Authors: V S Khandekar
I am distressed by the memory of Kacha. His positive tendencies were so pronounced ... I had hoped that he would succeed in the great task of stopping the war but ...
It is given to man to hope, whether it succeeds ...
I understand your mother’s grief. I pray to God that He may give her the strength to bear it.
You are now King and maybe I should have addressed your more formally, but that would not have shown my affection for you.
Only one part of Angiras’ letter was truly touching. That was the tears which came to his eyes while writing about Kacha’s death and words that were disfigured thereby. Tears and the disfigured words! All the rest was preaching, just dry philosophy. But does man live by philosophy? No, he lives in hope, dreams, affection, glory and heroism. But merely by philosophy? How is it possible? These bearded ascetics are always very fond of sermonising. Kacha’s heroism, evident from that letter, went to my heart. How brave he was, though unarmed. His face must have held the glow of lightning when he was killed. Playing with his
, he must have said to the demons, ‘You can cut my body to pieces, but what about my soul? You cannot even touch it. It is immortal.’
I was spending idle days in the palace instead of undertaking a venture like him.
Even after Father’s death, there was no rising anytime, anywhere. The affairs of the state were running smoothly and I was like a bird in a gilded cage. Kacha was soaring high in the blue sky like an eagle. I wished to be similarly engaged in some unique venture somewhere. With this thought I spent a restless night and in the morning I had a dream. Yati was saying in the dream: ‘You selfish wicked wretch, what right have you to the throne? Get up and vacate the throne or I will destroy you with a curse.’
I got up and called to Mother and told her of my meeting with Yati and my dream. At first she was confused. Then she looked deep into my eyes and asked, ‘Yayu, I trust you are telling the truth?’
‘I swear by Father ...’
She said disparagingly, ‘Swear by anything else. Your father was a warrior, but he never kept any of the promises he made to me.’ Mother put her hand on my shoulder and said, ‘My son, he alone that is hurt suffers. I was not the great Queen, I was the great maid. I danced to his tune all my life. I refuse to do so any longer.’
She had spoken the harsh truth. That was why I could not bear to hear it. To console her, I said, ‘Mother, I shall never do anything to hurt you.’ In the excitement of the moment I got up and touched her feet. She calmed down then.
She reluctantly consented to my going to East Aryavarta in search of Yati. She agreed that it should be kept quiet and that my retinue should be as small as possible. She insisted, however, that if I failed to meet Yati or his whereabouts could not be ascertained, I must return straight to Hastinapur. I agreed.
She was now preparing for the journey instead of the coronation with equal zest. Mandar was the Prime Minister’s most trusted servant and was to go as my bodyguard. So that there maybe no inconvenience, she detailed servants and even one or two maids for odd jobs. I asked for Kalika but was told that she had gone to visit Alaka, who was now married.
Mother decided to select two princesses by my return — one for me and one for Yati. I do not know if Taraka who wished to be my queen or Mother who was contemplating marriage for Yati was more childish. Is a mother’s heart no different from that of a child? I looked at Mother and wondered if anyone ever understood another person fully. She was my mother but as to knowing her! It would be easier to fathom the sky than to peep in a heart!
* * *
Although the hermitage of Angiras was a little off the way but I paid him a visit. He greeted me from the bottom of his heart.
I was very glad to see him but before I could say a word, a young ascetic entered. In great misery he announced, ‘The demons are celebrating, with great eclat, the “Wine-day”. They rejoice because wine has helped their cause ... they killed and cremated Kacha and mixed his ashes in the Maharishi’s wine! As you know, Maharishi Shukra has a great weakness for wine and the demons have succeeded in making it impossible for Kacha to come to life again.’
The hermitage was plunged in gloom.
It was with a heavy heart that I left Angiras. On the way, I was attracted by the high mountains, deep ravines, magnificent rainbows, tiny butterflies, the tall swaying palms and the waterside willows and reeds. All the way I was witness to towns and villages, the strong well-knit bodies of men and women, their varied costumes and various jewellery and the rich variety of their songs, dances and festivals. The cavalcade was a balm to my misery. What does a Kacha, Yati or Yayati matter in this vast expanse of life on earth? How insignificant man is in the vast background of this world? Why talk of his pleasure or pain? Is anyone bothered about the feelings of a blade of grass floating on the waves of the sea?
