Joined: 17 July 2006
As he walked aimlessly in the dark, Lakshman was not sure what he was feeling- angry, confused, scared - perhaps all of them. From a distance he could see the whole Ayodhya decked up to commemorate the princes' marriages, but here he was, running away from all of it.
It all began, Lakshman thought, with the cocky, smart alec, too- big- for his-boots Shatrughan. Shartughan along with their brother Bharat and father Dasharat had arrived in Mithila the day before, to begin the celebrations of Ram and Sita's wedding.
Rama and Lakshmana were sitting in their room when Shatrughna rushed in, breathless with excitement. He stopped abruptly on seeing his eldest brother there. "Oh Brother" he said folding his hands "I didn't expect to see you here". Shatrughan stood politely but it was obvious he was bursting to tell something. Rama, indicating to him to sit down, asked in an indulgent voice "Is there something you want to say Shatrughan?"
Shatrughan burst out, "Shrutakirti. ...I have found out... Her name is Shrutakirti."
Lakshman released the knot he was tying on his bow and looked up.
Rama looked amused. "Who is Shrutakirti?"
"Your youngest sister-in-law, brother. The younger daughter of Maharaja Kushdhwaja" replied Shatrughan triumphantly.
"So what of her?" persisted Rama, with a faint smile on his lips.
"Um...nothing. Nothing at all...Just that...Isn't it a beautiful name?" replied Shatrughan, trying to control his excitement.
Lakshman looked at him disapprovingly.
"Did you find only the name beautiful or..?" asked Rama with a laugh
"Now that you ask, brother, she is beautiful too. Very beautiful" replied Shatrughan grinnig
Rama stood up and patting Shatrughan on the shoulder, left the room.
Shatrughan settled himself on a couch and closing his eyes murmured blissfully "Shrutakirti..."
Lakshmana left the bow he was stringing and walking up to Shatrughna remonstrated with his twin.
"Shatrughna, is this any way to speak to brother Rama? How can you talk so freely about girls in front of him?"
"Why what was wrong in that? I only mentioned that Shrutakirti was a beautiful name."
"How does it matter?" grunted Lakshmana picking up the bow again.
"Will I not want my future wife to have a beautiful name? Shrutakeeerti. Sounds so good" answered back Shatrughna.
"Your future wife?" sputtered Lakshmana. "Chi...chi...Very bad. How can you think of getting married before brother Bharata?"
Shatrughna sat up on the couch and answered "Don't worry brother. I have found out that Maharaja Kushdhwaja has another daughter. Maanda..No ... no...I don't think I can take her name since she is going to be brother Bharata's wife .
"Brother's Bharata's wife? You've decided that too?"
"No not me. Brother Rama will. Why did you think he just left the room? I gave the hint. He picked it up. That's what elder brothers are for. By tomorrow all our marriages will be fixed ". Shatrughna collapsed, laughing.
"It's less than twenty hours of your arrival in Mithila and already you have found out so much?" asked Lakshmana incredulously starting to string the bow again. "From where did you get so much information?"
"Guess?" asked Shatrughna winking.
"Exactly, brother" replied Shatrughna getting up. Shatrughna walked and stood behind Lakshmana. Placing his elbows on Lakshmana's shoulders he leaned forward and whispered in his ears "And guess what brother? Maharaja Janaka has one more daughter. Isn't it perfect? Four brothers here and four sisters there"
The bow slipped from Lakshmana's hand as he suddenly became very still.
Shatughana jumped forward and picking up the bow handed it to Lakshmana. "Don't you want to know the fourth sister's name?"
Lakshmana shook his head furiously
Shatrughna held his twin firmly by his shoulders and whispered "Urmila".
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Things happened just as Lakshmana feared. The next day the four brothers were summoned by Guru Vasishtha and their father. Maharaja Dasharatha revealed that they had come to Mithila in anticipation of one marriage but now because of a happy coincidence there would be four weddings. Shatrughna let out a whoop of joy, Bharata was embarrassed and Lakshmana, shocked.
