Book One: The Fire Does Not Consume
Arjuna rushed into the tent. Draupadi looked up. She did not know what made her come there that day. Some sixth sense had drawn her thither.
She had come to learn that Vasusena and Arjuna were battling. Yudhistira had told her about his defeat at Vasusena’s hands.
“He did not even injure you seriously?” She had been surprised.
Yudhistira had frowned. “It really is strange, now that you mention it,” said he.
They had waited in the tent, waiting for some news from the battlefield. The sun went down and yet, no messenger came with any news.
Draupadi felt an overwhelming sense of relief at seeing Arjuna. Her husband was safe!
Yudhistira too jumped up as he saw Arjuna.
“He is dead,” said Arjuna. “Suyodhana’s staunchest ally, our bitterest enemy, my greatest rival is dead. Vasusena is dead.”
Yudhistira laughed, a laugh of joy and relief. “Now we’ve won!” He was exultant. “Now we have won the war!”
He went to Arjuna. “Take me to him, Arjuna! I want to see it!”
Arjuna nodded, smiling. Then it was that he noticed her.
But it was Bheema who asked her, “Aren’t you coming?”
She nodded. She too had to see it. For she too would not believe it till she saw it.
The chariot reached the battlefield. Though the sun had set, there was still enough light to see him.
He lay by the side of his chariot which seemed to lay on its side. As they reached nearer, it was evident that one of its wheels was mired in the mud. The position of Vasusena’s body seemed to indicate that he was attempting to raise that wheel when he met his end.
His severed head lay near his feet, the arrow that severed it lay broken near to his head. It seemed to Draupadi that there was still a smile on his face.
She remembered him as she had seen him for the first time, brilliant as the sun. She remembered the tenderness and the smile in his grey eyes.
She looked into those very eyes now, but there was no life in them, and she could not recognize their colour or their expression.
She had a sudden impulse to bend down and close those staring eyes.
She turned away, unable to stand the accusation she imagined in those eyes.
She was aware of Krishna standing by her side.
“You should be happy,” said he softly. “Your husband is safe.”
“If my husband had been on the ground and his enemy on the chariot, my husband would still have been alive,” said she.
She could not help saying it. Vasusena’s death did not bother her as much as the manner of it.
Krishna nodded. “True. He was an honourable warrior.”
“Then why did he have to die like this?”
“Because there was no other way,” said Krishna simply.
He turned to the Pandavas. “Let us go back,”
They rode back in deafening silence.