of the feast he has been offering as part of the rajasuya.

Eighty-eight thousand snatakas had stayed with him during the entire period of the rajasuya and he had given each thirty serving women. Ten thousand other Brahmins were served their meals in plates of pure gold at the palace every day.

The list of kings who had come with gifts from every part of Aryavarta was endless. And those from beyond its borders who had either come in person or sent gifts included the Yavanas, the Romakas, the Chinas, the Shakas, the Vikings and others from across the oceans. Queues of kings who waited at the palace gates stretched for miles. Each had come with carts and elephants loaded with gifts.

The gifts included endless quantities of jewels, gold, gems, other precious stones…elephants, camels, horses, cows, donkeys, sheep… swords, scimitars, hatchets, battle axes, daggers, maces, bows and arrows…chariots, carts, other vehicles…hides of rare animals, priceless blankets inlaid with gold, rare silk…

The gift of the kings from the coastal regions was thousands of exquisite young girls from the Karpasika country, all slender-waisted, of luxuriant hair, decked in gold.

It was acknowledged openly: Yudhishthira’s wealth exceeded that of the Himalayas, the oceans, mines of gold and precious jewels and other regions abounding in wealth.

Yudhishthira was basking in glory. Duryodhana had already seen it during the rajasuya. But that was not enough for Yudhishthira. He wanted him to stay back and see it all for a while more. Be devastated by it.

True, perhaps Yudhishthira did not know this was the reason why he had requested his cousin and his uncle to stay back. Perhaps this was a secret hidden deep in his heart. Perhaps he thought he was just doing what he should do – the closest of relatives and friends were always asked to stay back for a few days more after the festivities were over. That was all he was doing.

But Draupadi could see the real reason clearly. After all, she was his wife. And knew him as no one else did. Knew him more thoroughly than his brothers knew. Knew him more thoroughly than perhaps even he himself knew. Knew him more intimately, more clearly, than he himself did.

Wives were so.

And she had seen the danger coming long before anyone else had.

Of course, as far as the Dhartarashtras are concerned, anything good happening to the Pandavas was wrong. Any happiness coming their way was wrong. Any respect paid to them by anyone was wrong. Well, as far as they were considered the very existence of Pandavas was wrong. Their cousins did not have even the right to exist.

So the rajasuya performed by Yudhishthira was wrong. Kings paying tributes to them was wrong. Their wealth was wrong. The sabha at indraprastha, which rivalled the sabhas of Indra and Kubera and Yama, was wrong. Brahmins praising them and blessing them was wrong. Charanas singing their glories was wrong.

For that there is no real solution. For such sickness of the soul, there is no solution.

But Draupadi knew beyond all these, Yudhishthira had made another error. A costly error. A very costly error. He had asked Duryodhana to be in charge of receiving the gifts pouring in from the thousand kings who wanted to please Yudhishthira.

And gifts had poured in as Duryodhana had never seen before. Endless rows of people waiting with gifts. Each with gifts carried by elephants and chariots. Gifts filled in boxes and bags. There seemed to be no end to the stream of gifts.

Duryodhana had to take rest several times a day, so exhausted was he just by receiving them. And yet the gifts kept pouring in. From the Keralaputras in the extreme south. From the Pragjyotishas in the east. From Gandhara and even beyond in the west. From the Himalayan kingdoms and lands beyond in the north. And from all over the land in between.

The gifts from the Yavanas, the Romakas, the Chinas, the Shakas, the Vikings – those faraway people – were as rich, as varied, and as unique as the people themselves were.

And Duryodhana was receiving it all.

Each gift sent a dart piercing deep into his heart. Each gift was an arrow shot deep into his innermost being. Each gift reduced the shine on his face. Until he turned dark. His whole being had turned black.

Krishnaa had seen that. And Krishnaa had seen danger in the eyes of Duryodhana every time their eyes met. Lightning flashes of danger.

Duryodhana had tried to hide it as best as he could. But he had always been poor at hiding his feelings. He was transparent.

If Yudhishthira had, albeit unconsciously, wanted to incite the jealousy of his cousin, he had succeeded totally.

And then the nephew and the uncle had gone back.

In their heart they had carried another memory from Indraprastha, too. A memory different from the memory of the wealth and glory of the Pandavas.

In the sabha Maya had made, Duryodhana had mistaken water for the floor and stepped right into it. And he had mistaken solid ground for water and lifted the hems of his clothes to walk through. He had bumped into solid walls where he thought he saw doors. And had sought for doors that were right in front of him, but which he had missed.

Maya’s sabha was a palace of illusions.

And every time he had made a mistake, laughter had accosted him from all sides. Mirth-filled laughter. Ridiculing laughter. Reverberating laughter. Laughter that went straight into his heart and drew blood.

Every time.

And, apart from the male laughter, there was also female laughter. The haunting, carefree laughter of Krishnaa. Exhilarated, enraptured laughter. Laughter that he felt defied him. Laughter that he felt made him look like a fool, like a child.

