The Pandavas and Draupadi are readying for their last journey. They will trek to Heavens via Har-ki-doon valley and Yamadwar Glacier. They spent the last night in Shankri, a small hamlet with a few naga families. Arjuna as usual sits alone at the river-side. Yudhishthira is busy with some rituals. Bhima is oiling his body. Nakula and Sahadeva are preparing two walking sticks – one for their bade bhaiya and one for Draupadi. Draupadi has just finished her bath and is combing her hair. Occasionally she glances at Arjuna with a frown.
Arjuna turns back and shouts, "You fellows are always late. We must start at once". Bhima gives the final massage to his body and shouts back, "You fellow are always in hurry! Why don’t you catch some trout, instead of sitting idle?"
Arjuna nods, "It is already 7. Clouds will start rising by 9 and cover the peaks".
Draupadi pricks him, "Why did you marry at all? You could marry nature!"
Yudhishthira completes his rituals and says, "Dhanu is right. Nothing more beautiful than a snow-capped peak! It makes the mind spiritual!" Sahadeva lifts his face from his work and asks anxiously "Bade bhaiya, Did my herbal work? Did your bowels move today?" Nakula retorts "Damn you and your herbs. Caused me constipation." Bhima snarls, "Hah! You won’t get a gate pass to heaven with that load inside! Besides, we have to think of our safety too! Let me give you a solid punch on your abdomen."
Yudhishthira sits in yogic posture, takes a deep breath and sounds very grave, "Are we forgetting our mission? Are we ready to leave forever? Are we at peace with ourselves? Are we ready to starve from today?"
Bhima nods in silence. Nakula breaks the silence, "Yes! We are mentally prepared. Peace peace". "Everything must come to an end. And we are ready to bid the world adieu", is Sahadeva’s reflection.
"Rubbish!" cries Arjuna as he walks to join the group, "Such negative thoughts! It would be a unique opportunity to experience the upper Himalayas from close. Crossing a glacier with bare foot! Treading over the Swargarohini…without trekking gears ….just think of that!" Yudhishthira looks at Heaven "May all of us reach the Heavens safely! May Vishnu guide us!"
The journey is about to begin. Suddenly Draupadi says, pointing at the river, "Are we right or is that river right?" Bhima frowns, "What is that anyway? A conundrum or what?" Nakula and Sahadeva feel excited at the prospect. Sahadeva thinks he has the solution, "Well Pancha...I mean Bhabi...sorry to forget you are bade bhaiya’s this year!"
"No Dev! No more of that! We are each others now!" Yudhishthira corrects him complacently, Bhima is impatient, "Come on Panchali, cough out!" Draupadi looks meaningfully at Arjuna. Arjuna shrugs "Hum... We are right because we are here; the river is right because it is there! Here will explore the there, and there will explore the here! Right?" Draupadi looks lovingly at Arjuna. Arjuna smiles, and then turns away his eyes suddenly to watch the Himalayan golden eagle hovering over their head. Draupadi frowns.
Bhima slaps Arjuna’s back, "Abominable habit…you got this from Krish! You won’t mend Dhanu … feel like boxing your ears." Arjuna quickly jumps out of his reach, "You remember, my political shelter from you was Grandpa Bhisma’s arms!"
Bhisma’s mention brings sadness. They are silent again. Bhima wants to cheer them up, "Hey! Don’t bring back the past. See, I’ve forgotten Duryodhana." Sahadeva raises his hand, "Bhabi…Panchali, I think I can guess it." Nakula won’t let him take the credit, "Elementary dear Sahadeva, elementary."
Yudhishthira has been thinking deeply, "Dear Panchali, my memory is failing. From which scripture are you quoting that?"
– Better ask your wise brothers to explain. They are omniscient!
Yudhishthira turns his head to Nakula and Sahadeva. Sahadeva is already on his run, "What a beautiful flower over there!" By the time Yudhishthira thinks of Nakula he too is already on his heels, "a call at last... What relief!"
Draupadi laughs heartily, "Watch it. Might be a missed call! Ha ha ha ha... Pretentious scoundrels" Arjuna joins her in laughter. Bhima scratches his head, "What’s so funny? It is nature’s nature to call us." Draupadi Strokes Bhima’s chest, "you speak real poetry sometimes!" Bhima raises his eyebrows and makes a peculiar expression with his lips!
