The walk felt good to Vasusena. The gardens were beautiful. He was not able to enjoy them the previous day. Much as he loved Suyodhana, his envy of his cousins was something he could not understand. So the Pandavas had turned a barren wasteland to a thriving city. So they had beautiful palaces and gardens. What did it all matter? Hastinapura with all its majesty, tradition and history still belonged to Suyodhana. And anyway, should Suyodhana so desire, Vasusena was prepared to conquer this city and to place it at Suyodhana’s feet. Then why did his friend have to be jealous?
He sighed as he turned his attention to the gardens. They truly were beautiful. The lush green grass covered the area in an emerald carpets. Artificial hillocks and pools could be seen here and there. Shady trees with flowering creepers winding around them flanked the walkway. Clumps of flowering bushes dotted the lawn. Tinkling fountains were placed on hillocks. The flowerbeds were arranged in such a way as to arrest the eye of the beholder with their colours. Trees laden with fruits could also be seen in the garden. The fragrance of flowers and fruits and the sound of the water and the buzzing of bees made him feel at peace.
The walkway split in two, one continuing amongst the lawns and the other going through the hedges. It was cool and shady but the hedges grew tall and thick, blocking all view to what lay beyond. On an impulse, he turned to go that way.
It felt good walking between the hedges. He did not feel claustrophobic as Duhshasana did in such places. He never felt suffocated as long as he could feel the sun’s rays on him. The walkway split again and Vasusena took one of the paths. He was enjoying the walk.
It did not take him long to realize that it was a maze. He chuckled. It was probably meant for the children. But it did not bother him. He just hoped no one will come to break his solitude. It has been a long time since he had had solitude.
He turned a few more corners at random and found he had reached the centre of the maze. It was quite large, he saw. There was a fountain in its middle and a few seats. There were also a few flowering plants and trees. He sat down on one of the seats, determined to enjoy the solitude to the most.
He heard a noise like the laughter of a child and groaned inwardly. He wondered if he should leave. But before he could leave, Krishna was there, a child tagging along.
Krishna stopped short on seeing him, but did not seem surprised. He smiled at Vasusena and walked to him.
“Mind if I sit down?”
Vasusena looked at Krishna in surprise. “Of course.” Said he. “Why ask me?”
Krishna sat down next to him. The child looked at him in curiosity. Then he turned and leaned over to whisper something in Krishna’s ear. Krishna nodded. The child ran off.
“He wanted to go find his brothers,” said Krishna.
“I did not ask,” said Vasusena.
“I wanted to tell,” was Krishna’s response.
Vasusena studied the man. He had never had a chance to talk to him or to meet him. He had seen him at the Swayamvara of Drupada’s daughter. And then later at Hastinapura, though that was a brief visit. He knew of his intimacy with the Pandavas. But curiously, he felt no enmity for this man.
“I’m flattered,” Krishna murmured.
Vasusena stared at him, not understanding.
“That you don’t feel enmity for me,” Krishna clarified.
Vasusena was startled. “How do you know that?”
Krishna smiled. “Your thoughts reflect on your face. Your eyes are also very expressive.”
Vasusena could not believe that. “You are the first one to tell me so.”
“I am the first one to attempt to read your inexpressive expressions.”
Vasusena chuckled. “I’ve heard stories of you. It seems they are not exaggerated.”
“Do not believe everything you hear.”
“I don’t as a rule. But there are exceptions.”
“Once again I’m flattered.”
“A man who’s flattered by truth. Now, that’s a rare thing.”
“But truth is a rare commodity these days,” responded Krishna. “How can one not be flattered when someone is truthful to one?”
“It’s not that rare a commodity,” said Vasusena.
“Ah, but I have seen more lies than most,” said Krishna. “My life itself was a kind of lie. Lies kept me alive. So I am flattered by truth more than lies.”
Vasusena did not know what to say in response.
They were silent for a while.
Then Krishna spoke, “I hope you have been looked after well. Is the palace to your liking? Are the servants and other attendants attentive enough?”
“Yes,” said Vasusena. “But why do you care so much? You are not my host.”
“But they are my cousins. And my friends.”
“They are lucky,” said Vasusena, feeling a twinge of envy.
“Luck?” said Krishna. “You think what you see around you is the result of luck? Have you any idea of the effort involved in building a place like this? Of turning a barren wilderness into a city?” he paused. “You think them lucky? They were born in a forest who should have been born in a palace. They were poisoned, attempted to be burned alive and finally all but exiled into this place. You call that luck?”
“They certainly have a loyal friend in you,” said Vasusena. “And I don’t have to sit here and listen to you malign Suyodhana.”
“I wasn’t maligning anyone,” said Krishna. “I was simply saying what some people may call luck is often the result of a lot of hard work and sacrifice. And it’s quite unfortunate that when I attempt to explain that, I am held to be maligning others!”
Vasusena flushed a little. “I’m sorry,” said he, a bit stiffly.
“Why are you so touchy?” Krishna asked.
He shrugged. “Comes of having to bear insults at almost all gatherings, I suppose.”
Krishna shook his head. “Why do you consider them insults? I am called cowherd and coward by many. Have you ever seen me bristle at that?”
“Not everyone has your fortitude.” Said Vasusena, still stiffly.
Krishna sighed and rose as the unmistakable noise of a group of children’s laughter came closer.
“My nephews are coming. They are more destructive than a storm. I would advise you to leave before they come.”
If not for the mischievous twinkle in Krishna’s eyes, Vasusena might never have believed the man was joking.
But he had no desire to meet the sons of his enemies. He rose. “I think I’ll take your advice.”
He heard Krishna’s soft laugh follow him as he exited the maze.