Krishnaa’s laughter was a storm throwing its defiant challenge to the mighty trees. Was a tidal wave rushing fearlessly to engulf the shore. Was the mountain brook dashing intoxicated against the mountain in its path.

Wild and intoxicating. Maddening.

Women shouldn’t laugh like that. They had no right to.

Perhaps he would have loved that laughter had its owner been his. Perhaps he would have adored it then. He would have bathed again and again it its glory – perhaps.

But she was not his.

She was theirs.

He had failed to make her his.

And she had not allowed Karna to win her for him either.

Karna could have won her for him. But she hadn’t allowed him to, not allowed Karna to. She had called him the son of the charioteer. Said she would not marry the son of a charioteer.

And then Arjuna had won her.

Arjuna who he had been sure was dead. Arjuna who he had been sure he had killed. Killed by setting fire to the house of lac in which he, his brothers and his mother were staying.

The Pandavas had escaped. Against all his calculations. And then appeared at Kampilya to frustrate his plans again.

To win her and make her theirs.

He had carried the memory of the laughter of the Pandavas in his heart back to Hastinapura. And he had carried the memory of her laughter in his heart.

Back to his home.

Back to his lair.

And Krishnaa had known danger was coming.

Coming soon.

O0O

And it had come very soon.

It came in the form of an invitation to a game of dice. A game of dice in the newly built hall at Hastinapura.

The hall had been built specifically for the game of dice.
And the Pandavas were invited to visit the hall and also to play a game of dice there.
Vidura, whom they called Kshatta, had brought the message.

“Don’t accept it,” Kshatta had said.

“It is a trap,” Kshatta had said.

Kshatta because of whom the Pandavas were alive today. Kshatta the only one who loved them and cared for them unreservedly in Hastinapura.

And Kshatta had said: “Don’t accept it. It is a trap.”

“But I have decided to accept it,” said Yudhisthira. “Yudhisthira does not reject an invitation to a game of dice. Not ever.”

“But the game will not be fair.”

“I know.”

“Duryodhana will cheat. Shakuni will cheat.”

“I know.”

“You will lose your kingdom. You will lose all you have made in these years.”

“I know.”

“They will rob you of everything and send you to the streets empty handed.”

“I know.”

All the four brothers tried to persuade their eldest.

They failed.

No one had ever been able to persuade Yudhisthira unless he wanted to be persuaded.

No one.

Krishnaa knew this.

Yet she tried to persuade him.

“Perhaps…perhaps…” she had thought.

Of course no one ever persuaded Yudhisthira unless he wanted to be persuaded.

O0O

And they had gone. Gone to Hastinapura knowing full well what was going to happen.

They had started on a gloomy day when the wind refused to blow and the sky seemed to be full of foreboding.

Krishnaa’s right eye had begun twitching as she got ready to start. Looking out she had seen a giant vulture perched on the flagpole. As they left the palace gates behind, a donkey had suddenly appeared from among the trees on one side and, braying incessantly, had crossed the royal path and bolted to the other side. Not far from the palace, they had come across a man carrying raw hide on his shoulders. A thousand crows on the trees lining the royal road had set up a cacophony.

She had seen evil omens all around her as they progressed.

But Krishnaa did not need evil omens to tell her what was going to happen.

She knew it. Knew it without a shadow of doubt.

She did not try again to persuade Yudhishthira not to proceed. She knew it was useless.

O0O

The reception they were given at Hastinapura was grand. An entire wing of the palace was given for their stay.

The brothers did not talk. Krishnaa did not talk. There was silence among them.

Music and songs filled the emptiness of their silences.

Duryodhana wanted them to be surrounded by music and dance. Surrounded by songs and celebrations. By festivities.

He had spared no efforts to make sure it was so.

Krishnaa discovered her monthly period had begun on arrival at Hastinapura. She quietly retired to the inner apartments.

She would be spending the next three days alone there.

Alone in the solitude of the inner apartments. Alone and lonely.

While her fate was decided in the dice hall. While her future was decided by her men.

By Yudhisthira, to be exact.

Or by Duryodhana and Shakuni, to be more exact.

But of course, there was nothing to decide.

She knew it. Knew it without a shadow of doubt.

O0O

In the morning she learned how the brothers had spent the night. Spent the most fateful night of their life.

After the evening feast was over and the brothers had entered their apartments, pleasure women had followed them into their chambers.

And these women had sung. And danced. And served them drinks. Long into the night.

And then these women, each an expert in the arts of love, had pleasured the brothers.

Pleasured them in ways only women of pleasure knew how to.

The night had been quite old when the brothers, exhausted, fell asleep.

Krishnaa did not say a word. She did not want to.

She did not want to see their faces.

She couldn’t have, of course. It was forbidden for women to look at their men, to be near them, to interact with them in any way, when they were having their periods, before they had had their ritual baths after their periods.

O0O

Continued …2

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