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The Trip to Heaven

Sunil Gangopadhyay

Translated from the Bengali by Indranil Dasgupta

Yudhishthir reached the top of Mount Mahendra and stopped. Above him there was nothing but the sky . A man's solitude is all the more acute under a large sky like this. Down, along the trail lay the bodies of his wife and four brothers. Yudhishthir did not look back another time. His companion, the dog, was a little restless. Yudhishthir gave him a  piece of a pishtak cake from his sack and told him to wait. 

Shortly afterward a fiery chariot descended from the sky. Yudhishthir bowed to greet the astronaut who stepped out of it. "Yudhishthir, dear boy, come", the astronaut said. "Although you are a common earthling, for your patience and goodness you have been selected to travel to the outer space without leaving your body." 

"Take this dog in please", said Yudhishthir. 

The astronaut raised his  brows in mild surprise. "This canine? But why?" 

"Because, that, is my wish." Yudhishtir said politely but resolutely. 

The astronaut thought for a moment before breaking into a smile. "I understand", he said. "Yudhishthir, you truly are an intelligent man. You want to test our spaceship to see if it is safe for a creature of Earth. No living man has had a ride in this spaceship before. Is this why you brought this dog along on such a long journey?" 

"You are quite right", said Yudhishthir. "I never tell a lie. I brought him along to relieve myself of some doubts. I had to throw a pishtak piece at him every now and then to make him stay with me all the way." 

Not wasting another word, the astronaut took the dog inside the spaceship and flew into outer space while Yudhishthir watched the skies. 

The spaceship returned an hour later and the dog jumped out of it wagging his tail. Yudhishthir gave the remaining pieces of pishtak from his sack to the dog. "Run along now", he said. "You have been very useful to me and I give you this boon. From now on dogs will be kept by men as pets." 

The astronaut put a transparent helmet on Yudhishthir's head and asked if Yudhishthir had any trouble breathing in it. 

"No", said Yudhishthir. 

"Then come." 

The heavenly chariot took off with Yudhishthir. For the last time, Yudhishthir looked at Earth and felt a sadness come upon him. Nearly all his friends and relatives were dead, yet Earth had been a dear place. 

"You may sleep a little." The astronaut said. "It will be a while before we reach our destination." 

"May never get another opportunity to see the lovely view outside. Why deny me this pleasure?", said Yudhishthir. 

"That is right. Dear boy, you are the first astronaut from Earth. No one was given this opportunity before. Because of your good deeds we did not want you to have to go through the transition of death. Aren't you afraid?" 

"Afraid? Why should I be afraid?" 

"At the very least because this planet called Heaven is completely unknown to you." 

"Why should it be completely unknown to me? My ancestors are all there. They have composed hymns in its praise. I have made many sacrifices and followed the path of dharma in my own life so that I could go to Heaven one day. Why should I be afraid to go there?" 

"Very good. We'll see." 

"Thank you for honoring me with the title of the first astronaut, but I would like to humbly point out that my ancestor king Pururava had in fact come back to Earth after visiting Heaven. Other similar cases are known." 

"Some people spread false stories like these. No one was brought here before you. Even you are being taken only for a special experiment." 


"Yes, a scientific experiment. This is a rather complex subject and you will not understand all of it. Nevertheless, let me, briefly, explain. The body is matter and the soul is energy. We know how to convert matter into energy and vice versa - a technology that is still unknown to earthlings. We bring the souls of selected humans to Heaven after they die. Their bodies are then recovered by converting energy to matter. However, we erase bad traits like greed, obsession and violence from their minds. We are now trying to accomplish the same while keeping the body intact and circumventing the need to go through the trial of death." 

Yudhishthir was a little offended. When he spoke, it was with some pride. "Venerable God", he said, "no one had spotted a trace of a weakness like greed, obsession or avarice in me even when I was on Earth." 

"Precisely why you have been selected. However, you are not as devoid of weaknesses as you think. The planet Earth itself has a bad influence. Indeed, I don't like to come here even for a short visit. Vishnu does drop by now and then. He likes the short girls here a lot. Haven't you noticed how he picks a beautiful midget to marry every time he visits Earth?" 

