All’s Fair in Love

Smita Jain posted under Deliria Short Stories on 2022-02-20

Sitting on my magnificent throne in Lankapura, the crowning jewel of my Asura kingdom not long ago, my eyes wander around the empty durbar. The empty seats of my brothers, sons and ministers stare back at me. The only other living male member of Lanka’s royal family is in the enemy camp. I myself may not be on the earth any longer by this time tomorrow. Rama and I will come face-to-face tomorrow for the last time. Only one of us will live to tell the tale of this great war. Then scholars will depict the story as per the panderings of the victor. If I have my way, I will describe this great war as a saga of love and passion rather than good and evil.  The night feels long and heavy. I close my eyes, and Sita comes to mind. I remember the day when I heard this divine name for the first time.  *** Sounds of conch shells and trumpets blended with the rhapsodic trinkets of the dancers. There was no space left for an additional foot in the durbar. Glory to Lankesh chants reverberated in the air. The sudden cry of ‘Maharaja Ravana, take my revenge’ cut a discordant note in the celebrations.  The pomp and show stopped as my younger sister Suparnakha approached the centre of the durbar, with Akampan, the chief commander of my younger cousins, Khara and Dusana, in tow. I wondered what had made them come from all the way to Dandaka forest to Lanka? I noticed her disfigured nose with the dried blood as Suparnakha came nearer. Though my sister was no beauty, she resembled a beast now. “What happened to you, Suparnakha?” I asked. She started to cry. “Tell us what ails you, Aunt,” my eldest son and Lanka’s crown prince, Meghnath, said, “and we will eliminate the cause from this planet.”  “Two exiled warriors living in Panchvati have left me with no face to show to the world,” Suparnakha replied. “They have killed Khara and Dusana and annihilated their army. Dandaka is now free from the rule of the demons.” I raised an eyebrow at the might of humans. “What were you doing near humans in the first place?” I asked. I noticed some hesitation on Suparnakha’s face as she said, “I went near them for you, Bhaiya. A lady whose radiance puts the sun to shame resides with those two. Even Kamdev would lose his senses at the sight of Sita.” “Sita?” I echoed the name, which was to change Lanka’s destiny.  “The wife of Rama, the elder of the two brothers. I thought Sita’s place is in Lanka, as your queen, rather than with those impoverished humans. So I instructed them to hand over Sita to me as a gift for you. But they made fun of you and cut my nose.” “Serves you right for making such a blasphemous suggestion,” Vibhisana, my youngest brother, said. I always wondered if he was born in the Asura clan by mistake. “Once we, Asuras, set our eyes on something, it becomes ours without asking,” Suparnakha replied without looking at him. “And we are talking here about a queen for King Dashanand, no less. Anyway, my love for my brother is responsible for this plight. Nothing less than the abduction of Sita away from those two forest vagabonds will do for my revenge. Whether you want to give her a place on your throne or feed her to your queens is for you to decide. It is a matter of honour for the Asura clan,” she concluded. Selflessness and generosity are not virtues that I associated with my sister, who remembered me only in times of trouble- which were one too many for my liking. I was sure that Suparnakha had her own reasons to approach Rama and his brother. But she did have a point of it being a matter of honour for the Asura clan. Those humans should pay for desecrating Ravana’s sister. I first thought of sending my army to Dandakarayana to squash the two brothers. But Sita’s name tintinnabulated my heart. So, I decided to go and catch a glimpse of her first and then determine my next course of action. *** The smudges of white in the blue horizon made way for my Pushpaka Vimana to pass. The microscopic earth went about its business as usual when the verdant field at Dandaka greeted my vimana.  I got down and transformed into an old ascetic with the sleight of my hand. With my ten heads and twenty hands covered under the saffron robes, white beard, necklet and kamandal, I appeared to be no different from any human at that moment. I walked towards Sita’s straw-thatched in Panchvati, ten yojanas away, as per the coordinates provided by Akampana.  