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A Mother’s Legacy

A Short Story by Shweta Joshi Dixit

Chapter 1 :The Abduction 

“Shalva! How could you have a heart to spurn me? I am a woman whom you claimed your true love and commitment of making me your Queen and now you refuse simply because your male-ego is hurt by that formidable warrior Bhishma of Hastinapur?” It was your failing that 

you could not prevent my abduction and so I am the one who should reject you. But here I am who declined the choice of marrying the future Emperor of the strongest empire in whole of Aryavarta and stood in front of you as am true to my word!” Suddenly the flames started enveloping all around her and the courtroom where she was standing turned into a pitch dark hole in which Shikandi saw herself falling in. It was one of her dreams which made her get up from her sleep sweating and panting every time, these dreams always stayed with her, as they were the dreams of Amba, her mother.

Shikandi got up from her bed and stepped out in balcony of her small chamber. Her chamber was the smallest and dullest room of the otherwise grand palace of Drupada. She saw the first tiny rays of Sun slowly driving out the darkness of night and so Shikandi also tried to push back the vivid images of those dreams from her mind but it still kept coming back to her. Shikandi didn’t realise when another scene was getting alive in front of her eyes while staring at those sun rays.

Amba was now standing in front of Drupada’s palace. She was hopeful that this is the Kingdom where she will receive her justice. She missed her sisters sorely. Amba, Ambika and Ambalika were inseparable. All three sisters loved each other dearly but their abduction by Bhishma from Hastinapur in the middle of their Swyamvara changed the entire course of their lives. Amba felt her life snatched away from her but she didn’t want to give up. Ambika and Ambalika were now so-called queens of Hastinapur while Amba had to roam around the streets as she had expressed her wish and commitment to marry King Shalva instead of Vichitravirya, the future emperor of Hastinapur. Bhishma asked her to leave the palace immediately and she thought she will get back to Shalva happily.  But fate was not yet done with her and Amba realised this when she was humiliated and turned away bitterly by King Shalva. She was now burning with rage and the only desire which now remained within her was to destroy Bhishma, the cause of her misfortune.

Amba kept her spirits high and undertook an arduous journey among the treacherous mountains and reached the hermitage of Lord Parshurama, Bhishma’s preceptor seeking justice from him. He assured her and challenged Bhishma, his own student to fight a duel but the old seasoned warrior proved no match for young and clever student whose strength and skills in all these years had surpassed even his Guru’s training. Amba was dismal but not discouraged yet. She continued her search and when she heard about Drupad’s immense military prowess her hopes revived.

Amba reached Panchal and requested for audience with King Drupada which she received immediately as she was already a famed princess abducted by Grand regent of Hastinapur. “Princess Amba, accept my heartfelt welcome” Drupada said courteously, but he gave awkward look at her dusty clothes. Drupada noticed how pretty Amba was and his gaze fixated at her beautiful round face with large black eyes. Amba explained her story to Drupad and when he heard of her request to help her avenge, Drupad shifted into his seat uncomfortably and his speech was hesitant. “Princess Amba, I completely sympathise with you and I accept you have faced a lot of injustice, give me some time to think about this, you know it’s very difficult to defeat Bhishma. I will really have to counsel my ministers also about it, until then I request you to accept our hospitality”. Amba did feel a tinge of disappointment but pleased with courteous manner of Drupad accepted to stay in his palace. Days turned into months and Drupad remained too busy with matters of his Kingdom. He completely side lined Amba’s request for help but instead his sweet manners enamoured lonely Amba and one day they just plunged into their desires. Amba by now realised there was not much hope from Drupad but she was certainly optimistic for Drupada’s child breathing life within her womb now. “Son, he will be my brave son and he will be the one to avenge me”, Amba said to herself when she felt her child’s movements inside her belly.

