The End Is Near

Continued from here

The reins went taut as Abhimanyu began to assess whom to attack. His first choice was Karna, since he broke the rules and killed his charioteer. But he resisted. He surveyed the eyes of each and every one of the assassins surrounding him. All but Shalya’s eyes were locked on him. Everyone’s bow was raised but only Shalya’s was ready. His step grand-uncle was ready to shoot. At the moment Shalya released his arrow Abhimanyu loosened the reins. The arrow, meant to cut the reins and let Abhimanyu’s horses loose, missed its target.

Abhimanyu smiled. Shalya was livid with embarrassment at being outwitted. Shalya, the brother of the youngest Pandavas’ biological mother Madri, held many secrets. One of them was his dislike towards the 3 elder brothers of Kunti. He thought his nephews deserved more recognition than they got. The twins Nakula and Sahadeva were more than capable of running their own show. They were deemed to be the most handsome men in the land. They were experts at weapons and masters at statecraft. If not for Kunti’s sons, the twins would have become kings of this land. If not for the vain and vulnerable Yudhishtira, they would not have been reduced to live like wanderers. And then, this kid, the son of Arjuna, was being projected as the next big thing in the land. This petulant kid, who was stupid enough to leave his pack behind and get himself enveloped by the mighty Kaurava army. How could they even think he was a worthy fighter?

He slipped the reins past his palm on to his wrist, freeing the fingers of his left hand. He muttered something to his horses, to get their attention. They stood alert, ready to act on the command of their new master. With his right hand, he picked up his quivers and strapped them on. The enemies watched patiently, exhaling evil with every breath. Abhimanyu picked up two scabbards with their swords in them and wore them around his waist. He already had his daggers in their sheaths. He left the spears and mace alone for now. He knew he would need them. He was ready.

In a blinding instant, he pulled the reins with his left hand while with his rand hand, he drew one of his swords and cut them. The horses took off in a flash. As the chariot jolted forward, he picked up his mace, leapt forward into the air and smashed the yoke, freeing the stallions. He yelled at them to run. Without the forward thrust provided by the horses, the chariot’s frame dropped to the ground and came to a grinding halt. Abhimanyu landed on the ground, next to its right wheel, mace raised with both hands, ready to smash anyone that got near.

Duryodhana saw this as his opportunity. He ordered Dusshasana to release a barrage in Abhimanyu’s direction, while he himself picked up a spear and threw it forward. Before the spear could cover half its distance, Abhimanyu’s arrows split it into two. Before Dusshasana could unleash his barrage, a spear cut his bow into two and almost impaled him. As he bent down to pick up another bow, a second spear broke his chariot’s center mast and the canopy collapsed on top of him. Bewildered, he stumbled out of the chariot. Drona’s arrows were quashed by Abhimanyu’s mace. Shalya threw a spear which Abhimanyu caught in mid air, turned it around and hurled towards Karna, who was preparing to shoot his arrows. Kripa was nullified, Drona was negated. All the while, Abhimanyu was still killing the soldiers standing behind the warriors, with his arrows piercing two and sometimes three soldiers.

The battle went on for a long time, with not a single weapon able to even bruise the fearless youth, let along hurt him. The older Kauravas were getting tired. They began to circle Abhimanyu and attack him, to no avail. They were exhausting their weapons. Their quivers were close to be emptied. Duryodhana looked at Drona helplessly. If they ran out of weapons, this Pandava scion would kill them all, and the war would be over tonight.

At that moment, the Kaurava commander in chief took the decision. He glanced at both Kripa and Karna and gave them the signal. Karna took aim, drew back his arrow and shot. But this time, he aimed it at Abhimanyu’s legs. At the same time, Kripa shot his arrow at Abhimanyu’s other leg. Karna aimed his arrow and shot Arjuna’s son in the right thigh. All three arrows hit their targets simultaneously. All three arrows hit Abhimanyu below the belt.

The assault commenced!

Concluded here

The Trap

Continued from here

Duryodhana roared in anger. He rallied his company and rode towards Abhimanyu. He also asked Shakuni’s brother to accompany him, so they can corner this kid and defeat him.

