One morning about six months later, Draupadi sat with Kunti-ma and Sahadeva on the lawns on the palace and watched as Arjuna and Bhima bowed to each other and picked up their maces. The two heavy men balanced themselves and swung the heavy mace out slowly, so slowly, that when the first ‘clang’ of contact came, it made the leaves rustle and birds take flight. The impact was not much, and both men recovered immediately and swung their maces out again.
Draupadi lay back, resting on a tree, lazily chewing a piece of grass, watching how their feet moved. “It is all in the feet,” Bhima had always told her. If you lost your footing, your own mace could come down on you and kill you. Being grounded was very important.
“Are the babies’ things packed?” asked Kunti-ma.
“Yes, Kunti-ma, I personally supervised it,” returned Draupadi. She did not relax the laziness of her posture or stop looking at the feet of the men.
“Of course. Anyway, I need to go and sort my things out. My maid always forgets to pack the extra flannel and you know how I hate using anyone else’s. Don’t stay out too long in the cold, dear.”
“Yes, mother,” said Sahadeva and Draupadi together. The both of them looked at each other and burst out laughing.
Of late, she had been struck by how old Kunti was turning – the change had been very sudden, all in a matter of six months. Her hair had suddenly whitened quite a lot, and were there always so many wrinkles on her face? She also noticed a change in herself, her attitude towards Kunti, or for that matter her multiple husbands. It was not like she had lost respect for any of them, but gained more respect for herself. She had always thought Kunti would be angry if she did not meet her eyes or treat her with utmost deference. But she seemed to get things done better in this state of self possession and confidence. And indeed, what did it matter if these people thought any less of her?
“What are you thinking?” asked Sahadeva, intruding into her train of thought.
Draupadi smiled. “Just how old Kunti-ma looks of late.”
Sahadeva smiled in return. “Yes, time flies, doesn’t it? Has it already been four years since you came here?”
“Yes, almost four now. Next year I stay with Nakula, and the year after that with you.”
Sahadeva flushed at the insinuation.
“What, don’t tell me you don’t like me,” teased Draupadi.
“No, no, it’s not that,” said Sahadeva in his slow, forthright manner. “I was only thinking of how bad all this business must be for you.”
“Not at all, I think I enjoy it in a way,” she said, and then laughed out at the horrified expression on Sahadeva’s face. “Now, now, don’t look so shocked, or else I will have to pretend to be shocked at myself too. It is what life has thrown at me, and I might as well enjoy it while I am here.”
Sahadeva paused as if he was trying to say something very difficult. Draupadi turned towards the fighting men who were now working up a fine sweat trying to displace each other.
“Draupadi,” started Sahadeva, “When you came here first you were such a young girl, so fresh and…and pure…you were so happy. But now, for all your talk of enjoyment, I can sense that you are unhappy. I know that you are angry with Kanha for getting Arjuna married to Subhadra. And now, you are talking like this. This kind of cynical bitterness does not suit you.”
Draupadi rose her eyebrows. “Is it that obvious? Very well, you are right. I am angry with Kanha. He was one person who I thought would look out for my happiness, but that is not true. It looks like the only person who has to be responsible for my happiness is myself – not you or Yud or Bhima or Arjuna or Kunti-ma. I am neither cynical nor bitter, just realistic.”
“But I want you to be happy Draupadi,” said Sahadeva. “Why else would I ask you whether everything is fine with you?”
“Sahadeva, you say you want me to be happy, but why were my desires never taken into account all this while? How else could I be happy?” She cheered loudly as Bhima sent a well aimed thwack with his mace at Arjuna’s leg. Arjuna rallied, and got on to his feet, still unsteady. Draupadi continued: “It is obvious that when you and your brothers married me, it was more for my family connections than for my own sake. It was to preserve unity between all of you that I had to marry not one man but five. I did not rebel then, because I was too diffident. I cannot rebel now, because my life is entwined too
closely with all of yours. I have two children. While all of you have other wives to give you more children, my sons will never have other fathers. So I try being happy with what I have.”
Sahadeva remained silent.
Draupadi then asked, after a pause: “Since we are talking so plainly, let me ask you – do you judge me for not being equally devoted to all of you?”
Sahadeva was quick in his response. “Of course not. It is not humanly possible, and besides, all of us not not equally devoted to you either. You are right, this was a marriage of convenience. These things tag along.”
Draupadi relaxed again and smiled. “How are you so forthright and radical for someone so young, Sahadeva?”