Chapter 2 : A Girl was born

Amba was yelling in pain in that small, dull quarters of Drupad’s palace which has been her residence. In the midst of thundering and heavy rainfall an infant’s feeble crying voice was heard, Amba suddenly forgot all her pain and was excited to see her son. “It’s a beautiful girl Amba just like you, its Lakshmi for you” wet nurse said cheerfully with a little baby in her hands but Amba was devastated to hear this and her face turned pale. She was horrified that the last remaining hopes of her revenge were completely shattered now. But then she saw the radiant face of her daughter and took up a new resolve. “My dear child, you are my son and you will always be, you will attain your purpose and you will be a jewel in your father’s crown. Thus, you will be known as Shikhandi”. As soon as she pronounced the name of her daughter, a severe lightning struck an old, sturdy tree standing in the middle of garden outside and it fell down to the ground burnt completely.

Years passed by and Shikhandi had completed the journey from a toddler to a grown-up child, she was six years old now but a feeling of uneasiness troubled her. Shikhandi was taught riding, archery and fighting skills with other children in palace. She learned from her mother that her father is King Drupad but she didn’t say anything else and he never came to meet her. She got chance to speak to him occasionally when he would sometimes come to the palace courtyard to see the training of children going on there. He would ask only about her mother’s health but never visited her. That day when Shikhandi came back to her chamber, her mother was coughing constantly. “Let me fetch the royal physician immediately, your coughing have increased” she said handing over a glass of water to Amba. “No my dear child, first sit beside me, I have to tell you something important today, it’s about the purpose of your birth” Amba said gesturing Shikhandi to come near her. Shikhandi was confused and looked at Amba with curious expression, an unknown fear crept into her heart and appeared in her innocent eyes as Amba narrated all the events.

After two hours Shikhandi came out of her chamber with numb eyes, she went to the soldier standing on a guard duty nearby and told him “Princess Amba is no more, can you please inform King Drupad and royal physician to come and do the necessary process for funeral rites?” As that soldier ran off to deliver the message, Shikhandi stood there, her gaze fixated upwards to the chamber of King Drupad. Shikhandi had suddenly grown in years but that sense of discomfort was still there. Though she would ride and fight like boys, she was not a boy and she could not dress up and feel like other girls of her age. Shikhandi was uncomfortable with her own body and she would sometime stare at herself in mirror for hours long as her life continued.

Chapter 3 : Shikhandi and Drupada

Shikhandi completed fifteen years now and she was a skilled in warrior training. Drupad never accepted her as his daughter but he was so impressed with her skills and her bravery which she had displayed in several situations that he had decided to break the norms and gave her the position of Assistant to Commander of his army. Shikhandi was happy and could not ask for more. She wished to be close to her father and please him so this position actually benefited her to get what she wanted so desperately. Shikhandi performed her role effectively but the last words of her mother always stayed with her “Avenge me my child, promise me Shikhandi you will do what Amba could not do in this lifetime, promise me”! Amba said as she was holding on to her last breadth and as soon as Shikhandi said “I promise mother, I promise, I will avenge you and achieve the purpose of my birth. From this day on I will live to fulfill your wish mother” Amba’s life left her body. Shikhandi felt choked with emotions and suddenly felt unconscious, when she came back to her senses she felt something had changed within her. Every moment of her life was aimed at achieving destruction of Bhisma. Shikhandi’s every waking moment was filled with anger and hate for the man who spoiled her mother’s life and it was because of him that she is known as illicit child of Drupad and Amba.

Fate had something in store for Shikhandi before she actually attained her purpose. She was yet to understand her own reality. And that day came in the form of Drupad’s bitter defeat by Pandavas, sons of Pandu and princes of Hastinapur who had attacked Panchal on the orders of their Guru Drona who was Drupad’s friend but humiliated by him. Drona wanted to teach lesson to Drupad and so in Guru Dakshina he had asked his students to capture Drupad’s Kingdom and make him captive on his behalf. Though there was a fierce fight up by Shikhandi and entire army of Drupad, they were no match for Pandava’s valour and skills. Drupad was defeated but later released by Drona and he now burned with vengeance of his humiliation. He was furious with Shikandi for not able to live up to the position given to her and snatched away the title from her. The remoteness between Drupad and Shikandi could never be bridged now.