Yudhishthira won’t doubt them, "It is not right to doubt them Panchali. They are young in age but old in wisdom! See Sahadeva is really plucking a flower for you."
Arjuna is restless, "What are we waiting for? Naku... Dev...!"
Sahadeva comes back with a wild flower and presents it to Draupadi. A dog trails him, wagging its tail with earnest eyes. Bhima does not like the company, "It has been following us for the last two days. Will it go with us Yudhi bhaiya?"
– Let it follow if it wishes so.
– Thinks we have food. Doggy... Idiot... Will be disappointed soon!
Draupadi has some problem with the stick. "Let the dog be. It will serve us good… will support us" Bhima bursts out in laughter "What! As a food?" The dog immediately hides its tail. The mountain echoes. Bhima snatches the stick from Draupadi and sets it right with his teeth! Nakula comes running, "relief, relief at last! Dhanu bhaiya, here I am for you now." Arjuna cannot be patient any more, "Final bell! You stay I start... Come on Panchali." Draupadi snatches the stick from Bhima.
All six finally start moving, leaving Shankri behind. The dog follows them, its tail again raised like a flag! They walk side by side for sometime, and then a new picture emerges. Yudhishthira trails. Bhima recedes to keep watch both on him, and his advancing brothers.
Yudhishthira – It’s O.K. brothers... Move on... No problem
Draupadi – What else do you expect? Always gaining fat with butter and ghee!
Arjuna – That’s all right. Who told you all to run? Relax and walk.
Yudhishthira – What is our destination today?
Arjuna – Why jam your brain with such thought? Forgot Krish’s karmanyebadhikaraste?
Nakula – Don’t think we can go beyond Har-ki-doon valley today.
Yudhishthira is Exhausted, and breathes heavily. Sahadeva learnt from a Rishi at Shankri that they have to walk 40 miles to reach the valley.
Suddenly Arjuna shouts in joy, "Look look... The first snowcapped peak in view... That sure is Swargarohini." All are equally excited at the sight of the splendour. They consider themselves very lucky as the sky is entirely cloudless. Yudhishthira says that this indeed is a very auspicious sign indicating their successful journey to Heaven. Even the dog is joyous. "Woof! Woof!" it barks and wags its tail violently!
The Pandavas and Draupadi spend the night in a cave in Har-ki-doon valley. The next morning they start their final trek. Sahadeva and Draupadi lead the group. Then follows Nakula. Arjuna walks next, very relaxed, his eyes consuming everything around! Next walks Bhima, occasionally turning back to keep a watch over Yudhishthira, who trails as usual, followed by the faithful dog. They have already crossed the Yamadwar glacier and are now halfway on the treacherous slopes of the Swargarohini.
Yudhishthira gasps, "It is really so arduous... this glacier. Isn’t there any shortcut to Heaven?" Suddenly he slips! "Oh! Oh my God! Vishnu Vishnu!" Bhima rushes with a big leap crying, "watch out watch out", but in vain. He cannot do anything.
Yudhishthira has fallen straight into a crevasse. There is no trace of him. Draupadi does not even turn back and walks on. The others at first cannot understand what to do. Finally they follow Draupadi.
Arjuna nods sadly, "God bless his soul. His body will remain immortal in snow."
Nakula – Bade Bhaiya! What a tragic end! He deserved to go to Heaven first!
Bhima – May be he is still alive. Can’t you wait Panchali?
Draupadi walks on. All others have to follow.
Sahadeva quickly catches Draupadi, "But why? He was such a great soul and never did any sinful act. He was the embodiment of Dharma! You seem so calm! Tell us what the cause is for which Bade Bhaiya has fallen!" Draupadi smiles, "Though we were all equal he had great partiality for his own Dharma. He pays for that!"
– But he was such a nice brother! Never boxed my ears, never exploited me! A great heart... Such generosity! Did not hesitate to share even you with all!
– Shut up and move on.
– Still! Some other reasons might be there!
– Of course there are! Arjuna won me, but Yudhi framed a peculiar rule to keep him away from me for two years. Subhadra could not have entered my life otherwise! Putting a wife as stake in a game of dice having lost himself! Aren’t these enough sin?
