And look at my daughters-in-law, Krishna. Look at them. They don’t know whether to weep over the dead bodies of their husbands or of their sons. They run from one to the other, possessed by the madness of sorrow, their hair wild, their eyes wild, their speech wild, their hearts wild. Women whom the sun has never seen, women who have never stepped out of the inner apartments of the palace without their heads being covered, without being surrounded by their maids, women whom the world has never seen in the open. Look at them now, Krishna, their cheeks bathed in tears, their eyes red, their lips quivering in uncontrollable sorrow as they try to give expression to their grief in meaningless words, in words that are incomprehensible because they are choked. Look at the women hugging each other, in their vain attempts to find consolation, to give consolation. Look at how they pound their chests, pull at their hair. Look at how their tender faces are streaked with fresh blood as they tear at their skin brutally in their savage sorrow. Listen to their shrieks, Krishna, listen to their wails that fill the battlefield and echo from the distant hills.
Look at the other great heroes lying dead, their bodies being torn by birds and beasts of pray. There lies Acharya Drona, there his enemy Drupada, there the sons of Dhrishtadyumna, there Karna the invincible, there Jayadratha and there Abhimanyu. Look at Bheeshma lying there, at Shalya, Bhagadatta, there Bhurishrava, there my brother Shakuni, there Brihadbala, there Jayatsena of Magadha, there the king of Kalinga. Look at them Krishna, look at how their women throw themselves at their bodies, listen to how they wail.
I curse you, Krishna, for this. You could have stopped this war if you wanted to. You could have saved the lives of these men. It is you who make these women weep, Krishna. Every drop of those tears flow down those cheeks because of you, Krishna. And every wail and every shriek that rises up from those thousands of hearts filled with bottomless grief rises up because of you, Krishna. And I curse you for it. Your men shall meet with the same end, Krishna. They shall fight among themselves and they shall all lie dead exactly like these men. These men died in honourable battle. But your men shall die shameful deaths in a dishonourable fight, in a drunken scuffle with no cause, no nobility to it, no glory. This war was fought for eighteen days and I give you twice that number of years, Krishna, to live and watch their corruption, their deterioration. Thirty-six years from now, every one of them shall meet with their shameful ends in a drunken brawl. And your women, Krishna, shall weep and wail, exactly as these women weep and wail.
I admired you once, Krishna. Admired you perhaps more than I admired any other human being on this earth. You were what I missed in my life – light and hope. Light that gives hope. Hope that gives strength, shows your goal, shows your path, guides you on that path. Light and hope that link you with life. Light and hope that tell you to be alive is beautiful.
I had known light and hope once. I was a little girl in Gandhara then. The adored daughter of Subala, the king of Gandhara. Adored by my father. Adored by my mother, by my brothers. Adored by the happy subjects of my father. For, our subjects were happy. Our land was happy. My father was a wise king, just and loving. And generous. Father was proud of our land. He said culture had begun in Gandhara. The Gandharvas, as our people were often called, were famed musicians. Sculpture, painting, dance, you name it, it either originated in Gandhara or flourished there more than anywhere else in the world. We had our own form of religion – where women were worshipped as the highest manifestations of divinity on earth. In our society women were not chattels owned by men, but individual human beings in their own right. We women of Gandhara were educated unlike women in most other parts of the land around us then, and many of us were scholars. I myself was known for my mastery over arthashastra, the science of wealth, at my young age.
There was light in my life then. There was hope in my life then.
And then darkness came. And hope was destroyed.
Darkness came into my life in the form of Bheeshma, who was to be for all practical purposes my father-in-law. The venerable Bheeshma, some called him. Bheeshma the terrible, others called him. He wanted me to be the bride of his blind nephew Dhritarashtra. They had a nice name for him, since they did not want to call their prince blind. Prajna-chakshu is what they called him, because wisdom was his eyes, they said. He turned out to be anything but wise.
When I found I had no choice but to marry him, I surrendered to Bheeshma’s demand. But I made a promise to myself – my protest shall take a form no woman had ever chosen in the past. I shall blindfold myself for life. If they felt a blind husband was fine for me, then a blindfolded wife was fine for him.
Dhritarashtra had no right to the throne of his ancestors though he was the eldest of the Bharata princes in his generation. Pandu, my brother-in-law and his younger brother, ruled instead.
There was only one man on this earth who really loved Dhritarashtra. Loved him with all his heart. His mother did not love him – he was a child forced upon her. Seeing the sage who had come to perform niyoga so that she may conceive, she was terrified and closed her eyes. They say that is why he was born blind. Whatever that be, his mother never could bring herself to wholeheartedly love Dhritarashtra. Nor did his other brother, Vidura, who was always closer to Pandu. To Bheeshma he was a disappointment. But Pandu loved him with his heart and soul.