But when they approached him, Duryodhana was amazed. It was difficult for him not to admire the young warrior. Here was a solo warrior, with a charioteer and two horses for company. He was surrounded by thousands of enemy soldiers, generals and commanders. But he was giving a performance of a fight. And he was enjoying it. Racing his chariot against the direction of the moving circle, he killed dozens of soldiers. His concentration was unflappable. His courage, unmatched. He had not a care in the world. He didn’t look for reinforcements. He was a single minded destruction machine.

Abhimanyu was aware that his horses would tire after a while. He became aware that the other Pandava heavyweights weren’t here. He needed to improvise. He needed to devise a plan to get out, while cutting a swathe through the Kaurava army. He knew he was mostly going straight, as he had originally planned. But he realized that he probably underestimated how large the formation was, because he wasn’t seeing the other end of the vyuha.

What he didn’t realize was that he was in the center of it. Dead center!

There was a pause. For a moment he didn’t see a single Kaurava warrior. He was just surrounded by soldiers. He looked around him. He could cut through these soldiers with ease. He knew exactly where he was. He knew which way he came. He knew which way he needed to go. He knew every layer of this formation, and who was at the head of each layer. So why did this seem different? Something wasn’t right. He should have been facing either Drona or Karna now. He knew they would be at the center of the vyuha. So why weren’t they here? And if they were not here, where exactly were they? Then he noticed the soldiers beginning to step back, in retreat, expanding the circle. He then realized what was happening.

He was trapped.

The layer of soldiers moved out of sight. And from behind the soldiers emerged the dignitaries. Each capable of killing an army by themselves. Abhimanyu looked at the scene encircling him, as he pictured the entire formation at that time. At the center was him. Facing his chariot, straight ahead was the commander Drona himself. Right behind him, forming a straight line with him and Drona was Duryodhana. Abhimanyu looked left and saw Karna. He looked right and saw Shalya. He closed his eyes for a second, waiting for others to join. When he opened them, he saw Kripa pull up between Karna and Drona, and Kritavarma emerge between Drona and Shalya. He turned around, and saw Dusshasana and Shakuni fill the rest of the gaps. He smiled. He couldn’t have expected anything from the two Kaurava brothers other than an attack from behind. Surrounding the eight Kaurava commanders were 16 other generals mounted on elephants. Behind them, hundreds of cavalrymen. And behind them, thousands of foot soldiers. There was no way for anyone to come to his rescue. This scheme by Drona was impregnable.

Duryodhana looked left to his friend and nodded. Karna’s chariot stood to the side of Abhimanyu’s. He strung his bow, pulled an arrow, aimed towards Abhimanyu and released it. The arrow’s sharp tip entered his charioteer’s neck, cutting his internal jugular on the left, expertly passing through the trachea, and exiting out to the right. The death was instant, and painless. His lifeless body slowly slid off to the right of the chariot, dangling by the seat for a few moments before slumping to the ground.

At that moment, in that instant, it dawned on young Abhimanyu that this was had changed today. That rules of engagement would be broken. He experienced adharma first hand. He had only heard from his mother and stepmother about how the Kauravas used ruses, tricks, and illicit methods to usurp their kingdom, to rob them of their freedom, their wealth, their peace of mind. His father and uncles, peerless kings and intrepid warriors were reduced to a pitiful bunch of mendicants and vagrants. This is how they did it. By breaking the rules, one at a time. Slowly. Painfully.

He knew he was cornered. The smiles he saw on the enemies’ faces told him the entire story. He recognized Drona’s treachery. He understood that his uncles and the rest of Pandava generals will never come to his rescue. He remembered last night, and grasped why Krishna took him to meet his mother. He realized why his father was nowhere to be seen on this side of the battlefield. It was all part of the ploy laid by the Kauravas.

He grabbed the reins to steady the horses. He breathed deep. He knew this was going to be a losing battle. But if this was going to be the end, he was going to make it such an end, such a spectacle, that the Kauravas would be defeated in their minds today. After today, no single Pandava warrior would die on the battlefield. He would drive such fear into the Kaurava forces that even the mighty Drona and Karna would forget their wares.

Today, he will die. Today, he will become immortal!

