The small cabin was in the middle of the jungle, far away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis of Hastinapura. Only a select few knew about this secret cottage that the great architect Maya built.
The cabin, located eight miles from Hastinapura’s southeastern-most outpost on the banks of one of Yamuna’s smallest tributaries, is a wooded area filled with large trees, thick bushes, dangerous critters and venomous snakes. At the eastern corner is a big black boulder, tucked into the side of a hill. To a casual onlooker it’s any of the million such rocks and boulders across the heartland of India. The small gooseberry bush to the right of the boulder looks anything but out of the ordinary. But it’s not a typical gooseberry plant. The bush always grows tufts of three berries. The cumulative weight of the berries from each tuft is exactly the same.
There is no pathway leading to the boulder or the hill. As one walks along the banks of the river, at one spot there are footprints that look like they belong to a bear, leading into the thicket. Following the footprints leads one to the boulder. A hunter following the footprints would reach a dead end at the boulder, turn back and walk away.
The dark skinned well built man alighted from his brown horse in front of the boulder. He picked up three tufts, split off the nine berries from them and inserted them into a small but nondescript hole in the boulder. The berries made their way in through a sequence of pipes and landed in a soft felt box, one by one. The weight of the nine berries caused the box to land softly on a wall shelf, connected to a series of levers, triggering a mechanism to slide a large portion of the boulder to the side, opening up a large doorway.
The man entered the doorway along with his horse. On stepping in, he picked up the nine berries from the box on the shelf. He gave the horse six and ate himself three. As soon as the last berry is picked from the box the lever attached to it pushed it up, triggering the mechanism to close the door.
The man walked through the doorway into the large living space. To the right was a stable where one of the stalls was occupied by black horse. The man took his horse into an open stall, put some hay in it, made sure it had water, and turned back. He made his way past the living space into the study room to meet the other occupant, who was staring quietly in contemplation at a large portrait of a nursing mother. A tear seemed to form at the base of his eye watching the sacred bond between mother and child. He felt a hand on his shoulder.
“My mother Radha was the most amazing woman ever, Madhava”, he said softly
“When I was eight years old, she took me to the horse stable. One of the mares had died in childbirth. My mother placed the newborn in the stall of a mother that had just lost her foal. The horse took the orphan in and instantly started nursing him.”
“My mother looked at me and said, ‘You will always be my own child Radheya.’ ”
“Since then, I have been torn apart. Every single day of my life”
“All my life’s struggles reflected in my mother’s eyes. On the one hand, she raised me as her own. She did not differentiate between me and my brother. She always called me her firstborn. On the other hand, she felt she was doing injustice to my birth. She knew I was born a Kshatriya; if the clothes and trinkets in my birth basket weren’t, my build and belligerent temperament were. She felt her role was inadequate. She felt she being unfair to me, raising a royal in a peasant household. She ensured I grow up as a noble.”
“She never stood up for me, explaining to me that Kshatriyas toughed it out themselves. In duels she always stood behind my opponent, so she could see me and I, her. She would not flinch if I got hit. Through her stare she would tell me to dust off and hit back. But she was fragile and tender as she was fierce. She was a mother after all. Once I returned home with a bloodied nose. Unruffled, she gave me a piece of cloth, some turmeric and medicine and told me to go clean up. But while I nursed my own wounds she sobbed endlessly, out of my earshot.”
“Yet, the saddest thing I saw in her eyes was, fear. She worried that some day, her darling son would be taken away from her. That one day a group of soldiers will arrive in our village and announce that her cherished warrior will be asked to take up the reins of a distant kingdom. She feared that when I did become king, if I somehow came up short, then she would be blamed. Her nurturing, her courage, her discipline would all come to naught if I failed. I saw that fear every single day. It was almost prophetic, that somehow she knew I would end up with the wrong crowd, that some day I would take the side of adharma.”
“That is the single reason I have never gone back to see her. She would not say a word but her probing eyes would constantly ask me ‘Where did I go wrong my dear Radheya?’. And I will not have an answer for her”
“How fateful that one mother would receive injustice from a son whose other mother served him injustice”
Saying that, Karna turned away from the portrait. He sank into the chair and sobbed. Krishna understood his emotions too well, having gone through his own childhood in a village far away from his birthplace.
To Be Continued…