Saturday, October 10, 2009

Draupadi: The Day of the Jackals 2


Continued from …1

Her women brought her news of what was happening in the dice hall.

Shakuni was playing on behalf of Duryodhana. Yudhisthira had stated this was against the rules of the dice but had agreed to play anyway.

And then Yudhisthira had lost the first wager: A necklace made of rare pearls from the depths of the sea. The very best of Yudhishthira’s necklaces.

And then he had lost the second wager: His inexhaustible treasury of gold and silver, countless boxes, each filled with a thousand gold coins.

And then he had lost the third wager: His royal chariot, equal to a thousand chariots, which runs with the speed of the wind, producing a roar like that of a sea in fury, drawn by eight snow-white horses, selected from among the very best in the world.

And then a fourth wager: A hundred thousand young, beautiful serving girls, all in their early youth, each decked in gold and other ornaments, each a mistress of the sixty-four arts that please men.

And then a hundred thousand young serving men…then a thousand mighty elephants with gold girdles and ornaments…a thousand special chariots with gold flagpoles…all the peerless Gandharva, Tittiri and Kalmasha steeds Arjuna had won from Chitraratha…ten thousand more chariots…sixty thousand selected soldiers…wealth in millions and trillions…countless cows, bulls, horses, goat, sheep…all his lands, cities, the whole country, all his subjects…the ornaments on his brothers…

And then he had said: “I now wager my Sahadeva.”

And lost him.

And then he had said: “I now wager my Nakula.”

And lost him.

And then he had said: “I now wager my Arjuna.”

And lost him.

And then he had said: “I now wager my Vrikodara.”

And lost him.

And then he had wagered himself.

And lost himself.

“I have nothing more left to wager,” he had said.

“Of course you have,” Shakuni had reminded him. ”You have the beautiful princess of Panchala, your wife.”

And he had wagered her.

Yudhisthira had wagered his wife Krishnaa Draupadi in the game of dice.

The kings who had been specially invited for the game as guests were in utter shock. The elders of the Kurus and the acharyas were in utter shock. ”Shame, shame,” they muttered.

Then silence prevailed in the assembly. The whole assembly sat in silence, stunned, stupified. Even the Dhartarashtras, Duryodhana and his brothers and his friend Karna, were silent. Even they could not believe this had happened.

The world seemed to have come to a shocked silence.

Then the silence was broken by the excited, whispering voice of Dhritarashtra. He was asking the same question he had asked each time Yudhisthira had wagered something.
“Has the wager been won yet?”

And then the sound of the dice falling was heard, followed by the booming voice of Shakuni declaring once again, “Lo, I have won it.”

O0O

When the old pratihari came, Krishnaa was ready.

She hadn’t expected this.

She had expected Yudhisthira to lose all his wealth and prepared herself to it. She had expected Yudhisthira to lose all their possessions and prepared herself to it. She had expected Yudhisthira to lose their kingdom and prepared herself to it.

But she hadn’t expected her husband to wager his brothers. She hadn’t expected him to wager himself.

And she hadn’t expected him to wager her.

But still she was ready.

Her world had collapsed completely around her. She had been beaten. Beaten beyond her wildest fears. She hadn’t imagined even in her worst nightmares what Yudhisthira had done to her.

But she was going to maintain her dignity to the end. She the sacrifice-born daughter of king Drupada, the wedded wife of the five Pandavas, was going to keep her dignity to the end.

She was ready.

“Go back and ask them if I was wagered before my husband lost himself or after that,” she told him.

“Ask the slave to come here and ask the question herself,” came the reply.

“Go and ask the gambler if he lost me before he himself became a slave or after it.” She sent the pratihari back again.

O0O

And then Dushshasana himself came.

There was intoxication in his eyes – the intoxication of victory. There was rapture in his eyes – the rapture of victory.

And there were other feelings in them. Feelings that terrified her. Feelings that sent shivers down her spine. Feelings that drained all energy away from her body.

Lust. Raging lust. Madness. Raving madness. Insanity. Evil. Vicious evil. Depravity.

Degeneracy. Hunger. Shameless, depthless, insane, fiendish hunger.

His were eyes from the dark depths of hell where nothing was sacred, nothing was forbidden.

Terrified she joined her palms before her and pleaded.

Those palms had never before been joined together in abject misery. They had never been joined together like this except in prayer to the almighty and in homage to the elders.

Terrified, she joined her palms together and pleaded to be left alone. And in her agony, in her utter helplessness, mentioned the unmentionable. “I am in my season,” she confessed. “See, I am clad in a single piece of cloth.”

“Season or no season, clad in a single piece of cloth or no cloth at all, I’m taking you to the hall,” she heard the booming voice declaring.

Terrified she turned around and fled. Fled towards the chambers in which lived the other ladies, the ladies of Dhritarashtra’s household.

She heard the sound of running feet behind her and fled like a streak of lightning – a streak of sparkling, dark lightning.

Primal fear gave her wings. That most ancient of a woman’s fears.

But then a powerful hand caught her. Caught her by her hair trailing behind her and pulled her and dragged her towards the door. And then across the door. And across corridors. And across open spaces. While she fought and pleaded. While she begged and screamed. While she tried to hold to herself her cloth that was slipping away again and again.

