As is my wont, I have written a fictionalized account of the last days of Bimbisara, the first great king of the ancient Indian empire of Magadha. The following are what I call teaser excerpts with no commitment that I would actually write the fully story. The details of the cruelty depicted here have been taken from various sources. In any case this is a piece of fiction.
Date: 493 BCE
Place: Rajgriha, the capital of the ancient Indian kingdom of Magadha
Location: Inside a dungeon like prison cell, kept heated for the discomfort of its single illustrious inmate, Bimbisara, the first important king of Magadha, now a starving captive of his own son Ajatashatru.
Khema, Bimbisara’s wife and Ajatashatru’s mother, enters the dungeon looking particularly anxious. Her body is glistening with the golden hue of honey. It is not sweat. It is honey.
Khema’s efforts to smuggle in food for her diminished husband have been discovered by Ajatashatru and his guards. The only way she could carry some sustenance for him without being discovered was by smearing her own body with honey.
Bimbisara is emaciated and haggard. His face is pallid and smile wan. Not bothering with the pleasantries, Bimbisara starts feverishly licking Khema’s body—the arms, the face, the legs, the midriff. Khema stands there as he devours every drop of honey for he has been starved by his son for weeks now as part of a viciously ritualistic parricide. This is his only and last meal before his life turns even more cruel.
The body now having been infused with some natural sugar, Bimbisara seems to have regained a semblance of his fabled luster. His name Bimbisara, after all, means “of a golden color.” He also strikes what he thinks is a stately pose.
Khema wipes Bimbisara’s face and says:
Khema: I feel utterly drained although you are the one starving. I think I have run out of options to bring in food.
Bimbisara: As the Buddha said suffering is part of the human condition. I am suffering because I have attachment. I am attached to life. I am attached to you. I am attached to Ajatashatru.
Khema wells up at the mention of their son
Khema: I often think of what the royal astrologer had said about Ajatashatru’s birth. He had called it portentous for you. He had said he would rise as his father’s nemesis. I do think of that frequently.
Bimbisara: The Buddha also said ‘Yatha bhutam’. That’s the way it is. I do not spend a lot of time thinking about my plight. What appears to be a crisis from outside has so many exits within. I walk and meditate and that keeps me alive.
Khema: Seeing you alive enrages Ajatashatru. Everyday you are alive is like death in pieces for him. I don’t know what we did, what you did, to deserve such cruelty. You gave up the kingdom for him. You gave up everything for him….
Bimbisara: I have you, Khema. I have you going to great lengths to keep me alive. I have you smuggle in food for me. I have you dripping with honey to keep me alive. Asking for anything more and anyone more noble is greedy.
Khema goes close to Bimbisara and whispers:
Khema: Ajatashatru has summoned barbers. I am told they will be sent to here soon.
Bimbisara’s face lights up. He thinks his son has had a change of heart. The summoning of barbers means only one thing. He is being groomed for the life of a monk, something he had been seeking to do all along. He could not be more wrong.
The barbers have been instructed to slice open the soles of his feet, administer salt and vinegar in the wounds and then burn the wounds with coal.
As Khema leaves the dungeon with a sense of foreboding that this may well be the last time she would see him alive, Bimbisara begins his walking-meditation with a distinct hint of a smile at what is to come, unaware that what is to come is unspeakably heinous. Or may be he is fully aware.