By Anand Neelakantan

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It was only then that the woman noticed he was a Kshatriya warrior and he could lose his caste by drinking toddy served by an Untouchable Kurathi woman like herself. Horrified by what she had done, she was certain the Kshatriya Prince would punish her with death if she told him the truth. However, not wishing to cheat someone who had trusted her, she confessed her ‘crime’, risking her life. She waited for certain punishment, but was astonished by Duryodhana’s reaction. “Mother,” he said, “there is no caste for hunger and thirst.

Bhishma stood up and looked at them. The wind had become stronger and he shivered in the cold. Gandhari picked up the little boy in her arms, stumbling under his weight. Bhishma reached out and took Shakuni from her. As the Grand Regent lifted him, the boy spat into his face with all the hatred he could muster. Bhishma wiped the bloody saliva with the back of his hand and walked on, his face set like granite. *** They rode back to the dusty plains of the Ganges, to the palace in the eternal city of elephants, to the famed capital of India – Hastinapura.

He felt small and mean before this young girl who carried herself with such dignity and composure in the face of so much tragedy. Bhishma felt like a brute. He wished his anger would return so that he could take her by her narrow waist and ride off to Hastinapura with her, like a warrior of fable. But he could not; he was a warrior of the old school and a man of chivalry. “I do not have a choice do I, Sir? When the Regent of Hastinapura decides which maiden is to be stolen as a bride for his nephew, what choice do we, who live on the borders of the great Indian empire, have?

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Ajaya by Anand Neelakantan


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