Cold. It was biting cold. The night seemed to creep through every gap of that linen tent. An oil lamp, made of solid gold kept on the ivory table fought like a lone warrior determined to keep the darkness ousted. He hated luxuries, but there seemed to be no end to richness showered up on him by Suyodhana even in the middle of this great war. Yes, the great WAR. The 16th day had ended. And for Karna it ended in style, with Pandavas squealing and running away like bunch of scared dogs. And mother Kunti, who kept Karna at her arms length, who turned her head whenever she saw him, came and begged for the Pandava lives. He did not expect her to be standing in his way while coming after a swim in Parusni river. In the end, she acknowledged the fact that Karna was more chivalrous than Arjuna or any other Pandava for that reason. This was the acceptance he craved for all his life. But for Karna, friendship and commitment was more important than sentiments that would ruin Suyodhana’s war efforts. Except for Bhima who played the spoil sport by killing Dushasana, the day was glorious for him. Anyway, Karna did not care for Dushasana . He fought for glory. Those who marginalised him as charioteers son, felt the heat of his rage. Though he had entered the battle field on the 11th day, Drona was the one commanded the Kaurava army. There were very few takers for Karna’s words. Karna felt humiliated during strategic meetings since Drona overrode his every opinion. Now that the old man was slain the command was completely for his taking. Karna struck. Like a zillion thunderbolts ripping the virgin earth, he fell upon the Pandavas who ran hither thither for their precious lives. He knew that there was nothing more powerfull than speed and intimidation. He did not know about respect, but definitely saw fear in the Pandava eyes.The 16th day of the great war was HIS day. His eyes looked tired and strained reading the Danurveda (book on science of warfare that lord Shiva handed over to Parasuram) under the lamp. The slokas engraved in those dried palm leaves seemed to slip away into the oblivion of sleep. Without Parasurama’s (his master) knowledge Karna had secretly made a copy of the original Danurveda scroll. There were mistakes in some cruicial places ‘coz he had scribbled it in a haste when Parasuram went out or was busy with some other students. Karna was a perfectionist and he always feared of something going wrong. There was always this problem with memory and it left him completely when it was critical. But he would close his eyes and take a deep breath and things would flow back to his mind and body like a thunder. Then he would get back his unstoppable self. The light of the oil lamp cast a huge,flickering shadow of the handsome Karna on the linen wall of the tent. His angular face, with a strong jaws and a grizzling moustache, looked pale yet handsome under the grim light of the lamp. His tanned body, chiselled and grilled in the great embers of battles he fought for Suyodhana during the Digvijaya Yaga, made him look more like a weapon than a human being. Pandavas were in exile then, and he had peace of mind. So Karna personally crowned Suyodhana as King. And when Karna got bored after sometime, he went out and conquered every kingdom in every direction. He became the only warrior to do so. After this jolly outing, he crowned Suyodhana as the Emperor Of The World culminating in the Vaishnava sacrifice. He was on top of the world since his best friend was the emperor and glory and respect befell Karna once again. But it was all short lived. The Pandavas, like pests in the milk, came back to Hastinapur and Suyodhana summoned him from Anga. Again those teasing eyes of Krishna, those hate seething tongue of Bheema, those unsympathetic eyes of his mother that seemed to look through him, making him feel completely non-existent and transparent, disturbed his mind to great lengths. But the one he hated the most was the sarcasm, scorn and contempt for him that seemed to emanate from every inch of Arjuna. He did not understand why even Kauravas did not recognise his valour or glory even after he conquered the world in every existing direction. Was it all because of his lower birth? Anyways, his mind lost its cool with the Pandu brats around him. Now destiny had a given a golden opportunity to prove his mettle. Karna knew that the war was coming to an end. He could sense that in the air that tasted of a Pandava loss and smelled of a Kaurava victory. From today morning, since he was spear heading the attack, Pandava moral was down. Yudi knows that I can wipe out his entire army in a single day. But there was no fun in that. He made them squirm, squeal and run for their lives for the first time since the comencement of the war. He wondered what Arjuna would be thinking at the moment. He was sure Krishna would be in his tent, flashing that fake reassuring smile telling that him that everything is going to be fine. But Karna had seen a flash of fear in Krishna’s eyes for his beloved Arjuna. Had he not turned the chariot at the right moment, Arjuna would have been history by now. Lost in these thoughts, Karna lost interest in reading the slokas. He knew all of them by heart but still he wanted to revise them. Just in case… But Karna decided to close Dhanurveda and tied it compact with strings. He covered the same using bundles of purple silk. Then he shoved it among his cloths kept on his bedside which was just an arms length away from where he sat. It looked perfectly inconspicuous among the cloths. “Good ..” he thought with grim satisfaction. He pushed back the sandalwood stool as he got up. He stretched his arms and yawned. He scratched the matted thatch on his chest. He tightened the cotton around his waist and pulled back his oiled lush black mane with both hands. He then walked towards his bed and from underneath he pulled out a big rectangular wooden box. It was heavy. The nerves than ran his neck bulged, his shoulders and arms strained under its tremendous weight. Karna placed the box on the ivory table. He placed his right palm over the centre of the box that had a simple ‘AUM‘ inscribed on it. He closed his eyes and gave a silent prayer to Siva, Indra and Parasurama. Slowly, opening his eyes Karna unlatched the wooden box and opened it. A smile more glorious than a billion suns gleamed across his handsome face. From what he saw inside, he knew that the great war would end tomorrow.
To be continued tomorrow…..
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