Made of the three gunas, namely, satwa, raja and tama, and destined to live enveloped in maya, humans lack the necessary clarity of vision to make sense of the world and even one’s own small world. If this view of the human predicament is unpalatable to someone, he (or she or they), might like to turn to some modern theory of the essential human nature (say, a theory of knowledge as biological endowment) together with some theory of the humans’ failure to make good sense of the social world he lives in (“Orwell’s Problem”, for instance, a rather poetical conception of the real human problem, one might say). Humans, with their sense of insecurity, fear and desire for acquisition and the world being partially intelligible at most, it has never been an easy place to live in for anyone and has been particularly hard for the marginalized at all times. Now, as for fakery, unless one is a compulsive imposter or finds fun in pretending, one wears a mask to serve one’s own interest or to protect oneself. If one is clever, the others fail to see the mask, at least during their interaction. These hold for our world and for the world of Sarala Mahabharata as well.
One might be inclined to say that in Sarala Mahabharata, Sakuni is the very name of faking. Sakuni is unfortunate because there were others who faked at one time or the other, but one would hardly mention them: the Pandavas, Kunti, Dhritarashtra, Vidura and Sanjaya and that doesn’t close the list. Weren’t the Pandavas and Draupadi imposters in the kingdom of king Virata? She was generosity incarnate when Kunti dressed her husband’s co-wife, Madri, for her meeting with a god she would invoke to get a child. But she could not sleep, anxious to know about who she was going to invoke, and unknown to her, kept peeping into her room. Her fear was that if Madri got a child from a god, mightier than the three gods from whom she had got her children, then her child would be more powerful than hers and her wish to see her son, Yudhisthira, as the king of Hastinapura, would surely not be fulfilled. Now, wasn’t her generosity towards Madri fake, strictly speaking? As for Vidura and Sanjaya, both highly trusted by Dhritarashtra, did they not fake when they did not tell the Kuru elders that the Pandavas had not perished in the fire at the lac house, and thereby made it possible for him to anoint Duryodhana as the king of Hastinapura? This would certainly not have happened if the Kuru elders knew the truth.
Think of Sahadeva. In the second game of dice, he rolled the dice for both Yudhisthira and Duryodhana and made sure that the eldest Pandava lost. Both Yudhisthira and Duryodhana believed that he, who knew the past, the present and the future, was playing honestly for them. He betrayed both. But neither they nor anyone else ever got to know that he had a definite purpose in mind when he was rolling the stick-dice. During the Great War at Kurukshetra, he had a role in the killing of Abhimanyu; he had told Krishna how Arjuna could be separated from Abhimanyu that day so that the young warrior would lose his most powerful defence and become extremely vulnerable. No one ever knew about it. When the fighting stopped for the day and Abhimanyu’s body arrived, he was among the mourners. Wasn’t there some fakery somewhere? Years ago, when Duryodhana, who had orchestrated the lac house fire, saw the charred bodies in the house and was certain that those were the remains of the Pandavas’ and their mother Kunti’s, he had wept bitterly and those tears were fake, as Sakuni, Vidura and Sanjaya knew. There was another among the mourners who knew, but he was shedding fake tears himself! In Sarala Mahabharata, there is nothing that this mourner didn’t know and there was nothing that happened without his will.
Think of Nakul. In the Mango of Truth episode, he declared, among other things, in the presence of his brothers, Draupadi, Vyasa, the fake sage Gauramukha and Krishna, that his loyalty to Yudhisthira was total. There was nothing that he had done till then and nothing that he did later that could be used to charge him of disloyalty with respect to the eldest Pandava. Now, when Krishna told him, when they were alone, that he was going to Duryodhana as Yudhisthira’s emissary for peace, he requested him to ask the Kaurava king for two villages, one for himself and the other for his brother, Sahadeva. After all, they were Madri’s children and Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna were Kunti’s. In trying times, they were all together but in better times, after the war, Kunti’s children might not share the prosperity with them. In view of that, he thought that they would have those two villages to sustain themselves. Now, is it unreasonable to ask whether there wasn’t some fakeness in his relationship with his elder brothers, no matter that it was never translated into words or deeds?
Think of Karna, the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army on the 16th and the 17th day of the Great War Kurukshetra, and the eldest child of Kunti, a fact known to everyone, right from his childhood days, in Sarala Mahabharata. He found himself in a situation where he promised Kunti that he would spare all the Pandavas barring Arjuna in the battlefield. This had happened before the war started and no one in the Kaurava army knew about it. Vidura knew but he wasn’t fighting; in any case, he wasn’t going to betray Kunti.
During his command of the Kaurava army, he could have killed the four Pandavas but he did not. The killing of Yudhisthira or Bhima would not have been sufficient to win the war, but the consequences of their killing would have been momentous. Considering that he was the friend on whom Duryodhana had absolute trust, he turned out to be a fake, as a friend. He was also a fake as the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army.
Is there anything that might persuade one to reconsider his betrayal and see if it could be condoned? One would then have to ask why he didn’t tell Duryodhana about his word to Kunti. Maybe he believed that he could kill Arjuna and that once that was achieved, it would not be long before the Pandavas lost. He had the infallible weapon of god Indra and he also had the powerful snake arrow. Had Krishna not saved him, Arjuna would have been killed. But Krishna had not been part of his plan. He knew who Krishna was and he knew the powers of the Avatara, but does take into consideration destiny as one makes one’s plans?
This is perhaps the best that could be said for him, but questions would remain. We need not pursue this matter here; his fakeness might not invite censor, considering his circumstances, but the fact would remain that he was a fake friend and a fake leader of the Kaurava army.
