He Who Lied to Learn – Karna

16 September 2022
11 mins read
karna

Karna’s childhood was happy. His parents showered love and affection on him. He couldn’t have asked for more in his life. And yet, something nagged him. When the truth hit, he reeled and wondered how he would ever be able to live with it. How does he do it? Read this story by Vignettes Rioters to find out.

***

His eyes glistened with unshed tears of joyous gratitude. The simple but beautiful flower-bedecked chariot stood in the small courtyard, his father was holding the reins of two graceful brown horses yoked to the chariot. The old man’s eyes were filled with anticipation, hoping to see the surprised look on his son’s face.

His mother was already shedding tears of happiness when she saw him walk out of their humble home toward her.

His kavacha-kundala shines in the sunlight and his pastel green dhoti brings out the colour of his eyes. He is a sight for sore eyes, my handsome son! I’m so glad we were there to receive him when he floated his way to us in the river on this very day, 16 years ago. 

Radheya ran to his parents, fell at their feet, and embraced them joyfully.

“You needn’t have done this. Your love and blessings are ample for me.”

“We are creating memories for ourselves, my son,” his father replied.

Smiling, Radheya took the reins from his father and in one graceful move, sprang elegantly onto the chariot and took a turn around the courtyard as his parents watched him proudly. He could handle a chariot with elan.

Radheya then took his parents for a ride around their town, his friends and extended family cheering him on. His kind, helpful personality, ever-smiling face, and muscular good looks made him a favourite teenager in the community.

When the three of them returned home, he sat his parents down on the couch. He then sat down at their feet and said, “I need to speak to both of you.”

His father replied, pride oozing from his voice, “Ask me anything son, and it’s yours.”

His mother continued, “You are the love and light of our lives. We cannot thank God enough for giving you as our son. Tell us what you want and it shall be yours.”

She hesitated before adding, “Of course, provided it is within our means. You know that already, don’t you?” She smiled, cupping his face in her palms.

Radheya smiled, “I am named after you, Mother, and you have taught me love, kindness, compassion, and discipline. You know I will not ask you for anything you cannot give.”

“You should definitely know that, Radha,” his father jokingly admonished his wife. The three of them laughed together.

“Tell us what is on your mind.” His father, Adhiratha, finished.

“I’m not going to beat around the bush,” said Radheya. Yet, he hesitated, wondering how to put his thoughts into words.

His parents lost their jovial mood when they saw anxiety and uncertainty creasing their beloved son’s face.

“Is everything okay? Are you in trouble?” His mother asked.

“No! No! I’m completely fine.” He quickly reassured both of them. “It’s just that what I’m going to tell you might disappoint you.”

They heaved a sigh of relief and the smiles came back right on. “You can never disappoint us, Radheya. Go on, share your thoughts with us,” his father prodded gently.

“I love the chariot you gifted me. But my calling is not to be a charioteer like you, father.”

“What do you want to do then, my son?” Adhiratha asked.

His mother stiffened perceptibly. She sensed that the dreaded moment, the moment she had been avoiding for the last 16 years, was drawing near. She sensed it was time for her son to know the truth. His voice broke into her thoughts.

“I don’t want to be a charioteer, father. I don’t seem to be drawn to it at all. I’m happy, of course. But I feel it’s not my purpose. I don’t feel the rush of adrenaline, the excitement of a racing heart when I’m driving a chariot. But I feel all that and more when I see a warrior wielding a bow and arrow, when I see a marksman take aim and shoot his target. I want to be a warrior, one who wields a bow and arrow.”

Radheya came out of the trance that he always got into when thinking about archery to find his parents’ faces wet with tears. He was appalled that he made them cry.

“No! No! Father! Mother! I will happily give up my desire for you. I just said what I felt because I wanted to share it with you.”

Radha got up, gently lifted her son from the ground where he was sitting at their feet, and said, “Don’t worry, my dear son. These tears are not brought on by you. They have been accumulating in our hearts and minds for many years. We both knew the dam of sadness would burst one day. That day is today.”

He was perplexed. “I don’t understand, mother. What sadness were you hiding? Why didn’t you think I was worthy enough to share it? Couldn’t I have helped lessen the burden?”

His father turned to him and said, “It is time for you to know the truth. You are our son and yet you are not.”