Continued here

The Brother-in-Law Blockade

Continued from here

Drishtadyumna and his army raced after Abhimanyu, knowing that he needed their support. The swirling circle was still intimidating. He beckoned Satyaki to join him. As the two companies raced past the first bands of Chakravyuha, they realized they needed reinforcements. A quick sound of the conch brought Sahadeva and his army. A strong contingent of almost ten thousand men went after Abhimanyu. Before advancing further, Drishtadyumna gave instructions to Yudhishtira and Nakula to attack the circle from the west.

They cleared the first circle and just caught a glimpse of Abhimanyu’s chariot slice through the Kaurava army. They raced further, Bheema’s chariot crushing foot soldiers by the dozen as he and Drupada’s mighty son headed to bolster Krishna’s nephew. They were about to catch up with Abhimanyu when they saw that man, smiling wickedly, circling villainously with thousands of soldiers in tow. Jayadratha’s chariot was painted dark grey, with gold adornments. On its mast flew a black flag with a jackal as its symbol. His bow was painted red, and each of his arrows in all the quivers were black. His horses were all dark purple. If there was a wickedness personified on that field, it was him.

He was an expert in the positions of Chakravyuha. He didn’t have the courage to break it, or the acumen to break out of it. But he had a phenomenal memory. He knew every inch of the formation. He could memorize in seconds thousands of positions and their references. That gave him an advantage today. He wanted to kill the Pandavas today. He had wanted to, from the day they defeated him when he abducted the dark beauty Panchali. Oh how he wanted her. She was breathtakingly beautiful, with a body to die for. He would have given her all the comforts. She needn’t have spent thirteen years wandering around like a tramp. He could’ve made her the queen, if she wanted. Even in the middle of this war, the thought of her brought out the animalistic lechery in him. He hated the Pandavas. They had what he couldn’t. And they insulted him. They defeated him. They threatened to cut off his head, but left him alive because he was Jayadratha. Bheema’s words reverberated in his ears, “You are very lucky. You are the husband of the one person in the entire Kaurava clan that we love. And we cannot bring a tear to her eye. Take this as your one chance towards life. Next time, we won’t be so forgiving”. Jayadratha seethed within. He, a man, a warrior, a king, captured by these bandits. They said he owed his life to a woman. The insult!

He shot a barrage of arrows towards the approaching company. Satyaki was taken aback. “These arrows are from Jayadratha?”, said he, and quickly shot a glance towards Dristhtadyumna. The Pandava commander raced his chariot in the direction of Jayadratha. He had a score to settle as well. This scum of the earth abducted his sister. Drishtadyumna could’ve cut his throat if he were around. He hurled two spears in the direction of Jayadratha’s chariot, hoping to smash the chariot’s wheels and disable him. To his surprise, Jaydratha shot to arrows in quick succession, cutting both the spears in half. Drishtadyumna wondered, “where did he acquire this skill?”. Jayadratha then went on the offensive, he and his sizable army killing scores of cavalrymen and foot soldiers around the two Pandava warriors, exposing them. Drishtadyumna and Satyaki, unable to contain him, quickly pulled back and headed in a different direction.

Jayadratha then headed west. He instructed his charioteer to keep circling, but he himself found an elephant to mount. He wanted the advantage of height, to disable, and possibly capture Yudhistira. His army of elephants and cavalry raced towards Yudhistira. The eldest Pandava was amazed at the sight of an army of elephants rushing towards him. Up to the fight, he picked up a quiver full of arrows and instructed his charioteer to scythe through the giant animals. The charioteer does as was told. But as he approached the wall of elephants, he realized there was no way he could go past them, and that any attempt at bravery could crush the chariot. He turned and went lateral. Yudhishtira was furious, but soon realized the charioteer was right. He was beginning to get worried. He couldn’t break the wall. On the other side, was a solo youth, engaging fierce warriors in a treacherous battle.

What would happen if…

Continued here

Into The Jaws Of Death

Continued from here

One chariot inched forward, causing the leaders to perk up and see who it was. The chariot moved clear of the rest of the army and stopped. The young warrior turned back and addressed his uncle.

“It’s the Chakravyuha”, said a calm Abhimanyu looking at the approaching swarm, “I have seen it before, during one of my meditative sessions with father. I know how to enter it. It’s easy! But before I finished the session to learn how to dismantle the formation, uncle Krishna sent an urgent message, and I had to disengage”

Blood returned to Yudhishtira’s face. He turned towards his young nephew and said, “Go ahead son, rip that thing apart. We will follow you. Between me and the other warriors, we will figure a way to wiggle out of it. A messenger is already on his way to call Arjuna back from wherever he is. But remember…”

Abhimanyu did not wait for him to finish. He remembered the conversation with his mother the previous night. This was his day. This was his opportunity. He charged ahead, blowing his conch, leaving the Pandava army behind in his wake.

The chariot raced towards the swirling vortex. He closed his eyes for a moment, clearing his mind. He told his charioteer, “No matter what happens, do not pull the reins. Think of the chariot as a dart, as an arrow piercing through a chakra. We first go straight through and come out at the other end, splitting the vyuha into two halves. Then we attack each half and slice them into quarters, and then eighths, and so on. We have to defeat this in chunks”

But he knew it was not that simple. He tried to remember the lesson. The formation was built to confuse the enemy. Soldiers and infantry changed positions within seconds. If you killed a line, it would be replenished instantly. You had to be vigilant and agile, while memorizing each warrior’s position, and the direction the soldiers were moving with respect to the warrior. You had to calculate the speed at which they were moving and extrapolate their future positions. You needed to remember where you came from, in order to get back to your original position. If you missed one link, you were dead. If you let the maze confuse you, you were dead. If you flinched, or dawdled, you were dead. If you became disoriented, you were dead.

He picked three arrows from his quiver, tilted his bow parallel to the ground, and released them. They went in three different directions, instantly finding their targets and killing three Kaurava warriors. His chariot then pierced their battalions, mowing down scores of soldiers in a few moments. As the charioteer expertly steered through, Abhimanyu increased his pace, sometimes killing two and other times five generals with single shots. He quickly finished off several squadrons of Kaurava warriors, much to the dismay of Duryodhana, who watched in despair.

Duryodhana’s son Lakshmana Kumara saw the destruction caused by his second cousin and raced towards Abhimanyu. He shot two arrows in his direction. The charioteer changed directions within a split second, causing the arrows to dodge Abhimanyu and ending up killing Kaurava soldiers. Lakshmana Kumara seethed in anger and picked up a spear to hurl towards the young Pandava warrior. But before he could fling, an arrow cut his spear into two, leaving the Kaurava astounded. He picked up his bow again, to shoot another arrow. But as he pulled the bowstring back, an arrow whooshed past him, not touching him. He heaved a sigh. But to his astonishment, the bowstring was broken. The arrow had found its mark. Lakshmana Kumara, running out of options, reached down with his right hand to pick up his mace. As soon as his palm gripped the mace, he fell back yelping in pain. Abhimanyu shot an arrow so precise that it went through the hole in the handle of the mace, and pierced Lakshmana Kumara’s palm, effectively pinning his hand to the mace. The young Kaurava was immobilized. His charioteer tried to steer them out of the mini circle but he didn’t know which way to go, driving straight into Abhimanyu’s path instead. Abhimanyu picked up one arrow this time, slowly took aim, and shot it. The projectile went raced through the air, whizzed past the charioteer, punctured through Lakshmana Kumara’s armor and stabbed him through the heart, with the blade coming out on the other side.

The impact of Abhimanyu’s arrow caused Lakshmana Kumara to be ejected and thrown from the chariot, shearing off his right palm from the rest of the hand in the process, as his first arrow stayed pinned to the mace. Blood squirted out from his chest. His body shuddered for a few moments before turning limp. As his father watched in horror, the Kaurava scion, the heir to the throne perished, fallen by the wayside.

Continued here

The Diversion

A short while after sunrise, both the armies, weary from 12 days of attritional fighting positioned themselves on either side of Kurukshetra in a North-South direction. They always started the day in North-South so that no side has the advantage of the sun behind them. As the day progressed and individual battles raged, their positions changed slightly. But all warriors fought righteously, within the rules of engagement. As the sun made its westerly descent, combatants ensured their positions didn’t give disadvantage the enemy. They even paused their battles if the horses, their charioteers, or the warrior himself needed a break. No attacks on horses. No attacks on the charioteer. No attacks on a disabled chariot. No attacks on an unarmed or de-weaponed fighter. No attacks from behind. No attacks above the chest. No attacks below the belt. No ganging up or singling out. No attacks on someone severely impaired. Rules were simple, and followed strictly: fight like a man!

