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SEVENTEEN

Shame

Vidura sat with his head in his hands, sighing like a serpent. His body was bent, as if to beg the earth's forgiveness for the sin committed upon her. Bheeshma and Drona were shocked; Kripa trembled. But Dhritarashtra was elated. He had asked at every throw of the dice, "And what was won now?" Though he knew.

   Duryodhana embraced Shakuni and cried, "This is the most wonderful day of my life and I owe it to you!"

   His eyes glittering, the Kaurava turned to Vidura. "Uncle, rejoice with us! Draupadi is our slave. Go and fetch her, Vidura, so she can enter our harem. She will serve with the other women, sweep the floors and attend to our every pleasure."

   The Kaurava panted with excitement. The slut had laughed at him in the Mayaa sabha; he would see how she laughed now. Vidura rose wearily and said in a voice that had aged years in an hour, "Even now it is not too late, Duryodhana. You don't realize the danger you are in. Only the fool thinks he is in heaven when he hangs over a precipice with a noose round his neck. Punishment for this crime will follow more swiftly than you think. Dreadful nemesis will visit you.

   Relent now, while there is still time. Return everything you have won with Shakuni's deceit. The jackal should not provoke the tiger.

   I know you think I am your enemy; but only your own feeble wit makes you believe this. I am your only friend at this moment, Duryodhana. Listen to me. You must not even think of Draupadi as being your slave. Beware of these sons of Pandu; be as careful with them as with king cobras. Duryodhana, hell already yawns open to receive you and your brothers. Treat this game of dice as a joke and forget it was ever played."

   Vidura fell quiet. For a moment, Duryodhana hesitated; something warned him what Vidura said was true and he must follow this uncle's advice. Then, he glanced at Shakuni, whose serpent's eyes were fixed on him with distant interest, mocking him coolly. Duryodhana cried, "At such a triumphant moment, this son of a maidservant can think of nothing but doom!"

   That prince's eyes roved over the sabha and alighted on his own charioteer.

   "Pratikami, go and fetch Draupadi! Tell her that her master Duryodhana commands her presence in the sabha."

   Duryodhana saw fear in Pratikami's eyes. The sarathy looked nervously at the Pandavas, who sat as if they were carved from stone. The Kaurava cried, "Don't be afraid. They are also our slaves and a slave cannot harm his master. Go, Pratikami, fetch her."

   The old sarathy left the court and went slowly along the passages of the Kuru palace toward the women's day quarters. He knocked gingerly at the door to Draupadi's apartment. Never had he been asked to carry a message like the one he now bore.

   When a maid opened the door, Pratikami said, "I must see the queen Draupadi. I have urgent news for her ears only."

   Soon, Draupadi stood before him, so regal the poor sarathy grew dumb just to look at her. How could he say what he had come for, when his tongue cleaved to the roof of his mouth?

   Panchali said kindly, "Old one, what have you come to tell me, that you couldn't tell my sakhi?"

   Pratikami stared down at his feet and, then, somehow whispered, "My lord Duryodhana sent me, Devi. Your husband Yudhishtira has lost everything at a game of dice."

   Draupadi sat quickly in a chair, for she would have fallen otherwise. She saw Pratikami still hesitated, but there was obviously more he wanted to say. In a tremulous voice, she asked, "Is there more?"

   Never looking at her, he said, "Yudhishtira lost his brothers at the gambling, he lost himself and…" the next words would not come.

   "And?" her pupils dilated with shock.

   "Finally, he lost you as well!" cried Pratikami, with the last shred of courage he owned. "Duryodhana is your master now and he commands you to come to the sabha."

   Her world spun and Draupadi clutched at the arms of the chair. But she was a strong woman and she asked, "Tell me, messenger, whom did my husband lose first, himself or me?"

   "He first lost all his possessions, his wealth, his army, his granary, his kingdom. Then he lost his brothers, one by one, beginning with the youngest; and then he lost himself. Only after that did he lose you, last of all. You were more precious to him than everything else, than himself."

