The Irreversible Wrong Turn

The Irreversible Wrong Turn

I lay supine, the crepuscular sky reflecting the oncoming of my night! I was broken, desolate. Everyone, everything lost. There was nothing to do except wait for Lord Yama’s yoke to pull my soul out from this body. 

The excruciating pain of having my thighs torn asunder had dulled. Or was it that I didn’t care anymore? I didn’t want to know. All that mattered was to accept the inevitable. After a life of denial. 

I was not born like this. When did things start to go awry? 

My childhood was happy, as the eldest of 100 brothers and one sister. I was strong, powerful, and wise. Yes, wise too! Everyone looked up to me. My parents adored me. My mother chose to blindfold herself to see the same blackness her husband saw. Such was her devotion to marriage! My brothers, sister, and I were truly happy. 

And then they arrived! My five impoverished cousins with their widowed mother. I had not heard of them much. There were odd whispers of a curse that drove Uncle Pandu into self-exile, never to return to Hastinapur. He, his two wives, and five children deep in the forest. No one seemed to miss them much except Bheeshma Pitamah, our beloved grandfather, and Uncle Vidura, who for some inexplicable reason never liked me. 

“You have not seen suffering,” he often quipped irritatingly, especially if he heard me laugh heartily. Why can’t I be happy? 

A few days before they arrived, I saw Pitamah sobbing piteously, unabashedly. I had never seen him like this. He was the strongest person I knew. 

“What happened?” 

He didn’t even bother to wipe his tears. He said, “Oh! Your Uncle Pandu and his wife Madri have left this world. I have lost a beloved son!” And copious tears flowed as he hugged me. 

Even though I hugged him back, I felt a pit in my stomach. I realised much later that this was the first sign of ill-omen, an agony that started as a mild annoyance and slowly developed into all-consuming hatred.  

The five Pandava boys became the cynosure of all eyes, especially the eldest Yudhishtra. I hated the attention he got. Everyone said he was such a morally upright boy, so diffident and respectful towards elders, so caring toward his mother and his younger brothers, so loving!  Blah! Blah! Blah!

He was praised so much that sometimes I could’ve sworn I saw a glint of resentment in the eyes of Bheema and Arjuna, the second and third Pandava brothers. Either I was wrong, or they handled it well because the five of them stuck to each other like glue. 

His morality was too good to be true! He was an amazing actor. Because he didn’t hide his resentment towards my brothers and me when the elders were not around. 

I made no effort to hide my own resentment at losing my place of pride in the Kuru household. Everyone knew how much I hated them. 

In fact, I am proud that I lived my life as authentically as I believed was possible. No pretences, no apparent behaviour. My innermost feelings were evident in my outward behaviour. Unlike him!

And yes, I’ve made mistakes, a lot of them. So many that my karmic cup overflowed to this miserable state of desolation! When and where did this shift in my life happen? When did I change from a happy, carefree person to one consumed by jealousy?

Yes, the tiny seed was sown when I saw Bheeshma Pitamaha’s tears for someone else! But the seed was nourished and nurtured by many things, events, and people, primarily under the direction of Uncle Shakuni! He was the only one who understood and empathised with me. 

He helped me handle my deep hatred for my cousins. He helped me find ways to hurt them, mock, and even kill them. But somehow, they always managed to come through unscathed. I mocked and taunted Bheema for his gluttony. Not that he took it well. He didn’t hesitate to do the same with me and my brothers. We were equals fighting for the same thing, the throne of Hastinapur. 

Until they came, there was no doubt that I would be king. Now with Yudhisthira and his ingratiating attitude, seeds of doubt crept in, and people started debating about who should be king. The eldest son of the elder, blind brother or the eldest son of the younger brother, the one who had ruled before his self-exile?

These doubts would never have come if these five hadn’t returned from the forest. I wish there was a way to make them go back there! But things got worse before they became better. 

The graduation day gave them more power than ever! They won many competitions and endeared themselves to the people of Hastinapur as well as the elders! Damn it! Those days were the most painful! My heart was filled with envious rage. I was frustrated with their continued success. Kauravas, under my leadership, were also doing well. Still, they were loved more. 

The seemingly wise words of the elders telling me to forgive and join hands with the Pandavas did not help at all. Contrarily, they salted my wounds, enhancing the excruciating pain.  Not once did Yudhishtira himself make an effort to end the rivalry. No one was giving him the same advice. Only I saw through his facade of humility, morality and ethics. Deep down, he wanted the throne as much as I did, perhaps more!

One day when I was brooding over my state, Uncle Shakuni came to me. “What if I can get your cousins killed?” His eyes glinted with dark mischief. The glint was like a soothing balm on my tortured soul. I needed it to cool the raging fire in my heart. 

