Draupadi – Manasa
Shravana maasye Ekadesi, Budhawaaram (The 11th day of the Shravan month – mid August – a Wednesday)
I am glad that when I was young I did not run away when I was taught to read and write. I must say that, that was not entirely without your influence too. I remember that I would always want to go outside and play with the animals or climb trees, but you would tell me to stay indoors and learn my lessons. You would read out stories and poetry to me. You would tell me stories of your travels and draw maps on the sand to get me interested in geography. You told me that it would come in useful some day. And indeed it has, for today I am able to write to you. I never thought that the day would come that you would be so far away that I have to write to tell you about my life.
I know that you are busy with a million people’s needs to satisfy – it is not for anything that they call you God. But I have nobody but you to pour my woes out to.
Don’t remind me about my five husbands, my mother-in-law, their cousins and that enormous extended family which is now supposedly mine. They are not mine nor am I theirs. I don’t feel like I belong here after all this time.
Let me start by telling you about everything that happened since you left our little hut back in Ekachakra, that was the name of the village where you left us.
We stayed there for a week at the most. My brother came to visit us every day. He would speak at length with Kunti-ma and leave. As you very well know, there was not much love lost between us, and so I did not want to see him at all. Once, Kunti-ma and Yud went back to the palace to meet my father. They were discussing about the ripe time to return to Hastinapur, though this is something I got to know after a long time. All my father cares is defeating Drona, his arch-rival. Now that he has not one, but five sons-in-law to do his bidding, the same boys who routed his own army not so long ago, I hear that he is a happy, happy man. His daughter, of course, is the pawn traded in the process.
Kanha, I may sound extremely bitter, but it is a situation, and I have decided to make the most out of what I have. I am angry that my life was traded over to further the political ambitions of my father and my husbands, but what can I do now? It is only to you that I open my heart to show how truly betrayed I feel. For it is one thing I decided on the first night I slept under their roof – that at no point will I show them anything that betrays fear or weakness in me.
We came to Hastinapur two weeks after my marriage. In those two weeks, I learned quite a bit about my new family, but when I came to Hastinapur, I realized that there was so much that I had not learnt. Everything seems new to me, strange and unchartered. Even I seem new to myself. Can you believe it, Kanha, that it has been six months since I have climbed a tree or watched the sunrise
One thing in my new home, it is not the five men who are important, not so much as my mother-in-law. The first morning after I came, I was sent to the market with Nakula and Sahadeva to buy vegetables. They had a list, which their mother had prepared, and some coins in their pouch, which Yud had rolled out for them. They do everything their mother asks them to – they even refuse to buy vegetables which are not in her list. Everything is answered by ‘Mother knows’. Kunti ma really holds the reins of the family.
But I must describe the market now. It was an amazing thoroughfare, Kanha, would you believe it if I said that I have never been to the market all my life? The people there did not know that I am the princess. I talked to them, and they were so really friendly. Just for a gag, the twins made me bargain at the butcher’s. They thought I would be terrible at it. To their surprise, I got a whole chicken for only three coins. I think I would make a very shrewd businesswoman. If only I could grow and sell vegetables and fruits for a living and not be a princess and a queen. But then I could not have married Arjuna, could I?
The living arrangements were decided once I came to Hastinapura. I would spend a year with each brother, and at the end of that I would live with the next brother. I am not sure why you even agreed to such a thing, Kanha, but I trust you – you would never do something that would not be good for me. So here I am, my first six months with Yud.
The first thing I noticed was the way he calls me. He calls me by my full name, ‘Draupadi’. Somehow I have never noticed my name when you used to call me by it, nor my nanny, but here, it sounds plain weird. I have never really noticed how hard my name sounds. Drau-pa-di. None of these people have asked me what my pet names at home were, and I have never told them the names Shakti-ma and you used to call me by. So to Kunti-ma and Yud, I am ‘Drau-pa-di’. Bhima, for some reason, wants to be different, and calls me ‘Panchali’ when his brothers are around, and ‘Maharani’ when he wants to tease me. I asked him why he calls me Panchali, and he says he likes my land more than he likes my father. Bhima only looks like a fool, but he is a clever man, isn’t he?
Yud does not like it if I am very friendly with his brothers. For all the talk of the Pandavas sticking together like glue, I think it is only an outward façade, the appearances of which are kept up more by the mother than the sons. Arjuna and Bhima, for example, are very close, as are the twins. Nakula and Sahadeva are Madri’s sons, and while no one refers to their parentage, there is a very subtle bias that I can’t help but notice.However Nakula is always absorbed in his music and food and clothes and scents to notice, and Sahadeva, though the youngest, strikes me as the wisest of the lot. No, I do not say this because he was the only one who took my side. He is as shrewd as he is silent. After Arjuna, I think I like him best of the Pandavas.
(You must not be shocked because I write so frankly to you, surely I am not telling you things that you do not already know of.)
But it is Yud that I have had the most chance to observe, because I have been living with him for six months now. And I must say, living with a man is very different from what I thought it would be. For one thing, I get so much lesser time to myself. The customs in Hastinapura are very different from those in Panchala – no one wakes up before the second hour after sunrise. They also don’t bathe in the mornings like we used to, but reserve bath times for the evenings. The clothes are worn in a very different style, at least the women’s clothes. They prefer to wear silk all the time, even when they are in their chambers, and wear it wrapped around their legs and arms in multiple folds, and not like a single robe like we used to. All this takes some getting used to.