– These reasons are for researchers. Some other reasons must be there!
– He could not separate Sattwik and Tamashik, Vairagya and cowardice! Logocentricity does not a great man make! Always concerned with self-image!
– Is that all? Your eyes are very strange Bhabi …er … Panchali!
– Why are you so curious? O.K. Here’s the real one. He could not play hard, was always conscious about hurting me. Got it? Kunti’s greatest failure! Undoubtedly!
Sahadeva stands agape for a moment. He has an uncanny feeling. He asks in a low voice, almost in whispers, "Aren’t you sad? Are you really so cruel? Won’t you miss him?"
– Miss him? Yes certainly! I will miss a domesticated husband and a son!
Suddenly they hear a great thud. Bhima has slipped and is falling. He tries hard to catch hold of the boulders like a drowning man catching at a straw. He can hold on to a rock for a moment as all others watch him helplessly. He finally goes down with a cry, "Why am I falling Panchali, O Why am I?" Bhima falls straight into a crevasse and is lost. The sound of a great avalanche is heard!
Nakula and Arjuna cries, "Majhli Bhaiya... Majhli Bhaiya...Don’t leave us." They have tears in their eyes. But Draupadi won’t stop. Others are reluctant but compelled to follow.
Draupadi – Come on Come on! Let him sleep in peace.
Sahadeva – Why O Why will the mighty Majhli Bhaiya fall so helplessly?
Nakula – He could not bear Bade Bhaiya’s fall.
Sahadeva – Don’t be silent Panchali. It hurts! He was so caring about us. Often beat us black and blue in our infancy, no doubt, often ate half of our total share, no doubt, but he protected us like a father... even more than that… He...
Arjuna – Taken away one by one. Now I understand what Krish meant!
Sahadeva runs to Draupadi who has already gone ahead of them by about 50 metres, "You must know the reason Panchali."
– Yes I know, but I doubt whether you will understand it at all!
– Please Panchali
– Passion was his virtue but failure to ration it was his vice.
– He could not balance sadism and masochism! Always played hard! Got it? No! Never mind. Grow up and you’ll understand. Now, keep mum and move on.
Suddenly Nakula’s horrified voice is heard, "Stop Stop! O God! Where is Arjuna Bhaiya gone? He was just now behind me. O God!"
Sahadeva sits down in despair, "What! The great Sabyasachhi down?" Nakula is doubtful, "Perhaps, He was not as strong as he seemed, then!"
Draupadi stops and turns back. She descends a few steps and peeps into the deep and frowns. Shouting at the top of her voice she cries, "Go Go... Get another wife down there!"
Sahadeva gets up with an effort, "Why should he fall Panchali?" Draupadi looks very mysterious, "Whole life he has been on wheels! He surely has a pair as feet!"
Nakula – Why this tragic end for him, Panchali?
Draupadi – He is so dynamic. So dynamic! No compassion for stasis! Must pay for that!
Sahadeva – Should we move on or quit?
Nakula – Panchali, you stop too! Let us go back. I am scared.
Draupadi – Partha cannot fall like this. I know I know. Usual cunningness to evade me!
Nakula – Is that why you use present tense?
Sahadeva – You puzzle us.
Draupadi – You won’t understand. I have greater intuitive power than you fellows.
Nakula and Sahadeva – You have tears in your eyes Panchali.
Draupadi – That’s dust. (She rubs her eyes) Well let’s move on.
As soon as Nakula moves forward, he misses his step and goes down straight.
His last words are heard "Why should I, O why should I?" As Nakula’s voice faints in the deep, Sahadeva claps in joy! All of a sudden he is so full of energy!
Draupadi fixes her eyes on his, "So this is your real face? How can you celebrate when your twin falls?"
– I love you Panchali. You don’t know what it was to share you with others.
– He was righteous and intelligent. He was, however, very self-conscious of his handsome features. Never really got out of mother-fixation. That’s why he falls.
– Not interested! Let him go to Hell. At last you are mine Panchali. I will brook no competition any more. You are mine forever Panchali. We will live happily Panchali.
– Good project! Why are you so angry with Nakula? And jealous!
– I seldom got you, in mine quota. Even then you hardly gave yourself up to me! You always had this problem or that!
– Well Well! Then you are angry with me!