The fauna ran for their lives, and flora cowered at my sight. I paused at the swarm of banyan trees on the banks of Godavari and swept aside the leaves to get a clear view of the beautiful hermitage in level ground. Surrounded by trees in bloom, it stood beside a charming lake full of lotuses, swans, and other water birds.  A fair-skinned young ascetic sat outside, sharpening his weapons. The sage’s robe and matted hair could not disguise a kshatriya’s lean athletic body.  The youth folded his hand in supplication as his elder brother and sister-in-law came outside.   I vaguely recall spotting a six-foot-tall dark blue-skinned human with lean muscles all over him and arms reaching his knees. But it was the beautiful damsel beside him on whom my eyes were riveted. The tall, golden-skinned lady with black hair and greenish eyes was the most beautiful woman in heaven and earth I had ever laid my eyes on. Her lips didn’t need any adornment to sparkle pink; the radiance of her face went with the spotless saffron saree she wore. The lotus-eyed beauty walked like the grace of a deer, the smile on her face reducing my heart to tears.  Why was this gorgeous lady spending her life in one of the most torturous forests on earth? My heart berated Rama for treating his wife like an ordinary woman.    Sita deserved to be freed from Rama’s clutches. She deserved to be worshipped in Lankapura rather than fade away in the heat of Dandakaryana.  My heart pined for Sita, with Suparnakha’s revenge all but forgotten. I was determined to have her without any further ado.   But I didn’t want to kill her own folks in front of her. So taking my reluctant eyes off Sita, I turned to the direction of Marischa, my maternal uncle’s hut in the same forest.  At the sound of my voice, Marischa got up immediately from his meditation. “What brings you to my humble abode, Lankesh?” he asked. “I want your help to get the queen of my heart,” I said and described the purpose of sojourn here. “I want you to take the form of a beautiful deer and dazzle Sita with your irradiance. I saw that she is fond of animals. She will ask Rama and his brother to go after you. You can take them very far away from their hut, thus giving me ample time to convince her to come to Lanka with me.” “Don’t invite your own death, Lankesh. The one you consider an ordinary mortal shot one arrow at me that carried me more than ten thousand yojanas over the sea before I fell here. Do not commit the sin of coveting the wife of another,” Marischa advised. Love knows, sees and hears no barriers, no matter how well-intentioned. “I have not come here to listen to your discourse. I have other ways to get what I want, and I will proceed to do just that after punishing you with the death penalty for the crime of disobeying your king,” I said. Fearing for his life, Marischa walked with me in the direction of Sita’s hut. Upon reaching Panchavati, I took my place behind the banyan trees near the house while Marischa transformed into a deer. With a golden skin dotted with black spots, even my eyes found him bewitching. Soon Sita’s eyes fell on him. “Oh, what a unique creature,” the beauty cried out, attracting the attention of the brothers. “Look at the yellow skin, the long horns, and the elongated eyes. I have never seen a more beautiful animal than him. Oh, My Lord,” she addressed Rama, “please bring the deer to me so that I can play with it. We will take it with us to Ayodhya; mothers and sisters would be so happy to see it,” she entreated. No husband would have been able to say no to a wife like her. I certainly would not have been able to. Neither did Rama. Despite the warnings from his younger brother, Rama fetched his bow, tied the quiver full of arrows to his shoulder and went in pursuit of the deer. The sun moved west from the east as Sita sat outside making garlands of flowers, her brother-in-law standing at some distance, guarding her. “Sita! Lakshmana! Save Me,” Rama’s pitiful cries rang in the forest air. An excellent job by Marischa. “Lakshmana!” Sita got up, crying from the ground. “Your bhaiya is in trouble. Perhaps he is surrounded by demons looking to extract their revenge for the havoc he has caused among them. Please go to his rescue.” But Lakshmana stood rooted to the spot, much to my consternation. “Bhabhi, this is a ploy. Your husband is too powerful to be defeated by anyone. Somebody is playing tricks on us by using his voice. It is all the more important for me now to stay here for your protection.” I was thinking of using my weapons until Sita started to hurt Lakshamana with her words, even accusing him of bad intentions at one point in time. I couldn’t help pitying the poor young man at the moment and took this as a sign of Sita’s destiny to go to Lanka with me. No longer able to stand his ground, Lakshamana went inside the hut and emerged with his bows and arrows. He drew a line around the hermitage and requested Sita not to cross the same before vanishing in the direction of his elder brother.  