The Irony: Part Five

I tore my eyes away from the mirror with great difficulty. I had been staring at my reflection: those dark, brooding eyes, with bags under them. The long, black, hair, caked with blood. The thin, gaunt, face, drained of colour, with hollow cheekbones,  staring with empty eyes.

Had I really become like this? Was I, Draupadi, the daughter of Drupada, reduced to such a condition? Was I the once lovable princess, who was now mocked as the ‘Dusky Firebrand’?

And it doesn’t seem so long back too…


It was with great difficulty that I could tear my eyes away from the mirror. My lustrous face had a sort of grim beauty in it.  My dark, beautiful eyes radiated power. My long, black hair was braided with thin skeins of gold. Glistening diamonds dripped from my neck. Colourful butterflies flew in my stomach.

“Draupadi,” my best friend said, “It’s time now.”

I ran up to Krishna and hugged him. “I’ll miss you,” I gasped, my breaths is short bursts.

“Come now, Draupadi. It’s not like you’re abandoning me. I’m married, I have a family of my own. It’s high time you got married too. And off you go!”

Easy for him to say. He simply eloped with the girl he wanted and had a happily-ever-after. The man I wanted to marry…he was dead. His remains were charred beyond recognition. I was distraught.

“Here enters Her Royal Highness, Prince Draupadi!” the guard announced, while trumpets rented the air. I absolutely hated that sound.

I could feel hundred-and-twenty pairs of eyes on me. All the good-for-nothing princes who wanted my hand in marriage. And to marry me, they had to fulfil the impossible task…

“Gentlemen, I’m deeply honoured by your presence here. I understand that all of you are gathered here to marry my daughter,” Drupada said.

The crowd stirred uneasily. They all had heard that some impossible task had been designed for my swayamvar. The one who succeeded first could marry me. That meant it could be anyone. Ugh.

“Look yonder. The princes vying for Draupadi’s hand has to string this bow made of metal,” many disappointed sighs could be heard, “and shoot only one arrow at the eye of a revolving fish, while looking only at its reflection in a bowl of water.”

As soon as these words were said, half of the princes present got up, and with arrogant sneers on their face, left the palace. I sighed in relief. Atleast most of the ugly ones had gone.

I glanced at Krishna. He was sitting motionless. I blinked out some tears. This whole, elaborate, set-up was designed in such a way that only Arjuna, the greatest archer in the world, could shoot the fish. And he was dead.

It was with great difficulty that I had managed to get over Arjuna’s death. Krishna was Arjuna’s best friend. He had never shown any sign of grief, so I guessed that he was still in shock.

The next few hours went in a blur for me. None of the princes couldn’t even lift the bow. They had no chance of marrying me. What losers.

Suddenly, I sat up.

He was tall and handsome, dressed in a golden armour, and wearing earrings as bright as the sun. His jet black fell elegantly on his face as he fixed his determined opal black eyes on me.

In short, he was GORGEOUS.

He picked up the bow with surprising ease. I stared at him, mesmerized. He lifted the bow, ready to shoot, when…

“Draupadi, Draupadi!” Krishna hissed from his throne.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” I sighed.

“Silly girl, do you know who he is?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care.”

“He is Karna.”

(to be continued)

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The Spread Love Challenge

Spread some love!

Spread some love!

The incredibly awesome Mara Eastern nominated me to spread love. Strange, considering that I’m all in for bitterness and fights. But this challenge sounded sweet, so I took it up. Here are the rules:

  1. Write ten four word sentences about what love means to you.
  2. Share your favourite quote on love.
  3. Nominate ten other bloggers for the same.

And here are my words of love. Please do note that these are my opinions and are not applicable to everyone. And yeah, I contradict myself here and there.

1. True love transcends all. (Sorry, clichéd…)

2. Love is not jealous.

3. True love never ends,

4. Love is the truth.

5. Puppy love is blind.

6. Love is an eye-opener. (Is this even ALLOWED???)

7. Love is no game.

8. Love is hard work.

9. Love is usually unkind.

10. Love changes your perspective.

And my ALL-TIME favourite quote:

Love is no game! It is no flowery softness! It is hard work- A quest that never ends. It demands everything from you- especially the truth. Only then does it yield results.

Cupid, from The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

This quote always holds good with me.

I’ve nominated only five bloggers. Whoever is willing to take up this challenge can just ping me and attempt it. Come on, don’t be shy, I’m not offended with constant pingbacks! (Actually, I like it).

1) anonymous !ndian 

2) Girl Next Blog

3) Sherlocksinh

4) Nut Free Nerd

5) Jai Vyas Writes

Would you like to spread love too?

