Shalya, the King of Madhra, was a mortal enemy of the Angaraj. In the former’s eyes, the latter had committed an unforgiveable affront. Karna had courted and married Shalya’s daughter, Supriya. The princess was a fast friend of Duryodhana’s wife, Bhanumathi. After the Feat of Arms, when Karna and Duryodhana became sworn friends, Bhanumathi introduced Supriya to the Angaraj.

Karna showed no interest, but Duryodhana and Bhanumathi convinced him otherwise.

“Shalya enjoys much influence among the kings. Marry her. Win over her father and many of the kshatriyans who think less of you will see beyond their bigotry and embrace you as one of them,” said Duryodhana.

“Do I need such allies?”

“O Karna, you are a recognised king,” said Duryodhana. “It is our lot to submit ourselves to statecraft; do that which is best for our people and country.”

“What about love? I love my wife Vrushali like no other.”

“Dear brother of mine, Vrushali will always remain your first love.” Bhanumathi placed a soft hand on Duryodhana’s arm. “As I am my husband’s first love; no matter how many wives he takes. This is a woman’s burden, as statecraft is a man’s lot.”

Bhanumathi arranged clandestine rendezvous for the couple and within a short time, the magnificent Karna won Supriya’s affections. He promised marriage, and she accepted.

But her father, Shalya, objected, and Duryodhana’s plan unravelled. Instead of winning an ally, let alone a friend, he earned an enemy.

“I committed a terrible mistake; did not suspect his bigotry ran several generations deep. Perhaps you should not go through with the marriage,” said Duryodhana.

“I’ve given the maiden my word.”

Karna refused to betray Supriya’s trust. He remained adamant; married her with the blessings of the Kaurava clan. Shalya cursed the marriage and disavowed his daughter.

***

“I’m telling you, don’t return to your father’s house. Only rejection and shame await you there,” said Karna. But Supriya will not listen. She knew her father better, or so she thought.

“Father has a temper, my dearest, but so do all men; and you too,” said Supriya with a small laugh. “When he learns I’m with child, his grandson, he will embrace me. Mother will not allow him to do otherwise. We women of Madhra are strong-willed and warrior-like.”

Karna grabbed Supriya to his chest and rocked from side to side as he spoke.

“I know you’re a fighter; that’s what drew me to you. And your aunt, Queen Madri, was more of a man than the Pandavas’ father, Pandu.”

“Oh, leave the past alone, my dearest. Think of the future; our future.”

“Priya, my dear, one part of me says to let you have your wish, but another part holds me back. I can take all the insults, painful as they are, from your father and his ilk, but I cannot and will not stand for any insults hurled at my loved ones.”

“Father will never insult me. I’m a princess of Madhra and his favourite daughter.”

“You are his only daughter.”

“That makes me even more of a favourite daughter.”

“You know the story of Lord Shiva and his consort, Lady Parvathi,” he said. “In one of the many avatars he took, she was the daughter of Dakshan. He opposed Parvathi’s marriage to Shiva.”

“Just like us,” she said. “You married me over my father’s objections.”

“Dakshan was an emperor, but Shiva was a caretaker of cemeteries and death; all things foul. He smeared his body with ash and soot and lived among ghouls.”

“Just like us. I am a daughter of a mighty king while you are… Angaraj. King of Anga.”

“Why did you hesitate? Say it, Priya. I’m a mere son of a charioteer. Say it!” He grabbed her arms.

“You’re hurting me,” she said in a pleading voice. Coming to his senses, Karna released his hold and planted several kisses on her face.

“I’m sorry, my dear. I got carried away.”

“Enough, enough.” She giggled and pushed away his puckering lips. “It was my mistake for evoking that silly comparison. Go on, my dearest; finish the story.”

“Where was I? Oh, yes.” And he planted several kisses on her. Supriya held him back and said,

“Naughty.” And she stamped her feet in faked annoyance. “The story; tell me the Shiva-Parvathi story.”

“Okay, okay; the story.” Karna held up his hands in surrender. Then he embraced her and said,

“When Dakshan conducted a yagna, he invited all the gods of Indraloka and even the most minor kings of the Bharata lands. But not the lord, not Shiva.”

“Oh dear, that is a terrible insult.”

“Yes, and Lady Parvathi decided to go to her father to demand an explanation. Lord Shiva objected; warned her it will lead to her humiliation. She refused to listen; left Shiva’s abode in Kailash and came down to earth; attended the yagna.”

“Oh dear, how could she disobey her husband? What happened next?”

“You’re an impatient honey-fruit.” He pinched her cheek.

“Ouch! Now, I must definitely run away to my father’s home.”

“You what?”

He reached, but she ducked and ran. He chased. But she was fast. Soon, they were like two children squealing and shouting as he chased her all over their garden.

“Got you, my dear!” Karna grabbed Supriya, and they rolled in the grass and stopped; with her on top of him.

“Only because this deer wanted to be caught,” she said. He tickled her sides. She squealed; held onto his hands and said, “What happened in the yagna?”

“Well, as expected, Dakshan reprimanded his daughter for marrying a man, whom he perceived to be beneath him; even though Shiva was a god.”

“How can a mortal presume to be superior to a god? Especially someone as powerful as Lord Shiva?”

“Dakshan was an avatar of Lord Brahma of the Trinity; considered himself indestructible. Such is the ego and arrogance of a being—even a celestial being—when he takes an avatar on earth.”

“Why dearest?”

“Because, my honey-fruit, earth is a testing ground, a school that tests us so we can realise our faults. The wise will learn from their mistakes and improve. Don’t blame someone for what he did years ago. People change. But the unwise never learn. They blame others and keep repeating their errors.”

“You’ve become philosophical,” said Supriya. “Keep it simple. What happened after Parvathi returned to Kailash?”

“Okay, I’ll keep it simple. Husband and wife quarrelled; one thing led to another, and he killed her.”

“What? Oh no, is this a true story?”

“Well, he can’t kill her, as he is part of her and she is part of him. He killed their relationship.”

“Poor Parvathi,” said Supriya.

“Poor Shiva.”

“He killed their relationship. Why was he the poor one?” said Supriya.

“Good question.”

“Answer me. Why was he the poor one?”

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking,” said Karna.

“Think faster, or admit he deserves no sympathy.” She clasped her hands around his throat and pretended to choke him.

“Press any harder and I’ll have a blue neck like Shiva.”

“Oh, no.” Supriya released her hold and kissed his neck.

“Over here, it hurts,” he said. His wife kissed the spot. “You missed this spot.” She kissed again. “Here, here.” But this time, she tapped his cheek and said,

“That’s enough. Tell me, why was Shiva the poor one?”

*** Copyright @ 2022, Eric Alagan ***

***

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