hank you for volunteering without even knowing any of us, really!" Charu was effusive in her praise. “I was so rattled when I saw Mani in that manner.
Sam and Charu walked towards their hostel block.
You seem very worried Caesar, have you sinned too many?
“You know, if not for your frantic shouts, I wouldn’t have ventured out," Sam blurted out.
“So what are you saying? You would not have come out if it was a guy who was shouting instead of me," she kept a stern face.
“Well, not like that," Sam replied sheepishly.
Charu gave a loud laugh, “Relax, I was just joking. I am rude. You should ask my roommate. Shucks, why am I walking towards your hostel? Mine is on the other side. Is that your room, think there are some people inside," she followed Sam who walked briskly towards his room.
“You must be Sambamurthy?" Mr. Hegde reached out with a warm welcoming gesture.
Charu gave Sam an animated expression on hearing his full name. “And you are?" Sam sounded not very pleased.
“Well, I am Narender Hegde and this is my son Hari, your roommate," Mr. Hegde reached out. Sam reluctantly shook Hari’s hands.
“Welcome Hari," Charu was more welcoming, “Welcome to the jungle. Sorry uncle, I am just kidding. I am doing 2nd year M.Sc Development studies."
“Hari is joining the same course," Mr. Hegde gave a toothy smile. Anju came from the toilet behind. “Glad to see you people" and pulled Mr. Hegde from the room. “I heard that there was some suicide attempt earlier today? Hope you guys remain safe", Anju announced and turned her side towards Hari. She kissed him on his forehead, while his father touched his shoulder.
Hari came out to give them a farewell. “By the way, your birthday is in twenty days. Try and come home. Let us have a big splash. Will miss you, kanna," his father was emotional.
“Dad, you are a drama queen I tell you," Hari dismissed him jokingly, “Call me when you reach home. Give my love to amma, bye akka."
“Don’t act smart hero," Anju teased him. “Tell me what would you want for your birthday okay?" Hari nodded vigorously and they were all on their way.
“What a Kodak moment?" Charu burst out laughing and Sam joined her. “Juniors, you will have to honour all my demands if you want to survive in class," Charu winked at both of them.
“Guys, you should totally come to Alex sir’s class tomorrow at eleven. It’s at the Triple Helix auditorium. I am also doing something. Come, will be fun," she gently caressed Sam’s shoulder and took quick steps towards her hostel block.
Sam was dumb-struck at the unexpected touch, and kept staring at Charu, while her pony tail danced to her steps.
“Machaan, she likes me!! :):)," Sam tweeted without waiting a second.
“@Samy what the fuck is happening man," @HailLiverpool was quick to reply
“@HailLiverpool I spent all day with a hot chick and when we parted, she touched my arm, she is totally into me," Sam was excited.
“@Samy too much. Machaan, he ha he ha he ha, when? :D Give details I say!"
“@HailLiverpool dirty fucker, wonly piyure lovvee :P""
“Sambamurthy!" Hari called from inside the room.
“Damn, call me Sam," shouted back at him.
“I am sorry, didn’t know you had issues with your full name," Hari was sarcastic.
“What the fuck?" Sam got up in a dash, “Who do you think you are nappy boy?"
“Alright, I am sorry. Chill. Just wanted to check if you’d like to join me for dinner," Hari sounded apologetic for having crossed the line.
Sam stared at Hari briefly, “It’s okay, you carry on. I am not hungry," and went back to his smart phone.
“I would like to take a stroll around the campus after I eat, so don’t lock up the door. Hari took his new DSLR camera and set foot towards the college canteen.
The auditorium was buzzing with students, including men and women, who looked like outsiders. Alex was busy directing the video recording crew. He seemed very popular even beyond the walls of the campus. The auditorium looked new and modern. There were a little over 400 or 500 people inside and people were still pouring in.
Sam woke up with a headache earlier that day and was late to the Registrar’s office. He had forgotten to complete the formalities with all the confusion and anxiety around saving Mani. He did not see Hari all morning. He hadn’t slept all night, very confused about his attraction to Charu and his feelings for Priya. He felt he should not have been hawkish and perhaps gone with Hari to the canteen for dinner. He had to manage through the night, with a leftover protein bar that he dug out from the backpack. Hari was a quiet sleeper Sam observed, but a messy person. His clothes were strewn all around, when Sam woke up. But Sam felt something curious about the way he walked, a little effeminate he thought.
Sam reached the auditorium well ahead of the time Charu had mentioned. He noticed that Hari entered along with Charu and settled in the front seats. The theatre style seating gave Sam a clear visibility of them from the back rows where he sat.
“WTF!!!" he tweeted.
All the men in my life have wronged me. Every man whom I trusted has only given me pain.