My coast was clear. I ventured out of the shadow of the banyans and approached Sita. But much as I tried, I could not cross the Lakshmana Rekha.  “Bhiksham dei,” I said from a distance. Then repeated it aloud when I saw Sita too preoccupied to give me a glance. She finally looked in my direction, and a thousand flowers bloomed in my heart. “Devi, give some fruits to this hungry ascetic,” I said. She nodded and came out with a basket of fruits in her hands from inside. “Holy sage, I cannot cross this line. Request you to please come and accept this humble offering from my hand.” “Such disrespect for a hermit!!! I will turn back without eating a morsel from this basket. But not before cursing your husband.” I feigned anger and poured some water from the kamandal into my hand.  “No, please don’t,” she cried, running out of the hermitage’s boundary. The Lakshmana Rekha was crossed. “Oh, gorgeous damsel, “ I said as she held the basket near me with a bowed head, “a beauty like you has no place amongst the beasts in this forest. You are meant to be a queen, not a companion. Please accept my love and come with me to Lanka, my kingdom,” I said. The expressions in her eyes changed from confusion to comprehension to hatred within seconds. My heart shattered with the realisation that my love had been spurned. “You sinner. You call yourself a king but don’t even have the manners of a pauper. Don’t you know that it is a blasphemy to covet another’s wife? Go back to your kingdom before my husband and brother-in-law make mincemeat of you for daring to utter these words to me,” she said with fire in her eyes. Her angry voice was music to my ears.  I laughed. “By the time Rama and Lakshmana return, they would have nothing to find here. You cannot go back within Lakshmana Rekha again. You have two choices- either you come with me willingly, or I will take you by force,” I said and nabbed her wrist. As she tried to wriggle out of my vice-like grip, I felt cruel in causing her such pain. But my desire for her overcame the temporary grief. The fruits from the basket scattered in all directions as I placed her body atop my shoulders. I attempted to wipe the tears that fell from her eyes, but she turned her face and started shouting Rama’s name. I only wanted to hear the name of Ravana from that lovely mouth. Very soon, I thought, as I gently put her in my vimana. The vehicle soon rose in the skies with the two of us. I had her.  *** I thought we would have a good time in each other’s company on the way to Lanka, but I was mistaken. First, there was a huge white vulture who came to her rescue. I cut one of his wings with my chandrahasa sword, leaving him to die on earth. Then, Sita started to throw whatever little jewellery she wore at various places on earth. I felt good about it. Not for her the gold that had lost its lustre. I would adorn my lady-love with the finest of Lanka’s jewels.  I also understood her temper- after all, the kind lady was attached to her husband of many years. With time, she would forget her past in my glorious kingdom, and embrace me in her arms. So I thought. But Sita turned out to be one of a kind. She refused to even see my royal palace and made the Shimshapa tree in Ashok Vatika her abode. The tree’s leaves became the roof protecting her from rain and sun, its stem a wall to relax her back, and the ground beneath it the bed to rest her body.  My heart wept every day to see her in such a condition. I could have pulled her by the hair and forcibly brought her to my palace. But in the quest for love, she was the only person I wasn’t willing to hurt.  I did let loose the rakshasis in my garden on her, though, instructing them to browbeat her to my palace. But that day never came; instead, the rakshasis became converts and stopped harassing her. The iron-willed lady was undoubtedly worthy of being my queen. Since the moment I saw her, Sita resided in my heart, but her heart was fully occupied by Rama. Saam, Daam, Dand, Bhed- nothing made her accept me. She warned me repeatedly to take her back to Rama and seek his forgiveness. She was sure of Rama coming to Lanka to rescue her from me one day. So unwavering was her faith in her husband that I was afraid that she would not survive the shock of realising that her dream won’t materialise. No human on the planet knew where Lanka was; no God had breached its fortress. Till a monkey came and reduced large parts of my kingdom from gold to dust. Hanumana came and met Sita, wrecked my garden, killed one of my sons before being captured by Meghnath. He escaped our captivity and used his burning tail to set swathes of Lanka on fire.  