Thursday, September 5, 2013

An Archer par Excellence - Ekalavya - Part 2 of 2

For the first time in his life, Arjuna felt a strange emotion gnawing at his stomach. He soon realized that he was jealous. I am jealous...he thought incredulously. I am jealous of a Nishada boy..  He walked back to the camp, his  mind enirely occupied by Ekalavya and his words..He  could not erase  Ekalavya from his mind even while sleeping.
The morning still found him confused and dazed.  Finally he got up and went in search of his Guru.
Dronacharya looked at Arjuna once and immediately knew that something was wrong with his star disciple. He had taught Arjuna for many years now and had rarely seen Arjuna in a bad mood. Even today Arjuna did not look like he was in a bad mood. He just looked different.
For the first time he saw Arjuna stumble as he came to see him. Arjuna looked at Dronacharya with a  hurt look. 'You told me that you would teach me every nuances of archery, if I concentrated well on it. I thought I was doing a good job!' Arjuna said listlessly.
Dronacharya listened to Arjuna's words and looked in confusion. 'I have been teaching you everything I know. You are the best in class as far as archery goes....No one else is as good...'
'THATS NOT TRUE!' Arjuna yelled as he was unable to control himself anymore. Dronacharya looked startled at the unexpected outburst. He could see the hurt in Arjuna's eyes. He wondered what it was that had made Arjuna like this.
'I met one of your students last night!' Arjuna said after a prolonged  silence.
'Which one?'
'Ekalavya, the prince of the Nishadas!' Arjuna said gritting his teeth.
Bewildered Dronacharya wondered for a few minutes who Ekalavya was. That was when he remembered the serious looking tall boy who had come to him a few years back and pleaded with him  to teach him archery... the boy he had turned away. Dronacharya wondered why Arjuna called Ekalavya his student and wondered what he had done to make Arjuna like this....

Ekalavya was shooting the arrows with practiced ease. He was hearing the rhythmic twang of the bow which to him was  the sweetest sound in the world. He did not need to look at the target to know that he had hit on the right spot. He just knew that he had hit it right....
As he was firing, he heard sudden sharp footsteps behind him. At first Ekalavya ignored it. But then he knew that the footsteps was not of someone used to the forests. Curious, Ekalavya turned looking through the shrubs.....

Dronacharya looked at the disheveled Nishada boy before him and was shocked. Though outwardly  Ekalavya looked casual, Dronacharya gasped as he saw the determination in Ekalavya's eyes. He briefly eyed at the targets placed at improbable places and knew with certainty that all the targets no matter where, had been hit correctly. What really shocked Drona was the mud statue near the boy. The mud statue had been made by hand and had an uncanny resemblance to  Drona.
'Guru!' Ekalavya came forward and fell at Dronacharya's feet, shocking him.'At last!. ... 'You have come. I knew you would come!'Ekalavya said looking at Drona with tears in his eyes.
'Why do you call me your Guru?' Drona wanted to ask the question harshly. But inspite of himself the words came out softly.
'You have taught me everything I know!' Ekalavya said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. 'I practiced everything before your mud statue and I was able to do everything!' Ekalavya said with shining eyes.
Drona looked at the Nishada boy whose eyes were shining with a true zeal of a disciple.
Drona's heart felt heavy as he realized what he was going to do. He would do it though it meant condemning himself to hell. He would do it for Arjuna and for Hastinapur.
'So.. you consider me your teacher, your guru?' Drona asked sternly.
Ekalavya nodded proudly.
'Then I demand guru dakshina!' Drona said harshly. [In those days after education had been imparted the teacher could ask for anything from his students and his students would be obliged to give it to him. This was called  Guru Dakshina]
Ekalavya nodded his head eagerly. 'I must be blessed today! Today I repay the dues to my teacher! There is absolutely nothing else  I consider more important.' He looked at Drona waiting for him to elaborate.
Drona looked at Ekalavya with the bow in his right hand. The bow looked like it was a part of him. Drona looked harshly at Ekalavya. 'I want the thumb of your right hand!'
Drona looked at Ekalavya fully expecting him to refuse. He atleast expected Ekalavya to look at him with disdain or atleast with hurt eyes.
What he did not expect and what did happen was that Ekalavya pulled out a knife  from his belt. Before Drona could even open his mouth to cry out, Ekalavya had cut out his right thumb. For a brief moment Drona wondered whether Ekalavya had even realized what he had done. For an archer, the thumb was the most important finger. Without it, firing arrows was next to impossible. Ekalavya who was an archer par excellence and who practiced it daily like a meditation had just cut off the thumb like it was a minor nuisance.
Drona was speechless when Ekalavya handed him the thumb reverently. It was at that minute Drona realised that he  had been responsible for destroying a brilliant archer, but his 'disciple' would never blame him for it. Drona also knew that though Ekalavya would never be able to use the arrow and bow with the reflexes he had had just a few seconds back, the absence of a thumb would never stop Ekalavya. Ekalavya would continue practicing....Drona knew it.
Drona bowed his head unable to speak or even meet the eyes of Ekalavya. It was a long walk back for the teacher, whose 'disciple' had not even spoken a single word. Drona knew that he would never be able to forgive himself for what he had done. He had to live with this for the rest of his life and beyond....

[Ekalavya never regained the speed with which he used to fire the arrow. But he never stopped practicing. He joined King Jarasandha's regular army and even without his thumb he was a formidable warrior. Ekalavya met his death in the hands of Lord Krishna during one of the attacks that Jarasandha led against Dwaraka....]