The last days of the battle – Indian Mythology
I tried writing a story based on the Mahabharata. It’s from Drona’s point of view. Drona was the person who taught the cousins- Pandavas and Kauravas the use of weapons, archery and warfare. When the cousins decide to battle it out for property, honor and revenge, Guru Drona has to take sides and participate in the war. Though he is a brahmin by birth, Drona is a great warrior.
Here I attempt to retell Drona’s story – through thoughts and memories.
It’s an attempt at retelling a story with a little bit of my own imagination.
For those who have read the Mahabharata, let me know what you think of this take on it. For those who haven’t, let me know what you think of the story writing.
The sky is black as if a veil of death hangs over the city. The eerie silence of the night, is broken only by the blood-curdling wails of widows and the injured. The breeze carries with it a concoction of smells – rotting flesh and burning wood from pyres. The battle for the day is over, but it rages on inside me and refuses to be doused.
I toss and turn on the hard, wooden cot; questions that I have asked myself several times since the beginning of the war, hound me again.
Why? Why am I here? Why did I agree to fight this bloody battle? Why did I not leave when I finished my duty as a teacher to the Princes’?
‘Obligation!’ I say to myself
“Is it that or is it a father’s greed?”
A voice within me asks. I had learnt to subdue and ignore the voice, since a long time, but it had started finding its’ way out lately.
‘No! I did it for Dharma alone,’ I am convinced.
‘Dharma’ is a word that has made a fool of the best of us. Do not speak of ‘Dharma.’
Every great warrior here believes he is a hero – doing what he was born to do – to bring righteousness on this earth. There is no greater lie. Every man here has his own agenda. Some fight for honor and some for pride; but most fight for vengeance.
The poor soldier alone is righteous, for he fights because he has no choice.
‘I too am duty-bound to the throne – I have not forgotten my past. I too am a victim, a slave of the Kingdom of Hastinapur!’
An old memory comes back to me now- the memory of Drupad, my childhood friend – the memory of us in the ashram – playing with cowrie shells and collecting gooseberries. My heart grieves.
If only Drupad had acknowledged my friendship none of this would be happening. How could he forget all those years’ of togetherness when he became King? How could he break his word? When I had no money to buy milk for my only son, Ashwathama, I went to him for help, as he had promised to help me if the need arose.
But Drupad who was King now, belittled our friendship and embarrassed me before his entire court. He said that I was a fool to even call him a friend; for how could a poor Brahmin like me be a Kshatriya’s friend?
When Bhishma appointed me as a teacher to the Princes’ of Hastinapur, I should have forgiven Drupad and moved on. But I chose not to; I trained Arjun and asked him to capture Drupad, as my gurudakshina. Arjun succeeded. I did not want to hurt Drupad. I wanted to remind my friend that I was no lesser than a Kshatriya when it came to the knowledge of warfare. But my actions angered him. And he took an oath to kill me. This battle became a ground to make his wish come true.
But now my friend lies dead with thousands of others; killed by my sword. A Brahmin’s sword.
I never wished to kill him but he was on the other side, against Hastinapur; the kingdom which gave a poor Brahmin and his son a great deal of respect, wealth and honor.
This is my truth. This is the only truth. This is why I’m here.
The air is still.
My head hurts with the lack of sleep.
I remember seeing Arjun today. For a fleeting moment, it seemed as though he too were looking at me. I thought, if only I could have fought on the side of the Pandavas.
I turned away, unable to meet his eye. I had murdered his son the previous day. The boy would have been the age of my grandson- if I had one.
I had heard Arjun’s cry, in the dead of night on seeing Abhimanyu’s lifeless body. I had seen the look in his eyes – of anger, pain and bitterness. I had heard Yudhishthira telling him how guilty he felt for death of the young boy – that Abhimanyu had entered the Chakravyuha to save him – and how he had been brutally killed; that one of the murderers was I; Dronacharya!
Arjun’s horror-filled eyes, looked at me and asked one question, ‘How could you?’ as I paid my last respects to the departed soul.
I wanted to tell him that his son had died a brave death – a warrior’s death. I wanted him to know that I had felt my heart swell with pride, seeing the boy’s courage and skill – that I had felt deep sorrow that I had not taught the young man- that I had also felt a pang of jealousy that there was a better teacher than me – the one who taught the young boy. And after all that I thought of how I shut out all thoughts and shot the first arrow even as Abhimanyu reminded me that he was unarmed. I had said, ‘All is fair in war!’ and released my arrow again. But the boy’s eyes showed no fear until the end.
Is it the fear of death that makes me question my actions?’
That cannot be. I am not afraid of dying. I have fought many wars for Hastinapur.