Radheya found himself falling into a pool of confusing and chaotic thoughts. His heart raced with fear and apprehension.

“What are you saying?” He saw his parents hesitating. “Please tell me more before I lose my mind.”

His mother took the lead. “You promise me you won’t hate us?”

“Mother, I don’t care if you committed murder. I am and will always love you both. I can never hate you after being at the receiving end of your unending love all my life. Please tell me more.”

They exchanged looks and his father continued, “We found you in a basket floating down River Ganga. I was bathing there, and suddenly a basket touched my body. I looked inside to find one of the most beautiful babies I had ever seen, resplendently dressed with a shining kavacha-kundala. The first name that came to my mind when I saw the radiance emanating from you was Karna.”

“I don’t know how long you have been there on the river. But you had a smile on your face, a bewitching smile that told me to pick you up and take you home. I couldn’t leave you there. I couldn’t bear to let you drift away from me. So, I brought you home, and my dear, beloved wife, Radha, also fell in love with you at first sight. We knew our prayers for a child were answered by the gods, and we raised you as our own son. You are our own son! So what if we didn’t give birth to you!”

His mother continued, “My love for you was so obvious that people around started calling you Radheya, and the name that your father thought of first, Karna, was relegated into the background. I was hoping that you would always be Radheya. I now realise the futility of that hope, when you said your heart was in archery. You must be a Kshatriya by birth. That is why your heartstrings pull you towards being a Kshatriya, not to mention the rich jewellery that we found in the basket.”

Radheya went inside the house and came out with a bundle made of a splendid silk scarf. She opened the bundle to expose a large amount of glittering jewellery.

“This was the scarf wrapped around you and the jewellery left in your basket when we found you,” she said.

The silence that followed was deafening. He stared at the jewellery with a blank, confused expression. Radha’s heart fluttered in fear.

Has he already begun to hate me? Oh God, please take me away before I realise how much he hates me.

But Radheya’s thoughts were not at all what his mother feared. They were something else altogether.

I was abandoned by my mother? Why would she do it? Was I born at an inauspicious time? Was I not good enough for her? And what if these good people hadn’t found me? I would’ve been overthrown by the eddy currents of River Ganga further down and drowned. Did my mother leave me to die? Why? Oh, why did she hate me so much?

He was falling rapidly into an abyss of self-loathing. The darkness of his thoughts was closing in on him. He was suffocating. The love and concern on his adopted parents’ faces was the only light that prevented him from drowning in the black mire.

Adopted! Oh, dear! How quickly the word came to his mind! And how he hated it! 

His mother hugged him and her love permeated through his body and he felt warm. The fearful darkness that threatened to drown him seemed to recede.

I have to fight this feeling of desolation from not knowing who I am! I have to overcome the pain of knowing that my mother abandoned me! I have to shift my focus! To become a warrior will now be my primary purpose! 

He looked lovingly at his parents and said, “I owe you my life. I would’ve been dead if it was not for you. Now I need your approval to follow my heart’s desire.”

Adhiratha and Radha happily gave their blessings and he left home in search of a teacher. He approached Guru Dronacharya, the revered teacher to the Kauravas and Pandavas.

“I am the guru of the Kuru clan. How dare you think I will stoop down to teach you, a sutputra?” He shouted, his arrogance and vanity turning his face dark and ugly.

“How can a teacher refuse to teach any student who wishes to learn?” Radheya countered, his anger matching that of Dronacharya.

“You dare question my stand? Me? The son of the wise Sage Bharadwaja and a direct descendant of Sage Angirasa? You think you are wiser than me and that you can teach me the rights and wrongs of life?” The guru hollered, his eyes livid red.

Poor Radheya was pushed to a corner and he left the guru’s ashram, dejected and sad. But he didn’t give up. He approached many other teachers in Hastinapur asking them to teach him archery. But they all refused just as Guru Drona did.

“Why do you want to go against your family profession?”

“Learn to be a charioteer.”

“Don’t try to climb above your station!”

These were the jibes he received. He felt utterly desolate.

Even my mother didn’t want me! How can I expect a teacher to want me?

His father tried to console him. “Don’t give up, my dear son. I’m sure you will find someone who can go against these petty social norms and take you as a student. You are destined for greatness. After all, no ordinary child can be born with a radiant kavacha-kundala! Have you tried telling them that you are not really my son? That you are adopted?”

