Translation: Gandharir Abedan (Gandhari’s Plea)

Gandharir Abedan (Gandhari’s Plea) by Rabindranath Tagore

The following is my translation of an extract from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem/ play Gandharir Abedan (Gandhari’s Plea). The initial section of the poem is a conversation between Dhritarashtra, the blind king of the Kauravas and his son, the prince Duryodhan. The conversation is taking place at a moment soon after the Pandavas have lost the game of dice and as a result, have been banished from the kingdom. In this riveting conversation, Tagore’s Duryodhan justifies himself and his actions to his father.

Stunning in strength and scathing in logic, it is a fascinating peek inside the mind of Mahabharata‘s great anti-hero. The original poem in Bengali can be found here.

(Now updated with the translation of the Gandhari-Dhritarashtra conversation)

Duryodhan:
Accept my respect, Father.

Dhritarashtra:
O schemer with evil design
Did you achieve your end?

Duryodhan:
Triumph is mine.

Dhritarashtra:
Now, are you happy?

Duryodhan:
Victorious I am.

Dhritarashtra:
Having won the kingdom in its whole,
Where is thy pleasure?

Duryodhan:
O Lord, Pleasure isn’t what I sought
Victory is what I desired and it’s victory that I‘ve got.
Mere pleasure does not the warrior’s hunger sink
From the glowing, fiery cup of triumph today I drink
Churned from the sea of envy; Not joyous, O Father, today
I am victorious. Content was I then
When Pandavas and Kauravas shared the same den
Like the dark spots on the surface of the moon
A lazy, shameful, pale, fulfilling swoon.
Yes, it was merry and gay
As the Pandavas kept the scared enemies at bay.
Having milked the land, they shared its fruits with us
Out of fraternal love, it was no fuss.
We were without worries through rain and sun
Each day brought new forms of fun.
A life of luxury it was, no doubt
Pandavas’ joy-cries in our ears rang loud
The Pandava brothers’ victorious flame
Lit up the Kauravas’ poor hut’s frame.
Having blown out our glorious blaze
In the shadow of the Pandavas’ blinding haze
At their mountain’s foot rested us poor souls
Like hibernating frogs in holes.
Today, the sons of Pandu walk into the forest in defeat
It‘s not about joy, today my victory is complete.

Dhritarashtra:
Cursed be your hostile act
Panadavas and Kauravas share the same bloodline
Have you forgotten that fact?

Duryodhan:
Wish I could
Forget that fact for good.
True, we did the same grandfather share
But were we ever equals in status and flair?
It would not have stung had they been
Distant people, neither kith nor kin;
The nocturnal moon
Does not envy the sun of the noon
But the single morning has not space
Enough for two suns to grace.
Today, the dispute is settled, today
I can say:
I am the victor, I am alone.

Dhritarashtra:
Envy, thou are puny
A poison-laden serpent.

Duryodhan:
Puny it is not, Envy is noble
It characterizes the great. Trees giant and able
Stand apart in their glory. It is the humble grass
Who huddle together in a mass
Stars numberless stay knit in brotherly peace
But the moon and the sun: there is but one.
In the fading light, in the silhouette afar
Sets the glow of the Pandava star
Alone and triumphant today is the Kaurava Czar.

Dhritarashtra:
It is Dharma that stands defeated today.

Duryodhan:
Do not confuse the Dharma of Kings, pray
With those of the commoner
Who with his peer his might does share.
But the emperor is the sole master, his equal if ever
Is an obstacle, a threat, an enemy forever,
A hindrance on his track, a danger at his back
A constant parasite of his glory.
The ordinary folk may share his space
With his friends, different is his case
But the sceptre of the king
With each division loses its zing.
If his own people can’t see the king’s crown
If it in the crowd does drown,
Then how shall the king exert his might
And punish the wrong, reward the right?
The Dharma of the king does not let
Any consideration for brother or mate.
Victory is his only goal
Hence today, O Father, I am whole,
With all the rivals banished and gone
Success is mine; today, I have won.

Dhritarashtra:
A win through deceit
In a game of dice, is that your feat
Over which you so shamelessly delight?

Duryodhan:
One is limited in one’s fight
To one’s weapons and one’s limits of skill.
When armed with arrows and bow one does kill
The dreaded tiger, does one cower in shame?
Winning the battle is the name of the game
Racing towards one’s death like a fool isn’t war;
War’s only aim is to finish on the victorious side
Today, I have won, O Lord, hence my pride.

