Krishna glanced at the taut figure sitting by the lamp, reading a manuscript. The spine straight, the shoulders rigid, the light dancing across his eyes, making it gleam.
He announced his presence.
Drona, looked up from the manuscript that had caught his attention, and looked askance at Krishna. He imperceptibly nodded his head, indicating that he had set the plan in motion. Not one to even miss the smallest of things, he discerned what appeared to be a tiny tear at the left corner of Drona’s eye. He chose to ignore it as there was nothing that he could really say to soothe Drona’s frazzled mind, however, the Acharya looked into Krishna’s eyes, and told him, “You do realize if guided properly, this young man could have been the greatest archer in the entire universe. You just deprived him of that chance and maybe his whole life.”
Krishna held Drona’s gaze steadily and remarked, “I know!”
Ekalvaya was disheartened. He was dejected over the turn of events. He knew he couldn’t be moping around like this. He had a tribe to lead and now had to focus upon other things. But how? His entire life, he had focused on learning archery and being the best there was and now even that was snatched from him for no fault of his. The pride in him refused to accept what had happened. His ego refused to accept defeat. He wanted to show the man he had thought of as his Guru, that losing a thumb did not make any difference.
He started practicing with fervour again using his forefinger in place of his thumb. With days, he got better. Though he would never be the archer he once was, he was at least following his passion.
Krishna looked over at Bheema and Arjuna. They were visibly excited at the prospect of visiting Magadha. Much acclaimed for its hospitality, they were looking to have a good time, after completing the objective for which they had set foot on. They reached the palace gates, where they announced their arrival to the sentry on duty. They were received with much aplomb, even though Jarasandha – the Emperor of Magadha, was well aware of the intentions behind this sudden visit. Over dinner and wine, the well-meaning banter, took a more serious note when talk switched to wrestling. It was no surprise that Jarasandha was a well-known wrestler, his fame had spread far and wide as did the mystery of his birth and youth. Called upon to honour an invitation to fight anyone of the three guests, the emperor, known for his sharp tongue and suave wit, remarked that he would fight an opponent who was worthy of him – Bheema. He said he wouldn’t fight a weakling archer like Arjuna, nor an escapist who runs away from the battlefield like Krishna.
Hearing his emperor speak thus, one of his chief guards behind him, turned around and took stock of the visitors. The familiar faces of Arjuna and Krishna, deeply etched into his memory, threw Ekalavya off balance. He was flabbergasted to see them and was even more surprised that his emperor was going to wrestle with Arjuna’s brother. A sinister feeling that no good could come out of this crept upon Ekalavya. He had grown to regard Jarasandha as a father figure and mentor, soon after the emperor had taken him under his wings and made him commander-in-chief of one section of his mighty army. Jarasandha had given him hope when there was none and Ekalavya had pledged his life to him.
It was over in a matter of minutes, once Krishna had shown the idea to Bhima. Ekalavya had watched the entire match with keen eyes, not missing a thing. Months later, he could still hear and see in his mind’s eye, each whisper of the breeze, each leaf that fluttered, the hushed and eager breathing of the audience, the sly glances that passed between the Pandavas and Krishna, the stricken eyes of the emperor when he realized that this was the end and the victory march by Bhima.
Months later, whenever he practiced each day, he would recall the vow he made to keep fighting for his emperor’s forces and those that he allied with.
Krishna looked at the man standing before him, clad in warrior garb, holding a bow that was obviously self-fashioned. He spine ramrod straight, his stance defensive, it was clear that he was itching for a fight. The eyes which once showed humility, now portrayed belligerence tinged with a hint of bitterness.
Ekalavya looked at Krishna, remembering the two instances that he had met him. Two very different circumstances and now this one. He had attacked Dwaraka upon Duryodhana’s orders, instigated by him to avenge his emperor’s death. His mission was to kill Krishna and here he was standing in front of him, the boy he had met a long time ago in the forest, the one who was in a twisted way, his cousin.
“I possess the answers you seek” said Krishna to Ekalvaya. “But for that, you must finish what you have set out to do.”
They duelled. The outcome was of course evident. And at some point, Eklavaya realized it too, that he was fighting against a force greater than a mere mortal. While the warrior in him didn’t give up, his body surrendered. The aggression in his eyes faded, replaced by the acceptance of his fate. In his final moments, he sought of Krishna, the answers to his questions.
Krishna gently placed his hand on Ekalavya’s head, and told him that his greatest falling lay in the fact that he did not follow the words of the man he considered his Guru, the man he offered his thumb to as Guru-Dakshina. The reason was his ego. And because he had let that ego take over, his path had strayed away from the righteous and allied with Duryodhana, thereby making him formidable. And therefore, in order to cleanse the earth of the adharma that had rooted in her, it was necessary that this happened for the greater good.