Read #1 book on Hinduism and enhance your understanding of ancient Indian history.
Read #1 book on Hinduism and enhance your understanding of ancient Indian history.

Ketaki Bakshi

Abstract Classics Fantasy


4.8  

Ketaki Bakshi

Abstract Classics Fantasy


The Broken Sky

The Broken Sky

19 mins 530 19 mins 530

The Sun had risen. The chariots carrying victorious Pandavas and their convoy were galloping towards their rightful palace in Hastinapur. Sunrise was refreshing the nature, but everything had already been dusked down for Panchaali. What made her feel dejected was the inhuman, ghastly, and formidable way by which her sons were slain. It would have been more correct to say that Ashwatthaman slaughtered them, as a butcher slaughters the hapless chickens and goats mirthlessly! He hadn't even allowed them to get up and put a fight! He had killed them all, while they had been fast asleep! Panchaali had been devastated! However, she was a tigress, and the valor of a tigress never goes cold, even if her heart is about to cease beating. Instead, she becomes more and more fierce!

Panchaali got her sons avenged by making Ashwatthaman pay dearly for his sins. He was now cursed to live alongside the human race till the very end, with his scars having a consistent pain, albeit in disguise! Because the humans were not going to accept such a formidable creature, who smelt putrid and wilted even while being alive, and whose soul was stained with the blood of innocents!

They say that avenging your dear ones ends the pain. No, it just ends the rivalry and unjust. It can never end the pain. Duryodhana was now history and so was his army. The truth had prevailed and her oaths and vows had been fulfilled. Still, it felt as if the sky had been broken. Wherever her sight could go, she just saw pain; in the innocent eyes of orphaned children, in the silent cries of widowed ladies, in the dry sobs of elderly and lonely women; who were now never going to see their families laugh happily again...!

Panchaali and Pandavas were supposed to take over the palace today. However, the journey from Kurukshetra to the palace now withered Panchaali's soul, while the heart was already cut down to pieces, with the death of each person, who was once dear to her. Krishna was standing beside her, as steadfast, stoic, and supportive as ever. Perhaps, the turmoil within her heart had made its way to Krishna.

Smiling, he said, "What prevails Sakhi? Emotion? Intellect? Dharma? What do you feel?" Panchaali looked at him with confusion.

'Isn't the answer very obvious?' She said. 'Dharma.'

'That is where we all get wrong. We disregard the interdependence between life and dharma. I would rather say that everyone just extrapolates. Will there be any need for dharma without life?', He said smiling broadly, enjoying himself thoroughly as Panchaali's face grew perplexed.

'Well then, life prevails.' She said, not keen to continue the debate.

'Ahh, then can life be sustained without dharma?' Krishna continued persistently. He never let it down, unless it concluded to his satisfaction. Panchaali was exasperated.

'How does it matter now, Krishna?' She said, with a tone of derision.

But Krishna was invincible when it came to convincing others or playing with wits and words.

'It matters the most only now!' He said. 'When the self-doubt starts to drown the dharma in the heart.' Panchaali frowned, but she didn't interrupt him. 

'Life and dharma are interwoven, Sakhi. And it had always been so. You feel that life has deserted all, as a result of this war. But think, how it would have been if there had been no war. There would have been only injustice and no righteousness, only greed, and false pride, no respect for the sovereignty of a lady, as then people would have believed that it is only greed and adharma that prevails. Dharma would have ceased to exist and it would eventually have debarred life.

Panchaali agreed. How could she not agree, having seen and felt the pain of disrobing herself? But such an annihilation? It still seemed so unconvincing.

'Now that people are suffering the excruciating of pains, can we make them abide by dharma? I seem to have lost motive for this life now. I can't really envisage a bright future.' Panchaali replied softly, clearly looking shaken.

'Of course Sakhi, because suffering ultimately leads to introspection. The pain, when made exoteric, makes people see what led to absolute annihilation. It makes them understand the root of dharma; which is empathy. Tears are connected to the soul. That is why the Sanskrit synonym for 'tears' is Aatmaras. 'Aatma – ras', meaning, the essence of your soul. When it flows, it opens your soul to detoxification. You just need to understand that if the ripened leaves of trees don't fall off; there would be no space left for newer ones to come. Sometimes, the universe makes space for itself! That is what one calls life.' He answered, paying no heed to the forceful wind, which was singing its own song.