Into our world of darkness, into Dhritarashtra’s and my world of darkness, was born Duryodhana. Duryodhana was our child of darkness.
Pritha had by then already given birth to her first son, Yudhishthira, heir to the throne of his father Pandu.
Duryodhana brayed like a donkey when he was born. Donkeys picked up his cry and soon the palace was filled with the cries of donkeys – it sounded like every donkey in Hastinapura was braying. Then owls began hooting. Crows, jackals, every inauspicious living thing joined them and set up a tumultuous cacophony of ominous cries. And I knew the darkness in my world had become complete.
I begged Dhritarashtra to give up the child. Abandon him, I begged him. Abandon him for the sake of the kingdom, I begged him. Abandon him for the sake of the Kurus, I begged him. Sacrificing a single child for that cause would be a blameless act, I told him, even if that child was one’s own. But to Dhritarashtra, it was his child. His first child. Blood of his blood, flesh of his flesh. And he would hear not a word about giving him up. No one can stop destiny – he said those empty words he always repeated whenever he had no answer to give.
And I knew now there was no escape from the darkness in which I was trapped.
I believed I was in the darkest depths of hopelessness then. But that was naïve of me. The darkness in my world kept growing thicker every day.
Pandu died in the mountains to which he had gone to live leaving to the kingdom to the care of Dhritarashtra. His children and Pritha came back to live at Hastinapura. Duryodhana hated them from day one. To him they were not brothers but enemies. Rivals for the throne of Hastinapura, which he felt was his.
Above all he hated Bheema – born on the same day as he. Duryodhana attempted to poison him – no, it was not an attempt, he was actually poisoned, given lethal poison in a doze that would kill an elephant. Bheema survived – perhaps saved by the water into which he was thrown.
My son sent Pandu’s children and Pritha to Varanavata and there he tried to kill them by setting fire to the house he had built for them with lac. We mourned for them for years, an actor that he was through and through, until they came back, alive and victorious, having escaped the fire and marrying the daughter of Drupada and becoming strong and powerful, now that the king of Panchala was their father-in-law and alley.
I had stopped talking to Duryodhana. I had given up on Dhritarashtra when he invited into his bed a shoodra woman while I was carrying Duryodhana.
This is the true depths of darkness, I was now sure.
My son proved me wrong again.
The Bharata kingdom was divided and Khandavaprastha was given to Pritha’s sons. They built there the glorious Indraprastha with your help. Yudhishthira performed there the rajasooya where you, Krishna, were offered the agrapooja, given to the one that deserves the highest reverence among the assembled kings. Wealth poured in from all corners of the earth to the coffers of Indraprastha.
The seeds of the foulest deed done by any Kuru in history were sowed there. Soon Yudhishthira was invited for a game of dice at Hastinapura where he played against Duryodhana, Shakuni playing on his behalf. Yudhishthira did what no other Kuru king had done. He staked everything he owned: all his kingdom, all his wealth including the slaves, all its people except the Brahmins who could not be staked, all his brothers, himself and finally, the daughter of Drupada, the proud bride of the Kurus.
And Duryodhana did what no other Kuru king had done. He had Draupadi, then in her monthly periods and hence wearing a single cloth, brought into the assembly of kings, dragged by her hair, and there she was humiliated beyond description right in front of her husbands.
I had been hearing about you, Krishna, for a long time by then. After all, you were one of the family. You were Pritha’s nephew and had been visiting her and her children. And you loved me from the first time we met, just as I loved you from the beginning. I had heard of the miracles that happened wherever you went and I wanted those miracles to happen in my dark world too. I knew if there was one person who could bring light into my world, it was you, the miracle-maker. For, bringing light into my world required a miracle.
I knew you could do that that first time you bent and touched my feet. I had raised you up, felt your face with my hands after I smelt your head, and then held your hand within my joined palms for a long time, without a word passing between us. I understood you then. Understood who you are, what you are.
A devotee of Shiva, I always believed dharma brought victory. Yato dharmastato jayah: where dharma stood, there remained victory. As I sat holding your hands in my palms, my heart whispered: Yato krishnastato jayah: where Krishna stood, there remained victory.
I prayed in my heart then that you would stand by my sons as you stood with Pritha’s sons. I felt no need to ask you that aloud, knowing who you were. After all, my sons needed you more than Pritha’s sons needed you. Pritha’s sons needed you to gain strength and power, my sons needed you for spiritual deliverance.
Why didn’t you stand by my sons, Krishna? Why didn’t you befriend my sons just as you befriended Pritha’s sons? Was I any different to you from what Pritha was?