The next few days were a blur and it was only on reaching Ayodhya and its familiar environs that Lakshmana was able to think once again. They were ceremoniously received at the palace gates and the greater part of the day was spent in Guru Vasishtha explaining to them the sanctity of marriage and the mothers teasing them. Lakshmana felt himself going hot behind the ears as he listened to all gentle ribbing and he assiduously kept his face down.
Soon it was night. The four brothers had gathered in the central courtyard. The king had departed to his bedchamber after blessing them. The mothers performed their aarti and asked them to go their room to 'begin a new chapter in their lives'. Lakshmana gulped uncomfortably. Brother Rama left, after bowing to the mothers, walking with his usual steady gait. Bharata followed suit. Shatrughna after walking a few steps, broke into a run. Looking at his twin, Lakshmana could not help but smile. But then he realized much to his embarrassment, he was the only one left there . Mother Kausalya patted his shoulder and told him to go to his room 'where his wife would be waiting for him'.
Lakshmana forced himself to turn towards the corridor leading to his room. Somehow the stretch seemed longer than usual. His wife? A new chapter in his life? Lakshmana had never envisaged such a situation. He had been content to serve his brother Rama. He had been under the impression that his life was just an extension of Brother Rama's. Now he was expected to lead an independent life- with new responsibilities to fulfill.
He was both confused and scared. Will his responsibilities as a husband come in way of his duties as a younger brother? Would he, after marriage too, be able to remain what he was before- Rama's shadow? Lakshmana paused, leaned on the wall and mopped his brow.
Two servant girls passed by and on looking at him, broke into giggles. Lakshmana glared at them but they only covered their faces and giggled harder. That did it. Lakshmana waited for them to disappear and making an about-turn walked furiously- out of the corridor, out of the palace till he reached the royal stables.
He flashed his ensign to the guards who let him in hastily, though with looks of surprise. But, on looking ahead, he spotted Arya Sumanta in deep conversation with the Keeper of Stables. "Doesn't that man ever sleep?" wondered Lakshmana.
Arya Sumanta too was surprised to see Lakshmana walking rapidly towards the horses. "Prince? You? At this time of the hour? But tonight is suppose to be your'.."Arya Sumanta let the sentence hang delicately.
Lakshmana nodded. "It's something urgent Arya. I have to go"
Sumanta was now trotting to keep pace with Lakshmana. "What's the matter Prince? I can handle it. You ought to be with'."Sumanta jerked his thumb in the direction of the palace.
Lakshmana mumbled " No' It's okay'.I need to go somewhere' I will be back soon"
Sumanta stood panting and mystified as Lakshmana untied a horse and began to lead it away. "Prince- the security around the capital has been tightened. You won't be able to go more than two yojanas without being questioned" called out Sumanta behind Lakshmana's back.
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Lakshmana swung himself on the horse and nodded to Sumanta, mentally praying that Sumanta would have more sense than to inform the king that Prince Lakshmana had been spotted wandering about on what was supposed to be his bridal night.
He mounted a horse and patting it to keep quiet, rode it till he reached the banks of Sarayu. He dismounted and sat down on a rock near the river. The soft ripple of the waters and the cool air seemed to calm his feverish mind. He made his decision – he would inform Urmilla in no uncertain terms that first and foremost he was Rama's brother and she better resign herself to that. Lakshman got up and began to lead the horse by its reins. He felt better, having arrived at a decision.
But a small voice began to speak at the back of his mind. But, what about the bond that had been forged between him and Urmilla? Did he have the right to ignore it altogether? If he was so averse to the idea of marriage, the small voice continued incessantly, he ought to announced his decision before the wedding–not now. Lakshmana sighed. A nice mess he had got himself into.
Now there was only one thing to do. Explain his stance to Urmilla and pray that she understands. Or, better still explain his stance and ask her to take the decision. After all, she was Maharaja Janaka's daughter. Maybe she would understand. The small voice at the back of his mind agreed.
