Panchali

[Inspired by the elemental image of Draupadi/Panchali, the undisputed heroine of the epic Mahabharata, depicted in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s masterpiece of a novel, ‘Palace of Illusions’.]

Draupadi

Panchali, I am, to you, my Partha, my love,
Painfully displaced in recycled domestic patterns
Circulated freely amid all your brothers and you.
The saint who determined my cycle between one coy bride
To the next had created enough music in my bones
To satiate all you Pandavas as equal husbands,
Though he never knew how trapped
My luminous smile had been,
My dark-skinned charm, colliding
with so much of your chivalrous cacophony.

Panchali, I am, to you, my valiant Bheemsen,
A luscious lilac that you craved to engrave
In your voluminous heart, never knowing
How the absence of light rustled in my bare form,
My deep, dark tresses, shedding its rhythmic dewdrops
Not in unconditioned love, but in stoic, formulaic surrender.
Panchali, my Dharmaraaj, I am to you,
The untamed fire that spread all over you, in spurts,
The easiest pawn you could have settled for,
Reckless, warped in a gambling spree
you could very well do without.

Did I burn you too, my cognac fire
Was it a bit too scalding, Nakul and Sahadev,
My youngest husbands, moving in the orbit
Of your elder brothers’ wants? Did you get
How my splinters and shards surrounded you
In a vain rapture in the palace of illusions
When all I waited for, perhaps, was the Mahaprasthan,
The final journey of my nemesis, with all five of you,
Following the slit throats and mashed up corpses
Of my sons, of our kith and kin?

Panchali, I am, to you, Karna, my all-pervading bruise.
For I had forgot, in spite of your irresistible musk
That you and me both were wiggling children
of the cracked earth. The fiery flashes of your pride
Matching my own insolence, had borne a cursed utterance,
‘Sutaputra’, my vanity had attested a lie, a lie that resounded
Every time we crossed paths, as a rhythmic reminder.

Panchali, I am, to you, my Sakha, Krishna,
The smoke and fury of my mind’s badland
Soothed from time to time, when your hands touched mine.
What magic did your words unfold
To this dark, forlorn child-woman,
As you hovered in my life, presiding over its queer equations?
Dream girl, I wasn’t for you, when disrobed,
shunned of my womanly honour, your drapes covered
my bruised, black moon. Your words revealed,
Like half-shining flashlights, draped my life
In the ambiguous sheen I myself couldn’t fathom well.
Here, you touch my hands yet again, for one last time,
Where I find myself beyond the rims of time, and tell me
I have played my part well in this chaotic and tumultuous play.
Is this a new beginning, where I dissolve and form anew?
Panchali, I am, look, the boundless sky, my new palace, engulfs us all.

SHE: Draupadi and The Every Woman

Draupadi

Draupadi. 

Image source: mahabharata.wikia.com

I am a phenomenal woman.

I’ve let you drown in the chocolate sea of my visual beauty, 

In the mystic mystery of my lips, my cleavage, my deep dark tresses. 

You have reveled in my flesh, and never knew my blood, tears and sweat.

You revel in the glories of the orient, the magnitude of epics in the east

Remember the glorifying times some four thousand years back,

When the Veda and other scriptures were snatched away from our hands;

When Hindu purists dictated which women would veil their faces within locked bars

And doors of what they called their ‘home’, and which others would spread out

Their blossoming bodies in temples as ‘Devdasis’ (God’s own concubines).

We have been given away, sold and abandoned at the dictates

Of these purists who have been fathers, Lords, husbands and sons. 

I was born, in Panchal, bereft of a mother’s Yoni,

Emerging from burning contours of fire,

The river of my body ran and ran, meandering,

Eyes to cheeks, cheeks to chin, chin to my swan neck,

Nativity singing thigh-deep in the river that struggled

To stay still. I am the mighty, yet helpless Yaagyaseni,

The lilac, dark and earthy, my hair, a nocturnal flower,

Deep, dark tresses canopying male thirst, 

Consecrated with the color of Dushshaashan’s blood. 

A sloka in the epic Mahabharata says: 

“Na stree swatantramarhati” (a woman has no right to freedom in her life).

After epochs, I still contain the poison ivy and wrath of Draupadi, Panchali, 

Daughter to the king of Panchal, wife and mistress to five able,  

Masculine husbands, the Pandavas.

My five husbands, besotted by my suffocating beauty and aura,

Shared my breathtaking youth as easily as they shared alms in exile.

None looked at the gashes of my heart, while I ached behind the silent veil 

For my love, Arjuna. He had his shameless share of Chitrangada, 

Subhadra, and his countless other consorts, yet in the bed,

His dark, formless masculinity was coiled around me. 

Like an orchid, like a creeper tree, I had to strive for shelter, 

Wrestling with my mind, as I shifted beds and desires between my Lords, 

As my womb bore children by my Lords, who desired me,

As I embraced strange silence when rendered a mere pawn 

At the gambling table by my eldest Lord, Yudhisthira.

And even as I was being disrobed at the royal court of the Kauravas.

The great assembly of people present there knew I was bereft of honor

In spite of my five husbands; bereft of respect in spite of my sons,

Bereft of joy or victory in spite of being a queen.

Legend has it that the volcanic Draupadi reduced her enemies to the ashes.

What could I do with the lifeless jewel and empty crown 

In an epic that discards me repeatedly?

For all my strength and spirit, valor and virtue, 

I am at the receiving end of suffering and disgrace

In an epic written and dictated by men.

The Voice of the Every Woman:

I have been a ‘female’, a ‘meyechhele’, an ‘aurat’, a ‘jenana’

 For eons and centuries now. 

A crushed and broken leaf, my virginity, a looming deadline,

Prodding, pricking, I breathe in its burning sulfur, 

The flame gets lost, drenched in the night’s rain. 

I am the unfathomable silence and the sanctity put to test

Stroked, palmed, heated, cooled, tampered, a zillion times,

Smoldering in the scars and beauty marks, the fire dwindling,

Down to its finishing embers. I am the ink and the muse

The Gajagamini, the slow, resilient steps of the elephant, 

The unhurried dance and the wellspring of secret music

That inspires paintings, tapestries and lyrics. I am 

The scattered pieces of Draupadi, waist to breast, neck to lips

In blood as I walk down the steady flame, the apocalypse 

Where the scourging fire, the hungry flame threatens, screams

And dies down, my wounds, festering, adorning me.

My story is a memoir of the salt and pepper, the yin and yang 

Of domesticity. My story is the story of my ancestors, 

My journey, a broad spiritual legacy. 

Here, in your hands that I clench tight, my lover, my husband,

My father, my son, my friend, my poet, my artist and my ravager, 

I give you the knife to peel off my skin, one slice at a time, 

To crush my rib cage and cut open the pool gushing, the heart,

Red, volatile, hollow, one that you may have never dived. 

I feel sanctity in the blood drops, in my clogged pores, 

My arteries and veins, breaking free of relentless femininity.

I am the phenomenal woman. I thus rise 

Above darkness, deception, decay in a new thrust of life.

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Note: This poetic narrative, first published in B’khush.com, is dedicated to all my women friends across the globe, just before the occasion of the International Women’s day in March 8. The piece is developed from an excerpt of my book-length memoir ‘Thwarted Escape’ which has recently been a finalist and a First Place Category winner at the Journey Awards 2014 for Narrative Nonfiction hosted by Chanticleer Reviews.