Dhritarashtra:
Today, you have won,
Hence they condemn you on the streets
And with rebukes the air reverberates

Duryodhan:
Condemnations! I fear those no more,
Now I shall silence all their roar
The audacious detractors will be crushed to death
With my feet shall I choke their toxic breath.
Duryodhan’s a sinner”,  “He is crooked“,  “He is mean
For long I have heard them preen
By the sceptre I pledge, O Lord, I will make them squeal
From one to all, I shall make them kneel
Then will they know that Duryodhan is the king,
Who will not tolerate slandering of his being.

Dhritarashtra:
Heed, O child,
If the detractor from expressing you keep
It will only lead its roots to grow deep.
Only when you let the critics run wild
Does the ferocity of their jibes go mild.
Do not let the strength of darts
Grow silently in the secret of hearts.
Imprison the serpent of hate in love’s cage
To the tune of flute, with a smiling gaze.

Duryodhan:
Rebukes which unexpressed remain
Do not cause the royal dignity to wane.
Love if I do not get
That I shall not regret
But audacity, O King,  I cannot condone
To love or not is a choice of one’s own
It is the poor who dole out affection
Let them share it with their pet beasts,
The Pandava brothers and the dogs on the streets.
I care not for that love of theirs, I desire fright
I want victory that is my right,
Crushing the vanity of the vain.
… … …

… … …

Guard:
O King, Queen Gandhari wishes to see you.

Dhritarashtra:
‘Tis her that I await.

Duryodhan:
Father, I request then, for your leave.

Dhritarashtra:
Oh son, you escape! How shall you bear
Your pious mother’s lightning-like glare
My virtue-fearing son, don’t I cause you any shame, any scare?

Enter Gandhari

Gandhari:
A prayer I have, to place at your feet. Pray, heed my plea.

Dhritarashtra:
Do I ever not heed, any ask from thee?

Gandhari:
Forsake him now

Dhritarashtra:
Whom, my wife?

Gandhari:
That fool, whose sins daily their heads raise
Strike against the sword of virtue, sharpening its edge

Dhritarashtra:
Who’s this fool? Where does he stay?
O Queen, name him, pray.

Gandhari:
He is Duryodhan, our son.

Dhritarashtra:
It’s him you ask me to abandon!

Gandhari:
This, my King, is the request I crave.

Dhritarashtra:
Your ask, O mother of king, rings most grave.

Gandhari:
O King, is this appeal just mine?
From the heavens, it’s for this that our Kaurava forefathers pine
Abandon him, abandon him now – the one who torments
The goddess of fortune of this Kaurava tree,
Forcing her to forsake us and flee.

Dhritarashtra:
Dharma shall judge him, the Dharma which he has trespassed
I am but his father.

Gandhari:
And his mother am I not?
Wasn’t it me who in her womb brought
Him into this world? Didn’t the milk
Of my motherly love unbridled race
Drawn by the innocence of his cherubic face?
Like a fruit to its branch, hadn’t his little arms
Clad me in unison with its charms
Intertwining our joys, words and lives?
Still it is I who request, my Lord, let him go
That very seed which we did sow

Dhritarashtra:
If I do leave him, what shall I hold onto?

Gandhari:
Your values, your virtues.

Dhritarashtra:
And what shall that give us?

Gandhari:
Sorrows fresh and new.
With the thorn of our vices stinging us constantly
How shall we enjoy – these fruits of kingdom and family
Earned with our wrongs, paid with our sins?

Dhritarashtra:
Alas, dear Queen
Driven by my Dharma, I did return the Pandavas once
The kingdom which they had gambled away.
But then my paternal affections, rebuked me thus a hundred times:
“How dare you suppose, that you can tread  –
The paths of both the moral and the immoral in a single life.
When the Kaurava clan have chosen the path of wrong,
‘Tis useless to try and ally with the right any more.
Evil begets evil. Vile begets vile.
What have you done, you imbecile senile,
Doddering at the crossroads of confusion?
Restoring the Pandavas to their throne,
Won’t win their hearts back, only add fuel to the fire.
Offering strength to those whom you’ve insulted in the past
Can only bring your own doom.
Do not let the strong escape with a minor fall
Vanquish them for once and for all.
Do not play useless games with sin,
If you have invited it. embrace it with all you’ve got.”
And thus did the evil, with the love from a father’s heart,
Stealthily inject ideas which like needles did smart
And thus again, I called the Pandavas back
Betrayed them in the game of dice, banished them into the black.
Alas Dharma! Alas the calls of the heart!
Who can understand the ways of the World!

Gandhari:
The virtuous path isn’t one to wealth, O King
Nor will it towards luxuries bend.
Virtue is but its own end.
I am just a foolish woman, who am I to expound
The way of virtues to you, you know them sound.
The Pandavas will leave for the forest, heeding them back
Won’t make them change their track.
Their word does bind them to that path. This kingdom, now,
Belongs to none but thou.
Hurling woe upon the innocent, do not claim
All the comforts for yourself.
Do not spurn justice thus, from this palace of our ancestors –
From today, let us embrace pain, reward ourselves with sorrow
Now’s the moment – let our son go.