Until today!

The day began usually, with Arjuna and Dronacharya exchanging volley after volley, in the process killing hundreds of soldiers on either side. Around mid morning, as it was evident that his horses needed food and water, the Kaurava commander steered his chariot towards Shakuni’s, and gave him the go ahead, who raced towards Jayadratha and signaled that it was time.

Jayadratha rode his chariot directly to Susarma, fighting alongside him, and began his act, “Arjuna is unstoppable. It must be nice to have such a warrior on your side. You can virtually ensure victory. Look at him, the way he switches hands with dexterity. Look at his agility and concentration. Half our soldiers would probably die just looking at him in awe, and not even wanting to fight”

Seeing that Susarma was visibly irritated, Jayadratha continued, “Isn’t that what happened with you Trigartas during the several campaigns against him? He single-handedly overpowered all you guys. That must be insulting”

Susarma, now boiling, shot back. “You didn’t do any great yourself, in your misadventure with Draupadi”

“I was banking on your capabilities, which is why I sought your help there. You guys were feeble and didn’t even put up a fight. If you had defeated him in that battle, we could have all shared that voluptuous woman. You know she’s okay having multiple partners”, sneered Jayadratha, continuing to taunt Susarma.

“You know, maybe even now we can have her, if you Samsaptakas have the guts to kill him. But I doubt you can. Tell you what, if you kill him today, I will capture Draupadi and deliver her to you, all to yourself. You divert him to the west side, engage and kill him, and we will capture Yudhishtira on this side. The war can end today and you can have her tomorrow”

Enraged by his taunts, and enticed by the prospective reward, Susarma rounded up the other Trigartas and went over to challenge the greatest archer ever.

Jayadratha rode back to Shakuni and smiled. It wasn’t easy, but he genuinely believed the Trigartas could gang up and kill Arjuna. They could capture Yudhishtira and end the war tonight. He can lay his hands on Draupadi in a few days. Of course he wouldn’t turn her over to Susarma. He would have someone kill Susarma and decimate the entire Trigarta clan. His mouth watered. But he had a job to do first.

Shakuni pulled up his chariot next to the commander’s and said it was time. It was indeed the perfect moment. Both sides needed a break. Battles slowed down. Front lines needed to be reformed.

At this point, Dronacharya decided to reconfigure the formation; his first act of deviation from the rules of engagement. It wouldn’t be his last.

Dronacharya blew his conch to signal the change. A confused Pandava army watched in awe as the enemy formed into concentric circles, swirling and moving at a rapid pace. The formation was perfectly rehearsed, intimidating, and disheartening to watch. Normally, a warrior and his band relied on the fixed position of his enemy to devise a strategy, draw the right weapons and fight. But here, before the bowstring could be drawn, the enemy changed positions. Within a few moments, the army’s leading battalion switched from Karna’s to Duryodhana’s to Jayadratha’s, confusing the Pandava warriors. Who should they be fighting? Drona was flanked by Kritavarma in one instant, and Dusshasana in another. And before they realized, Salya drew up next to him while the others disappeared into the twirling maze. It was terrifying to watch.

From a distance, Drishtadyumna and Yudhishtira could only stare in amazement at this rotating spin wheel of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, as it moved menacingly, gaining in speed as it approached them. Accompanying the spiraling disk were deafening sounds of trumpets, drums, conches, and shrieks and howls. The entire Pandava army came to a halt, paralyzed at Dronacharya’s genius. For the first time in thirteen days, Yudhishtira saw fear in their eyes. He noticed some units slowly backpedalling, ready to turn and flee.

That is when he realized, that the one man who understood the formation, who could shatter it at will, who could galvanize his troops, was nowhere in sight.

Arjuna was gone!