Yudhishthir refrained from making a comment on the exploits of the Gods. He just sat there with his chin down. 

The spaceship was slowing down. "In a short while we will land on a satellite called Hell for a quick break", the astronaut said. "I hope you won't want to stay there forever. Some people do find the place more attractive than Heaven." 

Yudhishthir did not even get off the spacecraft at Hell. He also kept his eyes tightly shut. His ears were nearly going deaf from the screams of countless people. He had to cover his ears with his hands. Yet he seemed to recognize some familiar voices. 

It was a short flight from Hell to Heaven. "My duties end here", the astronaut said after they had arrived in Heaven. "From here you’ll be taken over by other specialists. Not much is going to happen today though. You may go anywhere you want. Also remember, you may consider every home as your own. There is food in every house. You may take any food and drink as if they belonged to you. You may also ask any woman to be your consort. 

Yudhishthir came out of the rocket station and began to walk. He had nowhere to go and therefore no fear of getting lost. All the roads were straight; no maze of lanes and by-lanes to deal with. The roads were lined with trees having blue leaves. Yudhishthir realized why the favorite color of the Gods was blue. Blue reigned everywhere. Yudhishthir was more used to seeing green and his eyes hurt a little. 

Yudhishthir was very eager to meet friends and relatives. He wanted to meet grandfather Bhishma in particular. In times of crisis he always sought Bishma's advice. It would be wise to let the patriarch bring him up to date on Heaven's current affairs. 

However he spotted Duryodhan and Karna instead. They were seated nearby on a stone bench under a large tree. Yudhishthir was a little taken aback. He also felt a pang of regret. So they are already enjoying life in Heaven, he thought. Had his own brothers and the adorable Draupadi not arrived yet? 

Their eyes had not met yet. Yudhishthir thought he would avoid the two men and take another side of the road. But the thought itself startled him. Was he afraid of them? Or was it jealousy? Was it showing? 

Quickly he approached them and touched Karna's feet. He addressed Duryodhan affectionately and asked, "Brother, how is the pain in your thighs?" 

Duryodhan and Karna were also surprised to see Yudhishthir. "Oh it's Dharmaraj", Duryodhan said at last. "So you are here? Very good. The pain is all gone. No one feels any pain here. It's a very healthful place." 

Karna stared silently at Yudhishthir. Yudhishthir could feel his heart beating. Although Karna and he were brothers born of the same womb, he had never actually spoken to him directly. In the battle of Kurukshetra Karna had once spared his life. Yudhishthir was not aware then that Karna was his elder brother and had freely hurled abuses at him. 

Yudhishthir kneeled down and worshipped Karna's feet before asking, "How are you, elder brother?" 

Karna was known to be arrogant and rude, but now his voice was surprisingly soft. He took the scent of Yudhishthir's head and said, "Younger brother, I am most delighted to see you. You were the pride of Earth and now the Heaven is honored to have you." 

"Dharmaraj, have you eaten?" Asked Duryodhan. "You started very early and it was a long uphill journey. We were watching you climb on a television." 

Karna pointed with his right hand. "There is a restaurant there, if you want to eat." 

"Eat anything you want", Duryodhan said excitedly. You haven't tasted anything like the food here. All at no charge." 

"You must be tired from all the climbing", said Karna. "You may go inside any of the houses to rest." 

"Just make a telephone call to the work center if you need a girl to sleep with or to give you a massage", Duryodhan added. "You can get anyone you desire." 

"But not Urvashi", Karna broke in with a smile. "She is the most beautiful of all and possesses eternal youth - but we the men of the Surya dynasty can not have her. She claims to be our grandmother because she had lived with our ancestor Pururava as his wife for a brief period." 

Yudhishthir was not particularly hungry or thirsty. He also did not feel a great desire for women. All he wanted was to see friends and relatives. 

"I will take your leave and meet grandfather Bhishma first", he said. 

"Do that", said Duryodhan. "Grandfather is having a ball. He doesn't need to be a celibate any longer. People do not get married here. Nor are babies born. So he doesn't have to abide by his vows of celibacy anymore." 

"Where can I find him?" 

"Just look around, you'll find him. We are waiting here for Yagyaseni. Hear that she'll be coming today." 

