“Mother, what’s the matter?” Asked Sahadeva concerned.
Kunti shook her head but did not speak. She blinked back her tears. She deserved those words, but Krishna of all people should know that she loved her son. Her circumstances prevented her from acknowledging him, but that did not mean she did not care.
“Then why did you never reveal the truth to him before?” Krishna’s voice spoke to her heart. “Why did you not tell him the truth any time in all the years you have known him? Because he was never directly a threat to your sons’ life before?”
She had no answer. The voice was remorseless. It asked again, “And if you care for him, why do you still hesitate to tell the truth to your sons?”
She glanced up to look at Krishna, beseechingly. Krishna’s face was devoid of expression. Her sons looked bewildered. They did not hear Krishna’s questions. Those were meant only for her.
“Krishna,” said Bheema complainingly. “You have caused mother pain.”
“And what did I say to her that should have caused her pain?” Responded Krishna.
“Nothing,” said Arjuna, sounding bewildered. “You only said mother’s concern for Vasusena was misplaced. Why do you feel so bad about it, mother?”
“Whatever he said,” said Yudhistira. “It has upset mother. I too agree that it should not have. But it did.”
“I apologize, aunt,” said Krishna. “It was not my intention to cause you pain. I was simply pointing out to you the futility of your concern.”
He rose. “I shall bring him inside, if that will relieve your concerns,”
Kunti rose and intercepted him.
“I heard what you said to my heart too,” said she in a low voice.
“You know aunt,” said Krishna, speaking in an undertone too. “I really do not see any purpose in continuing this conversation. I admit I have some affection for Vasusena, but that is nothing compared to the love I bear for your other sons.” He paused. “And yet, there are times when I feel ashamed of my act in revealing the truth to him at that time.” He looked into her eyes. “You are his mother and you claim you love him as much as you do your other sons. How do you sleep at night?”
“I have no answers,” she whispered. “But I love him.”
“Again you say that,” said he sighing. “But you don’t need to worry, aunt. Your sons shall never know from me. I am still bound by the promise I gave to Vasusena. And as long as that word binds me, I shall be silent. But if it so happens that someday you lay awake at night, please try to think of what your selfishness has cost all six of your sons.”
She stood still as he bowed to her and went to the door, opened it and went out, closing it softly behind him.
Vasusena looked up as the door opened and Krishna stepped out. The expression on Krishna’s face was forbidding. But it changed as he saw the patch of grass on the floor.
“Who was here?” He asked, curious.
Vasusena raised his eyebrows at the curiosity. “Arjuna’s father,” said he.
It was Krishna’s turn to lift his eyebrow.
“Arjuna’s father? King of the Devas? What did he want?”
Vasusena shrugged. He could not understand this sudden onrush of affection from those who had never spared a thought for him. All relatives of Pandavas, be it their mother, cousin or deva father, seemed suddenly eager to claim him as part of the family. And yet, none of them had ever given a damn for him.
Krishna sat down next to him. “When have you given a damn for any of us?”
“I am not the one running after you begging to be acknowledged as part of your family.”
“And you never will, I think,” said Krishna softly. “You shall never open your heart to us either.”
Vasusena looked away. “It is not so easy for me to open my heart to those who had ever hated me.”
“You are denying them a chance to change their mind and yet you accuse them of this?”
“Why do I have to reveal the truth in order to change their mind? There’s no longer going to be a war. Then why can’t they set aside their enmity for me?”
“They might, in time. But I do not want any more situations like in the past.”
“Suyodhana accepted me when I was no one. And you say my own brothers can’t accept me unless I reveal the truth.” He paused. “I refuse to reveal the truth. I don’t want them to change their minds. Let them hug their enmity close to their hearts. It is of no moment to me.”
“Your brothers are of no moment to you? Your mother is of no moment to you?”
“She’s not my mother. And no, none of them is of any moment to me.” He tried to pretend that the pang he felt as he spoke was his imagination.
“Neither your denial nor your hatred is going to change the truth.” Krishna paused. “Vasusena, I accept that you are angry with her. But it is not she alone who is going to suffer! Her sons are losing the love and care of their older brother that is their due! Their wives are losing the protection of an older brother! Their sons are losing the caring and affection of their uncle!”
“The way I heard it, their sons never even got the affection of their fathers,” Vasusena said drily.
“All the more reason for them to have yours.”
“Krishna,” said Vasusena said with a sigh, “If you were so concerned, then why did you not tell me the truth earlier? When was the first time we met? After the Pandavas’ marriage to Draupadi, was it not? Why didn’t you tell me then? You might say anything you wish, but I am not going to believe your action was actuated by concern for me!”
