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His brothers and friend Karna covered for him, as they fought my father’s soldiers. As for him, he took off with me in his chariot. And I don’t know why, I was bowled over.
I vividly recall the morning of my Swayamvara, my mother was draping my sari, my aunts were decking me up with the finest jewellery. One of my younger cousins had a sneak peak at my suitors and excitedly blurted, “ Di, I think you should marry that tall prince at the end of the first row, he is the crown prince of Hastinapur and his name is Duryodhana. He’s just too good.”
I blushed, but mom cut her short, “Shut up. His invite was just a formality. Promise me, you will not cast him a glance. Conceited, arrogant, notorious, I won’t let you marry him.”
As I entered the arena, it was him that I looked for first. Just like the forbidden fruit, I was drawn to him. Strong and handsome, he was gazing at me, admiring me, brazenly. With my father as the King of Kashi and with many elder brothers, no young man ever dared to look at me, let alone fall in love.
But thanks to mom, I reluctantly walked past him and I hadn’t taken ten steps further that I heard a commotion and before I could realize, he lifted me in his arms, and carried me away. His brothers and friend Karna covered for him, as they fought my father’s soldiers. As for him, he took off with me in his chariot. And I don’t know why, I was bowled over.
We would laugh about this, years after marriage, he had in fact apologised for not being that perfect gentleman, waiting patiently for his lady, and I had confessed that I secretly wished he would do exactly what he did.
Pandavas stayed with us in the palace, till they moved to Indraprashtha and I would bump into Draupadi often. She was beautiful of course, but then very proud and haughty. She would strut around with her ‘dasis’, and avoid me. For me, she served as an excuse to tease Duryodhana, to pretend to be angry because she had been his first love. It didn’t bother me much, we all have baggage.
But he would always tell me that for his parents, his evil uncle and for many others, he was just a war engine, to win battles, to keep enemy at bay. He said only I understood him, treated him like a friend, and for him, that was much more precious than Draupadi, or anyone else in the world. We were blessed with two children, a boy and a girl and we decided, that’s that. He never wanted me to turn into an heir producing machine.
Life of course wasn’t a bed of roses, you all know Mahabharata. Duryodhana was under constant scrutiny, Pandavas won everyone’s sympathy, both parties fought for power, etc etc. I argued with him, I was worried he was wrong, but then, my husband wasn’t a saint. He wanted to be the king, so did Yudhishtira and all battles are fought for power. I don’t think Pandavas were totally right or Kauravas were totally wrong, but let’s not get into all that. End of the day we realized, we couldn’t agree with each other all the time, but then we respected each other’s opinions and space.
My life turned upside down when his guru Balarama brought his sister Subhadra’s marriage proposal for Duryodhana. I was devastated, I threw a huge tantrum. But other ladies in the palace didn’t consider it a big deal. “All Pandavas have two wives, Arjuna already has three”, they stated. I wanted to hear from him, and the night before the wedding, he wept holding my hands, begging me to speak to him. He couldn’t refuse his Guru, that was the sole reason, he reasoned.
Miraculously, God heard our pleas and Subhadra eloped with Arjuna. The whole world mocked Duryodhana, but I knew how happy he was, how relieved we were. Till that fateful day when Draupadi was humiliated.
Draupadi had insulted Duryodhana and his father, and from that day, till the day it happened, he was seeking revenge. But the revenge went all wrong. He was instantly framed villain, the world hated him now, Pandavas pledged vengeance and I on my part, absolutely distanced myself from him. Though at times, I believed Yudhishthira was partially responsible too. I mean who would pawn his own wife in a silly game? I knew Duryodhana wouldn’t.
That period was the most tumultuous in our relationship. Soon after he came to his senses, he begged for my forgiveness, but I couldn’t. Both sides were preparing for the inevitable battle, but I couldn’t care less. Years later, one of those nights when I couldn’t sleep, I happened to peep into my husband’s room. I was surprised to find him wide awake and as our eyes met, I knew he hadn’t slept for ages. I could sense he was completely lonely, and his eyes spoke volumes, about how much he loved and missed me. In that moment, all my malice melted. Here we were, a middle aged couple, who needed each other and couldn’t stay separated anymore. We had always had our fair shares of disagreements, but we had only each other to turn to.
He wept with joy as I forgave him, he hadn’t resorted to alcohol, hadn’t turned to other women, he had always waited for me.
The Mahabharata battle began and Kauravas lost pretty soon. On the final day, when Duryodhana set out alone, both of us knew he wouldn’t return. But being his wife for years had taught me to be strong. I didn’t weep, and the last I saw him, his message was clear, he had always loved me and would wait for me at the other end.
The battle over, Kauravas vanquished, Pandavas settled at Hastinapur palace, of course we widows kept our quarters. I bumped into Draupadi, and for the first time, we embraced. Two old ladies, each having suffered huge losses. She wasn’t widowed, but she had lost everything long ago. None of her great husbands ever really loved her, they all had other wives whom they owned exclusively. She had been lonely always and it continued to be so.
And me, I had lead a contended life, blessed with Duryodhana, a great warrior, a doting father and my best friend. And I, by the way am his true love, his only wife, Bhanumati.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: YouTube
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