A flashback

Pandu, the King, nay the Emperor of Bharatas surveyed his domain in the moonlight. A thatched hut, barely adequate to keep out the elements; a few scraggly vegetable plants and herbs; some scrawny cattle. That was the sum total of his Kingdom and his possessions. And the three human beings currently asleep inside the hut were all the subjects he had.

Sometimes, Pandu wondered if his life before the forest had been a dream- a delusion. Had he really been a Prince? Pampered son, nephew, grandson, brother? The Pride of his clan? Beloved of his people? Surely that Pandu was someone else. It could not have been him.

His grandmother was obsessed with continuance of their line. From his early childhood, Pandu could remember her disproportionate fear if he or his brother caught so much as a cold. If not for his uncle’s firm yet loving hand, Pandu and his brother might have grown up without ever having set foot outside the palace. His uncle was concerned about the succession, but he was not obsessed with it.

Pandu had been told that his own father had died childless, endangering their line and he and his brother were the result of Niyog. His grandmother had told him the story so often that Pandu had felt like screaming. She had told him how his mother and aunt had agreed to Niyog, though it was repugnant to them. “It was their duty,” she had told him. “And they knew it.”

From childhood Pandu knew that his duty was not just to be a Prince, but to produce heirs to ensure continuance of the line. Being blind, his brother was spared all those lectures on duty and succession. But Pandu was not so lucky.

But though he wasn’t happy about the constant harping on the importance of having heirs, he knew better than to show it. Self-control and discipline were among the first lessons his uncle had taught him.

When he had won Pritha’s hand in the Swayamvar, he had felt more relieved than happy. He would finally be able to fulfill his obligations to Hastinapur by giving it an heir. But- his fists clenched as he thought of the fiasco that was his marriage night. At the time, he was angry with Pritha, blaming her for his inability. He now felt ashamed when he thought of it.

He had not gone to her after that night. But no matter how hard they tried to keep it a secret, the servants and the spies took the news to his uncle. What conclusions uncle Bhishma drew, he did not know. But a month after, his uncle had got him married to the sister of the Madra King.

Pandu had not objected. He was in fact eager. Eager to prove that what happened was Pritha’s fault. Eager to inflict what pain he could on her by taking another wife just a month after his marriage to her.

The only thing his second marriage proved was that Pritha was blameless. If there was a problem, it was his and his alone.

His wives were patient and understanding, neither uttering even a sound of reproach. But their attitude only made him feel worse, not better. No one spoke a word, but he felt the crushing weight of their expectations. The bards sang his praises, the citizens extolled his greatness and all it served was to remind him of what an utter failure he was.

He had left on a Dig Vijaya. It was an escape, he knew, but he did not want to be in the palace anymore. He did not want to be in the proximity of the two women who had chosen to share their lives with him and to whom he had been unable to give anything. He did not want to wait for the inevitable question of when he was going to give an heir to his Kingdom. He did not want anyone to know that he was unable to do what even a mindless beast was able to.

So he had gone to war. And he had vented all his anger, all his frustration in the battlefield. He had been ruthless, trampling his enemies to dust. He was not satisfied with defeating; he had to destroy.

If he closed his eyes, he could still remember the battlefields; he could hear the trumpet of elephants, the neighing of horses, the clanging of swords, the twanging of bowstrings, the whoosh of the arrows and spears. He could feel the smell of blood intermingled with that of sweat, metal and the excrements of men and beasts. He could see the carrion birds circling high above, waiting for the day’s battle to end.

And at the end of that day’s battle, he had come upon one of his soldiers, retching by the side of a tent. He was a young man and it was evident that it was his first campaign.

The young man had been embarrassed by his weakness and had mumbled an apology. But Pandu was staring at where the soldier had emptied the contents of his stomach on to the grass.

He had done the same on his first campaign. He had never imagined that a battlefield could be a place of such brutality, where men turned into killing machines, where life had no sanctity, no value. His uncle had placed a hand on his shoulder and told him. “Do not be ashamed of the horror you feel. It is not your weakness, but your strength. We are Kshatriyas and we cannot shun warfare. But the day we lose our compassion for those we kill, the day we stop being horrified at the brutality of our acts, that day we lose our humanity and Dharma as well.”

Pandu had looked around him with sightless eyes. What had he been reduced to! What monster it was he had become!

And he had returned, smiling outwards, but chagrined inside. All the wealth he had conquered, he had placed at his brother’s feet. His brother who should have been King if he had not been born blind; his brother who would have been a better ruler, who would not have reveled in the fearful screams of his enemies.

The decision to leave the palace for the forest had been taken on that day. And Pandu had no regrets. None whatsoever. His wives had chosen to accompany him and he had not stopped them. His presence was all they desired. And God knew that there was nothing else he could give them anyway.

They had fought against the elements, against the bare earth, against hunger, against disease. And yet, he had not regretted. The hardships did not weaken, but only strengthened him. Hunger had brought him the peace life in the palace had not. Building a hut with his own hands had fulfilled him more than defeating an enemy ever did.

But the unspoken sorrow was there. He was childless; he was destined to live and die childless. Hastinapur would have no heir of his to sit on her throne someday. His children would exist only in his mind.

It was then the idea came to him. Niyog. It had been the salvation of the Kurus once. It would be his salvation as well.

Gratitude welled inside him at the thought of Pritha. He had seen her eyes as he had told her about it. He had seen it was repulsive to her. But she had agreed to it. For his sake. For the sake of Hastinapur.

And Yudhishtir had been born. His Yudhishtir; Hastinapur’s Yudhishtir; for he was to rule over the throne of Aryavarta someday. He was to be emperor.

“My son,” Pandu whispered, relishing the words and their sound; reveling in the feelings they evoked. “My son, Yudhishtir.”

He looked at the sky. The moon was full and bright that night. Just like his life. Full and bright with the birth of Yudhishtir.

He would train his son to be the greatest of his dynasty. For Yudhishtir was the son he never hoped to have. He was the fulfillment of all Pandu’s dreams. A son to carry on his name and his line; a son to rescue him from the hell destined for the childless; a son who would be his legacy to his empire.

One son, thought he as a sliver of fear suddenly pierced his heart. One son only. One would not be enough. How can the fate of Aryavarta and the Kurus be trusted to one? The continuance of Bharata’s line had to be ensured. At least one more should be there.

He looked at the hut. Pritha had understood when he had told her. She always did. Once Yudhishtir was old enough to be weaned from his mother’s breast, they would go to Sage Vayu of the Maruts.

Inside the hut, Pritha, the daughter of Kuntibhoja, the wife of Emperor Pandu, the queen of Hastinapur slept on, her arms around her infant son.

The moon rays filtered down the hut’s roof to shine on the sleeping face of the future emperor of Aryavarta.

Note: This is a piece I wrote for a group project of writing the Mahabharata without magic or miracles. I had to leave the project, but wanted to post my work somewhere so that people can read them.

Disclaimer: I have great respect for the Mahabharata and all its characters. If anyone feels otherwise, I apologize in advance.

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