“We’ll build Lakshagriha, a palace of lac. Purochana, a good architect and a trusted aide of mine will do it! We’ll invite them there and then set it on fire.”

I agreed. However, the most difficult part of the plan was that I had to personally invite them to come to the palace.

“Why can’t you do that part? Or I’ll send Dushana, my trusted brother.” I had argued. B

“They don’t trust any of us! But they cannot refuse you!” His logic was undeniable. 

And so I went unwillingly because even pretending to be nice to them was difficult. 

But it was worth the effort. Not only did they accept the invitation but also I won brownie points with Bheeshma Pitamah and the other Kuru elders for extending a hand of friendship toward my cousins. 

Pitamah had said, “Both of you are so powerful by yourselves that I can only imagine the strength of Pandavas and Kauravas fighting on the same side! The Kurus could rule the world.”

I felt guilty that I was deceiving this wise, old man. But the guilt was not as intense as my hatred. We had a great dinner at the palace. The five brothers were very happy with our show of cordiality and love.

As planned when they retired for the night, and everybody else left, we set fire to the palace. 

Yes, I hated covert operations. I would’ve preferred to challenge them to an open battle. But Uncle Shakuni was right. The elders would never have approved of war. They always wanted this rivalry to be resolved peacefully. All they cared about was family name and reputation.

The Palace of Lac ruse didn’t turn out as well as we had planned. They managed to escape, thanks to the interference of Uncle Vidura, that pesky one who favoured them always! They remained in hiding for a while allowing us to believe they were dead. And yes, those days were happy and peaceful for me. I thought I had gotten rid of the pestilence. 

But I was so wrong! My peace was short-lived. They made a grand re-entry at Draupadi’s swayamvar, dressed as Brahmins and winning the hand of that beautiful maiden! Cowards! They could’ve come forth and called our ruse immediately. We could’ve battled it out then itself, and I would’ve become the undisputed successor. 

But Yudhistira was cunning! He didn’t accuse us. He called the fire an accident even though he knew that act had dented my credibility with the people and the elders of Hastinapur. He was waiting patiently to garner enough support and sympathy before he declared war! 

Arjuna’s victory at the Panchala princess’ swayamvar fueled my jealousy! They were getting increasingly strong. The marriage meant powerful Panchala was now with the Pandavas. Yudhisthira was smarter than I ever anticipated! He was a fox in sheep’s clothing. 

But more pain came before I had my way! After the wedding, the elders convinced my father to give half the kingdom to the Pandavas. I protested vehemently. 

But Uncle Shakuni said, “Give them Khandavaprastha, the part of the Kuru kingdom that is so densely covered in forest area that it would take their entire lifetime to clear it and set up a kingdom as powerful as ours. The non-forested areas of Khandavaprastha were barren!”

It was brilliant, or so I thought. Again, we underestimated their prowess! They took the help of Vishwakarma, the Asura architect, and razed the forest to the ground in a matter of a month! No one called that cruelty!

Yes, I may have been wrong to give them that part of the kingdom! But weren’t they wrong to have destroyed an entire forest and the plants and animals sheltering in it so mercilessly. They could’ve called for war then too or been satisfied with working slowly to build a kingdom. That merciless destruction was a reflection of Yudhisthira’s deep desire for the throne. Yudhisthira was adding to his karmic cup just as I was!

In a few months, the dense forest area was transformed into one of the most wondrous urban areas of Hastinapur. They renamed it Indraprastha and built a magical palace there. We were invited for the coronation ceremony of Yudhisthira!

Imagine you are being lashed a hundred times in the same place! Each new lash dug into the previous one so that wound became so deep that you could see the bare bone, its nerves singing agonisingly! The pain of my jealousy and hatred hurt a hundred times more!  

Still, I wanted to see what they had built. So I went, my searing heart feebly hiding behind a fake smile! No one believed I was happy for them, despite my best attempts at playing nice. But that was me! I couldn’t run away from myself, could I?

After a sumptuous feast, my brothers and I were taken on a tour of the palace. Did I tell you that palace was magical? The verdant, spectacular gardens had sprinklers that automatically turned off when we passed to prevent water from being sprayed on us. The juiciest of fruits hung low on all the trees! Lights turned on and off magically to align with our movements. 

The palace itself was an architectural marvel. Lavished with polished stone and precious and semi-precious gems, it was a splendid spectacle! I couldn’t lie to myself. I was in complete awe! 

For the first time, a tiny seed of respect for the Pandavas crept in. They were not the helpless prodigal they claimed to be.  They were far more powerful. Winning against them wouldn’t be easy. 

