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[Inspired by the elemental image of Draupadi/Panchali, the undisputed heroine of the epic Mahabharata, depicted in Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s masterpiece of a novel, ‘Palace of Illusions’.]

Panchali, I am, to you, my Partha, my love,

Painfully displaced in recycled domestic patterns

Circulated freely amid all your brothers and you.

The saint who determined my cycle between one coy bride

To the next had created enough music in my bones

To satiate all you Pandavas as equal husbands,

Though he never knew how trapped

My luminous smile had been,

My dark-skinned charm, colliding

with so much of your chivalrous cacophony.

Panchali, I am, to you, my valiant Bheemsen,

A luscious lilac that you craved to engrave

In your voluminous heart, never knowing

How the absence of light rustled in my bare form,

My deep, dark tresses, shedding its rhythmic dewdrops

Not in unconditioned love, but in stoic, formulaic surrender.

Panchali, my Dharmaraaj, I am to you,

The untamed fire that spread all over you, in spurts,

The easiest pawn you could have settled for,

Reckless, warped in a gambling spree

you could very well do without.

Did I burn you too, my cognac fire

Was it a bit too scalding, Nakul and Sahadev,

My youngest husbands, moving in the orbit

Of your elder brothers’ wants? Did you get

How my splinters and shards surrounded you

In a vain rapture in the palace of illusions

When all I waited for, perhaps, was the Mahaprasthan,

The final journey of my nemesis, with all five of you,

Following the slit throats and mashed up corpses

Of my sons, of our kith and kin?

Panchali, I am, to you, Karna, my all-pervading bruise.

For I had forgot, in spite of your irresistible musk

That you and me both were wiggling children

of the cracked earth. The fiery flashes of your pride

Matching my own insolence, had borne a cursed utterance,

‘Sutaputra’, my vanity had attested a lie, a lie that resounded

Every time we crossed paths, as a rhythmic reminder.

Panchali, I am, to you, my Sakha, Krishna,

The smoke and fury of my mind’s badland

Soothed from time to time, when your hands touched mine.

What magic did your words unfold

To this dark, forlorn child-woman,

As you hovered in my life, presiding over its queer equations?

Dream girl, I wasn’t for you, when disrobed,

shunned of my womanly honour, your drapes covered

my bruised, black moon. Your words revealed,

Like half-shining flashlights, draped my life

In the ambiguous sheen I myself couldn’t fathom well.

Here, you touch my hands yet again, for one last time,

Where I find myself beyond the rims of time, and tell me

I have played my part well in this chaotic and tumultuous play.

Is this a new beginning, where I dissolve and form anew?

Panchali, I am, look, the boundless sky, my new palace, engulfs us all.

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