Sakuni sat near his sister, fuming internally, but calm outside. It had only been a week since the sage had deigned to allow him and the King to visit. Gandhari had given birth to eight babies, the sage had told them. The strain of the pregnancy was what caused the queen to nearly miscarry. The sage’s timely intervention had saved the children. The King and Sakuni could be at ease now. But no visitors were to be permitted till the children were ready to be taken out of the special jars where the sage had placed them. They were far too premature and would have died if not for those jars.
Those jars were a marvel. Sakuni had never seen or heard of anything like it. They were shaped like small cradles and the sage had told them that it replicated the conditions of a woman’s womb as closely as possible, and that the children would be receiving nutrients through the tubes protruding from the lids of the jars. Suka had tried explaining the details, but Sakuni was not able to follow half of it. There was no doubt that Suka was a very clever person. The cradles were his design as was the medicine that had saved the queen’s life. But Suka freely admitted that his father was the one who came up with how to feed the babies through those tubes, without which they would not have survived anyway.
Dhritarashtra was overjoyed at hearing he had eight children. And he had also developed a spine to stand up to his uncle and put his foot down on his proposed second marriage. He was not taking any more wives. If the succession could not be safe with eight heirs, then it could never be safe. He’d also listened to Sakuni’s advice to make Kanika a minister in the teeth of protests from both Vidura and Bheeshma. Sakuni just hoped that his brother-in-law would continue to have his own thoughts. Bheeshma and Vidura had held him on a leash long enough. He was not an incompetent man. He was an efficient administrator, and his blindness did not impede him in any way. Sakuni admired his brother-in-law, but had been frustrated by his submitting to the will of his uncle at every turn. He always disliked conflict and took the path of least resistance, but it appeared to have changed now. Perhaps it was the realization that he was a father now, and needed to learn to stand up for himself and be a role model to his children. Whatever the reasons, Sakuni was happy enough with the change.
The news of the childbirth was still not announced officially. None outside the royal family and the maids that attended Gandhari knew it. The maids were not allowed to go to their houses since Gandhari’s collapse. Their families were informed that they were needed by the queen. That information was given at Sakuni’s insistence. The Kings of Hastinapura had never deemed it necessary to trouble themselves with the families of their servants. It disgusted Sakuni, the lack of consideration given to the lower strata.
Sakuni touched his sister’s head. She was asleep, exhaustion evident in her features. She had lost some weight and there were lines of pain on her face that had not been there before. Sakuni had no doubt that all that was brought about by the near-miscarriage. Fortunately, it was all behind her. But it still angered him. There was a royal physician, and he had not even realized that the queen was in imminent danger. She’d already miscarried once, they should have been prepared for the possibility that it could happen again. And how did the physician not know that she was weakened and that the strain of carrying eight babies might cause a collapse? He should have advised her to rest. Perhaps all this could have been avoided then.
“Prince Sakuni,” Suka sounded respectful.
“Sage Suka,” Sakuni half rose and sat down again, his hands absent mindedly stroking his sister’s hair. He avoided looking at the piece of cloth that was tied over her eyes. He felt red hot rage boil inside him every time he saw that, and hence he avoided looking at his sister these days, even when they conversed. Fortunately, she was not aware that his eyes were elsewhere due to her adopted blindness.
“News has come from the forest that the former queen Kunti had been delivered of twin sons.” The sage said calmly. “My father enjoined me to bring you the news.”
“Thank you,” Sakuni said. “But I wonder why. I hardly know Pandu or his wife.”
“You don’t care much for the Kurus, do you?”
“What gave you that impression?” Sakuni asked, neither denying nor confirming the sage’s observation.
“You love your sister. You must resent them for binding her to a blind man for life.”
Sakuni made a face. “I don’t resent them for that. Truly, I don’t. But I do wish they had tried to talk her out of that blindfold. They… they just accepted it. No one ever tried to talk her out of it.”
“You think she did it out of pique?”
“I know she did it out of pique. She was probably expecting someone to talk her out of it. But… well, the Kurus didn’t know her, and having once taken the blindfold, she could not put it aside either for the sake of her pride if nothing else.”
“Her husband did not try to talk her out of it either.”
“He’s a very biddable person. And he used to accept everything his uncle told him. He seemed to have changed of late. I just hope the change is permanent.”
Sakuni did not know why he was telling Suka all this, but it had festered in him for long, and it felt good to let it all out.
“The King is learning to have faith in himself.” The sage said. “And as for the queen’s blindfold, I think that it is too late now. And I no longer think she’s troubled by pique or pride.”
“You mean she’s used to it now.”
“I mean, now she keeps it on for the reason she proferred at the time of tying it for the first time. Because she truly wishes to share her husband’s darkness.”
Sakuni snorted. “Fat lot of good it does either of them. She should have been his eyes. That would have helped him. But sharing his darkness?” He shook his head. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”
“You may not agree with her reasons, but you have to respect it.”
“I do. I really do. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it, And it doesn’t mean I think the Kurus were right in allowing her to do that. She was a child. They should have told her not to do it.”
“It was not they who asked her to do it.”
“She was very young, no better than a child! They should have known better.”
Suka smiled and shook his head. “You’re determined to be obdurate, Prince of Gandhara. Sometimes, it is a good quality, but not always. Notwithstanding your feelings for the Kurus, they are your sister’s family, and you would do well to remember that.”
“I’m not going to destroy her family. And who appointed you as the protector of the Kurus anyway?”
“I think the Kurus are perfectly capable of protecting themselves. I take a hand only when necessary, like now.”
Sakuni drew a deep breath. “Thank you for that,” he said. “You saved my sister’s children.”
“They’re my brother’s children too,” Suka said softly. “Though they might not be so in the eyes of law.”
Sakuni snorted again. “So, you’re not above fraternal feelings.”
Suka shook his head, smiling. “Detachment is a long journey. I don’t think I’m there yet.”
“Good for my sister.” Sakuni said, looking at the still sleeping form of his sister. He heard the sage leave, closing the door softly behind him.