Today’s the day I change.
The course of history. From mundane to exalted.
The hunchback has a very minute role in it. But I will give her due credit. For I know that the world is never kind to an ugly old woman giving clever advice.
When the king walks into my royal chambers, he will find a stranger.
A dishevelled woman lying on the floor who is beyond reason.
The reason that has been carefully formulated, calibrated and appropriated by men, made elusive to women. Even to the most intelligent and accomplished women.
That woman on the floor will remind him of the promise he had made her.
The first demand will jolt him out of his celebratory mood. The second one will turn my fragrant palace into a chamber of sorrows, for him.
It has been my burden to carry. Broken men and broken chariots.
The lotus pond in my palace courtyard reflects the orange sun.
I don’t recognise this woman on the floor, me. But I have been assured by Manthara, the only mother figure I have known all my life, this will work.
The chambermaid announces the king’s arrival. I cry unwillingly.
The king walks in. His happiness is hacked down by my sobs.
“My beloved, what is the matter?” he stammers.
I don’t answer right away. I make him wait. Till he looks wretched.
“Oh, my queen, please tell me what is bothering you! I will do anything to make you happy”
I half-open my eyes and sit up. I sense his desire to please me.
“Will you do anything to make me happy?” I ask
His breath is back in his lungs now.
“Do you doubt that?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. No one is dearer to me than you and Rama. The court has approved my proposal to anoint our eldest prince as king. I am extremely happy today! I swear on Rama, whatever you ask for shall be granted.”
“YOUR eldest prince”, I say with a meanness new to me.
The king is taken aback, he counters,
“Kaikeyi, what is the matter with you? You have always loved Rama as your son.”
“Yes, I have, till now. Have you forgotten in your happiness the two boons you granted me on the battlefield?”
“No, my dearest. How can I? They are yours to ask at any time”
What I did in Dandaka forest as his charioteer was a child’s play for me. I slew a wild creature to save my seven brothers when I was a child. I grew up motherless and learnt every skill a princess should. And a prince should.
The king knew he had made the warrior princess his second queen. He had the good sense to value my counsel. He had the confidence to make me his charioteer in his campaigns.
But still, he was a man. He felt the need to feel superior. So, he granted me two boons for my child’s play.
Which I am going to wield against him now.
“My first ask is Bharat should be made the king of Ayodhya!”
The king holds his head in his hands. He erupts,
“How can this be? Rama is the eldest and is the rightful heir to the throne.”
“Does that mean you are going back on your word?”, I dig in my heels.
He paces up and down and tries to convince me. I don’t back down. I might be his favourite queen. But I can’t let Kausalya become the queen mother.
He concedes and I ready my cudgels,
“My second ask is Rama should be exiled to Dandaka forest for 14 years. He should live as an ascetic when in exile.”
He slumps to the ground. I stay my ground, undeterred.
Everything that happens after this point is a blur. His repeated outbursts, appeals and wails fall on my cold armour.
He renounces me but stays in my palace. Till 6 days after Rama leaves the palace. Then he leaves this world. Changing me from a warrior to a villain.
My son Bharat jeers at me. Takes a vow saying he will never call me his mother again. My journey from a motherless infant to an abandoned mother is complete.
But that was not the history I was born for.
I was born to send men to face their destinies. I did it. Unflinchingly.
Sage Vasishta, the Head Priest of the Raghu dynasty. He knew how the destinies of father and son were going to unfold.
When he knew that the king’s end is near, he came to me. He told me in a calm voice,
“Oh Queen, the King was cursed by Shravan’s parents. He is to die without his children around to hold his hand. This is the only way he can go to heaven”
I did not ask the good sage why he chose me over the other queens.
I did what I always did. Take charge. Not by picking arms with my hand that was as strong as a diamond.
To take charge, I had to lie on the floor and plead, acting helpless. It took enormous strength to do so.
Not just men. The destiny of Devas too hung on the outcome of my action.
As the asuras grew powerful in Dandaka and Lanka, the jittery Devas sent a message. Through the birds to my father. Through my father to Manthara.
Asuras were reaching out to heaven.
Someone had to control them. It had to be a warrior. A man.
But to send him on that course had to be a woman, me.
Blame looks good on a woman than an armour would.
Much as I loved Rama, I had to send him to the forest. To the sea. To the skies.
I had to send him on a journey that would make him a revered deity from a mere prince.
And change me:
From a beloved to the despised, from a mother to a monster, from a warrior queen to a wicked woman.
At times I wonder, should I have kept my strengths hidden? Should I have just looked pretty, been meek and acted dumb?
Perish the thought!
I lent my hand as an axle to the wheel of the chariot on the battleground. And to the wheel of destiny in the cosmos.
It was never my destiny to be an adorable deity. It was always to be a fallen woman. But the warrior in me shall not back down till she gets her due.
A rightful name in history.
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I really enjoyed this story, Suma! There was so much truth and power in this piece. Thank you for sharing. :-)
Thank you Beth. Your kind and generous words are always appreciated ☺️
Wow Suma, what an astounding take on the prompt. Your writing skills are amazing with well chose words and an amazing way of narration. I really loved this is recreation of history through the eyes of Kaikeyi on this auspicious festival. Great read!
Thanks a lot for the appreciation Keya😊 It's still unpolished though. I was tempted to put it out there during busy festive days. Glad you liked it.