As I looked at him, hatred filled my heart.
I stood on my chariot, poised with my Anjalika weapon, ready to strike. All he was doing was try to free his chariot wheel from the ground.
Though I was about to kill this villain, I didn’t feel proud or exhilarated. I only felt a searing rage against him.
This man was the interloper in my life. Poking his nose where he was not required. What was he? Only the son of a mere charioteer. Then how dare did he compete with the royal prince of Hastinapur?
As I looked at his pathetic state now, I remembered that fateful day when I saw his hateful face for the first time…
I looked up and smiled. Why shouldn’t I? I, Arjuna, the son of Kunti and Pandu, am the greatest living archer on Earth. And now that I was being applauded by the whole city of Hastinapur, there is no reason for me to refrain from smiling.
Today was the day for competition between the Pandava and Kaurava princes. And as usual, we Pandavas stole the show, our hundred mighty cousins unable to match our prowess.
These cousins of mine were always very jealous of us. They had made several failed attempts at our lives, and we were saved at the nick of the time with God’s grace. We detested them and they detested us. However, family is family, and we have certain duties towards them. This competiton was one of them.
Now that my display of archery was over, the audience cheered me for an encore. I grinned.
“Is there anybody, anybody to match young Arjuna’s skill in archery?” the loud voice of Grandfather Bhishma rang out.
I twitched. This was a customary challenge given out to anybody who felt that the prince’s training was incomplete.
“Can anybody challenge this matchless warrior for a duel? Is there anybody who can prove himself to be a better archer than this ambidextrous hero?” Grandfather boomed.
I sighed with impatience. There was nobody in the three worlds who could match my prowess, and everybody knew that. Then why waste time in unnecessary formalities?
“I do,” a voice called out.
Everybody looked at the young man in amazement. He was tall and handsome, dressed in a golden armour, and wearing earrings as bright as the sun. He held a strong and sturdy bow with wondrous engravings on it. His jet black hair swayed with the breeze, as he fixed his determined opal black eyes on me.
“Young man, name yourself. Know that the person whom you’re challenging is none other than than wealth winner Arjuna, the son of Kunti,” my Guru Drona said.
“I know that very well, royal preceptor.” The man’s arrogant smile was getting on my nerves now. “I can reproduce every thing that the prince has done right now,” he declared, with a glint in his eye.
And right in front of the speechless crowd, he effortlessly performed each and everything that I had done, with much more grace and careless ease. Now, I was really starting to hate this young upstart. How dare he challenge me, the prince of princes?
“This young man here,” proclaimed Bhishma, in his deep baritone, “has surpassed the youngest son of Kunti in his feats of archery!”
The crowd cheered. I flushed. How dare this interloper come and grab MY fame from ME on MY day in MY kingdom?
“I now challenge Arjuna to duel with me and prove his worth in front of Hastinapur,” the young man said.
This was adding salt to my injuries. Nobody, not even my own teacher, has the guts to challenge me openly for a duel. Then how dare this young fellow do so? Rage was building up inside me, and I wanted to vent it all out by killing him.
“Whomever you may be, glorious hero, you will be in the realms of uninvited guests and prattlers once I’m done with you,” I swore.
“He smiled mirthlessly. “I never expected the royal princes to be afraid of combat with a mere commoner,” he sneered. “Prove your fame through deeds of valour, Arjuna, and not through empty words,” he said mockingly.
“Wait a minute, young man. A prince may fight with only another prince. Know that the prince who stands before you is none other than Arjuna, the Kuru prince. Name yourself and your lineage,” said my other guru Kripa.
I bit my lip in annoyance. I was not interested in who he was and where he came from. I just wanted to kill him, and prove that I was the best archer in the world.
But at this question, the young man did not answer, but bowed his head. Was it shame, or modesty, that made him to do so? The crowd remained silent, waiting for him to reveal himself.
“If it is lineage that is stopping this valorous hero from naming himself, why I shall set that right! I’m crowning you, unnamed hero, as the king of Anga, which is a part of my father’s territory!”
Everybody looked at my cousin, Duryodhana. He was the eldest Kaurava, known for his might and charisma, not for his generosity. Certainly, there was a reason behind this gift.
The young man lifted his head up, his face shining like the Sun with gratitude. As he lifted his bow, rain clouds gathered around me. I was born with the blessing of Indra, lord of the rain and king of the Gods. I guessed this was his show of support to me.
However, on the other hand, my rival was surrounded in a halo of sunshine. This was an interesting development. I lifted my bow too.
“My son, my son! Oh Karna, what are you doing” cried an emancipated old man, running towards my opponent.
I raised my eyebrows in wonder. This old fellow was clothed in ordinary attire stained with grease. Clearly, he was a charioteer.
With my eyebrows still raised, I watched the young man touching the older man’s feet. Before I could react, my brother Bhima laughed.
“So this young man is nothing else than a son of a charioteer! This cocksure young Karna, who boasted that he could defeat my brother, does not deserve such a royal and a regal bow! All he needs in a whip to drive our horses!” Bhima mocked.
The crowd booed. “Get lost, suta-putra, how dare you think of competing with the prince himself! You low-born mongrel, flee before we stone you!”
I watched his cold lips quivering with hearty satisfaction. What a jerk he was to challenge me.
“All of you shut up! I, the crown-prince of Hastinapur, command you to remain silent!” cousin Duryodhana blared.
“A prince does not define valour, valour defines a prince! This man is a prince in his own right! How can a doe give birth to a lion? Similarly, how can this weak charioteer give birth to such a brave-heart? He has all the auspicious marks on him, and seems of celestial lineage, and he commands respect!”
With this pompous speech, Duryodhana placed his hand on Karna and said, “Dearest Karna, I’ve never met such an archer like you all my life. Surely, you’re the one who can bring this arrogant Arjuna to his end. Come with me.”
As Karna muttered his thanks and joined Duryodhana on his chariot along with his father, I realized why he had gifted his kingdom to this suta-putra. All he wanted to do was to kill me, and Karna was the perfect means to attain that.
Well, there was no use worrying about the future now. I bowed to the still tumultuous audience, and left for my palace with my brothers.
(to be continued…)