Dhritarashtra:
Oh! O Queen, So true are the words you speak
So agonizing – this justice you seek.

Gandhari:
With the honey-coated venomous fruit of vice with him
Our son today dances with vim.
Clouded by affection, do not let him enjoy that fruit
Make him weep, snatch his loot.
The prize he has won through treason, the kingdom he has captured with sin,
Wash him of those rewards clean.
Let him carry, like his brothers, the burden of gloom.

Dhritarashtra:
The gods know right from wrong. It is them
Who carry the sceptre of justice.
In his kingdom, let him judge in peace
I am just his father –

Gandhari:
Oh, but you are the king, the monarch
The hand through which the gods do work.
Entrusted with the task of meting out justice.
Tell me, in your realm, if a woman is dragged out of her home
For no reason, a subject of yours insults her just of his whim
What justice, then, shall you mete out to him?

Dhritarashtra:
He shall be banished.

Gandhari:
Then today, O Knig, I beseech you for justice
As the representative of the tears of all women.
My Lord, Our son Duryodhan is guilty then
And you, O regent, are witness thyself!

Men fight men often, for myriad gains
I can’t comprehend the ethics of such pains.
Laws, politics and divisions countless,
Menfolk know their own games best.
Might battles might, tricks fight trick,
Us women are never in the thick.
Away in peace, in our homes we stay.

But the one who drags the heat of battle there,
Poisons with hate the inner sanctum’s air;
Attacks for revenge his rival’s wife
Violates her dignity, for the sake of their strife,
Is not just a devil, but a coward too.
What punishment, my king, do such actions demand?

If sin took birth in the sinless Puru strand,
Even that can be borne, but how can I endure that rant
Which tell me that my own womb’s fruits aren’t valiant
Those are cowards – the ones whom I brought into this earth –
Is the message I heard through Panchali’s screeches of hurt
On that fateful day when her shame melt down this palace of stone.
Hearing her cries, I rushed to the windows to see
Gandhari’s demonic sons pulling at her cloth with glee
The gods know, that day burnt away the last shreds of my motherly pride.
Where dost thou manhood hide, O Kings of Kuru, in these vast lands of Bharat!
Ugly in its absence, deafening in its silence.

All of you, great Brave Ones, sat there like statues immobile
While those demons ran amok, let loose vile.
Some of you smirked, some of you whispered, some cracked a joke
Your swords in their scabbards lay emasculated, never awoke,
Like lightning run out of power. Listen, O Emperor,
I implore. Drive away this mother’s shame,
Revive the tradition of the valiant, wipe away the tear
Of the noble woman whose dignity lay bare.
The morals whose pride has been hurt deserve to be redeemed,
Disclaim Duryodhan, pay for your sins.

Dhritarashtra:
You attack without results that heart, my Queen
Which is hurting with remorse keen

Gandhari:
An agony hundred times greater stings me hard.
But Lord, that justice is the best in which the jury
Cries with the judged with an equal injury.
When judging someone, if your heart does not shriek
It is nothing but an unjust blow – from the mighty, upon the weak.
The punishment which you cannot mete out to your own offspring,
Mete out such punishment to none, O king.
Even the one who isn’t your ward is but someone’s son.
To that father would you then be the guilty one.
They say we are all children of the God,
He punishes us all himself, every day he inflicts hurt
And suffers in return. Or else, he loses his right to judge us.
Within me, this is the law that my limited wisdom has come up with.
If you forgive your sinner son, then every justice that you have doled out,
All punishments that you have ordered,
In the name of God and by the laws made by man
Shall come back to haunt you cruelly. Banish him, the sinner Duryodhan.

Dhritarashtra:
O beloved, go easy with your dictum.
I can’t tear away the thread of illusion.
Your just words hit hard but without result.
My sinner boy is abandoned by the gods, hence I cannot abandon him –
I am the only one he has now. How can I shun my son,
When into the midst of the crazy waves he has run?
Now I only hold him close to myself
Leaving all hope of rescue or help
Into the abyss of sin, I dive deep with him
Lose myself in the same depths grim
Share in his destiny, half of his punishments for his sin
That is my only solace, my only win
Now there’s no hope for atonement,
No way left for any correction –
The inevitable has happened,
Now, it’s just about waiting for our inevitable end.

… … …

(End of extract)

2 Responses to “Translation: Gandharir Abedan (Gandhari’s Plea)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *