Kannada: Pranada geleya by H R Sujatha
Translated from Kannada by Bhumika R
Memories of that scene from the play, Pampa Bharatha, began to play in my mind…
She was sitting like she had embraced solitude. A pagade mat lay spread in front of her, set for a game of dice. That was when she heard Karna call her husband’s name loudly. In a short while, Karna entered his dear friend Duryodhana’s private royal chamber. The moment Karna stepped in, the air of despondency and loneliness which was looming around made way for joy and delight. A gentle whiff of breeze wafted into the palace. All of a sudden, it seemed like the atmosphere had been infused with a dose of life.
A soft, cool breeze carrying the fragrance of the palace, tickled the tuft of curly hair swaying on Bhanumathi’s forehead. There was a bounce in her stride. Every step she placed with her anklet-decked legs made it seem as though spring was knocking at the door. The air was filled with the fragrance of freshly bloomed flowers and the music of her anklets. Their dear, dear friend who had a special place in their lives had stepped in…Both Bhanumathi and her husband regarded Karna’s friendship as a priceless treasure.
While basking in the affection and warmth of his best friends, Karna would often forget about his place in society. But no one ever seemed surprised or puzzled over it…
Several years ago, Draupadi had stood holding a floral garland at her swayamvara… and Karna had seen her arms brimming with the nectar of youth. Years later, the memory of that day suddenly flashed through Karna’s mind as he stepped into his friend’s royal private chamber… Long ago, on that day, Draupadi’s eyes had signalled to him… ‘Pick that bow and aim the arrow such that it hits the target.’ An invisible arrow that came flying through her eyes had pierced his heart on that day… memories of that bygone moment now danced in front of his eyes… He had aimed the arrow and was about to shoot it towards the target. But… but…that painful word came darting towards him in the royal court just at that moment and left him shattered… ‘soothaputra’! That one word resonated everywhere in the palace! He had felt emasculated and frozen on hearing that one word. His youthful spirit had disappeared and in its place, a deep sense of shame enveloped his mind. Oh, that one word…that cruel word!
The entire palace had reverberated with sounds of laughter and jeering. Karna’s face had turned red in shame and humiliation on being ridiculed as a ‘soothaputhra’. Seething with ignominy and pain, he had almost walked out of the palace. That was when he noticed a look of anguish on Draupadi’s face. She had trusted him to emerge victorious in her swayamvara. But all her hopes had been dashed by the sudden turn of events. What he then saw in her eyes left a deep wound in his heart. That wound remained in his heart like a broken piece of thorn and continued to hurt even after several years had passed by.
That was the first time he had experienced a woman’s appreciation and love. Draupadi had indicated her love through her eyes. He had seen how love had bloomed in her eyes like a flower when she had glanced at him for the first time. But within no time, society had thrown muck in both their eyes… he had seen tears brimming in Draupadi’s eyes at that moment…Her tears looked like water droplets scattered on the leaves of a lotus. Later, he had asked himself if he had imagined it or if he had indeed seen it! Had he really seen tears in Draupadi’s eyes that day? Or had he merely imagined things?
The arrow of flowers which Draupadi had darted towards him had pierced through his heart and caused it to bleed. The unhealed wound had soon turned into a painful tumour. Karna was slowly being swallowed by the quicksand of memory.
On that day, when he was seething with shame and hurt because of the insult, Duryodhana had lovingly embraced and reassured him. Since then, the roots of their friendship had grown deeper and stronger. In fact, it had even begun to heal his wounded heart.
Duryodhana’s friendship had given Karna an important position in the Kourava’s palace. It had ensured that no one in the palace would ever question or bother him about anything! The warmth he had been receiving from the royal couple had managed to weed out any sign of inferiority that crept into his mind. He had even realised his special ability in their company. That realisation had offered him respect and dignity. Warm and beautiful moments with his friends made him feel that he belonged there. The sense of belongingness made him feel connected to the place. He became like a bird that stretches its wings once it feels safe and at home in a place.
The fact that he was received with open arms and affection even in the private royal chambers of the Kourava monarch touched a cord in his heart. Even more heartwarming and wonderful was that neither Bhanumathi nor Duryodhana allowed any societal codes to interfere with the trio’s deep friendship.
When Karna stepped into the royal chamber looking for his friend, he saw Bhanumathi’s charming hands pointing towards the pagade mat. Her beautiful eyes gestured to Karna, asking him to join her in playing the game. Both Karna and Bhanumathi were soon engrossed in the game. Meanwhile, their minds had begun wandering without care. An appropriate analogy for their situation would be that of a cat which slurps milk with its eyes closed from a bowl and then assumes that no one else had been able to see it drinking milk from the bowl either. A desire had slowly been ignited in both their hearts and it had begun to radiate with happiness.
Basking in the warmth of that happiness, a long-forgotten desire which had frozen in his heart was beginning to thaw. Both Karna and Bhanumathi seemed unmindful of the world and its cares. All of it was happening without their conscious minds realising any of it. It was true that those were fleeting emotions and would last only for a few seconds or so. However, despite their transient nature, it was also true that those emotions were intensely passionate in nature. Even if someone were to divert an entire river to extinguish the molten lava seething in their hearts, it would have failed in dousing it. In fact, the warm feelings would have sailed with ease on that river, instead! Perhaps, only a receding of those very feelings in their heart could abate it. Nothing else was capable of dousing that fire in their hearts! Slowly, both of them realised it too.
Karna suddenly felt a sense of nervousness about being alone in her company and was afraid that he might be swept away by his intense desire. Yet he sat to play pagade with her. When she smiled, Karna could see the love in her eyes. It caused his heart to flutter…it had been longing for such a feeling. Yet it chose to play a game of hide and seek, oscillating between accepting and denying the tender feeling of love.
