Yuvani lay curled up in a corner of her room. The curtains were drawn to shut the light from outside and the door was bolted from inside. She had been lying like this for a long time. The darkness around gave her some solace. She wanted to forget what had happened the previous night but it came to haunt her every moment.
It was a breezy summer evening, one when you can hardly think of something evil that might befall you. But had life been so predictable the world would have been an entirely different place. Yuvani was returning from her college, having submitted her final project for the semester and was relieved to make it on time. She was only a few lanes away from her home when she heard someone whistle behind her. An unknown fear gripped her heart. Indian girls, women even older women are all too aware of the implications of such whistle. It could be an innocent passerby who might have liked the evening and whistled to express his happiness but every woman knows it to be a farfetched dream. Yuvani increased her pace but when fate is out to get you, there isn’t a nook where you can hide.
Draupadi slipped past Dushasana who had come to abide by his elder brother’s orders, to drag Panchali to the court. The inner chambers of Draupadi’s living quarters were reverberating with Dushasana’s laughter. Draupadi felt sick but couldn’t do much except run and hide to escape this perpetrator.
When her royal maids had come running to tell her what had happened in the court, she couldn’t believe a word. But her nightmare had only started. Soon the corridors leading to her chamber was filled with arrogant footsteps and laughter.
Draupadi hid herself behind a large gold vase which had been gifted to her on her wedding day by her father. It was no use. When fate comes calling there isn’t much one can do.
In her exasperation Yuvani didn’t realise that she had entered the wrong lane. When she had walked a few steps she realised that the houses around were not that familiar. She turned to go back but the man who had whistled was close on her heels. She quickened her pace but hope was losing her side. She found herself nearing a dead end. The house at the end was doused in darkness, the owners perhaps had gone for a vacation. What an ill time to go on a holiday when all the hapless girl needed was a luminous light on the front porch and a helping face.
She turned around and found that the man had stopped at a few steps away from her, his face contorted in a sick smile and his eyes leering at her breasts.
When Dushasana found Draupadi hiding behind the gold vase he couldn’t control his wicked laughter. What was the woman thinking hiding behind a vase? Draupadi took the opportunity and ran outside towards Gandhari’s chamber. She was the only one who could save her now. Dushasana followed her. Draupadi ran with all her might. It was the only thing she could do to save herself from the disgrace which loomed over her.
Gandhari’s chamber was empty except for a few handmaids who stood trembling with bowed heads. What an ill timing to go to the temple when all a hapless woman wanted was the old woman to stay back and stop a fiend of her son.
Knowing it was the end of her escape Draupadi turned around and found Dushasana leering at her. Draupadi knew that the Kaurava brothers had lusted after her for long but this would be the end of it she hadn’t imagined.
She couldn’t believe she had to do it but in a trembling voice she pleaded “Please leave me! I am your sister-in-law.”
“You are our maid now.”
With this Dushasana pushed her to the ground and grabbed her hair.
Yuvani looked at the man. He was almost her father’s age. In a meek voice she said “Please let me go. I am… I am like your daughter.”
The man laughed. His laughter cringed Yuvani. “I don’t have a daughter.”
He then moved forward and grabbed her by her wrist. He pulled her closer and began to trace her mouth with his fingers.
“Don’t worry I won’t hurt you. I just want to have some fun.”
Yuvani began to shake violently. Tears began to pour from her eyes and streaked her face. The man laughed again “I am a lonely man. You must help me.” He said in an animated voice.
Dushasana pulled Draupadi by her hair and dragged her to the court. Draupadi tried to maintain her dignity as much as was possible, but can dignity ever pacify a woman wronged by her own kinsmen. She stood in the middle of the Rajyasabha, half her clothes torn because of the dragging, her hair undone and bruises on her exposed body parts.
That day she saw all and bore all. Duryodhana leered at her, pointing to his left thigh, asking her to sit in his lap. Draupadi knew it wasn’t just humiliation, it was beyond that. It was years, even decades of hatred which was now being perpetuated through her.
All her questions, all her entreaties went unanswered that day. No one came for her rescue. Everyone remained tied to their own Dharma, sacrificing her rights, modesty and soul in the process.
The man dragged Yuvani to a secluded corner which had overgrown bushes. Yuvani fell on the soil and her jeans tore at a few places. She kept crying for help but it seemed that the surrounding neighbourhood had gone deaf. The only sound that came was blaring sound of a music system from a house on the far end of the street.
The man began to laugh and said “Why resist? No one’s going to hear you here. All these people are deaf to other’s cry of help.”
Yuvani knew the man’s words to be true. Wasn’t it the other day she had read in newspaper how passersby on a busy road in the city had overlooked a case of eve teasing. No one now cared about what happened to someone else until tragedy befell someone their own.
Draupadi stood naked, stripped of her clothes and modesty, in the center of the hall. Some men hung their head in shame, some remained passive while some took the opportunity and leered at every curve in her body. Duryodhana sat in proud arrogance, finally having showed this woman her real place. She would no longer be her fiery self, the one to reject advances and dictate terms of her being.
Draupadi’s tears had dried. She felt no humiliation, but remorse at having set her hopes on others to save her. What had she expected from a court full of men who excused themselves on the pretext of Dharma to avoid confrontations?
Yuvani lay naked on the soil bed, sore from the violence she had just faced. The man had lit a cigarette and was smoking casually. When he heard Yuvani stir he turned around to look at her.
“I know you wouldn’t say a word to anyone. What girl wants to disgrace her family’s name? Beside they will thank me.” Yuvani stared at him in disbelief.
