The entire court fell silent. Stunned expressions filled the faces of every one who watched. Bhishma sat down, his heart unable to take the sight in front of him.
As Krishna folded his hands and offered his pranams, Duryodhan smiled haughtily and nodded in approval.
Having achieved what he wanted to, he finally walked back to his seat.
“Vasudev” King Dhritrashtra said, his voice weak.
“Please show us a way out of this impending doom that’s dawning upon our lives.”
“Maharaj, return Indraprastha to its rightful rulers, the Pandavas. And ask your sons to give up their pride and beg for Queen Draupadi’s forgiveness. Only then, can this battle be averted.”
“Aren’t you forgetting that Yudhishthira lost Indraprastha to Duryodhan?” Shakuni countered.
“This means that the King has no right to chose to whom it needs to be given to.”
“And as far as returning it is in question, it’s best you let go of that demand, Vasudev” added Duryodhan.
“Under no circumstances, will I give up my right to Indraprastha.”
Then he glared back angrily.
“And forgiveness? I suggest you think twice before uttering words like that, Vasudev.”
King Dhritrashtra spoke up in response.
“My son. Let’s hear everything Vasudev has to say. This is the only way to avoid this war. The only way to save you.”
“I don’t need saving, pitashree” yelled Duryodhan at his father.
“And as far as the war is concerned, the Pandavas have no kingdom, no army, no place in this Aryavart. Who gave them the right to declare war on us? Who does Vasudev think he is, that he can change the rules of rajneeti?” Duryodhan continued in a taunting voice.
“The right to fight back against injustice does not require the approval from anybody, especially the likes of you, Yuvraj” said Krishna.
“And as for your question about who I am, I can willingly give you the answer. But are you even sure you can grasp the magnitude of it?”
“Don’t waste this court’s time with trivial talk, Vasudev. Let us hear demands that can be met.” Shakuni said.
“No price, how much ever costly can be paid for the sin committed by the members of this court, Gandharaj. If you ask me, the silence of everyone present in this court on the day of dyut sabha is responsible for our situation today. So, my demands that would act as a way to redeem your dharm and in turn your souls, stands.” Krishna replied.
“What kind of a language is this, Vasudev?” Duryodhan yelled again.
“Don’t forget, you stand in the court of Hastinapur. You fail to respect the King and the throne, you could be punished.”
“I do not fear to speak the truth, Yuvraj. If your father’s false attachment to his sons can cause damage to Dharm, then it is my right to speak up” Krishna replied, still in a calm voice.
“Vasudev, what adharm happened here on that day, that you’re so worked up about?” King Dhritrashtra asked, in a low voice, but with a menacing ring to it.
“Yudhishthira agreed to the rules of the game. He agreed to wager his wealth, his kingdom, his brothers, himself and his wife. Nobody forced him. Is it the Kuru household’s fault that he lost? And are you trying to pin the tag of adharm on all the elders of this court?” King Dhritrashtra gave out a small chuckle and continued in a slightly irritated voice.
“You do realise, this includes esteemed individuals like Mahamahim Bhishma and Guru Dron, don’t you?”
“I do not concern myself with how much reputed a man is, Maharaj” Krishna replied.
“If he cannot speak up against the heinous act of disrobing of a woman, due to his own preconceived misconceptions about dharm, then it still amounts to injustice. I do not believe in the form of Dharm that requires you to protect your own duties while the rest of the world is burning. I will always condemn the individual who choses to stick to his own duties while someone is committing a crime against the society, against humanity.”
Krishna then directed his gaze towards Bhishma.
“I have no fear to stand in this court and point it out, irrespective of who it is, or how powerful he is.”
The court was silenced yet again. Mahamahim Bhishma bent his head down. In all his years, he’d sacrificed every ounce of his happiness and power for the welfare of his kingdom. He couldn’t understand how staying right to his duties towards the throne had led to that day where a woman of his own family was insulted and almost assaulted. And today, he still couldn’t get himself to agree to Vasudev’s argument, despite his heart standing with it.
“This is outrageous. We will not have you talk ill about the members of this court like this” cried out Shakuni.
“This was never a question of speaking the truth, Vasudev. Is this even a peace treaty anymore or an invitation to battle?”
“Only a person who has a problem with the truth being revealed would find ways to debate over it’s existence, Gandharaj” Krishna replied.
Shakuni stared back silently for a few seconds. Then he let out his hoarse laughter.
“What use is digging up the past? Let’s talk about the present, shall we?”
Krishna gave no response. Shakuni got up from his seat and walked to the dias.
“At the end of the game of dice, it was decided that the Pandavas would accept twelve years of exile and one year of life in anonymity. But my nephew, Duryodhan found Arjun, before the completion of that year. So as per dharm, Pandavas need to go back to the forests, for the next twelve years.”
“I do not accept the rules of the game of dice, Gandharaj. And I never will. What was birthed out of the fires of adharm, as a form or revenge, amounts to no good in any form” Krishna replied.
“Yet, here I am making demands with the Kauravas, who have no right over Indraprastha.”
“This demand of yours, is not acceptable to me.” Duryodhan said sternly.
“As it should be.” King Dhritrashtra agreed. Turning to Krishna, he spoke again.
“Vasudev, how could a warrior ever accept a treaty when it is tagged to a punishment?”
Krishna turned to face the King.
“When you could let a woman be disrobed freely in your court, Maharaj, I see no harm in asking for the culprits to be punished in return.”
“Vasudev!” Duryodhan screamed, as he got up from his seat and joined his uncle to face Krishna.