'But how can one be happy after seeing that their children and families have been broken, and there is nothing that could mend it?' Asked Panchaali, trying to restrain the flowing tears.

'Life is transient Panchaali. Or you can say everything is. Change is the law of the universe and acceptance is the key! Each person has a purpose for life. Once that is fulfilled, there is no point for the soul being imprisoned within body. It liberates itself, and progresses towards the journey of solace! The eternal truth is soul and not body! The main journey is of the soul, and sub journey is of the body. You ask me to reason this annihilation, Well, it will teach people to respect the dignity of a lady and will clearly depict the difference between need and greed. Usually, that difference is what one calls 'dharma'.' Panchaali's face now seemed to show interest.

Smiling, he continued, 'If you can make peace with the suffering, it heals the pain. Believe me Sakhi. You have to become the beacon light for all these people now. Forgive all your culprits, release yourself of the burden and lead these people to dharma.' Krishna said, gently stroking Panchaali's head.

'So, should I forget all my dear ones and forgive Ashwatthaman's monstrous sins? It's impossible Krishna.' She said, now crying inconsolably.

'Who says so Panchaali? Letting go neither means that whatever happened was okay nor that the culprits should still be welcome in your life. It just means cleansing your soul. Our loved ones should be cherished as memories dear to heart; that make us smile! Not as reminisces of something that makes you feel disgruntled ever after! If something bothers you the most, you have to let it go. Similarly, If something is extremely dear to you, you have to let it go as well!'

'I don't quite understand you, Krishna.' Panchaali shook her head in negation.

Krishna smiled. 'You will, once you will open your soul to the pain of others.'

'Wh…'.Panchaali could not finish, as they had reached the palace, and Krishna had jumped down from the chariot. He helped her down. Panchaali still wished to continue talking, but Krishna plainly turned it down by saying, 'No more questions Sakhi. Destiny will answer everything...!'

Together, they walked towards the stairs of Palace. 'Count them…' he said.

'What? Stairs?' Asked Panchaali, looking bewildered.

'Yes. That will be your first answer, to see that everything was destined to happen and that you and me were never strong enough to change it.' He replied calmly.

'Hundred and six.' Said Panchaali, when she was done climbing them. 'So?' She asked.

'Give a little more attention to the number.' He said and stormed off.

~

An eerie silence had taken over the royal palace. As if the life had been squeezed out and the silent cries of despair had been filled. A sudden chill rose to her spine, as she followed Krishna into Queen Gandhari's Chamber.

She was reminded of flashes from Dyutsabha and the futile attempts of her disrobing. She couldn't evade the ever-present disgust for all who were then silent spectators. Was waging war against the falsified propaganda of Dharma and culture not needed? War never came with promises of peace. It comes only to push us towards musings of life! Panchaali was suddenly startled and was abruptly dragged back to the cold and dimly lit chamber of Queen Gandhari by a shrill voice.

'Welcome, Empress Draupadi! Please let us know if we can be of any help to muse the empresses' heart as then she would bless us; her poor servant-maids! Now that The Kaurava clan has reached annihilation, it would have healed the pains of Empress!' 

Panchaali was flabbergasted. She could hardly react to these harsh puns coming from an otherwise sensible Queen-mother Gandhari.

'Pranam Devi,' said Krishna, bending forward to touch Queen's feet. But it was no usual meet and they were meeting not just to a queen but to a mother, who had lost all her children in the war. Devi Gandhari neither acknowledged Krishna's wishes nor did she allow him to touch her feet. Restraining, she sat on the settee, with legs taken upwards in a padmasana.

Panchaali was shaken. This seemed completely paradoxical to Queen Gandhari's otherwise affectionate attitude towards Krishna. For sure, Queen Gandhari hadn't expected Krishna to accompany her there. Panchaali's heart started beating faster, her sixth sense was clearly pointing towards something horrible.

