This is the first in a series of character origin stories from the Mahabharat.
A young prince and his father, the king, are locked up in the deepest dungeon of their own palace. They have been utterly defeated by the enemy – their kingdom in shambles. The prince’s elder sister is to be married to the blind prince of the invading army.
Days pass. Then weeks. The prison guards are nowhere to be seen. The prince and his father have been forgotten, left to die in this dark desolate place.
“Father, I am hungry.”
“Don’t worry, my son. There is a beast in the deeper part of this dungeon. I will hunt it down and we can feast on its flesh and quench our thirst on its blood.”
“Eat raw animal flesh?”
“Haha. We are warriors, son. This will help us survive and then we will escape from this dungeon.”
“Be careful, father.”
The prince heard a growl followed by a scream from further down in the dungeon.
“Come, my son. I have killed the beast. Come and eat.”
The prince ate a little flesh and drank a little blood. He felt better. He went back to his corner of the dungeon and slept.
Every day, his father would call out to him: “come and eat.” And every day the prince would eat a little and survive another day.
Till one day, his father didn’t call out to him. The prince searched throughout the dungeon. But he couldn’t find his father. He went to the far corner where his father had slain the beast. He ate a little flesh. He survived another day.
When they opened the door to the dungeon, the soldiers couldn’t breathe. The stench was too vile. They had been sent by their new queen – the virtuous Gandhari – she who wrapped a piece of cloth around her eyes to become blind like her husband, the king Dhritarashtra. She wanted them to find her father and brother – the king and prince of Gandhar.
It had been a year. The soldiers did not expect to find anyone alive in the dungeon. But they did. A feral animal, covered in blood and rotten flesh. It took many of them to restrain it. It turned out to be the prince of Gandhar – his hair and nails grown long, his teeth sharp like an animal’s, covered in dried blood. They cleaned him up and took him back to Hastinapur.
The young prince stalks the passages of the palace of Hastinapur: the sound of his lucky dice clicking in his hand. He had carved the dice out of the bones of his dead father – the king of Gandhar. The same father who had nurtured him on his own flesh and blood in the dungeon. They tease and call the prince Shakuni now – after a bird that eats carrion.
He smiles. He will have his revenge. They made him kill his own father. He will make them see the death of their sons. The dice click.