The wind was still again. Dark clouds had covered the sky. A shocked sun had disappeared from the firmament. Darkness covered the earth – sinister darkness.

And the powerful man dragged the helpless woman on, holding her by her hair.

O0O

She was in the hall now. She looked at her husbands.

There was terror in her eyes. There was pleading in her eyes. And there was fire in her eyes.

Not one of the five pairs of eyes faced hers.

Not one word was spoken by any of the five mighty men she had wedded in the five ceremonies that were performed on five successive days in Kampilya, with fire as their witness.

Kshatta’s was the only voice of protest. He was asked to keep quiet or get out.

“Slave, slave,” shouted Dushshasana as he began dragging her again towards the slave quarters.

“The ways of dharma are too subtle,” said Bhishma in a voice which she noticed was quaking for the first time. “I am not able to decide what is right and what is wrong.”
Krishnaa’s soul wept.

And her mind revolted. Reviled. Subtle are the ways of dharma indeed! A woman is brought dragged by her hair into the middle of that august assembly and for Bhishma subtle are the ways of dharma.

For this, Grandfather, you shall pay with your life!

It doesn’t matter that woman is a princess whose face even the sun and the moon hadn’t seen before. It does not matter that the only occasion that woman has been seen by men other than her husband was on the day she stood up in her swayamvara hall to choose a husband for herself. It does not matter that that woman is in her monthly period and clad in a single piece of cloth. It does not matter if that woman is your own vadhu, a bride of the Bharatas, and you are the senior-most Bharata present here. It does not matter she is your granddaughter-in-law. It does not matter that her own husbands and their cousins are sitting and watching, apart from invited kings from several countries.

Let her be just a woman. Any woman. And a man had brought her dragging her by her hair into the middle of the assembly. A man was forcing his will upon a woman in public.

You are a kshatriya.

And you don’t know what dharma is! You don’t know your dharma!

You don’t know if she is a slave or not. So you don’t know your dharma!

What if she is a slave? What then?

Isn’t your dharma clear even if she were a slave?

For this, Grandfather, son of Shantanu, you shall pay with your life.

And all posterity will call you a coward.

A confused, old, helpless coward, afraid of his own evil grandson.

Krishnaa looked at Acharya Drona and the great guru avoided her eyes. For he knew what his dharma was and yet did not have the courage to stand up for it.

For this cowardice of yours, great acharya, you shall pay with your life.

Krishnaa looked at Acharya Kripa and the acharya sat with his eyes fixed at his feet. For he too was but a coward deep in his heart and dared not to speak. Krishnaa’s eyes would enter his soul through his eyes and find the coward hiding there, Kripa knew.

One by one Krishnaa’s eyes sought the eyes of all the elders in the assembly and none had the courage to face the eyes of this pleading, innocent woman who was being humiliated by a bunch of wicked men in the middle of that august assembly. Cowards they all were – one and all.

It was then that the voice of justice spoke through a totally unexpected mouth – that of Vikarna, a younder brother of Duryodhana’s. Vikarna declared what was going on was evil and Draupadi was not a slave since she was wagered after Yudhisthira had lost himself.

The sabha applauded him.

But Karna called him a child and asked him to sit down, his mouth shut. When elders spoke children had no right to open their mouths.
B
ut where elders kept their mouths shut? This was not a case of elders speaking, but of elders keeping their mouths shut. Vikarna had spoken because none of the elders had responded to the pleadings of Krishnaa.

“The woman standing in our midst is a whore,” thundered Karna.

This was the most evil day in Karna’s life. Born noble, Karna was denied the privileges of birth and lineage. Fate had snatched them away from him. Yet he had triumphed over fate by his nobility, by his courage, by his generosity, by his mastery of archery. The whole world said this son of a charioteer was equal to Arjuna himself in his skill of archery, equal to Shibi in charity, the Sun himself in glory, and an equal to Indra in fearlessness. Yet today his behavior had sunk below the level of the common man on the street, below the level of a common drunkard watching a drunken squabble on the street. Today Karna was without nobility, without charity, without greatness. He had sunken into the lowest dust. There was not a noble bone in him today, no redeeming feature in his behavior. For what he was doing today, his ancestors shall forever be ashamed of him.

For his sins today, this friend of Duryodhana shall pay with his life.

For this, Karna, you will pay with your life.

“That woman there is a whore, a common whore,” declared Karna pointing his beautiful finger at Krishnaa. “She is a whore because she sleeps with five men. And any woman who sleeps with five men is a common whore.”

The Dice Hall was stunned.

“And I say, Dushshasana, take away even that single cloth she is wearing. For, she doesn’t deserve it. A slave has no claims to modesty. A whore has no claims to modesty either. And she is both a slave and a whore.”

The Dice hall couldn’t believe what it was hearing.

Krishnaa felt she could reach out and touch the hatred that filled the hall. It was like a physical presence. Evil, noxious, lethal, sinister, fiendish. The intensity of it sent shivers through her.

“Why the hesitation, Dushshasana?” roared Karna again. “Take that common whore’s cloth away. Denude that new slave of ours right here in the assembly.

The price for your words today, Karna, shall be death and eternal shame for you.

Dushshasana caught hold of Draupadi’s cloth and started pulling at it.

O0O

Continued …3

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