– No No! Why should he be considered my elder for landing first? Isn’t it injustice?
– Is that all? What quota you mentioned? What was the problem with your quota?
– Why would he get you before me? Felt like killing him sometimes. After every four years I would get you, but could hardly enjoy you! Oh! Every moment such tension!
– Yes tension! The tension to lose you for another four years. The tension of really getting you for a single year!
– You haven’t yet said the reason of your anger for Nakula…
– The rascal would often tie me up at night during my quota and enjoy you impersonating me! Isn’t that enough reason to kill him?
– What? Is that so?
– Just see, how indifferently you gave yourself to me! I would be completely lost in you to notice that! What! You couldn’t even distinguish between us!! Did you ever really give yourself to me?
– So naughty of Nakula! Ha Ha
Sahadeva sighs, "You laugh! Now you are mine Panchali. Only you and me and the mountains and the rivers. Let’s go back Panchali. I will make a nice hut for you by a river. You will collect flowers and sing for me. Every night will be a new heaven Panchali."
Sahadeva slips suddenly and is about to fall into a crevasse. He cries in horror, "Save me Panchali save me." Draupadi rushes and catches hold of the index finger of his right hand just in time.
– Thanks Panchali. Please pull me up slowly. At last you love me Panchali.
– Don’t be a fool.
– Please don’t leave me Panchali. I am a tragic character. I never got the love of my mother. I never got your love! My other wives were living willow logs!
–We all are tragic in our own petty ways! And that’s the greatest comedy!
– Please don’t torment me, Please lift me up. I feel exhausted, save me.
– I can’t save you.
– Then why did you hold me? You are still holding me! Don’t let me go
– You need to face reality before leaving. That’s why I am still holding you. You are in fool’s paradise. To go to the real place you must face reality.
– It hurts it hurts! What other reality Panchali? Vyasa marginalized us because we were not his blood grandsons, Kunti showed me so much love because she had guilty feelings about Madri’s death, what else more real than these reality?
– Prepare yourself Dev, before you take the final leave.
– So you won’t save me! How do you forget I am a father of your son?
– That’s it! Are you sure you fathered your son?
– (Heart rending cry!) What? Is that Nakula’s too?
– Nakula was never your rival dear! Every time he tied you up and entered my room, I allowed him some foreplay and then tied him up! I would tell him I have caught him and then stacking him on the bed, I would tell him I am going to spend the night with you.
– But you never came to me. I had to lay tied up till the morning and then it would be Nakula who would untie me!
– Yes. That’s after I untied him and ordered him to untie you
- Didn’t he doubt that you never came to me seeing me tied up again?
- Nah! I would tell him I had a tied up session with you.
– Who then fathered my son Panchali?
– Who else?
– Idiot! Krishna No! And Krishna Yes! You lot always suspected Vasu! He was my best friend. Partha Partha Partha Partha! Tying up Nakula I would go straight to him!
- But how could religious-minded Sabyasachi dupe his loving younger brothers?
- Yes, that was the problem initially. He was too religious to do such an act at first!
– Let me go Panchali! Please let go my hand. Please let me go down!
– Be consoled! Thrice I raped Partha – twice in Yudhi’s quota and once in Bhima’s to mend his manners and make a gentleman out of him. He is so religious that he won’t take me willingly! What else could I do?
- Bade bhaiya and Majhle bhaiya’s pride gone too! Is that why Dhanu bhaiya went to banabas?
- Why else? I was just sitting with Yudhi. No question of any intimacy! He entered, saw us and started insisting that he had committed sin and should go to banabas! That was two days after I raped him for the second time.
- And when was the first time?
- On the very first night of my marriage to Yudhi in my father’s house. The moment I understood that I was to sacrifice my love to become a common thread of the Pandava pearls, the decision was taken. On the first night, I pretended to be mentally upset and physically tired, and allowed Yudhi to snore!
- Then you went straight to Dhanu bhaiya?
- Ha Ha. He was shocked to see me. I shocked him further. He started avoiding me after that bout!
- What about the other two times?
- Great moments! I must say! Having illicit love with a husband who is no husband!
– Nakula’s son is also Arjuna’s then?