His quarters in the palace were completely silent and dark. Most of the lamps had blown themselves out save for the few all-night ones which threw eerie shadows on the walls. The distant roll of drums announced that it was the second prahar after midnight. Lakshmana quickened his steps. What would Urmilla be thinking? Maybe be she would be restless with anxiety….had she informed anyone about his absence? Lakshmana hit his forehead with his palm. A nice way to start his married life. Wonder why they didn't teach such things in the Gurukul, he thought wryly.
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As he entered his room,it took him a few minutes for his eyes to get used to the darkness and he looked around for his wife. Had she ensconced herself in a corner, weeping her heart out?
At last he found her- sleeping blissfully on his- no, he corrected himself- on their bed. Lakshmana debated whether to leave the discussion till morning- but though it better to resolve it then and there. He couldn't take the tension anymore. Yes, he would wake her up. It would be the best thing to do.
It turned out to be the worst thing he ever did.
Startled out of her sleep by someone shaking her shoulder and calling out her name, Urmilla could only make out the dim outline of a man in the darkness. She held he hands to her ears and shrieked ay the top of her voice "Help'. Help'." Her cries rang out in the darkness
Lakshmana tried to cover her mouth with his palm to muffle her shouts, but it only made matters worse. Urmilla tried to dig her nails into his arms in an attempt to free herself- but the hands holding her were too strong.
"Sh...Urmilla...Don't shout.. ...It's me, Lakshmana'"
Eyes widened , Urmilla looked at the face above her and recognition dawned. Lakshmana eased his grip on her and stood in front of her glowering.
Urmilla hurriedly got up and whispered "Aryaputra?"
Lakshmana nodded and still glowering, pointed to the nail marks on his forearm, "A fine welcome from my wife." Urmilla looked abashed.
By now, however, Urmilla's shouts had attracted the security and they were pounding at the door Random shouts of 'Open...Princess...Are you safe...' could be heard.
Lakshmana realizing that the door would soon be broken down, asked Urmilla to open the door. Urmilla shook her head, pointing to her disheveled appearance. Lakshmana gave an angry snort and went to the door where the guards were still hammering for all they were worth.
Lakshmana jerked open both the doors and asked nonchalantly "Yes?"
The Chief of Palace Guards was standing in front of him, a club in one hand and surrounded by a dozen soldiers. They seemed taken aback on seeing him there. "Oh Prince" said the chief, lowering his club, "We didn't know you had arrived. We thought we heard some screams. Arya Sumanta had informed us that you had been called on some important mission and that special security should be provided to your rooms since the princess was all alone. Security has been tightened all over, you know"
"Thank you Sumanta" thought Lakshmana mentally, and spoke to the Chief loudly, "No, it's all right, I have returned".Lakshmana attempted to close the doors.
But the Chief was not so sure. He put in his foot between the doors Lakshmana was trying to close and peered inside. "Are you sure Prince? We distinctly heard a woman's scream"
The way she screamed, the whole Ayodhya must have heard thought Lakshmana. "Umm.. it was nothing...just that ..." Lakshmana racked his brains furiously for an explanation, "it was just that we were sleeping and my wife had a nightmare..." Lakshmana tried to force the doors shut.
To his surprise (and annoyance) the Chief burst into laughter and the rest of the guards were unsuccessfully trying to hide their smiles. The Chief removed his foot and began to retreat. Just before the doors were shut, he turned back and winking at Lakshmana said slyly "Good attempt at explanation Prince, but tell me does anyone sleep on their marital night? The chief guffawed loudly and left.
Lakshmana swore softly under his breath and made a kicking movement with his leg at retreating Chief's back. He slammed the doors shut and walked back in to the room, his temper none the better.
"Why did they come, aryaputra ? asked Urmilla innocently
Lakshmana glowered at her and rubbing his forearms replied, "To express their appreciation over your singing abilities."
"Oh, but when did I sing?" wondered Urmilla missing the sarcasm completely.
Lakshmana looked like he would like nothing better than to wring her neck.
(to be continued)
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