Draupadi- Desires

Apr 01, 11 Draupadi- Desires

Episode 9 — Manasa

From Draupadi’s diary

How difficult is it to know what the heart desires! How much more difficult is it to fulfill those desires! But then, how can somebody go about fulfilling their desires when it is so hard to even know what one wants!

Today, I sit down and ask myself – what have I ever desired? And only one answer pops to my mind – to escape from my family. Today, I acknowledge it to myself – I have always hated my revenge-crazy father, my war-crazy brother. I did not choose this life I have because I wanted it. I chose this life because there was no better way for me to escape from my family. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have never let myself be talked into marriage. But the question is – did I have a choice?

I am not a princess anymore. No more the lovestruck girl of sixteen. No, I am wife to five men, queen of a nation, mother to two sons. Today is my twentieth birthday. I am the only one who seems to remember. Even Kanha is too busy for me. But then, his stake in this house is no longer as my sakha, friend. He is now brother-in-law to the famous Arjuna. He now comes here as his sister’s guest, not as my friend.

I hate being so miserable, so alone. It is an ordeal to wake up each morning and to look at my face in the mirror. The limp hair, the dark circles, everything. However, no matter how awful I feel, I have to wake up and make myself look presentable because part of my daily duties involves working with the Office of Public Liaison. After tending to my little boys, I have to talk to the Minister and sit with him as the face of the Empire, so that people know who I am. I listen to their complaints and talk to the minister about possible plans to solve those problems. I have to talk cheerfully to them, talk like a mother, a sister, a friend. Kunti-ma used to do this earlier, but since the Grand Coronation, she thought that the people should get to know me. On some days she sits with me, not speaking a word, looking on the proceedings with her hawk-like eyes. Later, she tells me what I should do differently, how I should speak softer, where I should have touched a certain woman on her arm, how I should be firm when turning away some appeals for money.

I am not a princess anymore. No more the lovestruck girl of sixteen. No, I am wife to five men, queen of a nation, mother to two sons. Today is my twentieth birthday. I am the only one who seems to remember. Even Kanha is too busy for me. But then, his stake in this house is no longer as my sakha, friend. He is now brother-in-law to the famous Arjuna. He now comes here as his sister’s guest, not as my friend.

“The men take care of the state-craft, the finances, the meetings with allies and enemies. That is because all that hard negotiation suits them best. But people are like children. They look up to us for support. We are like their mothers. We have to be gentle where we have to be gentle and firm where we have to be firm. That is why we women take care of the people’s complaints. Not for anything do they call me Mother,” says Kunti-ma. And I see what she means.

So, I took my place beside her today, with a warm smile on my face, and welcomed the first guest. Here’s a sample of what I have to deal with every day:

The minister introduced us. “This man is a cloth merchant from the southern province. He knows that the cotton cultivation in the Gandhara kingdom has failed this year, and has surplus clothes left over from last year that he wants to sell there.”

“But madam,” the man interjected. “our trade laws from that kingdom forbids direct trading by individuals. All trading has to be done through the state. So if you would be kind enough to buy my cloth from me and sell it to them…”

“What about our own cotton crop this year?” I turned to the minister.

“Madam, you forget that we live in such a prosperous kingdom that everyone wears silk!” said the minister grandly.

Kunti-ma laughed. “That was witty, minister,” I said. “But seriously, do we have enough cotton to cover our own needs for next year?”

“Of course, madam,” piped up the cloth merchant. “I would not think of selling my cotton to make a profit if our own countrymen did not have enough.”

The minister nodded discreetly to me.

“Very well,” I said, taking a look at the quotation he had prepared. “I do know that they need the cotton, and they are willing to offer a fair amount for it. With the profits, I am planning to get you a cotton spinning machine. The king tells me that there is a new model out this year. Is that alright with you?”

The rule in the kingdom was that most of the profits from trade through government deals went directly back into the same trade as capital immediately, so that it might lessen corruption. The merchant happily agreed, and promised to send his load of cloth by the evening. I signed the petition for the new machine, and sent it to Yudhistra for his approval.

The cloth merchant had just made his bows when a woman with a baby pushed herself to the front amidst a lot of noise.

“Will you knock some sense into that husband of mine?” she wailed. “He found himself a new wife and threw me out of the house! Now where will I go with my baby?”

She was a woman in an abject state of wretchedness. Her face was tear splotched, with grimy strands of hair flying all over. Her clothes were disheveled,  her arms were cut and scratched, her blouse showed a huge rent in the back. Her baby slept soundly, as if tired out with hunger and misery.

Her wails resounded over the courtyard where we say and the baby stirred weakly. She sat in a corner, spent with her tears and hugging her baby to her chest, rocked backwards and forwards in misery. I looked at Kunti-ma hesitantly, but she was not going to help me with this one. But then, I thought I knew how to handle this. I whispered a few words to the woman next to me.

I walked down to her and sat next to her, cross legged, and pushed her hair back on her tired forehead and whispered gently to her. “Give me your baby,”

She obeyed, sobbing silently into her knees.

I gave the child to the attending woman, who took her away to be fed, perhaps her first meal in God knows how many days.

“Now tell me what happened,” I told her, still stroking her head. My unpracticed fingers, which had never stroked the hair of a friend (for I had not had many) or a child, pretended confidence, trying to soothe away the horrors of this woman, horrors of the kind that I had never known and might possibly never experience.