“The Son Must Fall”

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”

The Night Before

The Pandava camp began to disperse, after discussing a few formations and strategies for the morning. Krishna fondly placed his arm on Abhimanyu’s shoulder and said, “I am very proud of you, for standing up the way you did during the discussions today. You are a worthy Kshatriya. You will be celebrated for millennia my dearest nephew”

Abhimanyu was perplexed. He was used to effusive praise from his uncle before, but today he sensed a tinge of emotion. He felt humbled. The greatest man to ever live, the unflappable Lord Krishna betrayed emotion. He smiled proudly.

“Come, let’s go for a ride, it’ll allow you to cool down”, said the uncle as he ushered both of them towards his chariot. They rode in the dark to the far end of the battlefield, towards the lonely, giant peepul tree. Krishna did not say a word during their ride, and Abhimayu let it be. As they approached the tree, he noticed the silhouette of another royal chariot, against the sky. Who was waiting for them at this hour?

“Mother!”, he said, bending down to touch her feet, and definitely surprised to see Subhadra near the battlefield. Although it was unusual for women to ride in the night, Subhadra was a fearless warrior in her own right, capable to defeating an entire army all by herself. She was trained in all forms of warfare, including hand-to-hand fight, something extraordinary for the women at the time. She came prepared, with a bow, several quivers full of arrows, two swords, a mace, many spears, and a full body armor. Concealed under he chariot seat was a vessel full of oil, in which she intended to dip her arrows before shooting them, to set fire to enemy camps, should she face them. She secretly hoped she could find a band of Kaurava forces, so she could ease her husband’s burden.

Subhadra’s chest filled with pride, seeing her young son full armor. She smiled and said, “May your name live forever!”

Abhimanyu was a tad surprised at her blessing, but in his exuberance, asked, “How is Uttara? And my unborn child?”

“She is resting. I had to leave without telling her, for she would insist on coming along. I had heard about your heroics in the battlefield. I sent for you today because I just wanted to see you”, lied Subhadra, covering for her brother. Krishna had sent a messenger to her, to meet him. She knew what it meant, but she wasn’t certain whom the meeting was about. Her heart sank when she saw that it was Abhimanyu riding with her brother.

“Son, there isn’t much I can teach you. You are the son of the greatest archer the world has ever known, and nephew of the man considered to be the living embodiment of the supreme being. You know that this war is about upholding dharma. But it is also about something else”, she said pausing to contemplate.

She continued, “Imagine a woman, who had just finished bathing, being dragged into a court full of men, laughing and lusting her. Imagine her being gawked and being asked to adorn a man’s lap, to satisfy his lecherous desires. Imagine a man drag her into the center of the court and attempt to disrobe her, fleece her of all she’s wearing. Hear her cries, feel her anguish, suffer her powerlessness.”

Abhimanyu closed his eyes, focused, and forced his fury to gather at the center of his being. He opened his eyes, resolute and immutable. He took one last look at his mother and walked towards his chariot, indicating he wanted to leave now, with these thoughts in mind.

“Now, son, imagine the woman was Uttara”

Abhimanyu jolted back, looking shocked.

“Aunt Draupadi is every woman in this great land, my child. That fire in you must burn tomorrow, and burn bright”

As Abhimanyu mounted the chariot, Subhadra turned to her brother, not uttering a word but questioning through the tears in her eyes, “Why him? Why my son?”

He smiled, and hugged his dear sister, whispering in her ears, “Because I want to witness your husband’s wrath”

A Turning Point

The Pandava Camp

“12 days of war, and no side has any significant advantage”, complained Yudhishtira, looking at Arjuna and hinting that maybe the fabled warrior needs to up his game.

“As long as acharya is their commander-in-chief, no man, not even me, can destroy the Kauravas”, clarified Arjuna, indicating that even though he was the celebrated pupil, the master held more aces.

“Then we need to find a way to separate him from the rest of their warriors and take them down one by one”, said Drishtadyumna, the Pandava army’s commander-in-chief.

“Do you think they will let us single him out and take him to a separate part of the battlefield? Don’t forget they have amongst them the best generals and commanders in the whole world”, countered Arjuna, clearly irritated that the rest of his clan is severely underestimating the strength and capability of the enemy.

“We need a turning point in this war, a grand battle which will turn this in our favor, even if one of us gets gravely injured, or dies”, said the mighty Bheema.

