The Gandhara Flashback – II

Continued from here

“I was hoping your father would come and see me. But you’ll do fine. We have a goat ready to marry your sister”

Shakuni felt a gush of blood to his head. Anger surged and his fist tightened. With utmost control he stopped his left arm from reaching the scabbard. If this was anyone else their head would be on the ground, cut off from the rest of the body.

Drawing from his limited amount of poise Shakuni said, “Welcome to Gandhara! We are honored to have a representative of Hastinapura amidst us today. Our nation is blessed to have a visitor from the land of dharma. As you may have guessed, I am Shakuni, son of Suvalu. To whom do I owe the pleasure of today’s company?”

The visitor was curt as he was ungracious.

“I don’t feel the need to reveal my identity to a barbaric tribesman but since I come from a highly refined civilization I feel it’s a necessary nicety. My name is Mahabala, a courtier in the glorious Hastinapura empire. It is your good fortune to be meeting with me. Our regime has learned that you have a princess of exquisite beauty ready to be betrothed. Even though we were snubbed in your search for a deserving suitor, your sister’s enchanted grace and acclaimed virtue has made us forgive this affront.

Your princess cannot find a better spouse than Dritarashtra, our young prince and future king of the magnificent Hastinapura. However, our research has revealed that your sister has a flaw in her fate, which will result in the death of her husband. We are willing to sidestep that blemish by marrying her first to a goat and then sacrificing it at the altar of goddess Kali. Having thus fulfilled her destiny, she can marry Dritarashtra and become the queen of the unconquerable Hastinapura. This is not a request. This is the command of none other than the mighty Devavrata, whom you all know as the great Bheeshma.”

Dizzy from all the information he had to process, and livid at this arrogant and condescending diatribe, Shakuni took a moment to collect himself. For a moment he hoped this was a dream and his attendant would wake him up. Seeing this was real, he felt his throat parched and searched for words.

Where should he start? The fact that Hastinapura sent a menial aide on a marriage proposal? That they would send the proposal for a prince who was congenitally blind? For his astonishingly beautiful sister? That they thought they could ‘command’ the mighty Gandhara kingdom? That his sister had a flaw in her horoscope? That they would even consider marrying her to a goat? The audacity! He would be well within his rights to chop this abject servant’s head off and send it back on a gold platter.

He finally found words.

“O respectable Mahabala! We welcome you to our wonderful land. We have heard many great things about your glorious country. I hope our accommodations have been fulfilling and befitting a man of your stature.”

Rapidly switching to the purpose at hand, Shakuni continued.

“As for your proposal, I have to respectfully decline, even before it reaches the ears of our wise king”

“As you are well aware, my sister Gandhari, who we named after our land, is our pride as well as our honor. She was named thus because everything that applies to our nation applies to her: She is pure and noble. She is simple and humble. She is proud and sublime. She is also astonishingly beautiful. I’ve extolled all her qualities so you can assess the kind of princes she will attract to her Swayamvara.”

“I bear no disrespect to you or your magnificent land. Unfortunately, both your current princes have a congenital flaw that, for no fault of theirs, automatically disqualifies from being prospective suitors. We have had the tradition of ruling out any prince with a birth defect. We cannot allow the apple of our eye to be married to a man that cannot even see. He may have the strength of a thousand elephants. His sense of smell and hearing may be the most elevated amongst humans. But we mountain folk believe a human is complete only when they have all their five senses in working order.”

“As for your suggestion that she has an astrological fault in her stars, I have to respectfully refute. Our prophets and priests have done extensive research on all of us and not one has an imperfection”, concluded Shakuni, looking Mahabala directly in the eye, to leave no doubt in the visitor’s mind as to Gandhara’s intention.

“Then I must take leave of you. I have a long road ahead to reach home” said Mahabala, leaving abruptly.

Something about his demeanor made Shakuni very uncomfortable. His turned to his rider and asked him to go directly to the king’s palace. He also turned to an attendant and commanded that the military chief meet them at the palace.

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