I remember the last journey of the Pandava brothers and their wife Draupadi, across the hills and forests. The principled, duty-bound, Yudhishtra, whose dharma was unchallenged in heavens and on earth; the mighty Bhima, in mighty love with Draupadi, and who would always ask her ‘What can I do for you?’ and do whatever her heart wished; the best archer in all worlds, Arjun, who only for some time was challenged by his unknown brother-turned-bitter-foe Karan, and who had won Draupadi as his wife in an archery contest but had to share her with all his brothers, since that is what Kunti, their mother, asked him to do, part unconsciously and part because she knew all her sons loved Draupadi, and if Arjun took her alone, others will get jealous (but others got jealous anyway, because Draupadi only loved Arjun, though she sacrificed her love and allowed herself to be shared among all the five of the Pandava brothers); then there were Nakul and Sahadev, Madhuri’s two handsome sons, who had conceived them together, when she mated with two most handsome gods together.
I must mention here, that Pandu, their father was jaundiced and weak, because of Sage Vyas’ curse on his mother, who had turned pale when the malodorous sage came to mate with her, like she had closed her eyes when he had come to mate with her for the first time, and had conceived of the blind son Dhitrashtra. Her husband, the King, had died, because of excessive promiscuity, and there were no male heirs. Now Pandu, who once shot a mating deer couple, who turned out to be a sage and his wife in disguise, and had thus been cursed that he will die the moment he tries to mate, could never touch Kunti, or his second wife Madhuri. (It is a separate matter that he died ingloriously for he could not resist when he saw Madhuri bathing under a waterfall). Kunti, who had conceived Karan out of wedlock, mating with the Sun god, after she invoked him by the powers granted to her by a generally raging sage, who she had mysteriously made happy, went on to conceive all her other three sons Yudhishtra, Bhima, and Arjun, in the same way by invoking other gods to come and mate with her (of course this time she did it to produce male heir to the throne). Fearing ignominy, she abandoned Karan, and kept the secret in her heart for ever. For Pandu was impotent, and felt guilty, he asked Kunti to give her powers to Madhuri, so that she can also have children too. Kunti did give Madhuri her powers, but was furious later, to learn, when Nakula and Sahadeva were born that Madhuri had misused the power and mated with two gods at the same time.
All the six of them walked bare feet, blood oozing out of gashes, thorns deep into their feet. All of them were lost in thoughts. Draupadi was still livid with Yudhishtra for wagering her long time back in the gambling match, which he was goaded to enter by the eldest of the Kaurava brothers Dhuryodhan, and his machinating uncle Shakuni. Kauravas, hundred sons of the blind king and Pandu’s brother Dhitrashtra. Kauravas, the bitter enemies of the Pandavas. In the match Yudhishtra lost everything: his kingdom, his and his brothers’ freedom, and most important of all Draupadi’s honour. How disgraced Draupadi, the one born of the fire, was! She was disrobed by Dhushyasan, Duryodhan’s brother, and whose body was mangled beyond recognition in revenge by Bhima, who was in mighty love with Draupadi, and could do anything for her. The same Bhima, had torn out Duryodhan’s thighs, the ones from which he lifted his robe and asked the naked Draupadi to sit upon. All this Bhima had done in the final epic battle of Mahabharat, long after the gambling match. At the moment Draupadi was being disrobed, however, all Bhima could do, was to tell his elder brother Yudhishtra, in extreme agony and rage that he wished he could burn the hands that wagered their dusky and beautiful collective wife, Draupadi. Arjun, as always, was immersed in the thoughts about his real love, Krishna. Nakul and Sahadev followed their righteous elder brother Yudhishtra dutifully.
Draupadi was the first one to fall. Bhima asked Yudhishtra why she was the first one to fall, wasn’t she the most virtuous woman of all. He pleaded with him that they should help her. Yudhishtra turned around and told him bitterly that she never really loved any of her other four husbands; that she loved Arjun only; that she cannot be helped, since this is how all of them will have to fall, one after the other. Draupadi, lifted her weary eyelids and saw the agony on Yudhishtra’s face, as he spoke. She was immensely pleased, but also for the first time felt pity for the man she loathed secretly, for having put her on stake, if only in the name of his dharma, and a warrior’s word.
Bhima was not hurt. How could he! He had always loved Draupadi for love’s own sake, and never expected her to love him back. He had gracefully accepted his unrequited love. He was not jealous of his brothers, for having to share his wife with them. How could he! He loved his brothers too equally. And it was Bhima’s voice she heard last, the same words: “Tell me, what I can do for you.”