The Kaurava Camp

“12 days of war, and we haven’t even hurt a Pandava”, complained Duryodhana, looking at Drona and hinting that maybe the fabled commander was sabotaging the war.

“As long as Arjuna is in their ranks, no man, not even me, can destroy the Pandavas”, clarified Dronacharya, indicating that even though he was the master, his pupil was a better warrior.

“Then we need to find a way to separate him from the rest of their warriors and take them down one by one”, said Duryodhana, making it sound all too simple.

“Do you think they will let us single him out and take him to a separate part of the battlefield? Don’t forget they have amongst them the best generals and commanders in the whole world”, countered Dronacharya, clearly irritated that Duryodhana and his clan severely underestimated the strength and capability of the Pandavas.

“We need a turning point in this war, a grand battle which will turn this in our favor, even if we have to kill one of them by deceit”, said Karna, quietly joining the conversation.

“Why not start with one of the young ones?”, said Dusshasana, sitting in the corner and devouring his Soma.

The acharya looked at the two men, seeming to agree, and was lost in thought, scheming the formation for the next day.

The Pandava Camp

Abhimanyu stood up petulantly, red with rage, on hearing Bheema’s words. “As long as I am alive, I will not let an arrow anywhere near you, let alone touch you. Tomorrow, I will end this”, he declared, addressing the five brothers.

Krishna watched him say that, smiled and said, “Easy, nephew! Nobody can hurt the Pandavas while I am alive. Let us get some rest and strategize at sunrise. Tomorrow will be an important day for us”. He then got up from his seat and walked to the window, pretending to think deeply. He did not want anyone, much less Arjuna, notice the tears swelling up in his eyes.

Love In The Hills – IV

Continued from here

It didn’t take Abhimanyu long to find his love. At the northeast corner of the palace grounds, he saw a chest high hedge of thick green vine, interspersed with pink and blue flowers. Beyond the thicket stood a lonely pavilion, overlooking a lake. He walked through a small entrance towards the canopy. The rotunda was painted red with a white dome. There were no outside posts supporting the pavilion, just a pillar in the center. The center pillar was painted in colors that blended with the background of the hillside, making it seem like the cupola stood suspended from the sky. As he watched in awe at this marvel, from behind the pillar, her beautiful face emerged, looking directly at him. Her eyes teased him, as she smiled, and turned gracefully, walking away from the pillar towards the lake. Walking slowly and deliberately, she lifted her right hand and flipped her full hair over her right shoulder, exposing her full back. His jaw dropped. His heart stopped.

He stepped inside the pavilion and stood inches behind her, drawn by an inexplicable physical desire to be near her, with her. She was dressed in all white, the blouse embracing her back snugly, with two straps plunging precipitously down deep from her sleeveless shoulders, forming a distractingly sexy canyon, her skin shining like a smooth mountain cliff against the rising sun. He took a step closer to her, his heart pounding. His hands spontaneously moved towards the her bare waist, wanting to touch her. Her loose skirt streamed down from her hips all the way down, exposing just her feet. He knew she still had the anklets on. He could hear them.

He drew himself right behind her and slowly put his right arm around her waist, without squeezing, or drawing her any closer. He didn’t want to startle her. His hand felt her navel. She turned around and looked directly at him. He found her deep blouse distracting. He tried in vain to avoid staring down below her neck. He placed his other hand on her waist and gently moved them up to her neck, cradling her head in his hands. They looked into each others eyes, the intense passion in them slowly giving way to fondness and deep affection. A million words were left unsaid in the moments that passed. He then gently pulled her head towards him. He bent down, allowing his lips to brush hers, softly and delicately. He inhaled her breath, feeling the warmth of her skin. They both felt the bolt of lightning hit their bodies. They both wanted more. But better sense prevailed, and they embraced each other, as time melted away.

Abhimanyu was the first to hear the rustle nearby. Alarmed, he let her go and turned around, shielding her with his body, his eyes instantly scrutinizing every inch of his visible field of view. He didn’t see or hear any threat. He was trained to perceive the sound of any approaching weapon, in any situation, under any din. His training told him this was a man made sound. But his intuition told him there was no hazard. His instant action and his natural instinct to protect her made Uttara proud of him. He realized it was time to say goodbye; he had lingered longer than he should have. He turned to her, promising to see her again, but this time with his family in tow. Before she could get a final view of him, he disappeared.