“My husband,” she sobbed, hiccupping between sobs. “I left my parents for this man, and look at what he does. He tells me I mean the world to him, buys me flowers…flowers!” she spat. “And silver and silk and whatnot. And I bend over backwards to please him, ask anyone, ANYONE, whether I was as good a wife to him as any woman could possibly be. And then I give him such a lovely child, a little daughter, what man could ask for more? Now he finds himself a new woman,” she spat out an expletive that I instinctively turned my face away from, “and I refused to have her in the same house as me. Tell me, queen, tell me, is that too much to ask for?”

“No,” I whispered, trying to blink back my tears. “No, go on.”

“And do you know what he does then? He throws me out! Slams the door in my face! Three days I stayed out in the cowshed and ate what we could forage from the garden, and then he drives me out of there too. It has been a week now, and no one would take me in with my daughter. ‘Go back to your husband’, they say. Where shall I go? Tell me, where shall I go? Am I like that queen on this grand Empire, Draupadi, who has five husbands to choose from?”

She was raving without knowledge of who was around her, and her last statement pierced me. Her sobs started again, and whether it was her wretchedness, or the pointedness of her remark, or something else altogether, I did not know. I sat beside her, tears falling into my own lap. Not for too long though, because Kunti-ma was beside me in a trice, hauling me up, and smoothly assigning the sobbing woman to another aide. I later learned that she had been assigned to help in the kitchen, and her husband had been sent for. But for the moment, Kunti made me compose myself and look into the next case – a fisherman who was going down south on a pilgrimage and wanted to deposit his pearls with the State for interest.

That evening, I told Arjuna about the happenings of the day over dinner. Did I forget to mention? He is back from his year-long journey. I had spent last year at Nakula’s instead. This year, Arjuna got back. And, well, he’s here.

Arjuna talks very less, listens more. So when I told him about the cloth merchant’s case, he slurped up his curd and muttered a ‘Hmm’, as if mentally filing away a meeting with the Gandhara emissary the day after tomorrow, between two sessions of archery practice. After dinner, while I went to put my younger son to sleep, Arjuna played with the dart-board in the bedroom, idly throwing the darts at the well worn center of the dart board. When I got back, he muttered, “I am going to meet Krishna tonight,” and left. I raised my eyebrows, knowing what that meant. “Tomorrow!” he said. “I will definitely be here tomorrow!”

Some days, he kept his word. We would go into the forest, just him, me and the kids. My older son is three years old now, old enough to learn to fence and box and play with bows and arrows. Arjuna teaches my sons, his brothers’ sons, to fight, as if they were his own. They may very well have been his. And then we sit on the river back, me whittling wood, throwing stones into the river, him listening to me chatter. Sometimes he sings and talk about people in far off countries. He does not talk much, but he is amusing when he does. When he sets out to please you, it is difficult not to be charmed. But these little things are temporary. Mostly, now that he has a new wife, he spends his time with her. There are days when he completely ignores me, and goes away to talk to Kanha. In fact, the only person that he is really open to, is Kanha. Maybe that is why Kanha got his sister married to Arjuna. To seal the bond of their friendship further.

“I am going to meet Krishna tonight,” and left. I raised my eyebrows, knowing what that meant. “Tomorrow!” he said. “I will definitely be here tomorrow!”

Subhadra. What did he see in her? Was it the curly hair? The fair face, the rosy cheeks? Was it the gullible innocence, the artless sweetness? Goodness, had I been so naive and artless when I was her age? No, I don’t think so. What was it about her? Was it just the fact that she did not have to be shared with his brothers, like me?

For the first week, I moved my belongings to my new home, to Arjuna’s quarters, and waited for him to visit me. Apart from a formal visit to introduce his new wife, it was like we had never been acquainted. I waited for the first week’s duration, and then stormed off to Kanha, who was still in the palace with his sister.

“What kind of a friend are you? Getting your sister together with my husband!”

Kanha raised his eyebrows. “I knew that you would come,” he stated.

“Well, what? Why did you have to do this, after…after all this drama?”

“He wanted to marry her. She wanted to marry him,” Kanha shrugged. “You are my friend, she is my sister, he is almost a brother to me. Her desires were no less important than yours.”

“So? Why would you want to spoil my peace for that? You know, you might think you are God Almighty and try to move us like chess pieces on a board, but oh no. Not me. You are not going to play around with me anymore.”

“You are angry,” said Kanha calmly. “You don’t know what you are saying. No one is forcing you to do anything. I see why you are upset. Do you want me to talk to Arjuna so that he spends more time with you?”

I stood there, speechless for a minute.

“Never talk to me again!” I had said, and walked away, my head held high. I did not hear what Kanha said in reply.

I walked through the palace, angrily wiping my tears away. Tears are for wimps, aren’t they? And I am sure as hell not a wimp. I walk through the main courtyard, where Yudhistra and Nakula play dice sitting down, and Sahadeva watches on. He lifts his head to look at me. In his eyes, I read something akin to … was that pity? I walk away.

Comments

3 Comments

  1. Hi Manasa,

    I am not sure if I my question is fair. But when Arjuna won Draupadi’s hand in marriage, his mother wanted her 5 sons to share her. But why does the same logic not apply to Subhadra?

  2. Manasa /

    Jaisree,

    From what I understand, the reason Draupadi was ‘shared’ was because she was uncommonly beautiful, and Kunti wanted to avoid a possible fight among the brothers over her. Whereas, by the time Arjuna married Subhadra, the brothers had a ‘common’ wife and each of them had their own wives too. Maybe that is one reason. Another could be that Draupadi’s marriage to the Pandavas was an ‘alliance’ arranged by the parents, where her fate could be decided by the elders. Whereas Subhadra’s marriage to Arjuna was a love marriage. If I remember right, Arjuna eloped with her! So maybe that is why she was not subject to such pressures.

Leave a Reply