The gates to the back entrance of the mighty palace of Hastinapur had opened up. The chores of the day commenced with early rise of the Sun. It was just like any other day for the laborers, palace guards, and the daasis - bustling in and out of the castle, running errands and carrying out orders of their lords and mistresses. Only that today, the work load was doubled, owing to the coronation and subsequent grand feast the aroma of which kept wafting through the backyard of royal kitchen making the kids nearby to stop their play games, for a peek above the high walls.
And for the 22-year-old Vandan, the day was like any other albeit with some changes. He was assigned charioteer to the newest member, nay, the newest warrior of Hastinapur. The man whose name played on every lip these days, who marveled everyone with his archery skills in the Rangbhoomi, who labeled himself the dedicated disciple of the greatest guru alive. But what struck everyone was the humble background of this warrior, who otherwise resembled a high born in terms of stature.
At first, Vandan’s excitement on serving a Suta warrior knew no bounds. But when his friends constantly cautioned him against the excitement, worry crept in. Damn those fools! What if they are right? What if his new master starts looking down upon them? Upon him? With wealth and power comes ego, his father would say to him. He sighed. He would just behave like any other charioteer - follow his master’s orders with curt nods and a ‘yes my lord’ phrase every now and then. He would not let his proud and overwhelmed emotions of seeing a Suta clad in armour or kingly attire, get the better of him. He would keep the distance.
Vandan was now waiting since dawn, right inside the palace gates along with the chariot to receive his master, the King of Anga, Vasusena. The coronation and the grand feast should have been over by now. It’s beyond noon already, thought he. The Sun was inhumanely blazing. Yet, the glowing rays did not seem to burn the skin out of the living beings. In a serene atmosphere with calmness spread all around, the announcement of his lord’s arrival came through.
Vandan kept his head low and enough to see his master walking out of the palace accompanied by his new best friend prince Suyodhan, prince Dushasan, and Ashwathama. Out he came, Vandan was again left dumbfounded. He has to be among the most handsome men of Aaryavarta. Who would say that this man is born in our caste? Either way, he is a blessed human indeed. He remembered the last time he saw Vasusena. It was when the latter left for his formal education under Lord Parshurama. He remembered watching in awe when Vasusena, a young curious boy of 13 rode a huge chariot with flawless ease and perfection.
He shook himself out of the flashbacks and by that time Vasusena had bid farewell to his new friends and came up to the chariot. Vandan reverently bowed down to his master. Vasusena scanned him head to toe.
“I assume you are my new charioteer. Have you had your lunch, young man?” Vandan looked up at his master, taken aback by the question. Vasusena smiled in response. “If my vague memory serves me right, I don’t remember seeing you in the rows. You should have it. It is sumptuous.” He grinned.
He looked out for his charioteer in that humongous crowd? Me? Really? How was it even possible? Keeping his head low, Vandan responded cautiously. “My lord, I thank you for your concern. However, I was tied down with some work that needed my urgent attention.” He hoped he sounded fair enough for a servant. He was always criticized for being blunt with everyone. It actually cost him his previous job.
He preferred not to elaborate. Truth was, he was unsure of when his lord would leave from the palace. The feasting palatial garden clad in shamianas was unimaginably jam-packed. He could not afford to waste his time waiting in queues and ravishing the delicacies, or worse, make his lord wait for him. Especially since, he was the first assigned charioteer for King of Anga.
Vasusena smiled at the straight forward answer. “Vandan, go and have your lunch. The crowd has lessened now. I cannot risk an empty stomach riding my chariot, you know.” He was stunned to hear his lord call out his name. How did he know ? Kings never bothered to address or for that matter, know their servants by their names. Vandan looked up, clearly surprised. Vasusena mouthed a ‘go’. He joined his hands in respect to his master, mumbled a thank you, and walked away to the area as quickly as his feet took him.
Father was wrong, he concluded that day.