Dronacharya sent for Shakuni around the same time as Abhimanyu went to see his mother, that night. Shakuni was surprised at the invitation. Drona loathed Shakuni and his scheming mind, and had publicly blamed him as the one person responsible for the enmity between the cousins. He physically despised the limping uncle of the Kauravas to the point of revulsion. Shakuni, for his part, shut the acharya down every time saying that he must stay within his limits, that he should stick to his job of running the academy and leave politics to the administrators.
When Shakuni entered his tent, Drona felt slighted for a moment. Here was he, one of the greatest archers of the world, a principled teacher and a virtuous weapons instructor. Sharing the space with him was who he considered a lowlife and a wretch, a man whose sole purpose in life was to scheme and play people against people. Academics hated politicians, and Shakuni was the worst of their ilk.
He wasn’t sure how to verbalize what he was about to say. His inner conflict was tearing him apart. But he had a job to do. He had to win the war, or be killed attempting. He wanted to start cautiously, but decided he needed to say it out without mincing words, lest the message got lost.
“I called you here tonight because of two reasons, both unfortunate for this kingdom and the two clans at war here. One: you are an expert at plotting, and we have seen several examples of it in the past decades. Two: This kingdom’s prince trusts you more than he trusts his mother. And we need Duryodhana to check his emotions if we are to pull this off”.
Shakuni did not say a word. He was listening intently. He knew Drona was desperate. The conversation earlier today irked the commander. But he was quick to notice that Drona immediately went into contemplation mode when Karna suggested they kill one of the Pandavas by deceit.
“You know very well that nobody can touch the Pandavas while both Krishna and Arjuna are alive. Even if we obliterate their entire army, every man, woman and child, the five brothers and their dear friend will survive. Our only chance lies in weakening them mentally, killing their dear ones, so that they lose the will to fight, give up and proclaim they will spend the rest of their lives in recluse, disenchanted with life. As your nephew suggested earlier today, we must start with the young ones. And we must kill by treachery”
Drona expected Shakuni to have already come up with the scheme in his mind, several in fact. He looked at Shakuni’s face, knowing it would light up. He thought Shakuni would smack his lips, rub his palms and say, “Now you are speaking our language acharya. I have several ways we can accomplish this, and ensure victory for my nephew. If only you had this realization on day one. Better late than never though. Let’s get to work”
Instead, Shakuni’s face turned grim. His shoulders slumped. He took on the countenance of a defeated man. While still looking at the acharya, a wave of emotion swept his face as a puddle of tears formed in his eyes, waiting to burst out, almost beseeching the commander to stop. Drona was confused. Was he misreading Shakuni’s emotions? Did he not want the complete and utter destruction of the Pandavas? Did he not want both the Hastinapura and Indraprastha thrones for Duryodhana?
Shakuni sat down and poured a chalice of Soma for himself, not offering any to the acharya. He downed it in a few gulps, put the chalice down on the table, and sat back in the chair. He looked down and let out a sigh, as if preparing to start a speech.
“Acharya”, he said slowly, in a tone full of reverence. “I know you always thought of me as a crook, a scoundrel whose only purpose in life was to scheme and benefit from playing politics. I do not deny that, and I have my reasons, which I will take with me to my funeral pyre. Tonight, I am disappointed that you joined hands with someone like me. I know fully well we are fighting the wrong war. I know who will come out victors in this conflict for dharma. One only needs to see on whose side Madhava is, to know who will win. If we kill every man, woman and child and leave just the six of them alive, we will all still die at their hands. I know Arjuna’s wrath. And no Drona or Karna have the courage or capability to stop him.”
As Drona listened is astonishment, Shakuni continued, pouring more Soma into his chalice. “What has hurt me the most in your request is that you chose the future of this great land to be sacrificed at the altar of treachery. Hasn’t one generation fought enough? The deaths for which we are responsible, in the past 12 days, and for the ones we will be responsible when this war ends, aren’t they enough? I want the sickness of power and greed to end with this generation, without needing to offer our children. History will not forgive you for this. Your one saving grace for fighting on the Kaurava side was that you did not have a choice, that this was your job. But after tonight, you cannot hold your head high in virtue.”
He paused for a moment and let out another sigh, looking straight at Drona. “However, what needs to be done shall be done. Our destiny is not in our hands. We must do our duty; I as a fraud and you as the commander. We have been fighting for 12 days and nothing came of it. It is now time to hasten the end. There is only one way to invite Savyasachi’s fury in this war”
He put his chalice down, stood up, and turned towards the exit. Without looking at the commander, he said, “Tomorrow, be ready to form your most impenetrable vyuha some time after the battles start. I will ensure Arjuna will be distracted. He mustn’t get a hint of what we are up to”
He left the tent with these last words, “The son must fall for the father to rise”