‘Let’s go for a hunting trip!’ Vikarna, Duryodhana’s brother, called on to all his brothers. The princes all agreed happily. They had all just finished their basic weapons class and all of them were fairly good with the use of the weapons. The princes were all itching to try out their skills in the real jungle….
And so the Pandavas and the Kauravas together went to the forest with great pomp and show. They set up their tents in the forests and in the morning, started with their hunting. The princes came back to the camp with their kills when one of their dogs also went deep inside the forest.
Almost all the princes were back to the tent when, they heard one of their dogs barking furiously. The princes had no sooner then heard the bark when they all ran towards the sound. The princes found the dog barking furiously at an uncouth looking jungle boy. The princes were about to pull the dog away when suddenly within a matter of seconds, seven arrows flew into the dog’s mouth, before the dog could close it!
All the princes looked at Arjuna, but then Arjuna had not even drawn his bow. They all looked stupefied as they saw the jungle boy standing before him who was looking at the dog with slight irritation. It took a minute for it to sink in, but the princes realized that it was the jungle boy who had effectively stopped the dog from barking…..
‘Did you see….?’
‘That was so fast! How….’
‘The dog is not even hurt……’
There was a general hubhub of conversation as all the Kaurava princes were looking stupefied at each other. Agreed they all saw Arjuna practice daily and he was brilliant….But what they had seen right now was not ‘brilliant’, it was incredible….
Yudhishtara spotted Arjuna looking around shocked and saw that the jungle boy was now nowhere to be seen. Arjuna pushed past the princes and walked in a daze towards the direction where the boy had walked. Yudhishtara pushed passed the other princes and walked with his brother as the other Pandavas followed Yudhishtara one by one.
Arjuna walked long and hard before he could see the other boy. But Arjuna was so such in shock that he did not remember most of the journey towards the boy.
‘Who are you?’ Arjuna blurted out as soon as he saw the boy.
The boy looked at Arjuna his bow and arrow poised. ‘..I am Ekalavya.’ He said shrugging.
‘Who are your parents, Ekalavya? What are you doing here?’ Yudhishtara interposed.
‘My father is Hiranyadhanus, the king of the Nishadas! I was hunting here, when you dog came up and annoyed me!’ Ekalavya said frowning. Ekalavya wondered where he had seen the boy who was looking at him like he had been possessed.
‘Who taught you archery?’ Arjuna asked Ekalavya with almost reverence in his eyes.
‘I am the student of Dronacharya!’ Ekalavya said shrugging turning away.
Arjuna felt like someone had hit him with sledgehammer. He wanted to call the boy a liar and demand the truth from him. But deep down, beneath the shock, Arjuna realized that the boy had spoken the truth. That meant that his teacher had taught the boy and made Ekalavya, a better archer than him….Arjuna blinked as everything was appearing too bright and too hazy to him. His brothers were telling him something but the voices were coming from a far end of a tunnel and it was not making sense to him. He stumbled as he walked on blindly. Arjuna had no recollection of his journey back to Hastinapur.
Drona waited patiently for the boys to come home. He had planned on another test to teach the boys real concentration. Drona smiled as he heard the voice of the boys coming through. Drona went to the front of his house and his eyes searched for his favourite pupil….when Dronacharya suddenly faltered. For the first time in memory, he saw Arjuna look ashen….almost defeated. Pushing through the other princes, barely acknowledging the words of the Kauravas, Drona almost ran toward Arjuna.
‘You said that no student of yours would be as good as me!’ Arjuna mumbled without any preamble.
Drona looked at the other Pandavas who were also looking somber. ‘What happened?’
Slowly, haltingly, Drona got the entire story out of the Pandavas.
‘He told you, he was my student?’ Drona asked incredulously.
When Arjuna nodded angrily, Drona blinked. He took a deep breath trying to steady himself. ‘Take me to the boy!’ Drona said to Arjuna. ‘NOW!’
Drona walked behind Arjuna who stumbled as he walked through the jungle. As they neared a clearing, Drona was surprised as he heard the twang of the bow. It was exactly like the sound that Arjuna made when he was practicing archery….rhythmic and an absolute melody to any teacher of arms….Drona followed Arjuna and the first thing he saw was not a boy practicing bow and arrow but a clay statue right in the middle of the clearing. A clay statute which resembled Dronacharya to an uncanny extent. Shocked Drona walked forward as he went towards the boy who was shooting the arrows almost effortlessly into the target.
The boy heard footsteps and turned as he saw. Drona saw genuine joy and love in the boy’s eyes as he turned. ‘Acharya! You have come! You have come to see me!’ Ekalavya said falling at Drona’s feet.
As Drona saw the boy he realized the boy whom he had seen some time back asking to be taught archery. Dronacharya remembered turning away the boy. ‘Why do you call yourself my student?’ Drona asked coldly.
The boy frowned. ‘You….you gave me your blessings! I practiced archery, assuming you to be my teacher!’ the boy said by way of explanation.
Drona was shocked as he realized that the boy had learnt everything….all the nuances of archery, all by himself…
‘Do you really consider me your teacher?’ Dronacharya squeaked, finally.
‘Yes!’ the boy said firmly. ‘I would be proud to call myself your student!’
‘I demand Gurudakshina!’ Drona said, a cold light in his eyes.
The boy did not even blink. ‘Anything you want, acharya!’
‘Your right thumb!’ Drona said as Arjuna almost gasped. Being an archer…he knew…he knew exactly what Drona was asking from Ekalavya.
Arjuna was more than shocked as he realized that Ekalavya was reaching out for his dagger. It almost seemed like Ekalavya did not realize what it was that Drona was asking from him. Ekalavya looked at Drona once more, smiled and without a second glance cut off his right thumb.
Drona looked at Arjuna who was looking like he was unable to move from there to Ekalavya who was standing there with a bleeding hand.
With a heavy heart, Dronacharya painfully swallowed as he pulled Arjuna away from the place and walked away without a second glance. Drona knew that Ekalavya would still practice with his remaining four fingers. But then, now, Ekalavya could not challenge Arjuna's fighting prowess....