Things happened just as Lakshmana feared.
The next day the four brothers were summoned by Guru Vasishtha and their father. Maharaja Dasharatha revealed that they had come to Mithila in anticipation of one marriage but now because of a happy coincidence there would be four weddings. Shatrughna let out a whoop of joy, Bharata was embarrassed and Lakshmana, shocked.
The next few days were a blur and it was only on reaching Ayodhya and its familiar environs that Lakshmana was able to think once again. They were ceremoniously received at the palace gates and the greater part of the day was spent in Guru Vasishtha explaining to them the sanctity of marriage and the mothers teasing them.
Lakshmana felt himself going hot behind the ears as he listened to all gentle ribbing and he assiduously kept his face down. Soon it was night. The four brothers had gathered in the central courtyard. The king had departed to his bedchamber after blessing them. The mothers performed their aarti and asked them to go their room to ‘begin a new chapter in their lives’.
Lakshmana gulped uncomfortably. Brother Rama left, after bowing to the mothers, walking with his usual steady gait. Bharata followed suit. Shatrughna after walking a few steps, broke into a run. Looking at his twin, Lakshmana could not help but smile. But then he realized much to his embarrassment, he was the only one left there . Mother Kausalya patted his shoulder and told him to go to his room ‘where his wife would be waiting for him’.
Lakshmana forced himself to turn towards the corridor leading to his room. Somehow the stretch seemed longer than usual. His wife? A new chapter in his life? Somehow, Lakshmana had never envisaged such a situation. He had been content to serve his brother Rama. He had been under the impression that his life was just an extension of Brother Rama’s. Now he was expected to lead an independent life- with new responsibilities to fulfill.
He was both confused and scared. Will his responsibilities as a husband come in way of his duties as a younger brother? Would he, after marriage too, be able to remain what he was before- Rama’s shadow?
Lakshmana paused, leaned on the wall and mopped his brow.
Two servant girls passed by and on looking at him, broke into giggles. Lakshmana glared at them but they only covered their faces and giggled harder. That did it. Lakshmana waited for them to disappear and making an about-turn walked furiously- out of the corridor, out of the palace till he reached the royal stables.
He flashed his ensign to the guards who let him in hastily, though with looks of surprise. But, on looking ahead, he spotted Arya Sumanta in deep conversation with the Keeper of Stables. “Doesn’t that man ever sleep?” wondered Lakshmana.
Arya Sumanta too was surprised to see Lakshmana walking rapidly towards the horses. “Prince? You? At this time of the hour? But tonight is suppose to be your…..”Arya Sumanta let the sentence hang delicately.
Lakshmana nodded, still walking rapidly, “It’s something urgent Arya. I have to go”
Sumanta was now trotting to keep pace with Lakshmana. “What’s the matter Prince? I can handle it. You ought to be with….”Sumanta jerked his thumb in the direction of the palace.
Lakshmana mumbled “ No… It’s okay….I need to go somewhere… I will be back soon”
Sumanta stood panting and mystified as Lakshmana untied a horse and began to lead it away. “Prince- the security around the capital has been tightened. You won’t be able to go more than two yojanas without being questioned” called out Sumanta behind Lakshmana’s back.
Lakshmana swung himself on the horse and nodded to Sumanta, mentally praying that Sumanta would have more sense than to inform the king that
Prince Lakshmana had been spotted wandering about on what was supposed to be his bridal night.
He mounted a horse and patting it to keep quiet, rode it till he reached the banks of Sarayu. He dismounted and sat down on a rock near the river. The soft ripple of the waters and the cool air seemed to calm his feverish mind.
He made his decision – he would inform Urmilla in no uncertain terms that first and foremost he was Rama’s brother and she better resign herself to that. Lakshman got up and began to lead the horse by its reins. He felt better, having arrived at a decision.
But a small voice began to speak at the back of his mind. But, what about the bond that had been forged between him and Urmilla? Did he have the right to ignore it altogether? If he was so averse to the idea of marriage, the small voice continued incessantly, he ought to announced his decision before the wedding–not now. Lakshmana sighed. A nice mess he had got himself into.
Now there was only one thing to do. Explain his stance to Urmilla and pray that she understands. Or, better still explain his stance and ask her to take the decision. After all, she was Maharaja Janaka’s daughter. Maybe she would understand. The small voice at the back of his mind agreed.
His quarters in the palace were completely silent and dark. Most of the lamps had blown themselves out save for the few all-night ones which threw eerie shadows on the walls. The distant roll of drums announced that it was the second prahar after midnight.
Lakshmana quickened his steps. What would Urmilla be thinking? Maybe be she would be restless with anxiety….had she informed anyone about his absence? Lakshmana hit his forehead with his palm. A nice way to start his married life. Wonder why they didn’t teach such things in the Gurukul, he thought wryly.