“They’ve satisfied the conditions set by this august court,” said Drupada. “Yudhishthira wishes to reclaim Indraprastha. I trust King Dhristarashtra will satisfy the Pandavas’ claim.”

“This court set the conditions, true, but it bodes well that we all remember certain truths,” said Sakuni. “I won everything from the Pandavas on behalf of Duryodhana. Before every game, I gave Yudhishthira an opportunity to win back everything. He persisted and lost everything, including his brothers and his wife, your daughter.”

“What need is there to reopen old wounds?” said Drupada.

“The same need that had brought you here to beg on behalf of those cowards who dare not show their faces.”

“Sakuni, chose your words with care,” said Grandsire Bhishma. “It’s the wish of everyone here to secure the peace.”

“Thirteen years ago, we secured peace,” said Sakuni. “The Pandavas have won their freedom and also won land grants in Matsya in return for their glorious victory over the Kuru heroes gathered here.” He waited for the laughter to complete its rounds and subside. “Yudhishthira and his brothers have land enough to build palaces for each of their wives. They can rule their little kingdom and enjoy the protection offered by King Virata. Why this delegation? Why reopen old wounds?”

“Grandsire Bhishma, forget not one fact. It’s the Pandavas who have threatened us with death and destruction, and this demand to reclaim Indraprastha is the forerunner to achieve their vile wishes,” said Duryodhana.

“You’re mistaken, imperial prince,” said Drupada. “The brothers claim Indraprastha knowing full well that in their absence, the once thriving kingdom had been stripped of its wealth and everything else that was once pleasing to the senses; palaces dismantled and carted away; lakes drained; rivers dammed; and the jungle allowed to creep back and devour the land.”

“Do you accuse the Kauravas of these natural happenstances?” said Sakuni. “We did not milk Indraprastha, for Hastinapura did not need such tainted succour. Duryodhana, the rightful owner, left the land to its inhabitants, people who so loved the Pandavas. Go to these people and ask them why the jungle reclaimed its heritage.”

“All the more reason you should return Indraprastha, for by your reckoning it is worthless,” said Drupada.

“Should I also ask you to relinquish the jungles of Panchala, or what’s left of it?” said Duryodhana. His brothers laughed.

“Duryodhana! I came to speak peace,” said Drupada.

“Speak your words of peace and be done with it,” said Duryodhana.

“King Dhristarashtra, let not matters spiral into the abyss,” said Drupada. “Give the Pandavas five villages, one for each son of Pandu. The villages can be in the wild jungles of Indraprastha or anywhere within Kuru Pradesh. They would rather eke out a living on the land of their ancestors than to live in luxury in a Matsya palace.”

“That’s a very reasonable request,” said Grandsire Bhishma.

“Wait! Who is the king of Kuru Pradesh?” said Sakuni. “Who is the imperial heir who will have to live with the consequences of such a hasty decision?”

“Sakuni, are you concerned about Duryodhana or are your words fashioned to add ghee to fire?” said Bhishma.

“Grandsire, please let the court hear Uncle Sakuni,” said Duryodhana.

“Five villages within Kuru Pradesh is as good as five worms nibbling away in a healthy jackfruit.” Sakuni launched into a long and passionate argument littered with selective historical facts about a village’s evolution, but embellished with conjecture. Five villages combined had the makings of a kingdom within Kuru Pradesh. A potential threat within its border.

“The Pandavas’ request for five villages is not innocuous but a scheme to challenge Hastinapura. How do you expect the Kauravas to agree?” said Sakuni.

“We’ve heard enough, King Drupada, and now hear me,” said Duryodhana. “I’ll not cede even one needle point of land to the Pandavas, let alone five villages.”

With those words, the wheel of war shook off its dust and creaked and gained momentum.


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