'Krishna…Vasudev Krishna…!' Queen Gandhari's voice was reaching a horrifically high tone. It seemed as if several war trumpets had started to blow simultaneously. 'You…you could have stopped this, you could have made Pandavas and Panchaali cease to wish for waging a war! You could at least have saved my one son! You deluded my sons and massacred our entire clan! Perhaps you have come to offer your dry condolences, to appease us, to console us! Do you think your masquerade can befool a grieving mother? Do you think your enigmatic yet powerful smile can appease my grief? You have dared to come here and offer us this tomfoolery of words because your family sits there in Dwarka, safe and sound! You think you will get away with this? No Krishna, no! I, Gandhar Kumari Gandhari, a fierce devotee of Lord Shiva, curse you with the power of all my virtues that, 36 years from now, Your clan will also reach annihilation by internal rebellion. Yadavas will self assassinate their world under the influence of alcohol! ! You will not be able to save even a single son of yours just like us! You will also die alone in a dark forest, just like Duryodhana died alone!'

Panchaali was trembling badly, her eyes had widened with a mixture of defiance, fear, disgust, and anger. Queen Gandhari herself was shaking to the roots, but still, her face showed the same mirthless revenge. Bhanumati, Duryodhan's widowed wife, had been curled up in a corner till then. Panchaali hadn't even noticed her. Now that she came forward to support her mother-in-law, Panchaali's horrified stare rested upon her. Her white clothes and undone hairs were adding to her gloomy appearance. For a split second, nobody dared break the silence.

Panchaali glanced at Krishna. To her utter surprise, he was still smiling. 

'Mother, I accept your curse as a blessing!' He said. His stoic calmness irked Panchaali. After all, how dare Devi Gandhari curse him? She just blurted out, 'Devi, I can understand your hatred towards me, but what on the earth makes you blame Krishna? He had tried to explain the repercussions of war earlier too, had he not? He had come here for the peace treaty, what did your sons do then? They tried to imprison him…! Why the hell you didn't try to put your thoughts of wits in your son's head then?'

'Well, you are right Draupadi. Mother should have cursed you in Vasudev Krishna's stead. You are the one who has to be held responsible for this devastation. You are that clandestine destroyer, who for the satisfaction of self-pride, didn't even flinch before vanquishing the entire clan! You are like that stealthy monstrous cat, who forgets her duty as a mother in pain of labor and ends up eating her own kittens! You did disregard your duties as a daughter-in-law towards the family and dare talk to my mother-in-law about righteousness? You should be dying of shame instead!' Bhanumati jeered, her hairs; flying with the strong wind, were making her look intimidating.

Panchaali's eyes flashed with anger and rage. Locking her sight with that of Bhanumati's, she retaliated in a stern voice, 'Fine, blame me! I am not denying the fact that I tried my best and prayed from the bottom of my heart for the war! But tell me dear Bhanumati, when your husband was trying to disrobe your sister-in-law, where was your conscience hiding? When your husband's best friend called your clan's eldest daughter-in-law a whore, why didn't your discretion called upon you to come and resist, to fulfill your duties as a dharmic daughter-in-law? When your husband and his uncle planned for that forlorn game of dice, then why didn't you or your mother-in-law raise an objection?' 

Bhanumati remained rooted to spot as if she had been petrified. Panchaali didn't allow her to interrupt and continued further.

'Bhanumati, a wife's first duty is discerning her husband's intentions and showing him the path of dharma in case his feet waddle. Why do you think a wife stands back? Not because she is incompetent, but because she is stronger! If the husband loses it to life, she has to support, come forward and make him win! Woman is the power of man's self! Did you try to shake up your husband's disposition as to what made him stoop so low and ask his elder brother's wife to come and sit on his lap? You call me a monster, I don't quite understand your logic, but by that, I wonder what you would call your mother-in-law, who didn't open her eyes for her sons even when they needed her the most! She always has let herself and her sons to be surrounded by the darkness of ignorance and the silhouettes of adharma. I feel perplexed to have been solely blamed for the nemesis.'

Bhanumati found it difficult to counter Panchaali. But still, she said in a low tone, 'Pandavas weren't obliged for the game. It was their choice to come and play. Your husbands gambled you away. How can the fault be only at our side?'

