Never before on the day of Holi in Raigad had one felt stained even before the colours were thrown. People everywhere gossiped. “How did Yuvraj dare to do such a thing? In broad daylight, he had the temerity to pick up a married woman, throw her on his horse and bring her here!”
“Well, nothing surprising about it. It is an age-old tradition for Maharajas, isn’t it? To pick up whomsoever they fancy and despoil her.”
The celebrations subsided as the day drew to a close. As the sun was setting in the western sky, Shivaji sat in his chamber, his face faintly creased with anxiety. Despite his agitation, he maintained a calm demeanour. After deliberating for a while, Maharaj said to one of the guards in attendance, “Ask Shambhu Raje to present himself immediately.”
Trayambakrao and Niwasrao sat in a corner of the room. Their drama continued. The way they wept and made themselves look like meek victimswas truly worthy of applause. Anyone would have believed them! Now they turned to see Sambhaji entering.
He walked in with firm but slow steps, touching the emerald necklace he wore. How handsome he looked, with his fair complexion, broad forehead, arched eyebrows, and lively, shining eyes!
Anyone present would have been impressed seeing the two most powerful men in the Maratha Empire in that room. Shivaji and his son Sambhaji clearly stood apart from the rest in their attire, bearing and personality. It was the meeting of the moon and the sun, a poet would have surmised.
But the air was fraught with tension. Yuvraj, looking at his father, was taken aback seeing the mixture of agony and anger in his eyes. Sambhaji’s close confidantes, Rayappa and Jotyaji Kesarkar were no less distraught. They had never expected Sambhaji to be charged with such an allegation.
In a few moments Yesubai entered, followed by a young woman clad in a simple yet elegant saree. The father-son duo was now clearly nervous. They had not anticipated that Godu would be there. Shivaji himself was surprised. He had not expected Yesubai to accompany Sambhaji. As for her companion, Shivaji surmised that she was the lady in question, the one the Wadkars claimed his son had abducted.
Shivaji asked, “Yesubai, what brings you here?”
Yesubai hesitated for a moment, taking some time to frame an answer. Mistaking her silence for guilt, Shivaji thundered,
“Are you unaware that Yuvraj has managed to keep you in the dark about his doings? Please bear in mind – Shambhu’s crime cannot go unpunished. A father may turn a blind eye but a king cannot allow his affection to come in the way.”
The room reverberated with the sound of Shivaji’s deep and firm voice.
Yesubai was tongue-tied. Sambhaji looked at the carpet, insulted by the way his father had spoken. Their reactions encouraged Trayambakrao. He stood up and said,
“Maharaj, I want my daughter-in-law back.”
“Maharaj, my wife! Please give her back to me!” Niwasrao pitched in for added effect.
Shivaji threw an angry glance at Sambhaji and erupted, “What a pity! What a tragedy! If a common man feels that his wife or daughter or daughter-in-law is not safe, then we need to question the very purpose of our existence. What are we here for?”
Sambhaji and Yesubai were speechless, unable to summon the words to counter Maharaj. Shivaji’s words echoed in the silence of the chamber. Godu could not bear it anymore. She felt suffocated by the truth that remained unspoken. Rushing towards Shivaji, she fell at his feet and cried, “Maharaj! Let me speak! This is all a conspiracy.”
Before Trayambakrao and Niwasrao could react, she continued, “Maharaj, my father-in-law and my husband – they are not as innocent as they pretend to be. I swear on the name of Bhawani Mata, Maharaj. These two had planned to kill you today. The plot was to assassinate you while you were on your way to the temple!”
“You mean they planned to attack me? That too, here at Raigad?”
Shivaji smiled incredulousy at the thought. Even the guards standing next to Maharaj smiled. No one could bring themselves to believe what Godu had just said. Trayambakrao, encouraged by Shivaji’s response, said, “Maharaj, do you see the influence Yuvraj has had on her? For the rich and the powerful, all this is play, but poor people like us have to bear the consequences of their games, Maharaj.”
Shivaji did not doubt Sambhaji’s courage or his capabilities but certain snippets of gossip and rumour had found their way to his ears, indicating a blot on his son’s character. Several of his ministers and confidantes had hinted at Sambhaji’s penchant for good-looking women. They had, in direct or indirect ways, suggested that Yuvraj was something of a philanderer.
Just then, a little commotion outside the door attracted the attention of the guards. Before they could bar his way, Annaji Datto entered. He was about sixty-five years of age and there was a solemn weight to his personality, despite his simple attire and the way he had casually thrown his shawl around his shoulders
He said, bending low in mujra, “I beg your pardon, Maharaj, for coming in unannounced and without permission.”
He hesitated for a moment as he looked at Sambhaji.The fact that they did not like each other was evident. Wiping his forehead he said, “Raje, Trayambakrao is a close relative of mine. And Godavari is my niece.”
Looking at Godu, Annaji could barely restrain his tears. The memory of his only daughter Hansa was too painful to bear. She had been the darling of his household and the apple of his eye. Annaji could not have imagined life without his daughter.
Hansa had been married for barely a month or so when, on her way home for a brief stay, she had visited the royal household. What happened there was unknown but she had returned hurt and unhappy. After a day or so, Hansa’s body was found in a well outside Pachad. It was a tragedy which Annaji had not been able to reconcile with.
Her death spawned a myriad of rumours. Some said she had been raped while a few believed she had suffered some form of mental torture which had led to her suicide. Most were pointing fingers at Shambhu Raje. Annaji firmly believed that Yuvraj was responsible for Hansa’s death. It had been two years since Hansa’s death but seeing Godu had reawakened the memory, bringing tears in its wake.
With Annaji’s entry, the tense atmosphere in Shivaji’s chamber tautened almost to breaking point. Even the judge Prahlad Niraji, a man of equanimity, was taken aback at his sudden arrival. As for Trayambakrao, he continued his drama. Removing his turban, he placed it at Shivaji’s feet. “Maharaj, please allow this poor man to take his daughter-in-law back.”
Annaji, encouraged by Trayambakrao’s words, said, “Maharaj, it was you who had ordered that the daughter-in-law of the Subedar of Kalyan was to be treated with grace and dignity after the Mughal Subedar and the caravan with his treasure had been captured. I have seen such great days. Anyway, what’s the point in speaking of the past now...”
He deliberately left his sentence hanging.
Shivaji looked at Yesubai. He was surprised to see that she was unaffected by Annaji’s words. On the contrary, she seemed ready to counter them.
Yesubai said, “Annaji, it is not right to accuse someone without an iota of proof. And speaking of dignity – Yuvraj cares as much for a woman’s dignity as anyone else.”
It was apparent that Annaji was chastised by her words, but Shivaji interrupted. “Yesubai, you might be blind to your husband’s flaws, but as a father I know my son well.”
Excerpted with permission from Sambhaji, Vishwas Patil, translated from the Marathi by Vikrant Pande, eka/Westland.