“I give you ten minutes more. Make your choice soon. Fight, or flight?” I said.
As soon as I said that, I felt guilty. He had always run from the society every time due to his lineage, and I used to mock that. But there was a time in my life where I had to flee, flee for my life…
“What?” yelled my mother Kunti, her fair face pallid with shock, as Bhima looked down sheepishly.
“Really, Bhima, I didn’t think you would stoop so low. You, the son of Kunti and the Wind God Vayu, marrying a Rakshasi, a demoness?” Mother raged on and on.
“You are a shame to your lineage. Don’t you know that the royal code of conduct prescribes that it is the eldest brother who gets married first?”
“Isn’t Yudhishtira still alive? Okay, I wouldn’t have minded so much if you had married some princess, or atleast a human. But a Rakshasi ?” Mother spat the word with such contempt that Nakula, my younger brother, shuddered.
“Enough, Mother. Calm down. According to me, what Bhima did was right. He married the sister of the Rakshasa Hidimba whom he killed with bare hands. If it was not for him, the revenge-driven Hidimbi would have been feasting on our blood right now. Besides, when were we ever treated like royals ?” Nakula’s younger twin, the usually soft-spoken Sahadeva, sneered.
“First, the Kauravas try to poison and drown Bhima in the sea. Then, they try to burn all of us in a lac palace. If it was not for Uncle Vidura, we’d have been burn to cinders,” choked out a visibly upset Nakula, in support of his brother.
“Nakula, Sahadeva, how dare you talk to your mother like this? Even if she may not be your birth mother, I’m sure your mother Madri and Father will not want you to behave in this way towards her! Just because they are dead does not mean you will behave in this way!” I said.
I knew I had touched a sensitive point as soon as everybody kept quite. I cursed myself. Mother Madri, the twins’ mother, had died just last year. It was with great difficulty that they had gotten over it, and they were very, very good to Kunti.
As for Father Pandu…Well, Father wasn’t our father. Technically. He had been rendered incapable to father children by a curse from Rishi Kindama (who was mating in the form of a deer with his wife), whom Father had killed accidentally.
But Mother, ah, she was a genius. When she was young, she had served Rishi Durvasa so faithfully that he had given her a boon to send for any God of her choice and have children. Father liked this boon immensely.
And so, we were born from Mother and the Gods: Yudhishtira from Dharma, the Lord of Justice; Bhima from Vayu, the Wind God; and I from Indra, King of Heaven and God of Thunderstorms. Yeah, I know, mighty fearsome.
But Father was unhappy with the fact that Madri, his second wife, was childless. So here came the Ashvini Kumaras, twin Gods of medicine and healing, to father Nakula and Sahadeva by the chant given to Madri by Kunti.
Back to reality.
“Arjuna! Is this any way to talk to your younger brothers? Apologize,” said Brother Yudhishtira, “immediately”. He glared at me.
I sighed. He knew that I had too much of an ego to apologize to those younger than me. Mother now glared at me too.
“I’m sorry,” I said briefly.
“Oh come on, bro, no sorry, no thank you between brothers!” said Sahadeva cheerily, as he hugged me.
“Have I been the cause of a fight?” spoke a voice.
We all turned back.
Only the sound of tinkling anklets could be heard distantly, and nothing could be seen. Chink, chink sounded the anklets, as they came closer. And in a flash, she appeared.
The second I saw her, I couldn’t believe that she was the sister of the yellow-toothed, long-nailed, rakish Hidimba, with his spiky green hair covered with grime and bones.
Clothed in red bridal wear, her face covered by a transparent veil, my brother’s stunning wife appeared, her glossy black hair sashaying behind her.
But being the son of Indra had its advantages. When I blinked and opened my eyes again, I could see that she resembled Hidimba a lot. Illusory tricks have little effect in Indra and his children.
I shot a look at Bhima. Clearly, he knew how her original appearance was, but love is blind. For now, he looked mesmerized.
“Mother,” Hidimbi said, as she bent to touch Mother’s feet. By the look on her face, Mother was charmed by such a lovely daughter-in-law.
“Bless you, my child. You must realize that we are not in a position to welcome you as it befits your honour. Due to certain…circumstances, we are leaving to Ekachakra, the village near the forest. Once we regain the place we deserve, I promise you that I’ll immediately call you,”
Mother’s words shocked me. Since when were we planning to leave to Ekachakra? I glanced at her. Her determined black eyes showed that she was not going to budge from her position.
I could see Bhima give her a pained look. I was sure he was thinking what I was thinking. Is Mother trying to avoid Hidimbi?
It is futile to try to fool Rakshasas. Most of the time, they just glanced to your mind, and gleaned everything about you.
But Hidimbi took it gracefully. “As you wish, Mother,” she said. She glanced through all our faces, and gave one long, lingering look at Bhima before vanishing in thin air.
“Well,” Yudhishtira sighed. “Off to Ekachakra.”
In Ekachakra, Bhima brought another giant carcass home.
We were living with this Brahmin family in Ekachakra, who were pious, virtuous, etc, etc. Mother found them arguing with each other one day. According to her, it went something like this:
Husband: Dearest, I think that I better go as I am the oldest. You two children are yet to live your life, and your mother can take care of you.
Wife: Are you crazy? You are the bread-winner of the house! If I go, not many will be affected as you can take care of the kids and not let them starve too.
Son: Father, Mother, I will go. I’m sixteen. My sister needs you both. I am practically useless in the house. If I can save all your lives, then I’ll surely do so.
Very Young Daughter: Papa, me want to go. Pleesh Mama, tell Papa.
Mother Kunti: What happened? Where do you all want to go?
Husband: Good lady, in this city lives a demon named Bakasura. He drove away the king and used to feast on us. One day, we all went to him and pleaded him to spare us. He agreed on one condition: Everyday, one cartload of food, two buffaloes, and one human must be sent from each house to him. Today, it is our turn.
Mother Kunti: Respected sir, you have been so good to us that I can’t bear the thought of one of you dying. I will send my son Bhima. He is capable of killing even the king of Rakshasas.
Wife: No, kind woman! We’ll suffer eternal hell for knowingly letting our guests into the jaws of death. I will die if something happens to your son!
One of Mother’s annoying habits is to think that whatever went wrong in the world was because of her. And so, ridden with guilt, she would try to make amends, and put OUR lives in danger, not hers. A bit selfish.
Mother waved aside all of the Brahmin family’s request and sent Bhima to Bakasura. As expected, he ate the cartload of food in front of the livid Bakasura, killed him, and brought him home.
But now, this will make Cousin Duryodhana finding our existence easy. And we didn’t want to happen it soon.
So it came as a blessing when Mother’s nephew, Krishna, came and informed us of the swayamvara of the Panchala princess, Draupadi.
“Well,” said Yudhishtira, “Off to Panchala.”
“As usual,” Nakula muttered.
(to be continued)