I knew they were getting a lot of help from Krishna of the Yadava clan, the man believed to be the incarnate of Lord Vishnu, the one who killed his uncle, King Kamsa of Mathura!  I’m digressing now. Let me take you back to the palace.

Next, we were taken for a tour of the inside of the palace. Draupadi did the honours. Gosh! She was more beautiful than ever. I smiled at her. Without as much as an acknowledgement, she turned her face away and began to speak to Uncle Vidura and his wife. I followed the group on the tour, angry and confused. Haughty woman! But beautiful!

We reached the main hall. Why was there a pool in it? I walked carefully around it and then Draupadi walked on it! That’s when I realised that it was a spectacularly polished floor that merely looked like a pool of water. She smirked at my naivete. Everyone else chortled at my confusion.  

“Stay together and right behind me,” she warned after this episode, “lest you get trapped in the wondrous magic of this palace.” That smirk became wider as our eyes met. 

I was livid and decided to go on my own. I sauntered to the back of the group until they moved on ahead and I was left alone to explore the beauty of the mansion. I noticed another huge hall on my left. I took the turn. How was I know that was a wrong turn! 

I entered a magnificent hall, its polished floor gleaming, reflecting the bright light from the chandeliers above. I could even see my reflection in it. 

At the far end of the gigantic hall held up by stunningly carved pillars was another door. I put my right foot forward only to find myself falling awkwardly into a pool of water. The scene must’ve been funny; the crown prince of Hastinapur nastily surprised by splashing water. I was fooled again. 

A heinous laughter filled the hall from behind. The smirk had turned to open mockery! I quickly recovered and got out of the water but not before slipping twice more in the wetness. Now, she was laughing so hard, tears were flowing from her eyes. Her hyena-like laughter attracted her husbands who joined in her mocking merriment. 

I didn’t find it funny at all. All the venomous, jealous anger against her and her five husbands returned in a gigantic wave and consumed my body and soul! My desire for avenging that moment of humiliation combined with the accumulated jealousy took my hatred of the Pandavas to a point of no return! It was that fatal turn.

Maybe if I hadn’t taken that turn, maybe if I had stuck with the group, maybe if I hadn’t mistaken the pool for a polished floor, maybe if she hadn’t laughed so humiliatingly, just maybe I would’ve found it in me to overcome my deep envy for my cousins, and the Kurukshetra war could’ve been avoided. 

And so that wrong turn set the motion for a horrendous period of distrust, malice, and untreatable jealousy. I was willing to do anything to avenge my humiliation.  She had mocked me! None even tried to help me up. My brothers stood there stunned and unable to move, and yet knowing the look of my face was the start of something bad! 

I could’ve sworn I saw a happy glint in Uncle Shakuni’s eyes. But it changed instantly to anger. Maybe I was mistaken. 

Uncle Vidura also recognized my look of livid rage. He shushed Draupadi and told everyone to leave so that I could compose myself in private. 

“Don’t take it to heart, Suyodhana,” he tried to console me. “It was only an innocent reaction to something funny. I know this palace is quite a maze. I also was fooled by its magic many times. Remember you are part of the Kuru clan, the one that boasts of generous-hearted kings like Dushyanta, Bharata, and others. Don’t allow pettiness to get into your heart, Suyodhana.” He had also caught on to the wrong turn! 

But I was lost in my humiliation. It created a vile darkness that filled my body and soul. That darkness took away my peace forever. It refused to go away even when I disrobed Draupadi in the court of Hastinapur. It refused to go even when everyone in my family gave up their life for me. It refuses to go even now while I wait for death. Will I be redeemed from this darkness?

I heard footsteps. I turned to see Krishna approaching me. He was alone. Strangely, his eyes were filled with compassion and love. 

For me?

“Yes, my dear Suyodhana! I feel compassion for you because you had the capability to be as good and moral as Yudhisthira but you didn’t recognize it. Rather you ignored it and chose to feed your darkness.”

It was my turn to shed tears! For the first time, His words made sense. 

“Do you know that you and Yudhishthira were the same until about 13 years ago? He was as insecure as you, and as jealous of you as you were of him.”


“Yes, really! He pretended well, as you had rightly gauged.”

“Then why did you take his side?”

“Because he changed. That forced exile was the best thing that could’ve happened to him. He learnt to embrace and accept his faults and suffering caused by his karma. Yudhishtra’s pretence became his authenticity while you lived in denial. And yes, that wrong turn was the beginning of your end. Now go in peace and may you be reborn strong enough to face the consequences of this birth’s karma.”

I folded my hands in gratuitous salutation to Him! He left me, blessing me with less anger, hatred, and more peace than before. 
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