Thirty Four

Pandu sat in front of his hut watching his sons. They had taken their first steps a week back, and now it was as if they could not stop exploring every angula of the compound. The dasis were always with them, but at a discreet distance. A few falls or scraped knees were not going to hurt two Kshatriya Princes, and the dasis were there there to ensure nothing more serious happened. Pandu could feel his heart swell with pride as he watched them. Bheema had started walking a day or so earlier than Yudhistira, and even now when Yudhistira was no longer small and sickly, Bheema was still the larger and sturdier child. Yudhistira was also quieter than Bheema. Though their speech was not intelligible as yet, Bheema could not stop chattering away in that language of all children. The sages had assured him that both children were growing and developing as they should, and there was no cause for concern.

Speaking of sages, a frown appeared on Pandu’s face as he thought of the group that were his guests now. They were a group of sages dedicated to the study of medicines, and when they first came three days ago, Pandu was happy and honoured. It was hard to find physicians in the forest, and though most sages had a basic knowledge of medicine, it was good to have expert opinion on his sons’ growth and development. But then one of the younger sages had started paying too much attention to Madri, and Pandu had seen the look on his eyes, and it was all he could do to stop himself from hitting the man. Madri was his wife still, and he did not like it that a sage’s roving eye should fall on her.

He rose from where he sat. He would go find Madri. He should warn her about the man. She was such an innocent. Of course, the sages would be gone in another week which was why Pandu had done nothing so far. But he could warn his wife. He sometimes wished Madri had been more like Kunti, though he loved her innocence and her complete unawaredness of what the real world was like. Kunti would need no warning against men. She was intelligent enough to know and to steer clear of such men. Just as she had been intelligent enough to agree to Niyoga. Pandu knew Madri would have been horrified had he asked it of her, but Kunti was practical. Besides, Pandu was not certain how he would have liked it to have another man touch Madri. She was his, all his. Kunti had always been her own person, and it had made him uncomfortable even in the early days of their marriage.

The only regret Pandu had was in following the accepted practices to have Vidura father his children. Though brothers, Vidura and he had never seen eye to eye, and their relation was not made easier by the birth of the children. Though the rules of Niyoga explicitly stated that the man who fathered the children had no claim on them, Vidura was ignoring those, visiting so often that Pandu wondered if the Pradhanamantrin no longer had any duties in Hastinapura. He could not like it, and he did not know why Kunti encouraged him. Vidura had been throwing subtle hints his way to make him return to the palace, and claim the throne for Yudhistira, but Pandu was certain that he did not want a life in palace for his son. All the intrigues, spying, and politics was not what he wanted for his children. The only reason he had gone for Niyoga was because he had wanted sons without whom it was impossible to attain peace in the afterlife.

What galled him was the way Kunti agreed with Vidura. She wanted Yudhistira to be the next King, no matter that neither Pandu nor his sons had any claim on the throne any more since he had abdicated, and even if they did, Pandu knew that Dhritarashtra’s sons were born if not early, at least on the same day as his own, making it difficult to determine who was elder. Kunti and Vidura just blithely assumed that if they could prove Yudhistira was elder, all problems could be solved. After all, they argued, Pandu had not abdicated of his own free will, but was forced to, by Bheeshma. Pandu was tired of pointing out to them that it did not matter. Once a King abdicated, he and his children lost all claims to the throne. But Vidura simply said that all rules could be changed. Nothing was set in stone.

Unthinkingly Pandu’s feet had carried him to the river. He wanted to be away from the compound, to be away from people. He made a gesture to disperse the dasas who followed him at a discreet distance. He had always hated being hemmed in with people, be it guards or attendants. It had always made him too conscious of himself. His uncle had told him he should not pay attention to them. Guards were there to keep him safe, and attendants to make him comfortable. To most, they were just part of the furniture, but Pandu was aware of the eyes on him, and he never could relax when he could feel them.

A smothered laugh broke into his thoughts. Madri was standing by the river, next to the young sage whose eyes were roving over her boldly. She did not appear to mind, standing too close to him and smiling at him. Pandu felt fury rise in him. She was his wife, and here she was, flirting on the sly with some stranger! Neither had seen him, the tree by which he was standing hiding him from their view.

“I should go,” Her voice was low, and she looked at the sage from under her lashes as she spoke.

“Must you?” His voice was husky. “Do not cast me into darkness again, I beg you. Stay a while.”

“You say such pretty things,” she was smiling. “Do you say so to all the women you meet?”

“Ah, you are cruel to say so. Are you a woman? I would have thought you an apsara come to shake my resolve and the peace of my mind.”

Pandu cleared his throat loudly as he walked around the tree. Madri took a hurried step away from the sage, guilt evident in every line of her face, but the sage simply bowed.

“Lord Pandu. I was simply giving some company to your queen.”

Pandu wanted to hit him, but he remembered that this was a sage, and besides Madri was obviously encouraging him. He waited till the sage was out of earshot before he turned his wrathful glance on him.

“How dare you!” he said, angrily. “Have you no shame?”

“Why?” she asked, her colour high, and her voice quivering. “Is it only your first wife who is entitled to have her desires slaked and to have sons? Am I to spend my life in being her dasi?”

Pandu tried to bring his temper under control. If all she wanted was children, he could be reasonable. “The rules of Niyoga are clear. You know that. If you are desirous of being a mother, I shall talk to Vidura and he shall come to you in your next fertile period.”

“I’d die before I let your brother touch me!” She snapped. “He revolts me!”

“Niyoga is a duty,” he informed her coldly. “What you want does not enter into it. I won’t have a child fathered by some unknown sage, and that’s final.”

“He is blessed by the Aswins!” she said desperately. “Isn’t that worth anything?”

“I don’t care if he’s blessed by Devendra himself!” Pandu yelled. “I won’t have it. And you will not meet him again. Is that clear? You are a married woman, and you will stop behaving like a whore!”

“I’m sure you’ve plenty of experience of how whores behave, though you can’t even satisfy your wife!” Tears were streaming down Madri’s cheeks as she pushed past him and ran to the compound. Pandu punched the sapling that stood next to him.


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