Yudhishthir was taken completely by surprise. So Draupadi was coming. But that was right! The sweet smiling daughter of king Drupad certainly deserved a place in Heaven. 

"Must plead my case before others ask her to fulfil their desires", said Duryodhan. "I have always desired her. In fact I had even won her at gambling, but father forced me to give her back to you. I even fought this big war for her. But now I have no hard feelings for anybody. I will lovingly have the beautiful Draupadi sit on my lap." 

Yudhishthir felt like he had cuts all over his body and someone was sprinkling salt on them. He felt like running away. This was not the Heaven he wanted. He would also stop Draupadi from coming here. 

Duryodhan would have gone on like this but his gaze fell upon Karna and he stopped. He bit his tongue and boxed his own ears to show how ashamed he was. "No, no, I can not be the first. I am second", he said. "The great Karna has the first claim over Draupadi. None of us could hit the bull’s eye at the Swayamvar contest at king Drupad's palace. But it would have been child's play for Karna, the great archer. He could have won the contest and taken Draupadi long before Arjun had his turn. But the opportunity was denied to him. He is the son of Surya himself and the queen mother Kunti is his mother. Yet this great kshatriya was called the son of a horse-keeper and turned out of the palace in shame. That lie would end today. Lies have no place in Heaven." 

Karna said nothing and only kept smiling. Yudhishthir was too stunned to speak. His head was totally muddled. Would Draupadi, for whom he and his four brothers had endured so many hardships, now be the playmate of the dastardly Duryodhan! And Karna? Would he lust after the wife of his younger brothers! 

Yudhishthir could not stand there any longer. He took his leave hurriedly after a few polite words. He was on the verge of losing his temper. Or he might have said that Krishnaa would not be coming today, she was not dead yet. It was a lie. But maybe not an outright one. One of Draupadi's names was Krishnaa, but there were other women by that name too. The wife of the charioteer Vaahilak was also Krishnaa and she was certainly alive. This would be a re-enactment of the 'Ashwaththaamaa, the elephant' incident. Would he have to take recourse to deceit even in Heaven! 

However Yudhishthir could not go very far. Something was pulling him back like a magnet. Reunion with grandfather and other relatives could wait. Yudhishthir hid behind a tree. If only he could warn Draupadi in advance. 

His big hope was that Bhim or Arjun would arrive before Draupadi. That would change everything. It would hardly be possible for Duryodhan and Karna to snatch Draupadi away from Bhim and Arjun. But what if they did not come before Draupadi? Arjun, especially, always had to be too chivalrous. When the chariot to Heaven pulled up at Hell's gates Arjun would probably say, "Ladies first. Draupadi goes before us." 

Yudhishthir realized he was simply jealous. He could not imagine being tested on his first day like this. He was not only jealous, on his first day in Heaven he was also thinking of war. He was already scheming to make Bhim and Arjun fight Duryodhan and Karna over Draupadi. What a shame! Yudhishthir was filled with remorse. He sat down under the tree and closed his eyes to rid his mind of impure thoughts. 

However he could not concentrate. He was haunted by Draupadi's face. He had not tried to help Draupadi when she fell down by the trail while climbing the mountain. Who knows how much pain the roadside rocks had inflicted on the princess’ delicate body? Just before she died Draupadi had asked him, "My Lord, what sin have I committed to deserve a death like this?" "You ought to have treated your five husbands equally", Yudhishthir had told her. "But you loved Arjun more than the rest." 

Was his tone a little sarcastic when he said this? He had always known that Draupadi loved Arjun more - but he never said anything. It was like a thorn in his heart. Was he jealous of Arjun too? No, no, that was impossible. Arjun was the most dear to him. The most? No, not more than Draupadi. He had tried very hard to win her heart. However Draupadi was always more impressed by physical strength and valor. Women had this weakness. His knowledge of scriptures, his righteousness - all of that had been more or less ignored by Draupadi. When Vyasdev had asked the five brothers to have clear rules for sharing Draupadi so that there would be no disputes: one day for each brother, while the others would stay away - Yudhishthir had picked Sunday for himself. No duties of the state had to be performed on Sundays - the whole day could be spent in leisure. He had Draupadi for himself the entire day. On their turns with Draupadi his brothers had to perform administrative work which kept them away for at least a part of the day. Once Arjun had accidentally entered a room where he was making love to Draupadi. Arjun had accepted a year's exile as punishment. Though Yudhishthir had pretended to dissuade Arjun, in his heart he was a little glad. That year he could have a little more of Draupadi. 