– Certainly! How could you think Satanika, equal to Abhimanyu in valour, could be Nakula’s son? How could you think I would cross the limit of three set by mother Kunti? Yudhishthira and Bhima had Prativindhya and Shrutasoma by me; Srutakirti, Satanika and Srutakarma were Arjuna’s.
Sahadeva squeezes his hand hard, but Draupadi holds him strongly. She smiles, "One more truth you must know."
– I don’t want to hear, I have had enough
– No! You must hear
– Believe me, I am at peace with myself. Duped elder brothers and Nakula comfort me.
– Don’t want to know who your father was?
– The twin Gods – the Ashwins! Who else?
– Fool! No God can ever father a man! You had a human father.
Sahadeva squeezes his hand even more violently, "Please please! Let me go."
Draupadi laughs, "So eager to go? Believe me, this would comfort you more."
– Haven’t you ever felt any love for me Panchali?
– I pity you, that’s why I insist you must hear this.
– I have nothing to gain now! I have nothing to lose now!
– Yes! You still have something to gain. No one not even Partha knows this. I once overheard Kunti, Krishna and Vyasa. They drew a promise out of me in Partha’s name that I would not reveal it to any living human being!
– So you consider me dead already?
– Do you or don’t you want to hear?
– Please do tell me. I never had a mother. Did I have a father?
– Yes! Dhaumya, the priest, was your father!
Sahadeva is successful at last in releasing his hand. The next moment he vanishes! Draupadi laughs loudly, "Ha Ha all gone. No not all! Partha cannot die like this. He must be on to some expedition. Took opportunity of my unawareness!" She looks down into the abyss, "Partha Partha, I know you are there."
There is no response. Only the sound of wind is heard. Draupadi waits a minute or two and then walks on. The dog follows.
Draupadi walks alone. The dog follows her. The sound of thunder is heard. The sound gradually transforms into the sound of a chariot. An old brahman is standing on her way on the slopes.
The Brahman seems surprised, "Who are you lady, and what are you doing here?" Draupadi too is surprised to see a Brahman at this height. She observes him top to bottom. A queer smile plays on her lips like an untimely bloom in winter! She then fixes her eyes into his. They are so direct so penetrating!
The Brahman is visibly in discomfort, "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Draupadi quips, "Stop acting. You are Indra, the lord of the Gods." The Brahman is completely taken aback, "How the Hell … I mean … by Heavens …!" Draupadi smiles with a flash in her eyes, "Only Indra can lick with his eyes a 120 year old face-breast-waist-hip-thigh thus! Change this unfashionable outfit and come in your own. Won’t you?"
The Brahman is relieved to hear such an easy solution, "Certainly certainly gracious lady. Pardon me, just a moment." He goes behind a rock. Out comes Indra the next moment with a bouquet of Parijata.
– Welcome lady. Please. He hands over the bouquet with a slight bow.
– Thank you. Is it real Parijata or plastic?
– What’s that? No no it is hundred percent real, just as you are real, sweet lady.
– Still womanizing eh?
Indra is shy, "I have never seen a more beautiful lady than you. If you are ten out of ten, Tilottama is 8.5, Urvasi is 8, Menaka is 7.5."
– Stop Stop! I am not walking on the ramp or contesting in Ms. Universe!
– What’s that? O I forget! This Kalpa is technologically more advanced than the previous one. Yudhisthira could reach here alone with a dog then! By the way where’s the dog? Ah! There it is. Repetitive programme with a little variation!
– Yudhishthira reached here alone? How could he with such a pot belly?
– I don’t know. I heard he did in the previous Kalpa. May be the laws of physics were different those days! But laws are evolving, I see!
– You are right! This is a far more advanced Kalpa! We were born again. This time to avenge a great wrong! I must confess I was not aware of this purpose until recently. But something kept flashing in my mind as I walked alone! Now I understand!
– Forget it. Please allow me to take you to Heaven. All the pleasures of Paradise await you there. My humble throne awaits you! But first, the usual set of questionnaires.
– Very businesslike! Do I have to give an interview?
– No No! Please don’t take it like that! I will feel hurt. Just formalities!
– Go on.
– Right. Number one, you cannot take that doggy with you.
– Who wants to? It has been Yudhi’s pet! He fell, and now it’s after me! Opportunist! Did not even stop to take a look at him. Will it help me search Partha? Certainly Not!
