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I know you remember me for that one incident. I'm not the last one to be disrobed though, is it not? Thousands of years later, you lot are still doing the same. How can you say you have changed? Progressed? You’ve just had an illusion of movement – but you remained at the same place.
Anyway there’s more to my life you know? There’s more you need to learn from my misfortunes. Unfortunately, you don’t. You choose to look for miracles and justifications instead.
It is said I was not born the biological way. No I was the result of a yagna performed by my adopted father King Drupada. My parent is Agni technically speaking, because I emerged from the sacrificial fire, along with my brother Drishtadhyumna. Actually, King Drupada was praying for a son who would take revenge on Dronacharya – the latter had defeated my father and had taken away half his kingdom. So my brother promptly vowed revenge and promised to kill Drona. But then Drishtadhyumna and I were twins – so I tagged along. When we emerged from the fire, we were already young adults – we weren’t born as babies.
In fact, our birth was not necessary. I came to know that King Drupada and Drona had been best friends right from childhood. So close that Drupada had promised half his kingdom to Drona when the time came. It so happened that after my grandfather died, and my father ascended the throne he kind of forgot his promise. Not that poor Drona laid claim or anything – but he was in very deep poverty. His situation was so bad that he was unable to feed his son. So he came to King Drupada asking for help – but what did my father do? He shooed Drona away after calling him a beggar. Now why will any man swallow an insult like that? So Drona waited patiently for his time, became the guru for the warrior princes – the pandavas and the kauravas. Now when it came to gurudakshina, he asked the pandavas to win half of Drupada’s kingdom. All fair and square if you ask me. My father should have let go, and sought forgiveness. Instead he conveniently manipulated all this and my poor brother took that oath to kill Drona.
Now where did I fit into the scheme of things? I was considered spectacularly beautiful – with my dark complexion (yes...what is with you people and your fixation with pale skin?) and lotus eyes. People came from far and wide just to have a glimpse of me. So in what way would a young beautiful woman prove useful? That’s right. Use me strategically in matrimony. My father, having wrested the oath from my brother, was now intent upon furthering his revenge. It was Arjuna wasn’t it who had defeated him on the orders of Drona? What if Arjuna himself married me? Imagine how I felt, when I realized my stake in the whole murky thing.
As if this had not riled me enough, do you know how the whole marriage business was set up? I was offered as a prize for an archery contest – as if I was some plaque or trophy. Some impossible archery task had been set, and my father was sure only Arjuna would be able to complete the task. My heart was thudding – what if some horrible creep finished the task? What then? If they thought I’d keep quiet, they had a surprise coming for sure.
In fact when Karna, handsome and valiant as he was, stood up to participate – he’d even lifted the bow – I had to refuse. Here I am a princess; don’t I have the teeniest right to seek someone my equal? After all, at that time I only knew Karna as the son of a charioteer. Really, I had nothing personal against him – but considering I was being given away like some silver gift set, I had to look out for myself. Are only men entitled to ego? Are only men entitled to pride? I had ego, and I had pride. I was proud of my status and I was proud of my beauty. I have no regrets. But dear god, say no to a man – forget that – just hearing a woman’s voice can set these fellows into a rage. I apparently insulted Karna. How? By just voicing my opinion? I believe it is the same even today.
Anyway, there was this young man dressed like a priest. I tell you, my heart skipped a beat when I saw him. It was love at first sight. Thank god he won the competition, and he turned out to be Arjuna.
Well, all’s well that ends well I thought. But what did I know? Because what happened next was just ridiculous. These five Pandavas are very devout sons. And when they took me to meet their mother Kunti, Yudhishtira said, ‘See what we have brought Mother.’ She was busy, poor old woman, and she replied, ‘Share it equally amongst yourselves.’ So next thing I know, I have five husbands. I find it very strange. A woman, when she is young like me, is objectified and used as a property. But put some grey strands on the head, and the same woman is revered to the point of blindness. From when did the brain become redundant?
I was hopping mad, and I caught hold of my best friend Krishna. Imagine what he says? He says it’s all my doing! Apparently in my previous birth, I did some penance that pleased Shiva so much and he agreed to offer me any boon. So I rattled off some qualities and said give me a husband with all these. Shiva is a logical god – so he said, look, no man can be found with all those qualities, so here’s a deal. In your next birth, I’ll give you five husbands instead of one – and all these qualities will be distributed amongst those five. And here I was.
I slapped my forehead. It was quite scandalous. I mean even in those days, it was the same – there was a social sanction for men to take on many partners. But polyandry was frowned upon. But the key thing here is, learn from this mistake. Be careful what you pray for – you may actually get it. And it is especially daft to pray for good spouses. Anyway, don’t look at this literally. I know many of you have done analysis about my sexual liberation – it all seems so modern isn’t it? After all, each of my husbands loved me dearly, and I reciprocated. Oh well, you won’t be so shocked had it been a man marrying five women, right? So get over it.
