Looking to his right, Krishna studied the faces of all the satraps, supporters and regional heads of the Hastinapura kingdom. He saw the entire gamut of emotions among them – respect, fear, contempt, anger, pity, anxiety, uncertainty, even hatred.
He smiled and turned his head the other way, to his left. Seated among the assemblers were stalwarts from the Kuru dynasty and kingdom: Bheeshma, Vidura, Kripa, Drona and many other patriarchs. Their faces betrayed the common emotions they all had – apprehension and disquiet. He was looking for hope among them, but found none. Bheeshma’s old eyes lay bare his inner thoughts – resignation. He foresaw the end of this dynasty.
Just below the veterans were seated the young guns, proud and fearless. Karna, Dusshasana and Ashwatthama sat arrogantly, clutching their maces and twirling their mustaches. Contempt spewed from every pore in their body. They looked at Krishna like he was a trespasser, ready to be captured and incarcerated. Krishna smiled at them as well.
He then looked straight. At the center sat Dhritarashtra, on a magnificent throne made of gold and adorned with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and countless other gemstones. Behind the throne, from the ceiling hung brilliant red satin drapes, with golden borders and translucent drop cloths. From the ceiling just behind the throne dropped giant fans, connected through an intricate system of water ducts, rods and ropes operated by four able-bodied men standing behind the drapes. The fans kept a steady flow of air around the throne. The men chosen for operating them were deaf and blind, so they neither saw nor heard a thing said in the court. The water ducts continued all the way down under the floor, to keep the building cool even during the harshest summers. The grandeur of the Hastinapura court grew during the past fourteen years, ever since revenue from Indraprastha began to flow into their coffers.
Krishna looked at Dhritarashtra and smiled. Here was a man who couldn’t see the faces of people either on his right or his left, yet his other senses were so heightened that he could hear a pin drop in the noisy assembly. But the one sense he needed to have deserted him. To his right stood Sanjaya – his chauffeur, advisor, well-wisher. and undoubtedly the most rational voice among the young generation. To his left sat Duryodhana, the man who was hell bent on fighting this war. Here was a king, clouded by his paternal affection – sightless in the body and blind in the mind.
Madhava addressed nobody but the king.
“Uncle, I stand before you today, at the most pivotal and decisive time in our history. The actions that take place over the next several months will have a bearing not only on our families and kingdoms, but on the entire land of Bharata. Our actions will affect future generations of all kingdoms in this wonderful land. Thousands of years from now, we will be questioned, and our decisions debated”
Krishna paused for a moment, and let those words sink in. He surveyed the faces one more time. Before he began his speech, his face turned serious, his voice stern.
“War must be avoided. War brings destruction that none of us can fathom at this time. I have foreseen the calamity that will befall these lands. I have played a thousand scenarios in my mind, conversed with patriarchs, scholars, intellectuals and philosophers, soothsayers and fortunetellers, environmentalists, generals and soldiers, finances and investors, beggars, even thieves and criminals. Every scenario only leads to death and eventual attrition, on both sides. There is no outcome where one side wins and the other loses. None!”
While his homework did not surprise any of the elders, his blunt assessment of the fallout unsettled the rest of the assembly.
Krishna continued, “Both sides in this war have weapons of such mass destruction, that the after-effects of their usage will linger for centuries. We have some of the deadliest weapons in the universe. From simple fire producing arrows to venomous gases to atomic explosions, we have them all. Given the high stakes in this war, I am certain that will use them all. Toxicity from the weapons, while annihilating armies, will render our lands unusable and uncultivable. Vegetation will wither, crops will die, animals will abandon, even the tiny microbes that enable growth on this land will cease to exist. The effects on our weather, on monsoons and rains, on winters and summers, will be unimaginable. River water will be contaminated. Every downstream kingdom that subsists on this source will be affected. For generations, children will be born with deformities and other health problems, let alone malnutrition from the financial effects of war. The fertile, lush green landscape you see will turn barren”
This war will take countless lives. We will be fooling ourselves if we think only a few soldiers or captains or generals will perish. The reality is that very few of us will return home. Some provinces will lose entire armies, including their military leadership, even much of their ruling class. The havoc unleashed is unthinkable. We all know the importance of having a standing army during peace time, from maintaining peace and discipline among the common folk to protecting treasuries to building infrastructure. When the army disappears, or is stretched thin, law and order becomes a challenge. Felons and criminals, banished from the lands into forests, will be emboldened. Petty crime will thrive, citizens’ security will be threatened. The king’s rule of law will be undermined. Lack of control will lead to chaos and the eventual decline of the civilization”
“While many will die, there will be many others that will leave the battlefield wounded and crippled. Many men, still in their 20s, will live out the rest of the lives with limbs cutoff, faces disfigured, organs damaged, and many such disabilities. Most of them cannot survive on their own, and become dependent on their families. They cannot operate normally, and hence will find it hard to find work and earn a decent living. Their pension will not be enough for the family to live comfortably. Their women folk will need to start looking for work. In our patriarchal society, with limited opportunities for women, their financial situation becomes unsound. Our infirmaries will be stretched beyond capacity. Disease will spread. A small outbreak will get out of control. The entire situation will lead to severe depression among population. Several returning soldiers would have seen death, destruction and impairment during the war. The psychological effects of such sights will drive them insane. To escape from the trauma, many will turn alcoholic, or violent. Some will commit suicide, leaving their families destitute. The unseen ravage this war will have on this land is unimaginable, but very real. The emotional aftermath is inconceivable”
“Now let me give paint you the picture on wealth and revenue. As we speak, preparations for this war are emptying coffers, as generals are buying iron, steel and other metals for building weapons. Smithies are being built, furnaces are being lit for building arrowheads, maces, spear shafts, and chassis for chariots and infantry. Leather merchants are thriving, procuring hides for men and animal alike. Wood shops are prospering, fabricating chariots, arrow shafts, bows and the like. Food traders are going far and wide to procure storable food for the war. Even cotton and cloth dealers are busy, making everything from tents to uniforms. While merchants are enjoying this unprecedented boost to their revenues, our banks are being drained. Think about what will happen after the war. We will return to a nearly empty treasury. We will be paying out pensions to our disabled veterans. Rulers will need to institute social programs to support a dead economy. Our people will be out of work. Our crop yield will be reduced due to environmental effects, resulting in a severe decrease in tax revenues. We cannot even expand our kingdoms through invasion and occupation because others are in identical situation; there is nothing to be gained by conquest. All neighboring lands will have the same effect – global economic crisis”
“If you aren’t scared yet, then let me present another fact. If this war happens, only a handful of us assembled here will be alive by this time next year. Those that are alive would have lost everything and everybody, from gold and kingdoms to children and grandkids. We will be left with barren lands, empty hallways, and hollow lives”
“We must act today to avert this war, or the destruction and devastation I foresee cannot be prevented”
Krishna’s voice seemed to crack as he spoke those last words. He took a deep breath, paused, and looked up at the king and appealed one last time, “O uncle, it is in your hands now. Yudhishtira and the Pandavas are willing to accept the most meagre of resolution. Your son can keep Indraprastha and everything the Pandavas have built. All they ask for is five small villages. They will vow not ask for anything else for the rest of their lives”
“Will you not grant this paltry wish by your own nephews?”
The blind king’s head dropped, as he appeared to contemplate Krishna’s offer. He thought for a few moments and looked up, raising hopes among the white bearded elders sitting to his right.
Unsurprisingly, he turned his head slightly to his left and said, “What say you, son?”
A tear swelled inside Krishna’s right eye, but did not dare to escape down his cheek. He knew the answer, and the outcome.
He just smiled