The Dog can hardly bear anymore, "ooooooooah ooooooooah", it sounds like conch-shell! Indra is puzzled and thinks Draupadi could not hear him properly. "I was telling that you cannot …"
– I have already answered
– I think you couldn’t hear what I said! The dog…
– Rubbish! I can even hear the hammering of your heart. It's beating 144 times a minute!
Indra is very pleased, "all for you, sweetheart!"
– Even to this so soon? Have you forgotten you are my father-in-law?
Indra shakes his head violently, "no no never! That old Vyasa and that rogue Krishna had done this harm! The old and new scheming shams! It was their propaganda!"
Draupadi cuts him short in a commanding tone, "Hold your tongue! So, Partha was Pandu’s biological son? Is that true?"
– Of course! What a hotchpotch of birth of the Pandavas! But Sweet lady, at least don’t be under any misconception about me! Kunti never thought of calling me at all. I knew her for over a long time. She had such high-voltage charms! Had she uttered the very first syllable of her mantra...?
– You would have gone running! Won’t you? Disgusting! On to your formalities!
– Yes yes! About the dog!
– That is answered. I won’t take it with me.
The Dog interferes in clear human tone – "Ahem Ahem!" Draupadi is startled. She shakes her nice long fingers at Indra threateningly, "Now! What is this game up to?" Indra quickly stands between the dog and Draupadi. In a rather consolatory tone he tells the dog, "wait! I am arguing your case. Dear lady ..."
Draupadi – Answered!
Dog – Ahem Ahem!
Indra searches for words, makes gesture of despair, and scratches his skull!
The Dog suddenly stands on two legs. He says in human voice, "Enough of this nonsense! Damn your argument! You don’t know how headstrong she is!"
Draupadi smiles derisively, "Now now! Revelations!" Indra tries hard to manage the situation, "Who told you to reveal yourself so soon?
The Dog is very angry, "Damn! See lady, I had had enough of you for these three days. Let me introduce myself and go my way. I am Dharma, and I am not Yudhishthira’s father anyway!"
Draupadi laughs loudly. Indra and Dharma starts!
Dharma is very prosaic, "Bye lady. And next time Indra you allot me such a task! And see what I do!" Dharma leaves with heavy sounding foot steps.
Indra is all apologies, "I am sorry sweetheart. These fellows won’t take training on chivalry. My head hangs in shame. I see I have to make the training compulsory." He is about to resume his chivalrous best, when Dharma comes back, startling Indra!
Dharma shakes his left hand index at Indra, "and do send my fees immediately."
Indra’s face pulls long, "O.K, O.K. Now please... Don’t bamboofy me any further, for Heavens’ sake. I’ll sanction double, now if you please to take leave."
Dharma gives a side glance at Draupadi, and leaves saying, "Remember that."
Draupadi faces the peak, which is now draped in the reddish-golden hue of the setting sun. Indra goes behind her. He looks at the peak and then at Draupadi’s swan neck, "Beautiful isn’t it?"
Draupadi does not respond. She now turns towards the deep. Indra goes closer to her, very close, and is getting rapt in her odour. Draupadi spreads her arms like wings of a bird, as if a swan is about to float in the blue sky. Indra has the irresistible desire to wrap her with his arms. He hesitates.
Draupadi quips, "The earth is a better Heaven than yours."
Indra smells her and is about to take her in his arms.
Draupadi seems so near yet so far, "Partha is right. Always right! He understood it long before. That’s why he left us. But he cannot forget me! He must be waiting for me down there. I hear his call!" Draupadi’s disheveled hairs spread out like bright clouds at sunset. She waves her arms slowly and stands on her toes at the brink.
Indra shakes his head as if to bring himself back to reality, "What are you doing? You will fall!"
Draupadi turns her head in a whiff, "You eve teaser! Don't think I could not see what you were trying to do! Stay away" Indra pulls back with a jolt!
"Good bye. I am coming Partha", are her last words as she jumps nay, floats in the emptiness with the red Swargarohini peak as the background. Indra makes an attempt to catch her, but in vain.
– O queen of Arjuna, O queen of Arjuna
Indra falls down dejected.
- May you find him beloved queen of Arjuna!
Indrajit Bandyopadhyay is Lecturer in English at Kalyani Mahavidyalaya, Kalyani, WB.