“Because only two things can turn a man’s mind,” said Sahadeva, displaying the first sign of playfulness in the conversation. “The first is power and the second is woman. I am neither powerful enough to want to lust after more power, nor do I think I am sufficiently in love with you, yet.”
Draupadi giggled. “Well, well, let’s see what we can do about the last part in a year’s time.”
Before Sahadeva could answer, Bhima let out a huge roar as Arjuna fell to the ground panting. It had been a good contest, but towards the end, it had turned into one of endurance, not just sheer strength. Bhima had won. Both men come to where the attendants waited with cool towels and water. “We are going to cream them,” said Bhima, with a glint in his eye. “Arjuna is getting so good, almost as good as Duryodhana.”
“While you are certainly nowhere as good as me at archery,” muttered Arjuna, only to have a good natured blow aimed at his face.
“So are we going to Hastinapur tomorrow to fight?” asked Draupadi, raising her eyebrows. Bhima laughed.
“Not tomorrow. At least I hope not. We are just going to be playing some namby pamby games. But soon, I promise you…soon.”
The reception at Hastinapur the next day was cool. None of the Kaurava women were there. Instead, the elders were there to welcome them, gripping arms and slapping shoulders. Draupadi folded her palms and silently acknowledged the presence of Bhishma, Vidura and Shakuni, and spoke a few words to Dhritharashtra. The men looked older to Draupadi too. It was as if a sudden onset of aging had swept through the kingdom and had left the older ones among them with silver hair.
“How are the children doing?” asked Dhritarashtra. He touched the face and hands of the infant while Draupadi held him up to the blind king.He laughed, and then said “Lots of hair,” and rubbed his own
semi-bald pate. Everyone in the hall laughed. “My brother was the handsome one in the family, with lots of hair.”
“Yes, we lost out there, but we are lucky where it really matters,” said Duryodhana as a rejoinder, flexing his muscles. Dhritarashtra looked anxiously towards him and then at where the Pandava brothers might be standing. Bhima had one arm on his sword already.
Bhishma laughed immediately “Good that we don’t need to fight games of strength to play a friendly game of dice. Come in, dear children.This should be fun.”
An attendant came in immediately to escort the ladies to their own chamber.
Bhanumathi welcomed Draupadi and Subhadra with open arms. “What is pleasure it is, to see you girls here,” she said, making them sit by her side. “I cannot imagine that in all these years you have never been to our home.And you must be Subhadra,” she said, smiling kindly.
“It is very nice here, sister,” replied Subhadra. She was a thin, tale, pale girl, her long, thin hair hanging down her back in a twisted braid. Her big eyes darted around the room shyly, taking all the beauty in. Draupadi sat by her side, her leg tucked below her, clearly at ease in the grand bedchamber, and with Bhanumathi.
“Why, bless your heart. How is your dear brother doing? I was expecting him for the games today,” said Bhanumathi to Subhadra. “How good this woman is, trying to make Subhadra feel at home” thought Draupadi to herself, her fondness for Bhanumathi growing.
“No, sister. He would not be able to come today because of some work back in Dwaraka. I was so disappointed too,” she replied.
“Yes, I would have really liked to meet him. He is very fond of me, you know, even though my husband has been very blunt to him at times.”
A roar from the front hall reached them at this point.
“Oh! They must have started,” said Draupadi, stretching herself on the divan and yawning like a cat.
“You look very tired, Draupadi. Do you want to take a nap?”
“Why, yes, Bhanumathi. Will you wake me up for dinner? They will be done with the games by then. Hopefully these boys would not have lost much. Sigh…these hot afternoons,” she said, and curled herself up into a little ball facing the wall. She then removed a hair ornament, and let her long flowing, thick hair trail behind her, dropping to the floor.
Bhanumathi laughed at her and said, “Well, I will show Subhadra the garden and maybe then she could take a look at the oil painting I am drawing right now? I understand that you like art very much…”
But Draupadi had already fallen asleep, and
soon floated in a happy land where deer and peacock feathers came in and out. She dreamt of a sunny day in a meadow, where Sahadeva and Bhanumathi came, calling for her, “Sister, sister..”
She turned around and ran, gathering up her skirts. They followed her running. ‘Sister, sister…wake up…” But wait. Ghat could not be right. Wake up?
“Sister!” The insistent voice sounded again. She awoke to see the frightened faces of Bhanumathi and Subhadra. “Wake up. They want you there. Wake up…”
Draupadi opened her eyes, bewildered.
Picture Credit :http://nupur-khurana.blogspot.com/