Also, there are so many people to meet here, so many new faces to get used to. Each of them should be greeted in a different way according to their rank and seniority. That was one of the first things Yud taught me – what was construed as proper respect in the family and how to accord each of them what was due.
“We have to get our share from these people, but we cannot alienate them either,” he told me in his painstakingly patient way. “Some of these people have known us since we were children, they have reared us and brought us up, they are our teachers. No matter what how unfairly they have treated us, we have to follow the prescribed norms of respect with them.”
I nodded my head dutifully – imagine telling a girl things like this when she is nodding off with sleep – but tell me Kanha, if they treated the Pandavas unfairly, why should anyone be nice to them? When we first arrived in Hastinapura, announced that we were the Pandavas and alive, you should have seen Duryodhana’s face. He refused to receive us, and walked out of the room, with that sidekick of his that looks like a mongoose, Karna. Vidura-ji received us. Vidura-ji is perhaps the only genuine person I have met in the palace here. He spoke at length to Kunti-ma, and then to all my husbands who seem to respect him a lot. Then, he turned to me and smiled, such a warm affectionate smile, that I felt immediately at home. I was rather lost in the middle of all the reception rituals, that nobody noticed that it was not only the Pandavas who had arrived, but they had a new bride with them. Vidura-ji enquired after my health, my father and my kingdom, and said, “Daughter, don’t worry if everything seems new to you. I am sure you have the strength to handle it.” Everybody so far had complimented the strength and valour of my husbands, but he was the first person to acknowledge that I needed strength and tell me that I possessed it.
Then we were taken to meet the old blind kind, Duryodhana’s father, Dritharashtra. He said a few words of welcome, and touched all our heads in blessing. He seemed to try to mean what he said, but I am not sure whether he was being insincere, or just ashamed of his sons. Gandhari-ma, the queen, why, isn’t she beautiful, Kanha! Even with her eyes wrapped with cloth and her graying hair, she is still beautiful. She smiled and ran her fingers over my face.
Later that night I asked Yud about this – why was it that a couple like Dhritarashtra and Gandhari – born in good families and possessing beauty and grace and goodwill, why should they have such insanely jealous sons? Could they have not taken more care in the upbringing of their children, and taught them to discern right from wrong? Yud only said, “Do you think we are any better?”
Yud says he feels sorry for Duryodhana’s parents, and why, even Duryodhana’s brothers. He says that they are good people, but only led astray by Duryodhana’s arrogance. And he also says that Duryodhana’s arrogance is not the only thing at fault – “Arjuna and Bhima are equally headstrong,” he says. Why can’t Yud ever take a side? To him, people are never right or wrong, only circumstances are culprits. Didn’t the Kauravas just try setting fire to them, or was that all some kind of childish game too? Yud irritates me sometimes.
But he is very attentive to me if he wants to. Every night after the sun sets he takes me out somewhere, to a garden or to watch a play, or has some of the finest musicians in the palace playing for us. Else, we sit in the palace and he teaches me to play dice. He is rather fond of such games, though I am afraid he is not very good. But I cannot tell him so to his face without him getting all angry and stiffening up. The thing is his mother and brothers respect him a bit too much and have never told him that he was wrong. So, he cannot take criticism with grace, though he does not know it himself. Unfortunately, I am not able to respect him blindly, and often get irritated with him. I do not really know what to do about this. But at other times, Yud is so perfectly sweet, that it is not possible for me to be mad at him all the time.
I also got to meet Bhishmacharya, Kripacharya and Dronacharya, the gurus of the Pandavas and Kauravas. There is not much to say about them because they were just fearsome old men in their chambers and did not address a single word to me during the entirety of the conversation. I don’t think they talk to women much at all. Like a good wife, I kept standing behind Yud while he talked. They asked Yud how they had escaped from the fire. He replied, “By God’s grace and some good luck.” Very diplomatic of him, I thought, and they seemed to like it as well, for they smiled.
However, I was horrified when I actually got to know how they had escaped. They had dug a hole out of the palace which was set on fire, but they had drugged six other people and left them in the palace to burn so that the Kauravas could think they had died.
“But how could you? Why should you kill those people in the process?” I asked, horrified.
“That is what I meant by good luck. Sometimes, you’ve got to do what you have to do,” said Yud, calmly rolling his dice. Two blanks came up.
Kanha, to be perfectly honest, I am confused in this house. Like Gandhari and Dhritharashra I am blind and spinning on my heels, but while they are content to not see, I am discontented that I cannot see into these people around me.
The only person who seems steadfast and true in this place is Arjuna. While it is true that he has not spoken a word to me so far (I am his brother’s wife now, and not his own – a very confusing state of affairs, I admit) he does not involve himself in any of the palace gossip as well. He goes out early from what I hear, practices shooting, and returns late at night. He has dinner and goes out with Bhima to practice wrestling – Bhima always needs someone to pound. All he wants to do is shoot and that’s all he does.
Now I have to go, dear Kanha, for it is sunset and my husband would be here any minute. I feel so much like the little girl who used to swing on your shoulders, too young to have a husband, but would you believe me if I said I was going to have a child too? See, I reserved the best for last!
Much love from,