Thirty Seven

The camp where Pandu stayed with his family was neither silent nor still. Maids and attendants moved across the encampment, doing their daily tasks. It was mid afternoon, and the sun shone bright into the area that had been cleared of trees. The window shades of all the huts had been drawn and those of the royal family who were outside sat in the shade. Vidura sat on a tree stump, polished into a stool, and wondered about his next course of action.

It was hard to see Pandu being so stubborn. Vidura wondered if it was possible for him to despise him any more than he already did. He’d always known Pandu was a weakling, not fit to be King, but he’d never realized just how weak What was. What else was it but weakness that he should not even attempt to give his son his birthright? What else but weakness would cause a man to deprive his son of his rights because he didn’t want to create a dissension in the family? What was Pandu so afraid of? What if it created dissension? Did he not know that there were things worth fighting for? What sort of Kshatriya was he? Conflict was not something a Kshatriya should be afraid of.

When the children were born, and Pandu was hesitant, Vidura had hoped it was a temporary phase. He had hoped that in time, Kunti might be able to persuade him. He was wise enough to stay out of it, knowing that any attempt on his part to bring his brother to his senses would only lead him to do the opposite. But the time for such wisdom was past. Yudhistira was turning six the next month, and it was time to start his formal education. What sort of education was he going to get in this forest? But all his representations were of no use. Pandu remained unmoved. He would not lay claim to the throne on behalf of his son. Yudhistira was a gentle and soft spoken child. He was better off in the forest than the palace where he would have to change into mean and cunning.

Vidura wished he could open his brother’s eyes. Yudhistira might be soft spoken, but he was already cunning and manipulative, thanks to his mother’s training. But even Yudhistira’s tricks had not availed them. Vidura knew that Yudhistira wanted to go to Hastinapura. Kunti had told him enough stories to make him want to go. He did not yet know what it meant to be King, but he was not averse to the idea. Bheema would follow where Yudhistira led. But how could Yudhistira lead, if Pandu would not let him? Vidura knew he would need to take drastic measures. It was true he had other sons from his wife, but none of them had any chance of becoming King. No matter what happened, neither he nor his sons would ever be considered for the throne. That had been made clear to him over time. But Yudhistira, though born of him, was legally Pandu’s son. He could be King, given the opportunity.

Vidura looked at Pandu where he sat, one boy on each knee. He was smiling. He looked happy and contented. Vidura wondered again what kind of coward he was. Madri sat at a distance, watching him with an angry look on her face. It must kill her that Pandu chose Kunti to bear children and not her. But Vidura had no regrets. He had no desire for Madri. Kunti on the other hand… even now, his desire for her was as strong as ever. He’d hoped that she would not have conceived from the night they spent together, but it was a vain hope. She had conceived which made it unnecessary for him to visit again. He knew that Pandu was not happy with his subsequent visits once the children were born. The rules of Niyoga dictated that he keep his distance, but he had told Pandu that there was nothing to prevent him from taking an interest in the boys since, by law, they were his nephews.

Nephews! Yudhistira looked like an amalgamation of his parents. He had Vidura’s brows and chin and his mother’s eyes and the high cheekbones were also from her. For the first time, Vidura was glad Pandu and he were brothers, and their features similar enough that Yudhistira’s appearance would pass scrutiny by anyone. Bheema, on the other hand looked more like his maternal uncle. Vidura had not met Vasudeva, but he had heard him described. Bheema had the Yadu features, and in a way, that was fortunate, for, someday his brother might need allies, and the Yadus were powerful. Vasudeva’s son had slain Kamsa, the King of the Yadus, and now, the Yadus were governed by a council. It was rumoured that Kamsa’s father-in-law, Jarasandha was harassing them, but so far, the Yadus had held their own. Vidura knew he would need to pay attention to what was happening in Mathura.

Someone cleared their throat, and Vidura shaded his eyes as he looked up. Kunti stood there, looking at him with that mixture of contempt and revulsion in her expression. He indicated to the ground next to the stump where he sat.

“No need to loom over me,” he said.

Her lips thinned, but she bit back whatever retort had risen to her lips, as she sank down gracefully next to him.

“You talked to him today.”

“Since you failed to persuade him, I thought I’d take a hand.”

“And how did that go?”

He shrugged. “He’s an obstinate man.”

“That’s one way to put it,” she smoothed the front of her angavastra. “He never denies the child anything. I was hoping he would be able to persuade him.”

“That didn’t happen, obviously.”

“I don’t think he can be persuaded,” Kunti said, and he could hear the resignation in her voice. It angered him, that she would give up so easily.

“So, you’re giving up?” he asked, more sharply than he meant to.

“What else is there to do?” she asked bitterly. “I cannot force him, I cannot persuade him, and neither can anyone else. There’s nothing to be done.”

Vidura was silent. He was not ready to accept defeat so easily. If Pandu could not be persuaded, he would need to be removed. Once he was dead, his widows and children could be returned to Hastinapura without any questions asked. But he would give Pandu one more chance. If he failed to listen once more, he would get rid of Pandu. It wasn’t as if anyone was going to mourn him. Vidura did not know how he reached the decision, but having made it, he was determined not to delay further. Yudhistira had already spent enough time in the forest. Vidura would ensure that he did not spend any more time here than was absolutely necessary. He knew well enough not to tell Kunti his decision. It might be good to have her help, but he would manage by himself. If he could poison Gandhari in the palace, Pandu in the forest would be no matter. All he had to do was to ensure that the poison would be undetected and that the death should appear natural. If any foul play were to be suspected, Kunti’s mind would immediately jump to him. And whilst he knew that she had no affection for Pandu, but she had a strong sense of duty, and he could not be certain she would see things his way.


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