The palace of Hastinapura was glinting in the sun, though the glint did not affect the people gathered in its courtyard. The pavilion that was erected kept the sun from the assembled crowd, and the royal pavilion was shady enough for the newly crowned King and Queen of Hastinapura. Dhritarashtra sat erect on the throne, his sightless eyes staring ahead, his queen Gandhari, her eyes tied with a piece of opaque black silk at his left. Behind him stood Vidura, stony faced, looking straight ahead. Bheeshma sat to one side, sitting straight, though the lines on his face looked more pronounced. Kripa, the newly appointed Rajaguru sat on the right hand side of the King. His red robes, matted hair and long beard made his age difficult to determine, though it was rumoured he was the same age as the former monarch Vichitravirya. Kripa looked serene, though his gaze darted to Vidura ever so often, and sometimes to the crowd. A faint pity registered on his eyes as they went to the blind couple.
The coronation over, the various visiting royalty from in and around Aryavarta came to the royal couple with their gifts, which the attendants accepted and kept aside in the place designated for it. The King of Madra was conspicuous by his absence and the King of Gandhara was represented by his son, Sakuni who embraced Dhritarashtra warmly. Gandhari smiled at her brother, and gripped his hand tight. Vidura bowed to him, and the bow was returned politely. The Kings were all led away by attendants to the quarters assigned to them in the palace where they were to rest and refresh themselves before starting for their respective Kingdoms. Once the Kings had gone to their quarters, it was time for the new King to go down to make gifts to the Brahmanas. Dhritarashtra was helped by Vidura, and Gandhari by a dasi.
Vidura’s face was impassive as he led the King to the area designated for granting of presents. He narrated in a monotonous voice the details of gifts that were kept to be handed over to the Brahmanas as they came forward. Slowly, the pavilion emptied, and the King and the Queen made their way back into the palace. Vidura led the King into the Sabha, gestured to an attendant to take his place behind the King, and took his own seat as Prime Minister. Bheeshma gave him a furtive glance, but Vidura stared straight ahead, and paid no attention to the goings on in the sabha, leaving the King to his devices. He answered questions only when asked and sat in brooding silence the rest of the time. Since he had been almost the same during Pandu’s reign, no one noticed anything amiss except the eagle eyes of Bheeshma which had lost none of their sharpness due to age. He spoke often, making suggestions and recommending course of actions, which the King followed meekly. At one point, Vidura gave a contemptuous glance to the Senapati, which Bheeshma missed, being engrossed in telling the King how to pass judgement over a dispute.
Vidura sat still till the sabha was concluded, then rose as the King was led out, waited till the sabha was empty before going briskly through one of the corridors that led to the stables. He barked an order to the grooms who saddled a horse and brought it to him. He mounted it and rode off, curtly declining the groom’s offer to accompany him. The groom shrugged. The Mahamatya was a Sudra after all. One couldn’t expect him to behave like the Kshatriyas.
Vidura soon crossed the city gates, the guards standing to attention when he passed, and wondering where he was going, though they dared not even discuss it among themselves. The Mahamatya appeared to be in a hurry, and if his mood was anything like the look on his face when there was some delay in opening the gates, they did not want to risk his spies finding out they were gossipping about him. They could not help wonder where he was going to, in such a hurry, but dared not ask.
Having left Hastinapura behind, Vidura slowed down, and made his way to the forests. He carefully guided his horse through the grassy paths, that still bore the indents of the wheels belonging to the many chariots that had passed not too long ago. The grass had grown back at many places, but at others, patches of dead grass could be seen bearing the mark of hunting chariots and horses’ hooves. Once he entered the woods, however, the paths were all overgrown, and no tracks could be seen. But Vidura made his certain way across the forest, to reach a small clearing. There he dismounted, and looked around, and then went into the woods in a northerly direction, leading his horse. Soon, he reached what appeared to be the hunting camp of a King. There was the large hut and smaller huts scattered on the periphery. A couple of dasis were preparing food while some dasas were bringing wood. They all stopped what they were doing as they saw Vidura. Vidura made an imperious gesture to one of the dasas and he came running to take the horse. With a look of grim determination, Vidura went into the large hut.
Pandu was reclining on a comfortable couch within, his head on Madri’s lap. Kunti sat next to one of the windows, looking out, boredom and indifference evident in every line of her body. Vidura’s eyes lingered on her even as he greeted his brother.
“Vidura!” Pandu sat up, flustered and angry. He opened his mouth and then shut it as if he remembered that he no longer was King and that there were no longer any heralds to announce others. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to bring you the good news, of course,” said Vidura, now carefully avoiding looking at Kunti. “Your elder brother had been coronated King of Hastinapura in your stead.”
“He should have been the King in the first place.” Said Pandu heavily.
“Yes,” agreed Vidura. “But uncle deemed him unfit because he was blind.”
“He was only partially blind then,” said Pandu. “And that Vaidya seemed to be doing him some good. He could once recognize the colour of my uttariya. What happened to that Vaidya anyway?”
“Uncle sent him away since he felt that he wasn’t helping, and was only giving your brother false hope.”
“I guess uncle knows best,” shrugged Pandu. “Perhaps I was wrong.”
“Perhaps,” said Vidura.
“Anyway, now that he’s King, he could send for that Vaidya again.”
“It won’t do any good now. The Vaidya had said that the treatment cannot be done once sight is completely lost. There is no hope now of Dhritarashtra ever regaining his sight.”
There was silence in the room for a moment. Then Vidura spoke, “It was uncle, wasn’t it, who compelled you to give up the throne?”
Pandu nodded. “He said that the slayer of a sage cannot be a King.”
“And do you agree with him?” The dasis laid some refreshments on the small table in front of them. But both men ignored it.
“I know he’s wise, and he probably believed he was right,” said Pandu. “But no, I don’t agree. Kindama deserved to die. If a man must behave like a beast, then he must be prepared to be hunted down like one too. He was mating with deers, I see no reason why I should’ve spared his life when I wouldn’t have spared the deers.”
“Can I spend the night here?” Asked Vidura.
Pandu nodded. “You can sleep in one of the smaller huts.” He gave Vidura a curious glance, then said. “Does it rankle, that you were overlooked once again?”
“No,” said Vidura. “I’ve come to terms with reality. One such as I can never aspire to the throne of Hastinapura.”
His eyes went to Kunti as he spoke and he saw the hatred blazing in her eyes. His own remained impassive.