We were hurrying to get to East Aryavarta quickly, yet the entire retinue was equally concerned about my comfort.
Yati had left his cave. I made careful enquiries in the surrounding villages and talked at length to many people young and old. All that came out was that Yati was now a little more tolerant of society, unlike his earlier aversion to anyone staying near his cave. Society was now an experimental laboratory for him. He could work miracles. To that end he had undergone terrible penance. It was in this unbalanced state of mind that he had heard of Maharishi Shukra’s Sanjeevani which could revive the dead. He was convinced that only a preceptor like Shukra could show him the one way to his objective — the power to convert all women into men — and had therefore gone to the kingdom of the demons.
All this was merely hearsay collected from the rustics inhabiting the small villages in the sparsely populated area about the cave. It is difficult to say how much of it was true and how much was coloured. But one thing was clear. Yati had abandoned the cave for good and had probably gone to Shukracharya.
We set out to return. We made for short cuts and travelled fast for three or four days at a stretch. On the fourth or fifth day we reached a nice little place, a little off the highway.
Hill, dale, river and forest together contributed to the beauty of the spot. Each added to its charm. The hill was not high and but for the deep pool in the middle, the river flowed placidly. Except for the central part the forest was like a neatly laid out garden. The first sight of it brought the thought to my mind that God must have made this pleasure garden for the play of Creation in her childhood. There was no habitation for a mile but one did not experience at all the strange lurking fear usual in such regions. The twittering birds appeared to be talking to one another. The rippling stream, humming a tune to itself like a young maiden in a reverie. The dale was like an inviting bed and the hill like a sacrificial place. The oppressive effect of great grandeur or the frightening effect of the grotesque — none of these marred the spectacle. It was sheer beauty, just sheer unbounded feast for the eyes.
I was conscious that I must return to Hastinapur as early as possible. My mother would be waiting. But I was enchanted with that beautiful spot. I enjoyed it for hours on end and was still not satisfied. It was difficult to tear myself away from it and I lingered there despite the journey ahead. Suddenly I would be reminded of Yati. He must have come across many such spots. Why did he not feel like spending his time delighting in such beauty? Why had he set out on the trying path of meditation and mystic achievement? He had gone to Maharishi Shukra to serve him and to attain the power to make the world exclusively male; why had he turned a woman-hater? If he had seen this beauty spot, he would probably have set out to turn it into a desert. Is it the purpose of man’s life to love the natural and the beautiful; to adore it and to enjoy it so as to make his own life fuller or is it —
Two days went by and the third passed, but I could not leave the place on my homeward journey.
I wondered when I would return to that beautiful spot. Perhaps never. The scroll of life is written by a wayward destiny in a sprawling hand. Is it possible that she will let me visit this spot again? The only time to reap happiness is while one is happy.
I was prolonging my stay with this thought uppermost. At last on the fifth day, Mandar said we must leave the next morning.
I did not like the compulsion in his tone. In the end, towards the evening, I set out with a heavy heart to take leave of the place. I was like a man in misery, faced with long separation from his dear one. The long shadows of the evening gradually spread to the hill crest, the tops of tree and bush and rolled leisurely on the placid water of the pool. I watched all this, perched on the tree. I was uneasy that I would have to leave in a few hours, when suddenly on the opposite bank, I saw a deer gracefully poised. She must have come for a drink but stood there without bending to the water as if some sculptor was modelling her figure. Instinctively my right hand searched for the bow and arrow on my shoulder. The hunter in me was roused. Looking on that graceful figure, my hand was stayed. Unlike my earlier conviction that killing was part of my Kshatriya dharma, now I felt a sense of guilt at wanting to hunt that beautiful creature.
The deer stood its ground. Casually I turned to the near bank. I was surprised. There also a deer — No — it was a young maiden! Her back was turned to me. Why had she come to this wilderness?