Chapter 4 : Meeting the semi-divine siblings

Shikhandi was awestruck to see that fair, handsome and radiant man coming out of the flames from the sacrificial altar. Drupad was conducting this grand yajna (sacrifice) to seek a strong and brave son as a boon from gods who will be born with the sole purpose to kill Drona. Drupad declared this radiant looking man as Drishtdyumna and the Rishis conducting this yajna prophesied that he will avenge Drupad’s humiliation by killing Drona. But Drupada was not satisfied only with killing of Drona and he wanted to destroy and claim over entire Hastinapur. He then prayed again at sacrificial altar “Hail! Oh great gods, bless me with a girl who will be cause of misfortune and destruction of the clan of Hastinapur by marrying Arjuna, the Pandava brother who insulted me greatly”.

At once when Drupad’s prayers were over, the sacrificial flames rose higher and from the altar came out a dusky girl whose beauty enamoured everybody present there. She looked like a fire herself. As soon as she stepped out and looked around, her gaze met directly with Shikhandi and she felt as if the eyes of that fire-born girl reached until her soul. “This is my daughter Draupadi and she will destroy Kurus!” announced Drupad loud and clear. Draupadi smiled and walked away slowly with Drupada and Drishtadyumn inside the palace. “Two more progenies born from the fire of revenge and there is already one who is carrying the same fire inside her heart for years” thought Shikhandi as she looked fondly at Draupadi.

As years passed by Shikhandi, Draupadi and Drishtdyumn developed a bond as siblings and Draupadi especially looked upon Shikhandi as her elder sister. While Draupadi famed for her beauty spent hours in grooming herself, Shikhandi continued sharpening her warrior skills and focusing her mind towards the only purpose of her birth, the revenge of Amba.

Chapter 5 : The Death of a Girl

Time flies faster than the swiftest bird, but not for Shikhandi. As she had paused in a moment when she had promised her mother that she will kill and destroy the person who broke the entire existence of Amba. Shikhandi’s years of learning, self-discipline and practice of her warrior skills were not yielding satisfactory results, something was amiss. “Why it is that am so uncomfortable with myself all the time? Why I can’t bear to look upon my body and feel trapped inside it? I feel as if I belong somewhere else or I am someone else. But what is it?” It was then one day when she was observing Drishtdhyumn practicing in the arena, the reality came for her. Drupada approached practicing Drishthdhyumn and was proudly admiring his moves. They were the same kind of moves which Shikhandi also could do as efficiently as him. Suddenly Drupada spoke in encouraging words “My dear son, you are so brave, so macho, you are an epitome of manliness, a complete man. It’s so true only a son can maintain and protect the pride and respect of his father, a perfect son that you are”.

This was nothing new to Shikhandi. Drishtdhyumn was always the sole attention of her father’s appreciation and she of all sorts of criticism. But today it felt different. There was something that had struck her. “Why those words of father are still ringing in my ears constantly? I feel as if those words were heavy with some purpose today, it was as if they were put deliberately on father’s tongue to come out and reach me especially, and why am I having these thoughts?” Shikhandi pondered entire night staring at the dark ceiling of her apartment. Next day morning when she got up, that feeling was still there. 

The day was gloomy and a faint line of lighting could be seen in the sky intermittently giving the sign of heavy rainfall in sometime. Shikhandi stood in front of mirror staring at herself for a long time which was been her habit of all these years. Her image getting brightened up in between due to lighting outside her window and in that brightness she suddenly spotted a few facial hairs below her lips. As she realised her truth, Shikhandi felt as if the lightning vibrating outside had fallen on her. It was a same rainy, thundering night when she was born as a girl and today on another such dark day Shikhandi’s ties with her girlhood was completely severed. That girl died immediately as the man Shikhandi came out tearing from within.