“Good morning! Can we all settle down?" Alex was on the stage, “Thank you, thank you. Students please settle down. May I request the boys in the front rows to give your seats to the guests who have joined us from outside?" The auditorium was packed now.
“Thank you everyone for coming to the inaugural session of the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Education. KIT joins all the major universities in India and abroad in a common platform to enable students from anywhere to see lectures and interact with other professors and students. My humble thanks to the Dean for having selected my class as the inaugural session to be webcast in over 127 campuses." The opening speech evoked a loud applause and cheers from the students.
There were three cameras recording the proceedings on the stage and the gallery. Sam was disappointed that he did not sit next to Charu, “But the clown Hari was," he could not control the words inside. He was slightly relieved when he realised that they weren’t talking to each other.
“Let me remind you that this session is being relayed live and will also be archived for later viewing by students all over the world. So please maintain decorum and pay attention." There were still a few murmurs from the back seats, but Alex chose to ignore them and moved forward.
“Today, we will be introduced to ‘comparative literature’ and more specifically ‘inter-cultural dialogue’. I am not going to bore you with theory, but will present to you something interesting," Alex paused and scanned the auditorium for curious faces.
“What if Julius Caesar met Draupadi? What would they talk about? If Shakespeare and Vyasa came together for a ‘battle of wits’, who would win?" Alex’s introduction was welcomed with excitement and applause.
“So for the benefit of techies, ignorant and the dumb," Alex continued with a cheeky smile, “Julius Caesar was a Roman dictator, army general and a powerful orator. He lived between 100 and 44 BC. He played a critical role in bringing down the world’s first democracy, the Roman Republic. He was a charismatic leader among the masses but the aristocracy hated him. On 15th of March 44 BC he was assassinated by 60 senators. Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Known to be a lady’s man, he had 3 wives and the gorgeous Cleopatra of Egypt as his lover. There have also been rumours that he was bisexual and had many gay partners."
The audiences' became silent, eager for the drama to unfold.
“Of eyes like lotus-petals and of faultless features endowed with youth and intelligence, she is extremely beautiful. And the slender-waisted Draupadi whose body emits a fragrance like unto that of the blue lotus for two full miles around,’ describes Vyasa about Draupadi the enigmatic warrior princess and wife of five men, the Pandavas. Her husbands lose her to their enemies, Kauravas in a game of dice and her revenge for their blood, is the main plot of the epic, Mahabharatha."
Alex surveyed the gallery and continued.
“Let me call Dhruv to play the role of Julius Caesar and Charu to play Draupadi, on the stage please?" Alex announced.
Charu got up from the seat relaxed, and took measured steps towards the stage. She turned around like a princess and gave an alluring smile.
“She smiled at me," Sam mind voiced, “Wow, she is gorgeous."
Charu wore a crimson choli (blouse) with a black floral print; a dupatta (stole) in bright red with thick peacock green border, resting on her chest like a garland, while miserly revealing the contours of her bosom and its ends thrown over the shoulders. The ghagra (long skirt) in the same colour had rich embroidery in geometric patterns that intermingled with red, orange, blue and green threads. Her long lustrous hair was untied and the exposed midriff accentuated her sensuality.
Dhruv was tall and dark with a muscular build. He wore a long silk shawl in royal blue that was wrapped around his bare chest and waist. The garment cleverly disguised also as a skirt.
“Caesar and Draupadi are near the Pearly gates waiting for their judgement. They accidently bump into each other," Alex sets the stage for the role play and lights were dimmed in the gallery.
“Hello there, I have been having trouble getting information on the time for judgement, you seem pretty relaxed and composed. Would you help me?" Caesar inquired.
Draupadi heard him, but continued sitting in a meditative pose with her eyes closed. She gently opened her eyes and measured the tall man who was bending towards her.
“You seem very worried Caesar, have you sinned too many?" Draupadi replied with a straight face. “You are dead now, your story is literally ‘in medias res’, throw the ambition and paranoia away; you need new skills to survive in the next part of life."
Caesar was dumbfounded on hearing this. No mortal, leave alone a woman has ever dared to speak to him that way in his life. Her head would have been on the ground before she completed her arrogant and condescending reply, he thought.
He surveyed her up and down lasciviously, hiding his anger, with intent to humiliate and embarrass her. After a brief silence, he chuckled, remembering a piece of dirty gossip from the past.
“Aren’t you the one who maintained five husbands on the same bed... hahaha," he turned his face towards the audience, pulled the sagging shawl over his right shoulder.
“Aren’t you the one who lusted over a man from the enemy camp?"
“Aren’t you the one responsible for killing thousands of innocent soldiers, because your garment was pulled by a drunken man?"
“Stop being all judgmental and moralistic, gorgeous," Caeser answered with a smirk on his face.
The audience reaction was mixed with an equal measure of applause and rejection.