   A stab of light in her lovely eyes: a flicker of hope. She said, "Go back to the sabha and say to my husband his wife wants to know if he lost her first, or himself. Ask Yudhishtira only that and bring his answer to me."

   Pratikami bowed and went back to the crowded court where Duryodhana and his brothers waited impatiently. The old sarathy said, "The queen Draupadi asks if Yudhishtira lost himself first, or her."

   Yudhishtira sat graven; not a word did he say. Duryodhana growled, "Let the woman come and ask the question herself. Go back and fetch her, Pratikami."

   Unhappily, Pratikami went back through the passages and stood before Draupadi once more. Her eyes were red and she shivered as if she had a fever.

   The charioteer said, "I took your message to the sabha. Yudhishtira made no reply to your question, but sat like a block of wood. But my prince Duryodhana grew angry and said you must come and ask the question yourself."

   She said nothing yet, but her lips twitched in anger. His heart melting, the sarathy said, "Devi, the end of the Kurus is near that you have been insulted in our sabha. Duryodhana will pay for this with his life."

   Taking courage from his words, Draupadi said again, "Go back and ask Yudhishtira what I should do. I will obey him, no one else."

   Pratikami returned to the sabha, "Draupadi bids me ask Yudhishtira what she should do. She says she will not obey anyone else."

   Yudhishtira sat with his head bent down down into his chest. Without raising it, he whispered, "Tell Draupadi I want her to come into this court and ask the elders if I have lost her or not and what she should do from now on."

   Duryodhana howled, "Fetch the woman! She is our slave now, won fairly at dice."

   Now Pratikami said, "I am afraid to go back to her. Let someone else take this message."

   Duryodhana turned to his brother Dusasana, who was if anything more violent than himself. Dusasana stood smirking, in lascivious anticipation of Draupadi's advent. He was a bestial prince, wild of rage and lust and now his brother said to him, "Dusasana, you fetch our woman."

   His eyes lighting up, Dusasana went grinning from the sabha. He arrived at Draupadi's apartment and his kick flung the heavy door open into the room where she waited.

   Dusasana stood leering at her, his hands on his hips, his eyes devouring her slender form, as they would never have dared to in the past. She shuddered.

   He began to laugh. "My brother won you fairly. You don't have to fear your husbands any more, you belong to us now. Come boldly to Duryodhana; turn your haughty eyes to the lord of the Kurus."

   She moaned. She swayed on her feet at what had overtaken her so suddenly. His voice full of vileness, the fiend continued to torment her.

   "Don't pretend to be so modest, you are no virgin. Five men already and now you will have a hundred more to keep you happy. Ah, you blush! But why, Panchali? We are your husbands' cousins, after all." And his devilish laugh again. Then he came closer and she thought he was going to touch her; she saw in his eyes how much he wanted to. She drew away from him, shaking. This was a beast with no shred of ruth and she did not know how to deal with him.

   "Come, my dark beauty, let us go to the sabha."

   He closed on her and with a scream, she dodged round him and ran toward Gandhari's apartment down the passage. But he was on her in a flash. Dusasana caught Draupadi by her long hair, washed in the holy waters of the Rajasuya yagna. Growling, he began to drag her to the Kuru court—she whom her husbands would hardly allow the wind to touch.

   She cried, "Let go of me, devil! Can't you see I am wearing just one cloth? I have my period, I can't come to the sabha like this."

   But he had no ears for her pleas, no eyes to see how she wept. He laughed, "You are no queen now, but a slave; and your master calls you! It does not matter if you are clean or not, if you wear one cloth or none."

   He hauled her wailing through those corridors, her garment often falling away from her naked shoulders, while she clutched at it for her very life, or for honor more precious than life. Growling still, like a predator with its prey, Dusasana dragged Draupadi into the Kuru sabha by her hair and flung her down on the floor before its kshatriyas, her eyes blazing, her face streaked with tears.

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