Yudhishthir broke out of his reverie all at once. A familiar voice. He raised his eyes and spotted Draupadi coming. Alone. Duryodhan and Karna had risen to greet her. Yudhishthir gesticulated wildly to make her come toward him instead. But Draupadi did not even notice him. She looked more beautiful than ever before and bore no signs of aging at all. Her skin was silky smooth, the luxurious hair reaching to her waist. Her breasts were two perfectly round spheres. Her waist was as thin as that of a lioness. Her hips were heavy and wide. Her teeth were so beautiful that everything seemed to light up when she smiled. Her lips were full like ripe grapes. 

Yudhishthir watched Karna and Duryodhan approach Draupadi with quick steps. Karna was saying, "The land of the Gods is honored today to have you, the radiant Draupadi. We have been waiting eagerly for you. I am enamoured by the aura of your beauty. I have not come across a bewitching woman like you in the two lives I spent on Earth and in Heaven." 

Draupadi smiled sweetly and said, "Your words are like honey to my ears, the king of warriors Karna. I am thrilled to be standing near a powerful man like you." 

"Can't you see me, Yagyaseni?", retorted Duryodhan. "I am equally eager for you." 

"How can I not notice you, dear friend?", said Draupadi. "How can a woman fail to notice a handsome smiling face like yours?" 

Yudhishthir was shocked. Why was Draupadi flirting with her born enemies? Couldn't she have passed them by in disgust? 

No sooner had he thought this that he was reminded of the words of the astronaut God. Duryodhan, Karna, Draupadi - all three had been brought to Heaven after death. All traces of anger, hatred and violence have been wiped from their minds. They will remain immersed forever in happiness and pleasures of the body. 

"Daughter of Drupad, we are impatient with desire for you." Said Duryodhan. "One day I had shown you my thighs in the court and told you that you would have to sit on them. I was unsuccessful then. But the longing is still there. Will you now grace me by sitting on my lap?" 

"With pleasure." Said Draupadi. "Right now if you want." 

"Not right now", said Duryodhan. "I will wait for you. The greatest of all men Karna too begs your company. Who does not know that you have loved and desired him for so long. I will wait - you may enjoy carnal pleasures with Karna for as long as you wish. A woman does not become a used object in Heaven. Here a woman and the elixir of life are one and the same." 

Draupadi turned toward Karna and said with a deep love, "Karna, the son of Surya, see how the very sight of you makes me tingle all over. I have always secretly wanted you. Take me." 

With this Draupadi flung herself at Karna's broad chest. She pressed her breasts hard against Karna's body and lifted her eager face upwards. Then Karna's mouth sank into her full and ripe grape-like lips. 

Yudhishthir could watch no more. He covered his eyes. What a great defeat for him after coming to Heaven! He could not restrain himself any longer. His body was shaking with fury, his heart was burning with rage. Had the Gods seen him like this? He could not care less. 

Like a mere mortal man of Earth, tears began to fall from Yudhishthir's eyes.


Published in Parabaas, May 29, 2001.

This story, of course, is a modern take off on the famous episode in the Mahaprasthan-parva of the Mahabharat. For a classic analysis of the character of Yudhisthir, see the excerpts from "The Book of Yudhisthir", a translation by Sujit Mukherjee of Buddhadeva Bose's well known book in Bengali, Mahabharater Katha.

The original, titled Swargadarshan (স্বর্গদর্শন) by Sunil Gangopadhyay is included in Ratpakhi (রাতপাখি), in 1976.

Translated by Indranil Dasgupta [ইন্দ্রনীল দাশগুপ্ত ]. Indranil Dasgupta was educated in India and USA, where he earned ... (more)

Illustrated by Rajarshi Debnath. Rajarshi is a software professional currently based in London.

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