From then on, some subdued voices started to counsel me to send Sita back to Rama, saying Suparnakha had been sufficiently avenged by Sita’s abduction and prolonged captivity. But I was taking pleasure in the thought of Sita accepting me willingly after I fight, conquer and annihilate her husband. Her virtue stopped her from loving me when her husband was alive;  her first marriage would no longer be a barrier to our love after Rama’s death. I was willing to fight a thousand wars for that day to come.  I lost my brother Vibhishana to Rama even before the latter had set foot in Lanka when Vibhishana went to Rama with a handful of his followers. But I silenced the voices that accused Sita of driving a wedge between two brothers. It is convenient for ordinary mortals to blame a woman for a man’s troubles, but I am no ordinary one.  Then Rama invaded Lanka with his brother and Kiskhinda’s monkeys. One by one, I lost my brave warriors, relatives and sons. The subdued voices, now in the majority, were vociferous. Kumbakarna advised me to return Sita to Rama before meeting a warrior’s death at the hands of my enemy. Meghnath also suggested the same shortly before Lanka got bereft of its crown prince.  *** I open my eyes in the empty durbar. My tired body has no place to rest. The eyes of my queens accuse me of murdering our sons; my mother’s silent words berate me for the obliteration of our clan. Why not go to Ashok Vatika to view my lady-love for one last time? I make my way to the garden.  There she sits against the Sambhalka, her luminescent face enlightening the moonless night. She sits up as I approach her, a grass twig held firmly in her right hand.  “The judgement day is near, Sita. Only one of Rama and I will be alive by this time tomorrow. I have come to request you to stay in my palace for at least this one night so that I get the satisfaction of being a good host to you. Else the sight of you in this condition will haunt me to my afterlife.” Did her face soften, or is my mind playing tricks on me? She remains quiet as I continue, “Devi, so far, I have not used force with you, and today won’t be an exception. Lanka is yours tonight, so feel free to roam wherever you want. If alive, I will come to meet you from the battlefield tomorrow. But let me warn you to make your mind strong and heart stronger for the barrage of words that will come your way, lest I don’t. We both know that you have not stepped outside Ashok Vatika during your year-long stay in Lanka. But the hypocritical society delights in laying blame for everything on a woman’s door. From my side, I have ensured that my scholars condemn neither you nor Suparnakha for this war, but can’t control what Aryabratha’s historians will write.” I glance at her silent visage before starting to walk away. “Ravana,” she calls. This is the first time her voice doesn’t carry the traces of anger, malice or accusation towards me. I have my back to her and don’t turn lest her tone changes at the sight of my face. “You sinned by bringing me here against my will. But it is equally true that you didn’t violate my dignity by force, as you very well could have done. For this reason, after your demise, you will find your place in heaven.” I walk away as tears of joy threaten to escape my eyes.  Rama is the most fortunate man on the planet to have Sita’s love.   But I, too, have Sita entrenched in my heart. If Rama’s arrow pierces my heart tomorrow, it will kill Sita along with me. And, Rama will be defeated. I smile at the thought. I have lost my all for the one I love. Now I am ready to die for the sake of love.  All’s fair in love, even war. I have no regrets of the past but have learnt my lesson.  Do not cultivate enmity with your charioteer, concierge, and brother,  they can cause harm anytime.  Don’t make the mistake of always thinking of yourself as a winner,  even if you win every time. Kings wage wars to expand their kingdom. Posterity will struggle to find a parallel to this great battle in Lanka, where two people fought for love. The dead man will be as much a winner as the last man standing. Hail Rama, hail me.  The golden hues of the sun kiss my face. The gentle breeze caresses my hair. With Sita’s image in my heart, I get up to commence the last chapter of this epic love saga.      Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!