Good ? Bad ? Ugly ?
“No Karna. I was not cheating.”
“This is unfair Bhanumathi. You cheat and on top of it, you walk off”, said Karna and suddenly grabbed her hip chain. The pearls in the chain scattered all over the room. Bhanumathi’s face went red. She was called a satiratna, for she had absolute devotion to her husband. Not another man’s shadow befell her. This was his friend’s shadow. What was going to happen?
Droplets of sweat trickled down Bhanumathi’s forehead. She was visibly tensed. Karna, who has never been around women, didn’t know how to react. Bhanumathi was his first woman-friend. He was unsure if he had hurt Bhanumathi.
Duryodhana walked into the room. The attendants in the room were trying to predict as to what would happen. Some thought ‘How could he tug at her waist belt. A woman’s waist belt. That too she was no ordinary woman. She is the wife of the crown prince of Hastinapur. Princess Bhanumathi’. Some thought ‘Here breaks the legendary friendship of Karna and Duryodhana, like the pearls on the floor!’
Duryodhana took fast paced steps.. Calmly bent down and picked up the scattered pearls, looked at Karna and Bhanumathi and asked “Is it enough if I just pick them up or shall I string them together?”
Fresh tears sprang out of Bhanumathi’s eyes. She never expected this from her husband, whose anger and wrath was a well-known fact in Bharatha varsham and Bharatha Kandam. She saw Karna hugging him. For a minute, she wanted to hug him too. Bound by social stigma, she walked out of the room.
She stared at him, wondering why even after so many years of marriage, she failed to understand her husband. Was he a good person or was he bad? To her, he was an honest husband. But to the Pandavas, he was a stone-hearted villain. Was she to believe just what she saw or think beyond that? What is good and what is bad? How do you decide whether a person is good or bad? Today, he is no more. He can’t answer her questions. She shook him. She wished she could breathe life into him. She stared blankly at the mortal remains of a great warrior, her husband, Duryodhan, the love of her life. Images of her life with Duryodhan flashed across her mind.
Duryodhan had swept her off her feet. 6 feet 2 inches tall, well built, muscular, with a tanned skin. But could she just go and seek his consent? It was her Swayamvar. She had the right to choose her King. But what if he did not like her, and what if he consents merely out of respect for the ritual. “But without liking you, why would he come all the way to attend your swayamvar”, whispered Lochini, Bhanumathi’s maid and close friend.
Duryodhan also saw her from the corner of his eye. The swayamvar had several other kings and princes. Jarasandha, Sisupala and so many other great maharathis. But there was something about Duryodhana that attracted Bhanumathi. Duryodhana on the other hand, saw it as a matter of prestige, to be liked by a woman. He had no particular emotion during the swayamvar, that was visible on his face. But once Bhanumathi started rejecting people, he was determined to woo her. She had rejected Jarasadha, Salva, Sisupala and the king of Vidharba. For him, a woman saying yes to him was a sign of affirming his power, manliness and strength.
And sure enough, she had garlanded Duryodhana. Whatever might have been his mindset before the swayamvar, after the wedding, he was true to her. In his own way, he expressed his love for Bhanumathi. It was crude sometimes. But that is how he was and she began to get used to it. She loved him more than ever before. He was a doting husband, a caring father and a fiercely loyal friend. She then recollected, another incident with her husband.
“He is not a good man. Radheya is good. But not this man. He spews venom. He means harm to us. To me, to you, to all of us. “cried Bhanumathi
“He is my uncle. From the day I was born, he has done only good to me, as far as I know. I need an advisor. I need someone to guide me. These are turbulent times. My life has been a difficult path. Do not judge him or me, for you haven’t walked our path silly woman.”, retorted an impatient Duryodhan.
“You have Radheya. He is your friend. He will guide you. He doesn’t like the ways of Shakuni either.I might not have walked your path earlier but today, I walk with you. And I will walk with you till the end. So I have a say in the path that you should be taking. I share your life and you share mine. So there cant be two paths. Either it is the path of Justice that Radheya and me would want to walk on, or the dirty path of sly Shakuni”
“Respect BHANUMATHI. He is my uncle. Respect”, boomed Duryodhana’s voice.
“I mean Shakuni uncle. His ways are wrong. Means justify the end and it doesn’t work the other way round. You have other elders in the family who can guide you like…..”, she paused for she knew what was coming.
“Like who? The sly Vidura ? He told my father to kill me when I was born, for it was predicted that I was a bad omen for my family. Or Bhishma, the one who always sides with the Pandavas, even if it means he has to be loyal to my father. ”
“He is not meant to be loyal to your father. His loyalties are towards the well-being of the Kuru throne and the Kuru household. Your father and you assume that it is yours and hence accuse that his loyalties aren’t with you. What about Radheya?”
“Karna is a friend. He is loyal. He is a fierce warrior. But he lacks political strategy. He can’t think beyond defeating enemies in a battlefield. He will live for me and die for me. Period. But he cant think for me. Can he?”
“If you deem yourself fit for ruling Hastinapur, why should anyone think for you”, retorted an almost-breaking Bhanumathi.
“Dreams are bigger than any of this. What I need is the throne of Hastinapur. I need strength to fulfil my dreams. Karna is my physical and emotional strength and uncle is my intellect. One day, I shall be the king of Indraprastha and Hasthinapur. My son Lakshman will be the crown prince. And you Bhanumathi, as beautiful as the full moon, shall be the queen of the whole of Jambu Dwipa. When that happens and when I see my son take over the reign of Bharatha Khanda, I shall be all yours. And I promise that it will happen. It doesn’t matter if I don’t think, as long as uncle Shakuni’s ways get me what I want. I am sure it will. I trust him. I will be the King one day”
“But what will happen before that? It scares me to my wits end. I am confused. I feel things re not working right for the Kuru household. Mata Gandhari is also worried. What do you want to achieve by denying the Pandavas, 5 small villages. What do you want to achieve by insulting Krishna Vasudeva? What do you want”, screamed Bhanumathi, hysterically.
Duryodhana held Bhanumathi tightly and shook her. He was getting impatient. He couldn’t tolerate her emotional ourbursts. “WAR. I want war. Either they reject it and not ask for land or they fight with me and lose. For I have one of the best armies in the whole of Jambu Dwipa. I want war.” , hissed Duryodhana, with his teeth clenched.
“But I want you. I want you to be with me always. Don’t do this to yourself and to us.”, pleaded Bhanumathi.
Duryodhana lifted her, put her on this lap, kissed her teary cheeks and whispered “I shall be back Bhanumathi. I shall be back as the king of Hastinapur. Do not worry for me. I will miss you. But I have to leave now to Kurushetra.”
“I love you”, said Bhanumathi, weakly. She knew. She knew that justice will prevail and Vasudeva Krishna supports the side which will restore Dharma. She knew that her husband was itching to fight a battle, whose result has already been decided, even before his birth or hers. She knew it all. It ached to see him leave. Neither did he know nor did he seem to understand. She was helpless. She just stared blankly at the disappearing figure of her husband.
Duryodhana smiled and walked out. That was the last time, she ever saw him.