The Cop And The Anthem

On his bench in Madison Square Soapy moved uneasily. When wild geese honk high of nights, and when women without sealskin coats grow kind to their husbands, and when Soapy moves uneasily on his bench in the park, you may know that winter is near at hand.

A dead leaf fell in Soapy’s lap. That was Jack Frost’s card. Jack is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, and gives fair warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands his pasteboard to the North Wind, footman of the mansion of All Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may make ready.

Soapy’s mind became cognisant of the fact that the time had come for him to resolve himself into a singular Committee of Ways and Means to provide against the coming rigour. And therefore he moved uneasily on his bench.

The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In them there were no considerations of Mediterranean cruises, of soporific Southern skies drifting in the Vesuvian Bay. Three months on the Island was what his soul craved. Three months of assured board and bed and congenial company, safe from Boreas and bluecoats, seemed to Soapy the essence of things desirable.

For years the hospitable Blackwell’s had been his winter quarters. Just as his more fortunate fellow New Yorkers had bought their tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapy had made his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island. And now the time was come. On the previous night three Sabbath newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and over his lap, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurting fountain in the ancient square. So the Island loomed big and timely in Soapy’s mind. He scorned the provisions made in the name of charity for the city’s dependents. In Soapy’s opinion the Law was more benign than Philanthropy. There was an endless round of institutions, municipal and eleemosynary, on which he might set out and receive lodging and food accordant with the simple life. But to one of Soapy’s proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus, every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it is better to be a guest of the law, which though conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman’s private affairs.

Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about accomplishing his desire. There were many easy ways of doing this. The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensive restaurant; and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over quietly and without uproar to a policeman. An accommodating magistrate would do the rest.

Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across the level sea of asphalt, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow together. Up Broadway he turned, and halted at a glittering cafe, where are gathered together nightly the choicest products of the grape, the silkworm and the protoplasm.

Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest upward. He was shaven, and his coat was decent and his neat black, ready-tied four-in-hand had been presented to him by a lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day. If he could reach a table in the restaurant unsuspected success would be his. The portion of him that would show above the table would raise no doubt in the waiter’s mind. A roasted mallard duck, thought Soapy, would be about the thing–with a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert, a demi-tasse and a cigar. One dollar for the cigar would be enough. The total would not be so high as to call forth any supreme manifestation of revenge from the cafe management; and yet the meat would leave him filled and happy for the journey to his winter refuge.

But as Soapy set foot inside the restaurant door the head waiter’s eye fell upon his frayed trousers and decadent shoes. Strong and ready hands turned him about and conveyed him in silence and haste to the sidewalk and averted the ignoble fate of the menaced mallard.

Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that his route to the coveted island was not to be an epicurean one. Some other way of entering limbo must be thought of.

At a corner of Sixth Avenue electric lights and cunningly displayed wares behind plate-glass made a shop window conspicuous. Soapy took a cobblestone and dashed it through the glass. People came running around the corner, a policeman in the lead. Soapy stood still, with his hands in his pockets, and smiled at the sight of brass buttons.

“Where’s the man that done that?” inquired the officer excitedly.

“Don’t you figure out that I might have had something to do with it?” said Soapy, not without sarcasm, but friendly, as one greets good fortune.

The policeman’s mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue. Men who smash windows do not remain to parley with the law’s minions. They take to their heels. The policeman saw a man half way down the block running to catch a car. With drawn club he joined in the pursuit. Soapy, with disgust in his heart, loafed along, twice unsuccessful.

On the opposite side of the street was a restaurant of no great pretensions. It catered to large appetites and modest purses. Its crockery and atmosphere were thick; its soup and napery thin. Into this place Soapy took his accusive shoes and telltale trousers without challenge. At a table he sat and consumed beefsteak, flapjacks, doughnuts and pie. And then to the waiter be betrayed the fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers.

“Now, get busy and call a cop,” said Soapy. “And don’t keep a gentleman waiting.”

“No cop for youse,” said the waiter, with a voice like butter cakes and an eye like the cherry in a Manhattan cocktail. “Hey, Con!”

Neatly upon his left ear on the callous pavement two waiters pitched Soapy. He arose, joint by joint, as a carpenter’s rule opens, and beat the dust from his clothes. Arrest seemed but a rosy dream. The Island seemed very far away. A policeman who stood before a drug store two doors away laughed and walked down the street.

Five blocks Soapy travelled before his courage permitted him to woo capture again. This time the opportunity presented what he fatuously termed to himself a “cinch.” A young woman of a modest and pleasing guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightly interest at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands, and two yards from the window a large policeman of severe demeanour leaned against a water plug.

It was Soapy’s design to assume the role of the despicable and execrated “masher.” The refined and elegant appearance of his victim and the contiguity of the conscientious cop encouraged him to believe that he would soon feel the pleasant official clutch upon his arm that would insure his winter quarters on the right little, tight little isle.

Soapy straightened the lady missionary’s readymade tie, dragged his shrinking cuffs into the open, set his hat at a killing cant and sidled toward the young woman. He made eyes at her, was taken with sudden coughs and “hems,” smiled, smirked and went brazenly through the impudent and contemptible litany of the “masher.” With half an eye Soapy saw that the policeman was watching him fixedly. The young woman moved away a few steps, and again bestowed her absorbed attention upon the shaving mugs. Soapy followed, boldly stepping to her side, raised his hat and said:

“Ah there, Bedelia! Don’t you want to come and play in my yard?”

The policeman was still looking. The persecuted young woman had but to beckon a finger and Soapy would be practically en route for his insular haven. Already he imagined he could feel the cozy warmth of the station-house. The young woman faced him and, stretching out a hand, caught Soapy’s coat sleeve.

Sure, Mike,” she said joyfully, “if you’ll blow me to a pail of suds. I’d have spoke to you sooner, but the cop was watching.”

With the young woman playing the clinging ivy to his oak Soapy walked past the policeman overcome with gloom. He seemed doomed to liberty.

At the next corner he shook off his companion and ran. He halted in the district where by night are found the lightest streets, hearts, vows and librettos.

Women in furs and men in greatcoats moved gaily in the wintry air. A sudden fear seized Soapy that some dreadful enchantment had rendered him immune to arrest. The thought brought a little of panic upon it, and when he came upon another policeman lounging grandly in front of a transplendent theatre he caught at the immediate straw of “disorderly conduct.”

On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed the welkin.

The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked to a citizen.

“‘Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin’ the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noisy; but no harm. We’ve instructions to lave them be.”

Disconsolate, Soapy ceased his unavailing racket. Would never a policeman lay hands on him? In his fancy the Island seemed an unattainable Arcadia. He buttoned his thin coat against the chilling wind.

In a cigar store he saw a well-dressed man lighting a cigar at a swinging light. His silk umbrella he had set by the door on entering. Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella and sauntered off with it slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.

“My umbrella,” he said, sternly.

“Oh, is it?” sneered Soapy, adding insult to petit larceny. “Well, why don’t you call a policeman? I took it. Your umbrella! Why don’t you call a cop? There stands one on the corner.”

The umbrella owner slowed his steps. Soapy did likewise, with a presentiment that luck would again run against him. The policeman looked at the two curiously.

“Of course,” said the umbrella man–“that is–well, you know how these mistakes occur–I–if it’s your umbrella I hope you’ll excuse me–I picked it up this morning in a restaurant–If you recognise it as yours, why–I hope you’ll–”

“Of course it’s mine,” said Soapy, viciously.

The ex-umbrella man retreated. The policeman hurried to assist a tall blonde in an opera cloak across the street in front of a street car that was approaching two blocks away.

Soapy walked eastward through a street damaged by improvements. He hurled the umbrella wrathfully into an excavation. He muttered against the men who wear helmets and carry clubs. Because he wanted to fall into their clutches, they seemed to regard him as a king who could do no wrong.

At length Soapy reached one of the avenues to the east where the glitter and turmoil was but faint. He set his face down this toward Madison Square, for the homing instinct survives even when the home is a park bench.

But on an unusually quiet corner Soapy came to a standstill. Here was an old church, quaint and rambling and gabled. Through one violet-stained window a soft light glowed, where, no doubt, the organist loitered over the keys, making sure of his mastery of the coming Sabbath anthem. For there drifted out to Soapy’s ears sweet music that caught and held him transfixed against the convolutions of the iron fence.

The moon was above, lustrous and serene; vehicles and pedestrians were few; sparrows twittered sleepily in the eaves–for a little while the scene might have been a country churchyard. And the anthem that the organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for he had known it well in the days when his life contained such things as mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars.

The conjunction of Soapy’s receptive state of mind and the influences about the old church wrought a sudden and wonderful change in his soul. He viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled, the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties and base motives that made up his existence.

And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel mood. An instantaneous and strong impulse moved him to battle with his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of the mire; he would make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet; he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution in him. To-morrow he would go into the roaring downtown district and find work. A fur importer had once offered him a place as driver. He would find him to-morrow and ask for the position. He would be somebody in the world. He would–

Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the broad face of a policeman.

“What are you doin’ here?” asked the officer.

“Nothin’,” said Soapy.

“Then come along,” said the policeman.

“Three months on the Island,” said the Magistrate in the Police Court the next morning.

– O. Henry


The Irony: Part 3

“I give you ten minutes more. Make your choice soon. Fight, or flight?” my to-be-killer smirked.

I sighed, trying to heave the wheel up, while my charioteer, Salya, looked upon me with contempt. I bit back a curse, squeezing the wheel to get it up. As I squeezed and squeezed to no avail, I thought of another day, where too, I was squeezing and squeezing…


 

Being the best friend of the crown-prince of Hastinapur meant that I had to know something of the royal matters. Mincing no words, my new-found friend, Prince Duryodhana, explained the political situation and his royal line very clearly.

King Dhritarashtra, Duryodhana’s father, was the son of the Kashi princess, Ambika and the sage Vyasa.

Ambika and Ambalika were the two wives of King Vichitravirya, who died childless. In order to continue the royal line, his mother, Queen Satyavati, summoned her illegitimate son Vyasa to father children on Ambika and Ambalika. The sage agreed, and requested the princesses to meet him in his chamber.

When Ambika went to meet him, she shut her eyes tight to avoid seeing his gristly form. So, she gave birth to a blind son, Dhritarashtra.

When Ambalika went to him, she turned pale with fright, so a pale and sickly son named Pandu was born to her. Pandu was the father of the Pandavas.

Satyavati was unhappy with her elder grandson being blind, so she sent Ambika again to him. Not wishing to undergo the trauma once more, she sent her maid servant instead. This woman served Vyasa faithfully, who blessed with her a wise son, named Vidura.

Vidura, everybody’s loving uncle and the royal minister, was always mistreated  by the Kauravas due to his low origins. In a way, I struck a chord with him, as even I had to face the same pain and humiliation I had to face due to a low birth. However, he had no sympathy for me.

As Dhritarashtra was blind, his brother, Pandu took over the reins of the kingdom. However, he declared himself to be incapable of ruling after being cursed by a sage, and retired to the forest with his two wives. Dhritarashtra was crowned the king.

Dhritarashtra married Gandhari, the beautiful princess of Gandhar. She was unwittingly connived by Grandfather Bhishma to marry the blind prince.

Once she realized her husband was blind, she tied her eyes with a silken cloth, so that she couldn’t enjoy the pleasures that her husband was deprived of.

However, her husband didn’t share her noble ideals. Gandhari suffered from an unusual pregnancy of two years. Meanwhile, he fathered an illegitimate child, Yuyutsu, on a maid servant. Gandhari was heart-broken.

Soon, she became the mother of the hundred-and-one Kauravas, the eldest being Duryodhana. Her last child was a daughter, named Dusshala, married to the Sindhu king, Jayadratha.

However, her greatest grief was not that her husband was blind. Nor was she angry at the fact that he didn’t respect her sacrifice for him.

It was rage at the fact that Pandu’s wife, Kunti, had given birth before her. Kunti’s son, Yudhishtira, ever gentle, was the eldest Pandava. And because of him Duryodhana could never become the king.


 

What madness was this? Pandu had died long back due to a curse along with his second wife, Madri. It was a widowed Kunti who brought up her three sons, Yudhishtira, Bhima, and Arjuna, along with Madri’s twins, Nakula and Sahadeva.

Now that Pandu was dead, it was Dhritarashtra’s sons who were rightly entitled for the throne. However, the Queen Mother, Kunti, deferred. She argued that as her son was the eldest son of the first king, it was he who was to become the king. This was the cause of all the clashes and riots of the kingdom.

The public favoured  Yudhishtira, as he was a kind and considerate king, ever gentle, and always noble. On the other hand, my friend Duryodhana earned few supporters, as reports of his shady dealings to finish the Pandavas spread like wildfire across the kingdom.

It was his maternal uncle, Shakuni, the Gandhar king, who poisoned his mind against the Pandavas.

As far as I could see, he was crazed at his sister’s plight and wanted to bring about the downfall of the Kurus to avenge her, but was hiding his real motive under the pretext of ‘helping’ my friend.

But Duryodhana believed otherwise, and despite all my pleadings, he remained a staunch supporter of the evil Shakuni.

Their latest plan was to burn the Pandavas and Kunti in a house  made of lac, which they pulled off successfully.

While the city of Hastinapur was plunged in grief at the news of the accidental demise of the Pandavas, there was revelry in the royal court at their deaths.

“To the Pandavas!” screamed Duryodhana, sarcasm in every line of his face as he raised a toast. I grimaced. I didn’t approve of tricking people to their deaths, and he knew that.

However, I was secretly pleased at the fact that my arch-rival Arjuna was dead in that fire, and that nobody would question my supremacy as an archer.

“All hail Duryodhana!” I said, as I drank my toast that night.


 

Being the Anga king only changed my name, not my fame. I was no longer Vasusena, the son of Radha. Now, I was Angaraj Karna, the greatest giver.

Affluence had not changed me in any way. Being endowed with sudden wealth and prosperity, I took a great oath in front of the Sun God that as long as the sun was in the sky, I’d give whatever was in my possession to deserving people seeking alms.

This made the people of Anga name me ‘Mahadaani,’ the greatest giver.

My generous nature did not change their mind, though. They were unhappy with the fact that a charioteer’s son should lord over them. Even when I was on the rounds of my kingdom, I’d hear repressed remarks and sniggers on my lineage. I received no respect from my own citizens.

Once, when I was out in my kingdom, a small girl stopped me. She must have been about five or six years old. Shards of broken pottery lay around her,  and tears were flowing down her cheeks like rivers. She asked me, “Aren’t you the king?”

“Yes, I am,” I said, lifting her up smilingly.

She broke down once more. “Take me to your palace, please. I can’t go home. My stepmother won’t let me in.”

I was surprised at this. What sort of woman will refuse entry to such a sweet little thing? I asked her the reason.

“You see, she had sent me out to get a pot of ghee. When I was coming back, I tripped on that stone, and…and…”

She started crying, wildly gesticulating at the broken shards of her pot.

“Why one pot, dear? I’ll give you ten such pots full of ghee. Go and give them to your mother,” I said, laughing.

“No, no, I want only this ghee. Otherwise, she won’t let me in!” she wailed.

Little ones. Nobody could convince them. I shrugged, and bent down. The ghee was splattered and mixed with the earth. I wasn’t new to the mud.

I bent down, picked up some soil, and squeezed it. The clarified butter fell inside a shard of the  broken pot. I squeezed and squeezed, until all the ghee was taken out.

“Oh, thank you!” the girl squealed. She ran up to me and hugged me.

“You know, I thought you’d never help. My mother said,” she leaned forward conspiratorially, “Don’t tell this to anyone, please. Promise? Okay, so listen. My mother said you were very, very bad, and would kidnap small children! I didn’t believe her, of course! Now that I’ve seen you, I’ll tell everyone how good you are! Bye bye!”

With that she left me, and ran away.

“Brainwashed the young one, didn’t you, son of Radha?” spoke a low voice menacingly.

I turned back. Right behind me stood a young woman, charming to look at, but her face contorted with pain and rage. She was dressed in brown, earthy shades, and her clothes swirled around her, making her look very hazy. She was bejeweled and resplendent, and even the unmistakable agony on her face could not mar her beauty

“Know that, oh Radheya, that I’m Bhoomi Devi, the Earth Goddess, whom you have squeezed so hard that had she not been immortal, she would’ve been dead!”

“I curse you Karna, that as you have held me in this way for the sake of a small girl, so will I hold the wheel of your chariot, without releasing it, when you need it the most!”

Before I could reply, she disintegrated into the Earth.

Great job. Curse number two. How may more curses I was to receive, I didn’t know.

What an accursed life I led! I was a king against my wish; my saviour, my only friend, would not listen to me; my own citizens did not respect me; and at the age of eighteen, I had already received two curses, omens signifying my death.

With a sigh, I rode back to my kingdom.

(to be continued…)

 

Upcoming This Month

Now that my (not so) terrible examinations are over, I’m back to blogging everyday. Here’s a list of what nonsense is gonna be put on my blog for the next fifteen days:

  • The Irony: Part 3 and The Irony: Part 4 will be mostly published in a span of one week or so. No promises, though.
  • These vacations, I’m dedicating myself for watching one movie per day…and review them. Sneak previews: Expect Queen, Finding Fanny, Daawat-e-Ishq, and a comparison between Khubsoorat (1980) and Khoobsurat (2014).
  • For those who are frankly not interested in my lousy Bollywood reviews, we have also got book reviews. Thankfully, I’m better at books than Bollywood. Preview: Expect O.Henry’s short stories, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series and Ruskin Bond’s novels.

That’s it for now!

🙂

 

The Irony: Part 2

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.

“Father!”

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…)