All this was far beyond any kingdom or battle. It was like the call of a nightingale which sings to indicate the arrival of spring and rejoices as the flowers begin to bloom. The feeling which had sprouted in both their hearts had blossomed into a flower whose fragrance could not be contained. Neither losing nor winning in that game of dice mattered to either of the two. Bhanumathi had casually kept her pearl necklace as a reward for the one who won. It’s mine said she while he retorted playfully saying he had won it. The necklace was like a snake while the two of them were like snake charmers trying to make it dance to the tune of their music. It reminded one of a butterfly’s hide-and-seek game with flowers. While they were exhilarated and lost in the ecstasy of that moment, Duryodhana walked in. He saw his dear friend and his darling wife pulling the two ends of a pearl necklace. Neither of them seemed to have realised that it had entwined their hands while they were busy tugging at it. That necklace had to be given to Karna for he had won. But she refused to give up on it while he claimed it as his prize and pulled at it. Neither of them were loosening their hold on the necklace. Then she heard her husband’s voice tenderly calling her name – Bhanu…
On seeing Duryodhana, in one breath, both of them narrated about the game and asked him to intervene and decide upon the matter. The necklace had entwined their hands and turned into a difficult knot. The thread that was holding the pearls tore as both struggled to free their hands. The pearls lay scattered on the floor while the thread slightly yanked off the skin on Bhanumathi’s hand. A few drops of blood trickled through her injury. Duryodhana rushed towards his wife, pressed his finger tightly on the injury to prevent further bleeding and looked at her lovingly.
Karna felt restless and wondered; ‘Who do I regard as my people? Can it be my foster mother who nurtured and cared for me or the mother who gave birth and then set me afloat in the river while I was an infant? Can I perceive Draupadi who had indicated her love through her eyes on the day of her swayamvara as mine? Or can I regard the empress of the Kaurava kingdom Bhanumathi, who has been showering me with such care and love as my own? A mother-like figure, Bhanumathi has nurtured my self-respect as well as my desires. Who do I call as my own? Who are my people then?
Bhanumathi’s heart twitched in pain. Her pain had nothing to do with her mild physical injury. The fact that Duryodhana’s worry and concern had their roots in his authority hurt her. She writhed in pain on seeing Karna look helplessly while her husband showered his affection on her. She was sad to see Karna’s anguish. As the saying goes, when a palm rolls into a fist, it is the thumb which sticks out. Her eyes brimmed with tears. In anguish, she wondered as to who was her own and who could she deem an outsider.
The pearls which she and Karna had been holding in their palm, bounced around on the floor and lay scattered. The thread which had until a while ago been holding those pearls in place had now turned bare and lifeless.
With a gentle smile lit on his lips, Duryodhana asked his wife and friend; ‘Shall I pick those pearls strewn on the floor?’ In saying so, he became the epitome of friendship. But can it ever become the necklace that it once was even if those same pearls were to be gathered and strung on that same old thread? Also, what about the concentration with which they had been put together when they were first made by someone as well as the time spent in doing it…Can it regain its former self ever?
The trio realised that ‘three corners can never make a square.’ They also discerned that ‘sympathy can never morph into love.’
That scene from Pampa Bharata remains imprinted in my mind. If I were to extend it slightly by using a similar narrative style then I can perhaps say thus; ‘If society is to be thought of as an eye then this story is the unshed drop of tear that remains on the eyelid.’ Each edge of the three corners of an unfinished square belonged to the three of them. In the hope of being registered on the pages of Mahabharatha, this story waited patiently in the background. It waited in the hope of Swati rain that would transform it into a pearl someday. Eventually, it did transform into a pearl. But it was Duryodhana and Karna who came to be hailed for their friendship, love and sacrifice. They became immortal figures. While the two friends were engrossed in fighting against the Pandavas on the battlefield, there was nothing except war on their minds…all else was forgotten…
But… while she was waiting at the window, a drop of tear quietly rolled down her cheeks. It went unnoticed in that palace. It was not a battlefield. Nor was it an empire or a glorious crown. Neither did it have the flash or deftness of a sword. But that tear was an intrinsic part of a stream trickling down the hill. It was a drop that would evaporate with the sharp rays of the sun. Its only purpose was to nourish a verdant foliage. That’s it! It had absolutely no other intention or purpose…
Soothaputra: Son of a fisherman, of caste low.
Pagade: A game of dice.
Translator Bio: Bhumika R has taught English language and literature at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels for three years. In August 2022, she decided to focus her time and energy on creative writing and translation. She writes poetry and short fiction in English and also translates poetry and fiction from Kannada into English and vice versa. Her Kannada translation of Malsawmi Jacob’s Mizo (English) novel, Zorami is slated for release around December 2023. Her debut poetry collection The Language of Unhealed Wounds was published by Red River Press (New Delhi) in November 2023. She is currently working on translations of M S Murthy’s Kannada novel, Bowl and N Sandhya Rani’s Kannada novel, Ishtukaala Ottigiddu into English. She is also associated with the Platos Cave online, a literary e-zine team since September 2023. She lives between Jammu, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
Author Bio: H R Sujatha writes poetry, fiction and essays in Kannada. She has published two poetry collections, Kaadujeda Mattu Baatukoli, Jenu Maleya Hennu, a collection of short stories entitled, Paduma Purusha, a collection of essays entitled, Neelimoogina Nattu and Manibale, a novel. She is the recipient of the Karnataka Sahitya Akademi award, AMMA award, and AKKA award for her contribution to the Kannada literary sphere.