Think of Bhishma and Drona. Bhishma tried to kill Arjuna but failed because Krishna intervened and unknown to everyone in the battlefield, including Bhishma and Arjuna, he destroyed Bhishma’s infallible arrow with his Sudarshana chakra. As for Drona, he could not take Yudhisthira as prisoner, despite Arjuna’s absence in the battlefield, because of Abhimanyu. But both Bhishma and Dona had told the Pandavas what would bring their fall. Duryodhana was aware of it. Even so, wasn’t that their betrayal of the Kaurava army?
Think of Gandhari. The war over, Yudhisthira along with his brothers went to meet Dhritarashtra. The man of virtue, victory in the fratricidal war had given whom no happiness, was seeking a reconciliation with the head of the Kuru clan. With him were Vidura and Krishna. Gandhari expressed her wish to see Yudhisthira and his brothers and wanted the eldest Pandava to remove the cover from her eyes. Krishna suspected trickery and took Sahadeva aside and sought his opinion. He told him that she wanted to destroy Yudhisthhira with her yogic fire. The moment he would remove her cover, she would open her eyes and destroy him. Krishna asked Durdasa to take off the cover from his mother’s eyes and sent him to his death. For just once in her life, in Sarala Mahabharata, Gandhari had resorted to fakery.
Let us pause awhile to shed a quiet tear for Durdasa. Responding to Yudhisthira’s call in the Kurukshetra battlefield, this brother of Duryodhana had changed sides and joined him. The eldest Pandava had promised him protection. When he was alone and weaponless in the Kaurava side of the battlefield, Durdasa had fought the Kaurava army and protected him. He had fought valiantly in the war. Now, right in front of his eyes, Durdasa had been reduced to ashes. True, he could not have saved him; things happened far too fast for any kind of intervention from him. But shouldn’t the son of Dharma have protested later when he knew how deception had killed the one who he had promised protection? Not a murmur of protest ever came from his lips. But whatever one might say about him, one cannot perhaps charge him of being fake.
Now think of Dhritarashtra. He knew, as the others did, that he had become king by his younger brother, Pandu’s generosity. When Pandu got to know how miserable his elder brother was for not becoming the king of Hastinapura, he readily abdicated the throne for him and retired to the forest with his wife, Kunti, telling him that he would protect the kingdom on his behalf from the forest. This act of exemplary brotherliness did not endear him to Dhritarashtra. He knew that the kingship that he had obtained through his brother’s magnanimity would never be his, in either his or anyone else’s, eyes. He desperately wanted his eldest son to be the king as early as possible. That way he could have, although only emotionally, what he did not have, except technically. It is not so much for what he did for which he could be called fake; he could be called so, for what he had become within. He had found meaning in life in terms of the throne and the throne had become his obsession and it is this that had corroded his genuineness. So, what Gandhari intended to do with respect to Yudhisthira was surprising but what Dhritarashtra intended to do with Bhima, namely, crush him to death, by inviting him for an embrace, was not. Pretence had long become part of his personality.
Sakuni’s is a case in contrast. Sakuni’s fakeness lay in what he did, not in what he was within. He was chosen by his father and his relatives to avenge their merciless killing through systematic starvation by Duryodhana. He was duty-bound to his loved dead to destroy Duryodhana, who had used treachery to have them all imprisoned. With no material resources, Sakuni had to use treachery to deal with the might of the Kauravas. Although the Kuru elders, including Dhritarashtra, knew that his advice to Duryodhana would lead to the destruction of the Kauravas, none ever suspected that he was fake. Duryodhana died without knowing that he was fake.
But in his heart of hearts, Sakuni was a genuine person. Notwithstanding that he was doing his duty to his ancestors, to whom he owed his life, he knew that what he was doing was wrong, both as Duryodhana’s uncle and his most trusted advisor. He wanted to atone for his doings by getting killed in the battlefield. This was what he told the Avatara in Udyoga Parva: hari sateka bhanajanta maraibi muhin…apara hatya dosa hoibaka mote…hari tohara mukha cahin bharata juddhare padile/ nana pataka khandiba rana jagyan kale (Hari, I will get a hundred nephews killed…sins of killing will accrue to me. Hari, looking at your face when one will fall in the Bharata War/ numerous sins of his will be destroyed in that yajna). This was his response to what the Avatara had told him: gobinde boile sakuni tu thibu na samaye/ ambhara tule tu pache jibu na swarga jaen (Govinda said, Sakuni, you live/ later with me you will go to the abode of the gods). Apart from Sahadeva, Sanjaya and Vidura, no one knew that he was a great devotee of Krishna and was aware of his avataric purpose.
As we close, we draw attention to the fact that we have not mentioned Krishna in the context of the present discussion. From a laukika point of view, he faked in much of what he said and did. Forget about the ordinary mortals, he dealt with Balarama, his doting elder brother and the other incarnation of Narayana, in virtually the same way. He shed false tears in the house of lac on seeing the charred bodies and Balarama did not know that he was pretending. He broke his promise to his brother about his not participating in the Great War at Kurukshetra, when he saved Arjuna from the infallible, divine arrow of Bhishma and when Balarama confronted him on that matter, he flatly lied to him. But Krishna’s doings cannot be viewed from the laukika perspective in Sarala Mahabharata. He was the purna avatara of Narayana. He was born a human but unlike the rest of Brahma’s creation, he wasn’t born to experience the fruit of his karma. He was born with a cosmic purpose, namely, to reduce the burden of the goddess Earth. His doings were his lila. And lila cannot be judged from the moral code of any loka, the one of the mortals or of the divines.