How do you say you fight for obligation then? You have paid the kingdom of Hastinapur, multiple times and brought much glory to the kingdom. You said that yourself now. Why do you not walk away from all this? This is no place for a Brahmin and for one who is a teacher to both the warring sides.
It was the voice again.
As Commander of the Kaurava army, I must fight and destroy the enemy. The enemy has no face. I overpower the voice, which is becoming a nuisance.
I must rest now. I have a war to win tomorrow. This is no time for repentance or regret.
But sleep evades me. And questions swarm my head.
An hour later I am still unable to sleep. The faces of those I have killed swim before my eyes. Voices of the dead and the living ring in my ears – shrieks, conversations and questions.
“He’s eighty but he fights like sixteen,” I had heard one foot- soldier say to another earlier in the day. Those had been his last words.
Oh God! I have not even spared those weaker than me.
‘He’s invincible; Guru Drona’ I heard Nakul tell Sahdev. I had been close enough to strike them down but I did not. Duryodhan chided me when he got to know, later that day.
I did not offer an explanation to Duryodhan, despite the provocation.
I remember the look in Karna’s eyes.
Why do I remember it?
Amongst every single person fighting this war, Karna, is the most righteous. He alone is fighting with no agenda, no selfish interest. He fights for obligation, for friendship. Karna has proved to be more of a warrior than you.
Karna is far more righteous than Yudhishthira, whose love for gambling, is the cause of this war, I thought . I had to agree with the voice on Karna being the most righteous.
The responsibility of this destruction is entirely Youdhishthira’s to bear; not mine.
I must have dozed for an hour or two. I do not know. But when I woke up I saw the sky was a pale, watery blue as if the Gods had been crying all night.
I tried to shut my eyes again but the voices in my head grew louder.
“Whether the war is because of you or not does not matter. You broke all rules of war.” It was the voice again.
“Fighting late into the night after sunset, killing irrespective of rank, hatching a plan to kidnap Yudhishthira, setting up a strategy to distract Arjun and Krishna so that the plan could be put in action and killing Abhimanyu when he was unarmed.”
Did not Karna tell you, “It is dishonorable? You must not resort to it. Yet you carried on.”
‘All’s fair in love and war,’ I had replied to Karna, shocking him into silence. Victory must be achieved at any cost. Rules are meant to be broken.’ Karna’s eyes had held an expression that I couldn’t read. Disbelief mixed with scorn. Or was it shame – of knowing me?
Duryodhan had laughed, happy with my response.
“Was it honorable when Draupadi laughed at me, when I fell into the pond, my friend? Was it honorable when she asked you, who your father was at the Swayamvar****? There was nothing honorable about it. Guru Drona is right. We must fight. Everything is fair in war!” Duryodhan reminded Karna.
Ashwathama, my son had looked at me, pride in his eyes and affection; for me. He was laughing too.
I had felt elated.
The soldiers’ voices made its’ way, into my tent, an incessant buzz; telling me that it was time to rise. I thought of Bhishma lying on a bed of arrows. The Pandavas had not spared their grand-uncle, who had cared for them when they were young. ‘Everything is fair in war,’ I convince myself again.
‘I will do my duty, my dearest Bhishma, I make this promise to you, today,’ I think, putting on my armor.
Did you not say that I must fight because we – you and I are also responsible for all that is happening. ‘Because we remained silent when we should have spoken. Because we did not harness the reins of the ponies in our care. And because we sowed the seeds of difference by loving one more than the other –and because we allowed them to commit one mistake after another and did not stop them.’
I do not agree with you, dear Bhishma, regarding the responsibility. How can a petty Brahmin like me be responsible for this Great War? But I will fight, though our reasons are different as are the rules we fight by.
The sky is an orange–crimson and mirrors the ground below. The conch is blown to announce the start of the day’s battle. I stand on my chariot surveying the land before me – where warriors have been engaged in a bloody battle since the last fourteen days.
Swords strike, maces clash, blood spills like water; the sound of trumpets, conchs and battle cries fill the air.
‘We will never win if we don’t kill him,’ I hear someone say, as I rage forward, destroying and decimating everything in my way; I cannot be sure whose words they are. When I turn to look, I see Krishna and my favorite student looking in my direction. Arjun looks worried but Krishna’s lips shows the hint of a smile.
‘Krishna! How agitating it is to see him smiling now!’
Something tells me that today will be the last day of the battle. It is the inner voice; again.
My heart aches looking at the carnage around me. I ignore it.
A bead of sweat trickles down my head, making its way down my face.
If today be my last then I must kill as many as I can; of the enemy. I decide to use the Brahmastra***.
I invoke the divine weapon against the Pandavas foot-soldiers. The weapon that has been bestowed upon me on the condition that it will not be used on any ordinary warrior. But I use it. I do not know why. I do it even though I know I am wrong.
