• Gautam Chikermane reflects on women warriors of Mahabharata in his new book

    Gautam Chikermane’s latest book, ‘Tunnel of Varanavat’ is forthcoming in July 2016. Based on a reimagining of one of the scenes from the Mahabharat, it also features kick-ass women warriors. This excerpt — printed with permission from his publishers — introduces us to one of his characters, a warrior named Urvashi.


    ‘Take one more step and it will be your last.’ The voice was soft, calm, almost sweet. But it carried a deadly finality. Age had brought it a little heaviness since I had last heard it. But that inner strength was still there.


    ‘Take one more step and it will be your last.’ The voice was soft, calm, almost sweet. But it carried a deadly finality.

    The solider didn’t know what to do. He was few steps from the ashram gate and looked up as Kedar and I jumped down, our horses still running. Two inmates led them aside. I looked around. On every tree, I saw someone sitting, each with a bow drawn, ready to deliver death.

    ‘Kedar, what is this?’ the soldier’s tone carried a false grouse. ‘Has your ashram turned into a terrorist haven?’ Behind him stood a squad of twenty men on horses, all armed with spears and swords. They wore armours and helmets.

    A planned operation.

    ‘Depends upon how your master behind chooses to define an ashram, my child,’ Kedar said. ‘Is it a temple of learning, ceremonies and the Veds, where children and adults come to discover themselves before they set out in the outer world?’

    Kedar paused to let his psychic strength sink in. ‘Is this a sacrifice, where each act is an offering, an attempt to reach out to the divine?’

    He looked beyond the soldier into the eyes of the squad behind him. ‘Is this a boundary, which has a history of more than a thousand years, a thousand years of purification of lands, waters, trees and humans? Is this a sacred idea that the greatest warrior-guru Parashuram blessed? Is this an extension of Ved Vyas’s organization, as he travels around the holy rivers, putting the Veds together?’

    The soldier was losing his bearings. He looked around, almost helpless before the might of the mind.

    ‘Or,’ Kedar’s voice caught a cold edge, ‘is this a piece of land to be grabbed by cronies of the kingdom — the fallen Vaishyas, the cowardly mercenaries, the ambitious land-grabbers?’

    ‘Kedar,’ the solider glanced at the leader of the squad behind him, ‘this is no way to speak to…’

    ‘This is no way to come to an ashram, soldier. Get out before you cross the line,’ Kedar’s voice rose. ‘Get out before you force me to cross the line.’

    ‘There is no need for that, Kedar.’ The voice was stronger now, surer. The man behind the voice dismounted. A soldier rushed to catch the bridle. He walked slow, taking sure steps. This was a real solider, someone used to giving orders, taking them and killing. And…and I knew this voice.

    Gautam Chikermane book

    The Mahabharat Reimagined: Tunnel of Varanavat

    ‘Looks like you’ve sent a contingent of fighters here, Vishnu. What’s going on?’

    I looked around but couldn’t see Urvashi. Where is she?

    ‘What’s going on? What’s going on, he asks,’ the man said, a vulgar mocking in his voice, as he looked around. ‘What’s going on Guru Kedar,’ you couldn’t miss the sarcasm in the false respect, ‘is that your ashram has turned into a terrorist den. You are harbouring and protecting terrorists.’

    The sword still clung to his body even today, the shield too. The menace jumped out of his body and created a ring-fence of evil around him. Since I last saw him, he had matured shoulders a little higher, chest a little fuller, arms a little thicker. In his home turf, his voice carried many shades of arrogance, more confident strength.

    The two scars I saw that night stood out proudly. The one on his cheek was partially covered by his helmet. But the one on his forehead was clear.

    ‘The only person I’m seeing doing the terrorizing here is standing before me,’ Kedar said.

    The soldier’s anger was physical. His hand reached for his sword.


    Gautam Chikarmane

    Gautam Chikermane

    ‘Put that hand right back where it was, otherwise you will return without it,’ Urvashi’s gentle voice floated through the mango tree. I looked carefully through the branches. There, behind those green mangoes, I saw her.

    Vishnu froze right there, his anger uncontrollable, his permanent snarl becoming uglier. I suppose service to evil does that to people. They tend to get physically uglier. I heard his fists clench.

    ‘That’s what I mean, Guru Kedar,’ he barked. ‘That’s the terrorist I’m talking about.’

    ‘A woman? An ashram woman? You call her a terrorist? What has she done?’

    ‘A woman? An ashram woman? You call her a terrorist? What has she done?’

    ‘She has injured my soldiers.’

    ‘How many?’

    ‘Vatan,’ he spoke to someone behind but continued to look at Kedar, ‘how many, he asks. Tell him.’

    ‘Three are serious,’ a voice behind said. ‘Five have light wounds and another eight are terrified of coming to this area.’

    ‘Your terrorists are preventing the kingdom from functioning, Kedar,’ a sneer began to form on his face.

    ‘Speaks a lot about your soldiers, Vishnu,’ Kedar smiled. ‘Just one woman has done that? They don’t deserve to be soldiers, send them to my ashram, they need lessons.’

    Vishnu’s fists tightened.

    ‘Who is this man?’ he pointed towards me with his chin, trying to take the discussion away from his growing humiliation.

    ‘Not that it matters, but he is an ex-student of this ashram and has come to recover from his injuries. As far as you or your false state is concerned, he is a guest of this ashram. So, technically, he is an ashramite.’

    ‘What’s your name?’ he shouted at me.

    A soft growl from the trees behind.


    Vishnu’s brow knotted. ‘Find out which dog dares to growl at me,’ he shouted at one of his soldiers, his eyes moving from me to Kedar. ‘And kill him.’

    ‘I would think twice about that, soldier,’ I said, making sure my voice reached the mango tree. I thought I heard a gasp from that side. ‘Last time, he almost killed three of your compatriots.’

    Vishnu moved his neck in my direction, trying to place me. As recognition hit him, his eyes widened. He took a step forward, his hand moving towards his sword. This time the growl was louder. An arrow whizzed past and buried itself noisily, half a step in front of his foot. He almost tripped.

    ‘Next time it will hurt,’ Urvashi said.

    Confounded, Vishnu didn’t know what to do. His men shifted from one foot to the other, awaiting his command. Those behind tried to keep the horses, which had sensed the primordial danger behind them, still.

    I stood calmly in front of him, leaning on my spear. Among the trees was a deadly woman who could kill him. Protecting them was an ageing but one of the most feared Brahmin warriors after Parashuram and Dron. And before him stood a man who had thrown his sword off once.

    He opened his mouth, ‘Kedar…’

    ‘Not that it matters to you or your masters,’ Urvashi interrupted him loudly, ‘but the men you speak of were attacking a group of ashram women at the banks of the Ganga. They need to know that simply because they are ashramites or women doesn’t mean they are easy game. If you attack, you will suffer.’

    She raised her voice. ‘And all of you here, know this,’ she paused to let the violence in her voice sink in. ‘I could have killed all of them. I can kill all of you right now, before you dismount.’

    She raised her voice. ‘And all of you here, know this,’ she paused to let the violence in her voice sink in. ‘I could have killed all of them. I can kill all of you right now, before you dismount.’

    A lightning of discomfort passed through them. Two horses moved a few steps back. Others started turning back but were kept under control by the soldiers, now uncertain.

    ‘I didn’t then. And I won’t now. Because I’m not a killer. But cross the line into our ashram and I will forget…’

    Kedar raised his hand, signalling her to keep quiet.

    (Do look out for our interview with Gautam Chikermane, coming soon.)