A few yards away, Uttara’s dance teacher, who from behind one of the bushes secretly witnessed every moment of this passionate interaction between her ward and this young stranger, turned around and quietly disappeared into the palace, her heart swelling with paternal pride.

Abhimanyu then went to the market and found the old lady from the morning. She recognized him and instantly knew he met Uttara again. He had that dazed in love look about him. Like he had promised, he bought her flowers, all of them, and paid handsomely. He bade her goodbye, promising to see her again. He needed to get back to the inn, pack his belongings and ride back, to his uncle. He needed to tell the all-knowing lord that he found his crown jewel in Virata’s kingdom.

Love In The Hills – III

Continued from here

The Kshatriya that he was, before Abhimanyu left the garden towards the city, he thanked the elderly woman and asked for specific directions as to where he can find her in the market, later in the day.

His quest quest just expanded in scope, from finding the pulse of Virata’s people, to finding its princess. No father would turn down a proposal from him, if he revealed himself. But his identity needed to remain concealed. He knew she was a princess. But was she the daughter of Virata? Was she one of his nieces? It can’t be. He remembered the lady’s words, “She is the princess”. So Uttara must be Virata’s daughter.

The thought of Uttara weakened him. For a moment he toyed with the idea of walking into Virata’s assembly today, announcing himself, and seeking her hand. Then he remembered his uncle’s sobering advice. Krishna, a notorious ladies man himself, would be proud that his nephew won over the princess of Virata. But he would flash that enigmatic smile of his and say, “I am happy that you accomplished what you set out to do”, clearly reminding why he was sent in the first place.

As he strode through the beautiful streets leading up to the imposing palace, he observed the people, stopped and spoke to the locals and registered their conversations. Virata’s subjects seemed happy and cheerful. Abhimanyu deliberately tried to inject negativity in his conversations. But the natives deftly avoided or confidently corrected him when necessary. This seemed a land that would uphold dharma. Additionally, there was something about this place. Was it the air? Was it the mountainous backdrop? Was it the affability of the people? Or was it her?

He learned that the king was a gentle soul, cared for his people. He was not a skillful tactician or a great general. Yet, he was a simple man who knew his limitations and put in charge the right people for the right posts. Abhimanyu learned that Virata relied mainly on two men in this land. His commander in chief, who was also his brother in law, Keechaka, ran the armed forces. Keechaka was a strong, powerful man who was set to return soon after defeating a band of rebel satraps. He was believed to be one of the four strongest men in the entire world. Nobody dared oppose him. Keechaka was known to be a bully sometimes, but everyone forgave him because he did it for the kingdom, and he was loyal to the king.

For administrative advice, Virata relied upon another person who was a recent immigrant, but quickly shot to fame with his knowledge and application of the law, and policy making capabilities. His name was Kankubhatta. Everyone seemed to know that as long as Kankubhatta was standing next to the king, justice would be done. Lately, the king had completely handed over legislative duties to Kankubhatta, convinced of his fairness, integrity, and equanimity. Kankubhatta was always by Virata’s side. The two were inseparable in court. The king had instructed the announcers in court that they should take Kankubhatta’s name, in addition to his, when declaring the assembly open.

As the sun rose towards mid-morning, Abhimanyu registered at the palace entrance, to attend the assembly. He gave his false name and profession as a traveling trader, and entered alongside the group of people heading towards the court. His intention was never to visit the assembly, but to find Uttara in one of the palace gardens. He stayed towards the rear of the pack. He knew the exact moment he was going to sneak out.

The marshals announced the arrival of the king Virata and his sage counsel Kankubhatta. Everyone looked in the direction of the entrance, as the two men majestically walked towards the throne, in full regalia. Abhimanyu wanted to look at the father of his love interest. He had heard a lot about Kankubhatta that he wanted to see him in action. But his heart yearned for Uttara. He slipped out of the court to wander into the palace gardens. Nobody noticed it. He walked about, unchallenged in his quest.  This was not the first time he let his heart rule the mind. The next such instance wouldn’t be so forgiving.

Continued here