He laughed then said “I taught you not to go out after its dark. You girls, you think you have owned the world. It’s men like me who show you your true place.”
HE flicked the remaining cigarette on the ground. Threw one last look at her and slowly made his way through the deserted street.
Yuvani gathered her clothes and began to dress herself. Her tears hadn’t left her side all this while. Was it a mistake to go to college?
Vidur, the wise old man, finally took courage and threw away his garb of Dharma. He silently made his way to trembling Panchali and covered her with his angavastra. Draupadi didn’t pay any heed to the benevolent old man. What use was his cover when everything had already been laid bare for the world to see and for generations to remember. Draupadi could foresee that things were going to go downhill.
She turned around to face the king of the Kurus, Dhritrashtra.
“Was it a mistake my lord, to be born a princess and be wedded to the five strongest warriors in Bharatvarsha?” she asked.
“A king is akin to God and his court is the divine temple of justice. You being a king have let this unjust, horrendous atrocity happen. Now you will bear the consequences. “ said the fiery Yajnaseni.
The court was filled with ominous sounds and howling of jackals from all around.
Yuvani slowly staggered towards her house. The blaring sound of a Bollywood item number filled the background. When her mother opened the door, it didn’t take her much time to grasp what might have happened. But sometimes it isn’t enough.
Her family wanted her to tell what had happened. But Yuvani seemed to be in a distant world. She could hear every word but found them meaningless. The fire in her eyes had vanished and was replaced with an expression of terror which shook her family to the core.
Yuvani locked herself in the room avoiding all contacts with any human being. She wanted to clean herself but feared that even the water drops would be tainted by coming in contact with her body. She couldn’t sleep on her bed for the fear of desecrating the bed sheet. In her home, everything suddenly began to appear pure, divine and she a fallen angel.
She didn’t know how many hours had passed like this, may be a day, when someone rapped on the door.
It was her brother “Yuvani, come out. I am not having it anymore. The cops are here. Come out or I am breaking the door.”
Yuvani detected the anger, frustration and concern in his voice. She stood up and realised she was still in her soiled clothes.
Dhrishtdyumna had come to meet his sister. Draupadi sat at the foot of his seat with her head in his laps. Dhrishtdyumna stroked her head, his eyes brimming with tears. He addressed Krishna who had come from Dwarka to meet the Pandavas in exile.
“Madhava why does my sister have to pay the brunt of this rivalry? What was her fault? Allow me to go now and avenge her humiliation.”
“Dhrishtdyumna it would take more than your army to defeat the Kauravas. Think rationally.”
Draupadi looked at Krishna with her tear filled eyes. She knew he was talking sense but what about her?
“We should call the cops dad! We can’t just sit silent. Look at her!” Yuvan was yelling at his parents.
Her parents were the conservative lot who feared society more than the society cared about them.
“What would the people say? They would soil our name, her reputation.” Their mother said. The father remained motionless in his chair, his head hung low as if he had been party to the crime.
“There’s no use talking to you. Yuvani I am calling the cops. We need to do everything to nab that criminal.” Yuvan said punching the police control room number on his mobile.
Yuvani stared at him. Was nabbing the criminal enough? What about her? What about this knotty feeling she had since the night before? How will she face the world now? They might not show on her skin but wasn’t her soul scarred for life?
She looked at her parents whose faces were concerned but could not hide their anxiety about facing the world.
“No Bhaiya! Stop! We can’t call the cops. There’s no use advertising it to the world.”
“What is wrong with you?” He tried to put his arms around Yuvani but she shrugged him violently.
HE looked at her shocked then sat on the floor near her foot, his head tilted, looking into her eyes that had begun to fill with tears again.
“I will get justice for you. I won’t let that bastard roam free.”
“And what would you tell the society?” Yuvani snapped back. This had been on her mind since she had returned home. She could see the anxiety in her parents’ face. She had seen them shun a few neighbours who had come to enquire curiously.
Yuvan looked at her flabbergasted at a loss of words. Yuvani took his silence for his reluctance to voice his own fear about the people, the society.
Yuvani stood up when suddenly Yuvan spoke.
“You don’t need to justify anything to anyone, chhoti. It wasn’t your fault. It’s his shame not yours.”
Yuvani looked in her brother’s eyes and realised the truth he had just spoke. It wasn’t her shame. She had to stand strong to punish her perpetrators.
While she was preparing food, Krishna silently entered her small kitchen. He knew Draupadi had a lot to say. He knew that she was miffed with his decision.
“Krishnaa!” he called her with the name he had given her.
“Madhav!” and in that private moment all her fears, anxieties and shame began to flow in the form of tears before Krishna. She couldn’t say a word more.
Krishna patted her bowed head and then held her chin high. He stared into her eyes and said “I know what your fears are.”
Draupadi said “Madhav will I have to wait for 13 years to get justice for my humiliation?”
Krishna merely nodded knowing that the talks about greater good and cosmic plans made no sense for a wronged woman.
“What good did it do, Madhav?” asked Draupadi because Krishna always talked about everything happening for a cause.
Krishna couldn’t reply because he knew that a woman’s humiliation can never be the cause of any good.
Draupadi continued crying. In this private moment, in front of her bosom friend Krishna all her fears came to fore.
“What would I tell my children Krishna? What would the world say? They would remember me as the tainted woman.” She continued to sob.
“You will tell the truth and nothing more. It wasn’t your fault Krishnaa. It’s their shame, not yours.”
Draupadi looked into his eyes and realised the truth he spoke. In that moment she resolved even if it took thirteen years to avenge her humiliation she wouldn’t let the fire extinguish.