'And they paid for it dearly. Correlate this with your husband's stance, Bhanumati. Do a retrospective analysis! Nobody had forced him for war. He was offered a peace treaty, in case you have forgotten. He obstinately rejected and chose upon for war. Walking up on fire and complaining about bruises doesn't really make you look any smarter, does it?' Panchaali tried to reason, without lowering her gaze.

'I tried hard for this war because for me, it was a symbol of war between feminine dignity and the arrogantly blindfolded male ego! You call it a bloodthirsty wish for war; I call it avenging all those ladies who have been suppressed for hundreds of years! It is the perspective that we choose to look upon. I can understand your pain to have lost everything Bhanumati, but you had had your choice, and you chose to stand as a mute spectator. Each choice has a result, so why mourn now, when your karma has hit back?'

Bhanumati's momentary outrage was turned down into silent sobs. She had no courage to counter Panchaali. Looking at her in this condition softened Panchaali's gaze.

'You are handing complete burden to us Draupadi! You yourself hadn't been flawless, neither Pandavas have been noble! You called Duryodhan a blind father's blind son! Was that act any less cruel?' Queen Gandhari kept the battle on, albeit in a very feeble voice.

'I agree! I apologize to you mother, even now! But there was no meticulous planning behind that! It was not a ploy set up to humiliate your son! I could see his eyes getting the deep color of jealousy and greed when he set up his feet in the palace of illusions. I could fathom his wishes to make up for something ugly which would have destroyed all of our fame! Keeping that in mind, it was just the reflex action of my mind, when he fell flat on his face! But how does that explain what he planned later as revenge?'

One can read a person's mind and the inner self through eyes. Panchaali was gifted to be able to read a person's eyes. Queen Gandhari's eyes were hidden behind the cloth-strip, but still, Panchaali could see that her reasoning was thawing Gandhari's anguish.

'But what did you gain out of all this Panchaali?' She asked. 'You lost your all sons, so did we. What is the use of world without them?'

'Still, you think that I am the only one to be blamed?' Asked Panchaali, shaking her head in agitation. 'The rivalry between Kauravas and Pandavas was already there Devi. Even before I entered as a daughter-in-law. This rivalry was created by your brother Shakuni and it was fostered by Angaraj Karna. You or Bhanumati, never tried to mend the gap, then with Dyutsabha it turned into a thunderstorm, as a result of which we got this broken sky as a legacy.

War is like a Fiendfyre Devi. It knows neither dharma nor to choose between beloved or abhorred. It burns down anything that it touches, resulting only into ash! Ash and debris of dreams, love and peace. Neither we can wage war, nor can we conclude it. We never were that powerful! Destiny chose us as the medium and we merely danced to her strings! Karma is the ultimate truth Devi, one has to be wary of its cycle! We all remain now, to try and mend this broken sky. Let's join hands and maybe hearts as well, for this, if we can.' Panchaali's voice broke.

It came to her now that Krishna was right. Looking at Bhanumati and Gandhari, she realized that their pain had no bounds as well. There was no hope to console their pain. Now that she had a chance to rearrange facts, she understood that hundred and six stairs represented 100 Kauravas, 5 Pandavas, and Angaraj Karna! Everything was destined to happen, still, everyone had their choices, had their karma! The ultimate wheel of destiny never actually needed any driver; it kept everyone rolling, including Krishna.

Devi Gandhari had the same feelings. Panchaali's strokes of truth had washed the bitterness that had gathered in her heart. Was she not aware of how poisonous her brother's teachings and doctrines had been? Was she not aware that Duryodhana himself was walking on the path of annihilation? Was she not aware that she should have been firm to teach Duryodhana about Dharma? And Krishna? He was definitely not the one to be cursed! Hadn't he said that those who try and obstruct the path of dharma are punished equally, while she had gone to save her eldest son? And Druapadi? Was she actually to be blamed? And for what? Avenging the truth?

A hot prickly shame ran down Devi Gandhari's spine. She felt that it would have been better, had Krishna also cursed her back. When reality strikes hard, it becomes strenuous for people to even ask for pardon.