Chapter 6 : Bhishma and Shikhandi

“Shikhandi, its time my dear brother, your fate calls you to do her bidding. Take this sword and ride forth as Kaal of Bhishma. Only you can save us and help secure our victory” Draupadi spoke encouragingly to her brother but anxiety was clear in her voice. “My dear sister I am grateful to you, your husbands and Krishna for giving me this opportunity to fulfil my calling. I Shikhandi, born as a daughter of Amba but realised her true identity in this body of a man, I assure you I will not come back alive without Bhishma’s death at my hands. This is my word to you that today Shikhandi will achieve purpose of his life”.  Shikhandi picked up his sword and with long, proud strides stormed out of the tent into the war field where the nation’s biggest war was being fought. It was Mahabharatha, such congregation of strength, cunning, strategy and ambitions that History would never fail to retell it in every era. Draupadi looked admiringly at the disappearing person of Shikhandi with whom she shared the bonds of sister and a brother both. “A unique and precious person you are, people will remember you for ages Shikhandi, as you will be legendary”.

While on his way to war field every step he took reminded Shikhandi of his journey, back then on that stormy day Shikhandi had realised the cause of her discomfort, her fight with self and the reason of constant turmoil within her. Shikhandi was in a body wherein she sensed she didn’t belong to. Shikhandi was a man in a woman’s body. She had always felt and behaved like a man. It was heartbreaking but it was the truth of her life. After all Amba too desired a son, she had prayed hard for begetting a son who will be destination of her life. Shikhandi battled with two identities all her life, one which was external and other internal which nobody could see but only she experienced.

And one day Shikhandi decided to end it all. She undertook arduous journey of Himalayas in search of answers. She asked mountains, she shook trees, she prayed to rivers and she looked at sky expectantly but all remained quiet except one, an unknown mystic who appeared suddenly. He never spoke but his eyes explained all that Shikhandi wanted to understand or rather wanted to hear. His long hair, ash smeared face and body and a begging bowl with various beads around his wrists mesmerised Shikhandi and she followed him without asking a word.  They were under a roof of humble hermitage in middle of snowy mountains. Shikhandi was staring at the mystic sitting cross-legged in front of her mediating. For days, he sat that way completely quiet and at night he used to drive Shikhandi out pointing towards another hut nearby where she went to sleep over. Shikhandi could not sleep and she felt that she heard some chanting and recitals from mystic’s hut but could not make out anything. Sometimes Shikhandi would ask herself why she is here but there was something in this mystic which told her that it’s her only hope. Shikhandi’s gut feeling turned out to be true as one day mystic gave her something to drink after which she fell in deep, numb sleep. It was pitch dark. Shikhandi remained unconsciousness for months and would open her eyes in between feeling sharp pain in her body and immediately mystic would pour same potion in her parched lips and she would go into slumber again.

Finally, she was wide awake one day and she felt completely different. She was all alone in that hut and mystic was missing. Shikhandi got up and felt as if there was some surge inside her which she could not define. She got up on her feet and it was like she had laid her foot for the first time on earth, slowly she walked towards a small spring nearby and bent reluctantly to look at her image in clean water of the spring “I don’t believe my eyes!” Shikhandi had a full moustache as her face below her lips was entirely covered with facial hair. She was still anxious and thought for a while before she started removing her clothes slowly. She was dressed in clothes made out of bark. She turned around and looked at her image again in spring water and what her eyes saw that day, it changed the entire course of Shikhandi’s life. Her image was different. “What is it me? I ah, I am a man! I am no longer Shikhandi, no I am still Shikhnadi but not that way. Oh my head is swirling. Where is that mystic? How did he do this? Hello is anybody around? Baba? O Baba”. 
The story continues here...