Draupadi bent her head making her long untied hair cover the face. She stayed in that position for a while. The audience could hear her cry. Caesar turned his head to look at her. He stood there powerless.
In a quick reflex she got up with red eyes and took a step farther away from Caesar.
“Who do you think you are? What do you know about my life beyond the gossip that you have heard from your worthless side-kicks? How easily you mouth such acidic words? Why do you men attack a woman in the meanest manner, when she gives you an honest and frank comment? Why is being chaste, the cornerstone of a woman’s character? And why does that rule never apply to a man?"
There was an uneasy silence for few seconds. The audience was struck by the dramatic start.
“I am sorry for having been rude. I am terribly sorry," Caesar apologised in a quieter voice.
Draupadi continued to look away rightwards. Tiny beads of sweat populated her forehead. Her eyes looked weary.
“Uncannily, I am reminded of a somewhat similar incident from my life. I remember that evening very distinctly. As soon as I entered my chambers, I was bewildered at the light from the tens of lamps that were diffused through crimson sheets and curtains. Much like the colours that you are wearing now. A lady not very tall approached me from my bedroom. She would have been only 19, maybe 20. I have always known that she was very beautiful, but to see her in flesh and blood was surreal. Her eyes were fixed on me and I froze looking at her. She moved like a menacing snake, and slowly undressed herself. I was 52 then and it was Cairo not Rome, it could be a trap, I warned myself."
“I have lost everything in this world. My own brother and husband betrayed me." She was in tears. “All the men in my life have wronged me. Every man whom I trusted has only given me pain. But I have heard about you. You are no ordinary man. You are God incarnate. You can redeem my Egypt. You can redeem me. My name is Cleopatra."
“I was spellbound by her beauty and I took her in my arms. Her beauty vapourised my rationality and we passionately made love."
“But thinking about that day helps me wonder how women so cleverly manipulate their emotions making men powerless and weak. I felt captivated looking at her flawless body but somehow feeling responsible to win her justice at the same time."
“Ha ha ha", Draupadi laughed out loud. Deep belly laughter filled the hall.
“It is because you men are so easy to please. And it is not very difficult to seduce a man, not just because the woman is capable of manipulating so easily, but men are rarely loyal. The conquest alone is important in their small heads that they forget the consequences," she was still brutal.
“Take my case; all my five husbands were thick as thieves. If only they had the smartness of even a lowly bandit. But they made decisions about who would sleep with me for the year and I had to obey, as if I had nothing to do with it. Arjun, my third husband self-exiled himself, because he apparently entered the bedroom when I was with my first husband. He unilaterally banished himself to the forest and vowed to be chaste the entire time. As soon as he went into the forest he had mated five women, married two and had also produced a child. I am always surprised at the speed at which your seeds travel," her sadness was very evident in the sarcasm.
Caesar sat now at the small elevated platform.
“Caesar, if you were to describe yourself in five words, what would you say?" Draupadi went back and sat next to him.
“General, avenger, warrior, thinker and lover," and he smiled victoriously at her.
“I like the order," she smirked, “did you notice that you never said, father, husband, parent; even ‘lover’ I would presume must have been to boast your sexual prowess and not the emotional side."
“Draupadi, my heart sinks sensing your cry and utter lack of love deep within you. And that has manifested in this complete hatred for men."
Draupadi smiled at Caesar, “You still don’t get it do you? Well that’s why the drama of life is so entertaining. Forget it."
Draupadi relaxed and smiled, “So tell me something?" she paused.
“Go on dear", insisted Caesar.
“When you heard about me from your spies and merchants, what kind of impression did you have of me?" she smiled.
“I always imagined you as this head-strong, aggressive and enchanting beauty. And now that I have met you in person, I should say the reality has surpassed my imagination," and gently ran his firm long fingers through her hair that fell over her forehead.
“Take it easy mister" she looked straight into his eyes.
“You know, history has often described me as strong, ambitious, cunning, selfish, confident, brave and even manipulative, but no one has talked about my loneliness, my insecurities, my pains, my disappointments. I also wished for a life of happiness, of being loved, a life free of loneliness. Being lonely is cruel. I have even considered suicide few times."
Caesar interrupted, “Really? I have been lonely too. I have always wondered if I would have been happier if I had just been a simple family man, who lived for simpler ambitions. I will have to live again to know the difference."
“Ahh, the illusions of a life we never had," she mused. “We will never know. As the wise men say, the grass is always greener on the other side."
Their conversation got interrupted by an announcement, “the time for the final deliverance has arrived. Please join us at the gates and await your turn."
Draupadi and Caesar got up, shook hands.
“Time goes on, she is the big leveler," Draupadi said, he smiled back in agreement.
There was total silence briefly and the whole gallery erupted in applause.
“She just totally massacred him #FullonLove," Sam tweeted.