“You seem to be defending Draupadi a lot. What selfishness do you have hidden under your sleeve, Dwarkadhish? Perhaps the woman in question is-“
Vidhur stood up, before Duryodhan went on any further that would have caused irreparable damage to the proceedings.
“As the Prime minister of this court, I deem the talk of duties, selfishness and punishment futile. If we need to conclude this session then we have no choice but to accept Vasudev’s demands, Yuvraj. Give up what was never yours to begin with, if you value your life.”
Karna stood up in response.
“With all due respect Minister, I would like to point out that if Duryodhan choses to not accept this offer, then he would not be alone in this battle. I’ll be the armour to all the Kauravas irrespective of what the decision of this hearing be. There will be no question of harm to the prince’s life.”
Krishna turned to Karna and smiled.
“I admire your bravery, Angraj. But I can only hope you realise, it is this alliance of yours to Duryodhan which is responsible for his tyranny. I’m ready to make a final offer Maharathi Karna, but do you really think your friend would let go off his pride and accept it?”
Karna bent his head down, for he knew Krishna was aware of the answer.
Krishna shook his head.
“For your sake, for the sake of everyone in this court, I’m willing to make a final demand. No Indraprastha. No punishment. For the five Pandavas, neither five districts nor five cities, but a mere five villages. That is my demand.”
“Vasudev, are you-” Vidhur spoke up, confused.
“Yes uncle. This is my offer.” Krishna replied. He then looked at King Dhritrashtra.
“Your highness, I can guarantee that the Pandavas will be happy in their villages. They won’t ask for more, neither will they ever come in the path of Kauravas.”
“Deceitful” Shakuni muttered.
Krishna turned around to face him.
“You’re very deceitful, Vasudev.” Shakuni smiled. “But not clever enough. This treaty will be a failure.” He whispered.
“Duryodhan” Bhishma spoke again.
“Let go off your ego, son. Grant the sons of Pandu the free reigns over five villages and liberate us all from this black shadow.”
Vidhur got up.
“Maharaj” he said facing King Dhritrashtra.
“I request you to accept this kind offer, if you really wish to see the redeeming of your clan. Do not leave this decision to Yuvraj, for this is not his to make.”
He was backed up by Guru Dron and Angraj Karna, all in favour of the demand.
“Let go off your arrogance, Duryodhan. Don’t let it be the reason for your fall.” Bhishma cried out again.
“ENOUGH!” Duryodhan yelled.
“It is your arrogance that you believed I would trust you, Vasudev.” He muttered under his breath. Then he turned to Krishna before speaking again.
“Today, you’ll make sure Pandavas gain entry into our empire. Tomorrow, you’ll weave a different story to ensure they win back their kingdom.”
Duryodhan stepped forward as he glared down at Krishna.
“You can play all your games, Vasudev. But you’re just a worthless shepherd. A lowly peasant that doesn’t even belong among the royalty. It’s better for you if you learn your place as early as possible, or it would be shown to you by force.”
“Silence.” Bhishma screamed.
“Before my anger burns you to cinders, stop speaking.”
“I will not be silenced today, mahamahim. Nobody can ask me to accept a proposal that I don’t find agreeable.” Duryodhan spoke back, before turning to Krishna again.
“Is this a way to show that fear resides in my heart, Vasudev?”
Duryodhan took a step back and let out a loud laugh.
“I’m not afraid of those five rustics. I was never afraid of the war to begin with” he screamed again.
“How low can a person fall?” Krishna said, his voice strangely sad.
“How much rajas can one individual harbour inside them? You’ve been given multiple chances throughout your life, Yuvraj. But it has never been enough.”
Krishna sighed, as he looked up with pursed lips.
“Listen, Vasudev” Duryodhan said.
“I would rather fight all the rakshasas in a battle all alone or grant an adulterous woman the status of my wife. I would rather immolate myself this instant or behead myself in front of Yamraj. I would rather drown my entire clan in waves of fire and make sure nobody survives.”
Duryodhan paused as he turned to face Krishna.
“But I cannot grant Pandavas, those five villages.”
He took steps towards Krishna, as if to try and intimidate him.
“Forget five villages, Vasudev” he said glowering at Krishna.
“I won’t give the Pandavas, even a chunk of land spanning the tip of a needle.”
“Then it’s best to conclude that Yuvraj’s ego has dissolved the purpose for this proceedings to go any further.” Krishna replied, his voice filled with anger.
The court fell silent for the longest time.
Everyone could sense the gravity of the situation hit them, as they realised that sure enough, soon they would be facing their own kith and kin in a battle like never seen before.
Bhishma held onto the arm rests of his seat and tried not to shed a tear as images of going against his beloved Pandavas, his Arjun, came to mind.
“What have you done, Duryodhan?” King Dhritrashtra cried, resting his head on his hands. “What have you done?”
“Rethink for the last time before taking this decision in anger, prince.” Guru Dron said, shaking his head in disappointment.
“You’re not only moving towards your end but also your entire household.”
“Do you not realise that by accepting this war would mean facing Yadavsresht Vasudev on the battlefield, Yuvraj?” Vidhur asked, his face showing a devasted look.
Duryodhan, Shakuni and Dushasan however guffawed, their laughers echoing through the walls.
“It’s alright, minister” Krishna replied calmly.
“Duryodhan’s virtues are clouded by his arrogance. And his father’s blindness, is unfortunately not limited to its physical manifestation.”
Duryodhan stopped laughing.
“Vasudev” he asked, his voice in a conceited tone.
“Do you know what talking ill about the Yuvraj and the King of an empire means?”
“Rajdroh” muttered Shakuni under his breath, as a sly smile formed on his face.
To be continued ->