'Forgive me, Krishna, forgive me!' Cried Devi Gandhari, trying to bend down and touch Krishna's feet. 'No mother! Krishna helped her stand and wiped her eyes. 'Elder ones should always give away blessings! Besides, you did nothing wrong! Destiny revealed what's there in her store just through you! Remember mother, neither me, nor you, nor Panchaali or Arjun or Karna could have changed this! Duryodhana was ignorant of Dharma and that is where we all had lost it! One can teach an illiterate, but it's impossible to do so for people who ignore their 'self'. There is no medicine to greed or jealousy, nor any cure to the damage that it causes to the soul! The world is comprised of both feminine and masculine! Feminine power lies in the generation of nature. And the one, who cannot respect the feminine, loses the moral right to exist! Whenever we try to double-cross any of these forces, the calamity turns us to ash. There lies a very fine line between ego and pride, need and greed, intention and karma, probability and reality. One has to be wary of it! This war is a lesson to our next generations, to respect the dignity of each relation! We all have a long way ahead, as we have to rise like a phoenix from the ash!'

Krishna's words flowed deep down to Bhanumati's heart like the sweet notes of his flute. They opened her heart towards the truth from which she was constantly running away. Bhanumati's face contorted with pain. There had been nothing actually to complain for! She never had been able to put her thoughts before Duryodhana. But wasn't it true that she herself felt deeply ashamed after he ordered Draupadi's disrobing? She knew that righteousness lay with Pandavas, still the loss of dear one's, had turned her berserk. It somehow had made her discretion to go blind. But she was not going to be remembered as a villain. It took courage to realize the mistake and strength to admit it. So be it! She was not a lady with lame conscience! She turned towards Panchaali and folded her hands as if to seek forgiveness. Panchaali's face immediately grew calm, kind and poised. Bhanumati moved forward and touched her feet. Panchaali held her up and hugged her. There was no need for words now. Usually, tears tell the story more clearly than them.

Bhanumati touched Krishna's feet with choked throat and blurred eyes. Krishna gently touched her head and blessed her. With his touch, she felt as if all her burdens had been released. She felt free and light as the peacock's feather on his crown, which was swaying aesthetically with the slow breeze. Bhanumati stood transfixed for some moments gazing at the feather. Tears rolled down from her eyes, finding their ultimate place at Krishna's feet! Without even bothering to wipe them, she stormed off.

Krishna smiled. This smile would have thawed even Duryodhana's heart, had he been alive!

'Accept the ultimate truth mother, and also the fact that Pandavas need your blessings. Please don't let them be deprived of it. Anyone can hold grudge, but it takes a person of character to forgive. Don't let the history remember you as a lady who backed adharma.' He pleaded, now touching Devi Gandhari's feet.

She nodded. A faint smile occupied her benign and wrinkled face. Panchaali also took blessings from Devi Gandhari and followed Krishna out of the palace.

~

Bhanumati's convoy was leaving for her maternal place, Kalinga. They kept gazing towards it. Panchaali felt lost. A cold and esoteric despondency took over her heart. 'How weird it is Krishna, to see all innocents paying for the sins of delusions fostered by others. Yudhishthira gambled and I had to face humiliation. Duryodhana sinned and Bhanumati lost everything. You helped righteousness win, and have been cursed! Why?' She said, heaving a great sigh.

'Because extraordinary people have to deal with extraordinary pains, Sakhi! You just said that war is like a fiendfyre, but struggle is a purifying fire! When a purified soul is equal in pains with ordinary subjects, it leads to uplifting of all! You cannot lose your fortitude nor can I.'

'Krishna…' Panchaali called. 'I…' Interrupting her he said, 'No Sakhi. That is why I had said that destiny will answer everything. Just remember. Do your Karma. Let destiny decide the rest. The Broken Sky can also get mended; you just have to get the strings of hope, light, and credence!'

Bhanumati's chariot left the palace. For a second, the sky was blurred with dust. Panchaali and Krishna continued walking and stopped on the hundred and sixth step of the staircase, to look at the Sun God bathing the grounds in a golden glow, clearing the sky again. It clearly meant that healing of the broken skies had been started…!



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