Didn’t I love you as much as she did? Wouldn’t Duryodhana have accepted you with as much ardour as Arjuna had done if you had given him a chance?
I wish you hadn’t gone back to Dwaraka so soon after Yudhishthira’s rajasooya. You could then have prevented the dice game from taking place. And, in spite of everything, I still believe that had the dice game not taken place, the war would not have taken place.
Pandavas did not fight the war for the kingdom. They fought the war for Draupadi’s honour. That is why I refused to bless Duryodhana in that war. He came to me every single day of those eighteen days, seeking my blessings in the morning before he went into the battlefield. And every single one of those days, I refused to bless him. The only words that came out my mouth were Yato dharmastato jayah. Never, never did I tell him vijayee bhava, be victorious. Not once. And that was because I knew my son had done what should not have been done – what was done to Draupadi in that dice hall was what no man should have done, let alone a prince of the Bharatas.
The dice game took place in your absence all right. And the war followed. But still couldn’t you have spared the life of my sons, Krishna? I asked Bheema one question after the war was over. I asked him if he couldn’t have spared one single son of mine. Let me ask you that question: Couldn’t you have spared, for my sake, one single son of mine? Were they all equally evil? Or let me be more specific: Was Vikarna as evil as the rest of them? Vikarna, the only man to speak up for Draupadi in the dice hall apart from Vidura? He spoke up for her when Bheeshma refused to say anything. He spoke up for her where Drona and Kripa remained silent, where even Yudhishthira kept quiet. Couldn’t you have spared him for my sake?
Honestly, Krishna, did you ever once try to be kind to Duryodhana? He needed a friend too. In fact, he needed a friend more than anyone else needed. And what he needed was a friend like you. My brother Shakuni was no good for him. Karna was no good for him. You would have been the right friend for him. Remember, he was a child of darkness and you are light and hope. The world of a child of darkness is a world without light, without hope. You should have brought that light and hope into his world.
The world of light and hope does not require someone to bring light and hope into it. The day does not require lamps. It is the night that requires lamps. It was Duryodhana that really needed you. And yet you did not come into his life.
Is there anyone in this world, Krishna, beyond the scope of deliverance? Is there anyone in this world whom you couldn’t have pulled out by his hand from the pool in which he is drowning?
My sons needed you Krishna. My sons deserved you, Krishna. Yet you failed them.
You came to the assembly of the Kurus to plead for peace. You pleaded for it eloquently there. And you showed your power there – showed who you really are.
Fine, Krishna. But I cannot forget that before coming to Hastinapura to plead for peace, you had promised a war to Draupadi. You had assured her Kaurava blood would flow in the battlefield. That she would be able to tie up her hair after soaking it in Dushshasana’s blood for his sin of having touched it, for the sin of drawing her brutally by it to the dice hall in her single cloth.
My sons have a right to fail. Even Pritha’s sons have a right to fail. Everyone has a right to fail. But not you, Krishna. You have no right to fail. You had no right to fail. But you failed. At least for me you failed.
I curse you, Krishna, for that.
But who am I to curse you? I know my curse has no effect on you. It is just my sorrow coming out. Just as Yuidhishthira’s toenails turning blue was not because of any curse from me, but a result of my sorrow flowing out from my heart.
I am happy you smile when I curse you and the Vrishnis. If you didn’t, I would have been wrong in my lifelong understanding about you.
Perhaps what I babble now too is the sorrow in my heart flowing out. Perhaps you were right in allowing the war to take place. When man born of woman starts abusing woman, humiliating her, treating her as a thing meant for his pleasure, treating her as a dumb, helpless creature, trampling her under his feet, uses her as a tool for vengeance, then perhaps there is no redemption for man.
Perhaps my curse is no more than a joke to you. Perhaps you know it is a curse that escaped me in spite of myself. For you know I have cursed in my heart others for doing to me what was done to Draupadi in the dice hall. I had cursed Bheeshma and Dhritarashtra for abusing me, for humiliating me, for reducing me to thing. The curse had escaped me, in spite of myself. Just as the curse had escaped me the day my son abused Draupadi, humiliated her, reduced her to a thing in the dice hall.
Escaped me in spite of myself. Escaped me unspoken.
And I refused to bless him throughout the battle he fought.
Or maybe, I cannot blame you for not standing by my son.
Maybe I cannot blame you for promising Draupadi a war before you came to Hastinapura seeking peace.
But in spite of that, I cannot help hating you, Krishna, for what you failed to be to Duryodhana.
My son of darkness. But my son all the same.
Forgive me that, Krishna.
And now, let me make another request to you.
A prayer that I have uttered a thousand times in my heart, silently, without words, so that no one but you would hear it.
In one of my future births, Krishna, will you be my son?