“Well father, that is out of the question. You will always be my father, and I will not disown you, come what may!” Adhiratha’s heart filled with happiness at these words.

Radheya continued, “Even if I choose to stoop so low, what will I tell them? That my mother abandoned me? That she didn’t want me and she left me to float away in the river? Wouldn’t they think it is worse than being your son?”

His father nodded sadly.

The terrible darkness that he experienced when he first heard of his abandonment returned, and with a vengeance. He was falling into the black bottomless pit again. The doors were closing in on him. His future was nothing but a complete disaster.

His father’s voice came through the darkness. “Have you tried Sage Parashurama? Doesn’t he have a grudge against Kshatriyas? In such a scenario, he might be willing to teach you even if you are not a Kshatriya?”

A tiny ray of light broke the utter blackness in his mind and gave him hope. A smile lit his handsome face, and he hugged his father in joy.

“Why didn’t I think of Sage Parashurama? He lives far away from Hastinapur’s society and its influences. As you say, his hatred for Kshatriyas will work in my favour. So he’s highly likely to teach me. Thank you! Thank you, father,” embracing him in sheer delight as his father laughed joyfully.

He asked around and found out that the sage was currently living in his ashram down south. He immediately set out on his journey, his heart filled with renewed desire and hope. After many days of travel, Radheya reached the ashram and found the revered sage.

He fell at his feet. The sage took an immediate liking to the strapping young lad. With a smile, he asked, “Who are you and what do you want?”

“My name is Radheya. I’m also known as Karna.”

“Aah! Apt name for someone wearing such a dazzling kavacha-kundala.”

“Thank you, lord. I’ve been blessed with these since my birth, or so my mother told me.”

The sage realised the extraordinariness of the sinewy, fit lad in front of him. He was deeply pleased.

“What can I do for you?” He asked even though he had an inkling of what the boy sought.

“Accept me as your student, revered sage. I want to become a warrior.”

The sage’s eyes twinkled in happiness. Yet, he hesitated. He needed more information.

“Before that, I need to ask you some questions. Are you a Kshatriya?”

“Not at all, sir,” Radheya answered instantly, his honest confidence rooted in the firm knowledge that he was raised as a sutputra.

“Great! Because I don’t teach Kshatriyas.”

Karna bowed low to hide his happiness. He was mighty glad that for once his parentage was not used to reject him.

The darkness was clearly lifting from his mind, slowly but surely.

Then, the sage asked another question. “Are you a Brahmin because I have devoted my life to the cause of Brahmins? For the injustice meted out by the Kshatriyas to them?”

Karna found himself floundering again. The doors seemed to be closing in on him again. What could he do? He couldn’t face another rejection.

He saw only one tiny peephole that seemed to bring in light. He knew he had no choice but one. He drew a deep breath and decided to pursue the only course open to him.

“Yes, my dear guru. I am a Brahmin.” He said without batting an eyelid, his facade of self-assurance hiding the confident lie.

I wish “I don’t know” could be the right answer!

Sage Parashurama clapped his hands! “Ah ha! Excellent! I will be more than thrilled to be your teacher. You are born to become an extraordinary warrior whose name will reverberate throughout the annals of this land’s history for a long, long time to come. And henceforth, call yourself Karna because that name suits you and your dreams better!”

Karna’s heart buckled inside but he kept up his facade. His desire to learn was the only light that promised to get rid of the blackness of his unknown identity. He hated his mother with all his heart now! Where was she? Will he ever know who he truly is?

But he put all his doubts aside and gave his body, mind, and soul to his guru who made him one of the most powerful warriors the world had known. The revered sage’s love for Karna was beyond his wildest dreams. Karna returned this love even more. The sage was the father he dreamed of having, a god-incarnate born to save the human world from injustice and adharma.

And yet, Karna knew he had a price to pay for that lie. He only hoped he could afford it when the time came to pay it.

Glossary:

Kavacha-kundala – armour and earrings

Sutputra – the son of a charioteer

Prompt: The doors were closed for him/her. Your MC saw nothing but darkness and disaster in front of him/her. Drawing a deep breath, your MC decides to pursue the only course open to him/her.

Photo by hammad khan on Unsplash

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Ratna Prabha

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