She looked at the sky, folded her hands and the next moment, flung herself into the pool.
When I dived in to save her it was purely from compassion. I pulled her out of the pool and put her head in my lap to revive her. My compassion gave place to fear, then surprise and finally joy for she was Alaka!
She had not taken in much water and soon opened her eyes. And on seeing me, with a faint smile, she closed them again. In a low voice she said, ‘Mother, when did Prince come?’
She was obviously not conscious of her surroundings yet.
‘I am no longer prince, Alaka! I am now king,’ I said smiling.
She opened her eyes, and fixing them on me said, ‘I beg your pardon, Your Majesty! I erred,’ with such an enchanting smile that the charming Alaka of many years ago, reappeared before my eyes. The sweetness of that first kiss that night seared through my veins. She still doubted whether what she saw was reality or a dream! I was tempted to kiss her and bent to put my lips gently on hers. She realised this, shivered a little and said, ‘No!’
Her voice was a little hoarse but its firmness did not escape me. I drew away. Slowly she said, ‘Your Majesty, I am now someone else’s!’
Her hand was trembling and anxiety showed in her face. Inspite of my protests to the contrary, stammering and pausing at intervals she started telling me of the intervening years. She was not conscious even of her wet clothes clinging to the body or of her wet hair!
Her aunt had arranged her marriage with a young, handsome and well-to-do farmer, but he was given to gambling. Once he took Alaka out on the plea of going to a fair. His dear friend who practised black magic was with them. There her husband gambled heavily and lost and all three had to run away. He lived on in the hope that with the help of his friend’s magic he would one day win back his money and be rich again. His friend was all absorbed in his evil pursuits, hoping that one day he would be able to turn a man into a donkey! He also boasted that he could turn a man into a dog or sheep. They wandered together far away from their home. She was helpless. Her husband would growl at her if
she dared attempt to admonish him and he would ask his friend to change her into a bitch or sheep. The friend would proceed to light a fire, put some salt and condiment in it and recite a few hymns. Alaka was terrified to death at the prospect and would beg of them to stop.
She had not, however, come to the end of her misfortune. A few days earlier, the husband had staked his wife and lost. The winner smirked at her with greedy anticipation. Somehow, she bolted from there. In darkness, for days on end she sneaked from place to place, eating when she could and drinking when water was to be found. Life became unbearable and she decided to commit suicide.
She was distressed to relate all this. Listening to her, I could not help feeling that destiny was cruel and took delight in playing with man’s life.
The sun was going down in the west. But it was necessary to say something to kindle a ray of hope in her. I tenderly stroked her hair and said, ‘There is no need to worry, Alaka. You are my ...’
She jerked herself away from my lap and protested vehemently, ‘I, I am not yours, I belong to someone else.’
I patted her head with the words, ‘Alaka, you are my sister! I have fed at your mother’s breast, you remember?’
How powerful is a word of comfort and a touch of loving tenderness! Alaka smiled in gratitude. It was as if a dying flame had been revived with fresh oil!
Evening was fast descending on earth. It was undesirable to continue any longer in that wilderness. I helped Alaka to sit up and we walked back.
The setting sun streaked on her hair while she was bent over the water. A few hair sparkled. I had not noticed earlier the lovely golden brown tinge in her hair. It was clearly visible now and I said, ‘You have golden hair.’
‘Yes, a little.’
In the middle of the night I felt that somebody was touching my feet. The lamp was low but I recognised that the figure standing near my bed was Alaka’s. I got up and asked her, ‘What is the matter?’
She could not speak but was trembling. I took her hand in mine. It was wet with perspiration. I made her sit on my bed and for courage, I stroked her back gently. I suddenly seemed to see a shadow flitting across my tent. I looked around but there was nobody.
Alaka had been unable to sleep a wink. She was terrified by dreams of her husband pushing her off a mountain top. In the end, she had taken courage to come to me.
Just then an insect put out the light and there was a footstep outside. It must have been the sentry.
I sent her away reassured but it was clear that she was scared of her gambling husband and his friend, the black magician. No amount of reassurance could dispel her fear completely.