But you need to look at this symbolically. Look at what qualities each of these five men stood for. Understand that no matter what, human beings are meant to be incomplete. No single quality can make a man great; there has to be a measured combination. Look at that fool Yudhishtira. I mean, I know he’s known as Dharmaraja and never speaks lies etc.etc. But what use is logic and judgement when one has no common sense? What use is morality when one loses sight of basic humanity?
I say humanity because I have to talk about my molestation. From my father to this husband of mine – they used me as nothing more than a pawn. They gambled me away, as if I were a sheep or a goat. As I stood in the court, amidst the most learned men and elders of all times, as my voice rang out questioning my husband’s right over me as a property – no one had an answer. It was then that I knew I was alone. It was my own battle. It was a moment of truth – I stood amidst my five husbands, I stood in the king’s court, I stood amidst warriors and soldiers, sages and gurus, but I stood alone. When it came to it, in that court, so called law, logic, dharma theories would be chosen over the dignity of a human being. And when it came to it, my husbands would rather obey their brother than standing by their wife. No finger would be lifted to prevent the crime that was about to take place. No elder’s tongue would lash against Duryodhan who parted his garment, flashed his thigh and asked me, a much married woman, to go sit on his lap. He did this right in front of his father and his guru, his brothers and uncles. What security could I expect from this court? What justice could I expect from this lot?
Miracles do add a good boost to the narrative, don’t they? They said a vision of Krishna appeared and an endless saree draped me – and Dushyasan eventually felt tired trying to disrobe me. It is so ridiculous that I laugh. Do they really think that as this vermin disrobed me, I turned on my feet with folded hands? I too am a warrior princess, born of Agni. And rage burnt inside me, set fire to every cell in my body. I fought like a tigress; I wasn’t going to give in. I fought with my bare hands even as I screamed.
When the heinous episode ended, all I remember is that I was trembling with rage, my chest was heaving and my body was drenched in cold sweat. But I don’t remember feeling weak. I don’t remember feeling like a victim. I still felt an extraordinary rage. I stood there, in the midst of these learned men who had betrayed me – as a wife, as a sister, as a daughter, as a woman. I wanted their blood. Yes, blood. Nothing less would quench my thirst.
But don’t read this episode for what it was. Look at the larger picture it portrays. That day, I was not the one who was disrobed. The ones who were stripped naked were all these wise men. Men in whose hands we’d entrusted the kingdom. Yes, Dushyasan had stripped them off their mask of pseudo-culture and their sense of moral superiority. He showed them for what they were – naked, gutless, impotent men – who with all their so called knowledge and skills, were unable and unwilling to defend a hapless woman.
In the fight and politics of these men, whatever happened to me became nothing more than an unpleasant incident. I had to wait for years and years before the perpetrators died on the battlefield. A justice delayed in a justice denied. Sounds familiar?
In the end, there was no victory. Victory is just an illusion. Yes the Pandavas won the war. But at what a terrible cost! What victory do I celebrate? That eventually Bheema broke the very same thigh that Duryodhana had flashed? That he brought me Dushyasan’s blood so that I could drench my hair in it? Did it bring me closure? Did it take away the injustice? Did it take away the years I spent in the forest when I deserved a better life? Did it take away the constant fear of being attacked by some wandering man – be it Jayadratha who abducted me, or Keechaka who tried to molest me? No...there was no justice in my life for all that I had suffered. I even lost all my five sons in the battle – burnt to death. Have you come across such an unfortunate mother? A mother who saw her grown sons, her flesh and blood – all consumed by fire?
Truth be told, I’d been defeated the day I was born out of that fire, as a woman. I was nothing more than a blade of hay, caught in whirlwind of this land – the land of blood lust and bloodthirst – where brother deceived brother, where a married woman was lusted after, where babies were abandoned for the sake of honour, where children were murdered for the sake of vengeance.
And today, the learned men and women read the Mahabharata over and over. They expound theories about dharma and karma and look at minute justifications for each and everything. They talk of karma. Foolish ones, remember that with every breath you take, you have a choice. Choice to do the right thing. You choose to commit heinous crimes, and justify it by saying ‘it is karma.’ Shame on you. The lessons stare at you in the face, yet you learn nothing.
The crime committed against me is repeated day in and day out. It is the age old game - it is easy to settle scores, teach lessons, break egos, break spirits by using women as pawns, is it not? Is it not the same even today? The wise men and women are still as impotent, still as dumbstruck. Their reactions are exactly as it was thousands of years ago – turning a deaf ear and a blind eye. No, nothing has changed. Don’t you see from what I’ve narrated – this always leads to a cataclysmic event. An annihilation. Perhaps that is the karma you’ve chosen. So be it.
© Sumana Khan - 2013Tweet