Krishna gripped his shoulders and stared intently into his eyes. “Listen, Vasusena. I do not claim my action was unselfish. I was motivated by my concern for them, I admit. But it was not my secret to reveal. And had the situation not been dire, I would not have revealed it even then.”
Vasusena wrenched himself free of Krishna’s grip. “The situation is no longer dire. I am no longer a threat to your friends’ lives. It was not your secret, I accept that. Yet, you chose to reveal it based on your assessment of the level of risk to your friends. But that risk always existed Krishna! You, of all people know that! Yet, you chose to be silent saying it is not your secret!” He shook his head. “You make me sick.”
Krishna’s face paled but he did not flinch. “I am trying to make amends.”
“That is not in your power,” Vasusena sighed. “Go inside Krishna. Go to your friends. I wish to be alone.”
Krishna’s eyes were unreadable as they gazed into Vasusena’s. Krishna raised his hands and cupped Vasusena’s face. “You have no idea what all is in my power! Though by now, you should be having an idea!” His voice was fierce.
He released Vasusena’s face and rose. “Enjoy your solitude cousin. I know a lost cause when I see one.”
Krishna walked inside. The day seemed even darker to Vasusena.
Kunti stood rooted to the spot. She was not aware of Draupadi and Subhadra leading her to a couch and sitting her on it. Bheema had gone to the kitchen to get some water which she drank mechanically.
“What happened, mother?” Yudhistira’s voice was full of concern. He was chafing her hand and she noticed that Arjuna was chafing her other hand.
“Nothing, son,” her voice sounded faint even to her.
“Then why were you trembling?” Asked Nakula. His voice, verging on panic brought her to her senses. She needed to control herself. That or tell the truth, to tell Yudhistira to step aside for Vasusena who abhorred them all.
She knew it was due to her silence that Vasusena was now their enemy. And yet, was it? Hadn’t he entered the arena as a challenger to Arjuna? How could her revealing the truth have been beneficial to anyone then?
Even if she had told Yudhistira or Vasusena or both in secret, would it really have made any difference? Most probably, they both would have chafed at her for not openly revealing it. A secret relationship was akin to a shameful relationship. How could she have subjected herself or her sons to that?
Besides, shouldn’t her sons and Vasusena be putting the past behind them? No war threatened them now. If everyone would try, enmities might be forgotten.
Well, thought she, telling Vasusena in secret had not helped at all. He clutched the secret to his heart and resented those who told him. The secret festered in his heart though there was nothing that stopped him from revealing it.
Why couldn’t he reveal it, thought she in desperation. Could he not understand her helplessness? He was her first born. He had the right to reveal the truth if he so wished. No one has enjoined him to keep it secret! It was his wish! Then why could he not reveal it and save her from this agony?
The door opened and Krishna came in. His expression was serene. He was also alone.
“Shall I serve lunch?” The voice broke into his thoughts. Vasusena looked at the smiling youth and smiled back.
“Had the others had their lunch?”
“They are having. The old lady asked you to join them.”
Vasusena nodded. He could hardly reject the invitation without seeming boorish and childish. He would join them. He could put up a polite mask and pretend too.
The only empty seat was next to Bheema and he took it. It was directly opposite Arjuna which did not help matters either.
“How is Padmavathy?” Asked Krishna, breaking the silence.
“She is well.”
“And her uncle and aunt?”
“Her uncle and aunt and grandparents are all very well, thank you,” said he with elaborate politeness.
“Now that there’s not going to be a war,” said Krishna. “There’s no reason for you to go back in such haste. You could go back to your wife.”
Vasusena looked at Krishna, wondering what he was trying to do now. It was true that nothing urgent awaited him back in Kurukshetra. It was equally true that his wife would be happy to have his company for this week. And he too wanted to be with her. He could send a message to Suyodhana. He would understand. But what was Krishna’s stake in this?
He concentrated on his plate. The food was good. He was probably imputing to Krishna, motives that did not exist.
The boy brought some meat which he declined automatically. He wondered if his vow had any meaning since there was not going to be a war. But he was used to abstaining from meat and wine now. And he felt no particular temptation to start again.
Padmavathy’s uncle had grumbled for an entire day about his oath. He had spoken bitterly about young Sutas who imagined themselves to be Kshatriyas and made vows. A sudden nostalgia assailed Vasusena.
He would go back, he decided. He would go to Padmavathy and would stay with her till the end of the week. He could send word to Suyodhana and to Vrishasena.
“You don’t eat meat?” Bheema asked now.
The question surprised him. But he answered civilly enough. “Not now.”
“Why not?” Asked Arjuna. “Since the war had been stopped, I should think your oath should be void by itself.”
“I am used to this by now,” replied Vasusena, not really surprised that Arjuna knew of his oath. But in that moment, he was really grateful that the Pandavas did not know he was their brother.