1) This is a fictional adaptation of the Mahabharata.
2) I have done this for kicks
3) If you find any creative expression that centers around women to be ‘feminist propaganda’, then don’t read this. Seriously, don’t.
4) For non-Indians, if you want a little background, read the actual story of Draupadi on wikipedia. (It is not authoritative, but should give you some context.)
Now, to begin at the beginning…
There was something sharp about that evening. A bite in the air, a restlessness among the leaves. Draupadi felt impatient. She hated the days when her husbands had to go to the Court at Hastinapur.
Her husbands. She shrugged. It was strange how she had got used to that word. How normal it was being a wife to five husbands. How she lived with five men and loved them all equally.. (Who was she kidding? Everyone knew Arjuna was her favorite. This is why she was going to fall off some cliff later, on the way to heaven and what not. But people often make the mistake of assuming that Arjuna was the one she loved disproportionately. He was her favorite, the way perfect things are. Bhim, by far, was the one she loved disproportionately. Possibly because of his complete devotion to her. Love has a way of being reciprocated. Anyway, she did not know on THAT day that someday she would fall of the literal stairway to heaven for having been unfair in the doling out of her love. At that moment she was just impatient. She wanted to go home.)
As she was sitting in her waiting room, in front of a gilt edged mirror, she was contemplating what a waste of time it all was. Playing dice. As if Yudhishtir could beat Shakuni at dice. These Pandavas could be such simpletons at times. Anyway, that was an unchaste thought. She checked herself. Then she yawned.
Suddenly Dushasan stormed into the room. (That spineless brother in law of hers). She treated him with the contempt she usually reserved for the men she found uninteresting. (What was he, but an understudy for Duryodhan?).
‘Why brother-in-law? Is anything wrong? Why have you come into my inner chambers?’ she said.
Dushasan snarled, grunted, and rubbed his hands in glee. Draupadi got a bit worried. Anything that made this man so happy, had to be trouble for her. She backed up a little and asked again, more sweetly now, ‘What is it O brother in law, is everything okay?’
He was bursting with glee, and as is often the case with glee-bursters he could not really string a sentence together. ‘They lost’ he panted ‘staked all-whole kingdom-selves…then you’ He stopped for breath.
She could not understand what was going on. He went on ‘We won you.. in … dice.. you belong to us now’.
Draupadi shrank. Of course this man was out of his mind. Her husbands stake her? In a game of dice? (She tried to disregard the unchaste voice in her head that said, you know they are dumb enough to do it!)
Dushasan was now inching towards her. She froze. She was a princess. She wasn’t used to strange men inching towards her! She was not very well trained to respond to this situation.
He grabbed her by the hair. Her actual hair. What should she do? Scream? Shout? Cry? She felt like water. She felt like air. She felt that all the years of genteel breeding had left her completely clueless. Limp. She was limp as her brother in law dragged her through the palace, into the courtroom. Then she remembered that she was menstruating. Shame filled her as the bright lights of the courtroom fell on her eyes. She knew she should not be appearing before everyone in that state. It wasn’t outrage. It was embarrassment. She sort of wriggled, hoping Duhshasan had had enough. Hoping that he would let go now, and she could run back into her room.
There she saw her disgraced husbands. Five strong men, sitting silently and shamefacedly. She was hoping they would put a foot down.
Duryodhana was laughing. She knew she should never have made that jibe at that git. He really did not know how to let things go. Really. But that was the thing with inferiority complexes, they had a way of sticking around and resulting in full blown wars.. Duryodhan began to say something. She could only hear bits of it. Between her sobs. She realized that she had begun to sob. Loudly. Violently. It was not very princess-like. In a corner of her head, she realized that the debate that occupied the talking heads in the court was whether it was okay for them to disrobe her.
Surely that would not happen. Half the men here were her father’s age. They would not stand for it. Her eyes sought out the elders Bhisma, Drona, Krupacharya. Men of honor. Men who knew what dharma was. They would, she knew, put an end to this nonsense.. Her eyes even went to Dritarashtra, who she knew could not see her. Surely, this man would stop his sons?
But men of honor sometimes remain silent, when their honor is the most necessary. The silence that had engulfed the Court was overwhelming. Draupadi asked loudly, ‘How could mt husbands stake me in a game of dice, if they had staked themselves first?.’ But at that moment she knew it was a forgone conclusion. There really was nothing that could change anyone’s mind, certainly not a rhetorical question.
Dushasan was inching towards her, and she felt oddly detached from her surroundings. As if her mind was trying to shield her from the extreme pain and humiliation that would follow. She wished she could turn into a comet and fly into the sky in a blaze of fiery glory. Impossible to catch. Impossible to stake. She wished she burned with the might of a cruel bonfire, engulfing Hastinapur in her rage, her sorrow, her defeated innocence.
She thought of Sita, from another age, from another story. The perfect woman, who was loyalty itself. Who stepped into the fire to prove her innocence. Who the fire itself did not dare touch. But was that enough? Even Sita was banished. Sent away to the forest because some man doubted her honor. No anger. No reproaches. Sita raised two sons in the forest. An ancient single mom. And then she was asked to prove her chastity again. Just one more fire ordeal darling. Step in again. You did it once, you know the drill. She could feel rage on behalf of Sita, crawling through her skin. She could feel herself burning like fire. But what had Sita done? Quietly gone into the earth. With all the weight of her suffering, she had disappeared. Draupadi was confused. Was that a sign of great strength or terrible weakness? Surely a woman who was too great for fire to touch had enough power to wreak vengeance on those who scorned her?
Dushasan tugged at the end of her saree. At that moment she knew she did not have what it took to quietly sink into the earth. Legend has it that Draupadi appealed to Krishna to save her, and he did. But I would like to think it was not really Krishna who helped her, but Sita. Perhaps Sita, lying dormant in the earth, had decided that it was time women did not sink quietly into the earth when faced with an injustice. Maybe that great woman decided that what the world needed was some fire and not ice.
Dushasan kept pulling at Draupadi’s saree, and layer after layer of saree kept appearing, till Dushasan could pull no more. Draupadi found herself ablaze, spinning, faster and faster, as layer after layer was pulled from her. Free, angry, engaged in a destructive dance. When Dushasan stopped, she opened her eyes. She looked him squarely in the eye and said. ‘Your whole clan shall be destroyed. I will rip open your chest, and I will wash my hair with your blood.’
Dushasana flinched. This was not a threat, but a future fact.