Sometimes one makes mistakes knowing fully well that it is a mistake and that the consequences will be irreparable. That is man’s biggest weakness.
The heavens bellow. They plead with me to retract the weapon and remind me of the blunder I have made. I relent to the Gods’ and retract the weapon but do not change my decision to kill as many people as I can. Something at the back of my head tells me that my end is near. I hurl forward on my chariot and pulverize everything ahead of me.
I race, annihilating everything until I hear the words, ‘Ashwathama is dead!’ My charioteer brings my chariot to a halt. I feel the jerk.
My mind tells me that the words are not true. But a father’s heart is stronger than the rational mind. I order the charioteer to turn the chariot towards Bhīma who is beating his chest and guffawing.
Ashwathama- my son! My only son – slaughtered to death! I cannot breathe.
How had Bhim managed to kill him? Had the power of Shiva, which my son was blessed with, not been enough to save him?
My mind warns me, ‘It’s a war tactic. Just like you used the Chakravyuha** to kill Abhimanyu. It is a lie. Do not listen. Remember everything’s fair in war.’
I ignore the warning. My eyes search desperately for Ashwathama. I do not see him.
Ah! I see Yudhishthira.
“Is Ashwathama dead?” I ask Yudhishthira who is honest to a fault.
“Ashwathama is dead,” he says, his eyes, looking down. He says something more but the sound of trumpets and conches drown the rest of what he says. Or is it my own ears that shut down after hearing what I feared?
I have lost all will to live, let alone fight. All that I have ever done has been for my son, I think. Without my son, duty has no meaning to me. It does not matter to me who wins or loses or why the war is being fought. All I ever wanted, was to see my only son happy. How many times had I thought of leaving but I was scared after Karna’s coming, if Duryodhan would sideline my son. So I stayed on, to make sure Ashwathama was fine. But now he lies dead, with all others killed on this battlefield.
I wish to see my son one last time. So, I step down from my chariot and walk across the battle-field towards Bhīma, even as I hear Karna’s voice in the distance, warning me, not to get off the chariot.
“Where’s Ashwathama? I ask Bhīma, ignoring Karna. How did you kill him?”
“With my mace”
“Where is he?”
“There- in a pool of blood and there lies his head,” Bhim says, pointing to the royal elephant, Ashwathama; who he has beheaded with his mace.
I turn to Yudhishthira.” You lied to me!” I scream, but my voice is drowned by the other sounds in the battlefield.
“I am unarmed.” I tell Bhīm. “It is against the rules of war for you to fight me now. Let me go back to my chariot and we can fight; like true warriors.”
“The future will call you a coward, Bhim.”
“Did you not think of that when you attacked our son, Abhimanyu, Guru Drona?” Bhim asks me with a sneer.
They watch me – the brothers’ -Arjun, Bhīma, Yudhishthira, Nakul and Sahdev but they do not kill me. There is a hint of that smile again on Krishna’s lips.
I see Drishtadyumna, the commander of the Pandavas army – my dear friend, Dhrupad’s son – Draupadi’s brother- my student – heading towards me to fulfil the purpose of his birth- to avenge his father- and I know my moment has come.
I kneel on the ground and look up at the skies. The clouds have covered the sun. The sky is scarlet. I think I will be spared after all. It is sunset. But I have done away with the sunset rule, since I took over as commander, three days’ ago. I have done away with all rules.
I see Eklavya standing in front of me, giving me his right hand – the one without the thumb – to help me rise. The clouds move away from the sun. The light blinds me. Is that a peacock feather I see on Eklavya’s head? It is Krishna!
Am I hallucinating?
My mind is playing games with me. Or is it a lack of sleep that is making me delirious?
I am exhausted.
An exhausted warrior is as good as a dead warrior. I must focus.
“You are allowing them to kill me by lying to me. How is that fair?” I ask Krishna, who looks ten times his size. I must control my mind.
“Don’t talk of fairness, Guru Drona. You have never been fair – neither to Eklavya whom you did not teach and yet asked him for gurudakshina* when you realized he was better than Arjun nor to Karna. Your obsession to make your word come true – that Arjun would be known as the greatest warrior is the cause of this war. If you had allowed Karna to participate in the contest on the day the greatest warrior was to be declared without asking him about his birth, he would not have been under Duryodhan’s obligation and Duryodhan would never have mustered the courage to fight this war. You are as responsible as Yudhishthira and Bhishma, for this bloodshed.” It is Krishna. He is not smiling anymore.
Then Drishtadyumna’s sword touches my neck. I feel a sharp sting.I feel light. I remember no more.
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*gurudakshina – payment to a teacher for the teaching
**Chakravyuha – a strategy in war
***Brahmastra – powerful weapon
****Swayamvar – marriage ceremony where the woman is allowed to choose her husband from the contenders.