Scene 1(Queen Kaikeyi and her maidservant Manthara.)
MANTHARA: O Queen, do you know? Do you know what will happen tomorrow?
KAIKEYI: No, I do not know. Please tell me.
MANTHARA: Tomorrow Rama is going to be the yubaraj. He is going to become the crown prince.
KAIKEYI: Oh! How delighted I am to hear that! You are the first person to give me that happy news. Take this necklace from me. (She hands the necklace to her maidservant.)
MANTHARA (throws away the necklace): O Queen I never thought that you were such a fool. I thought that God had given you some real wisdom. Don’t you realise that when Rama becomes the ruler he will be all devotion to his own mother, Kausalya, and not to you? You will have no place here then. Your own son Bharata, will be like a servant. Now he and Rama are like two friends, two brothers. But the day Rama becomes King, Bharata will be nowhere.
KAIKEYI: No, don’t say such things. My Bharata and Kausalya’s Rama are inseparable brothers. I am so happy that my Rama, who loves me more than he loves his own mother, who serves me more than he serves his own mother, is going to be the ruler of this vast kingdom. O Manthara, the news that you have given me has made my life extremely happy. You don’t know how much joy I am getting now. My Rama, my own Rama will become the King.
MANTHARA: O Queen, just wait and see. Kausalya’s life of joy and victory will begin tomorrow. Your life of frustration and destruction will begin tomorrow.
KAIKEYI: Manthara, stop! Enough of your evil tongue. I am the Queen. I know what is best for me, best for my life. King Dasharatha has three Queens: Kausalya, Sumitra and I. But you know Dasharatha loves me most. He would not do anything which would eventually make me sad.
MANTHARA: Yes, I know he loves you most. But when Rama becomes the crown prince, instead of your son, your suffering will know no bounds. This is not my curse; it is just a bare fact. Rama will banish your son from the kingdom and he will treat you as you are treating me, your maidservant. Today you are the Queen, the most beloved Queen of Dasharatha; tomorrow you will become a maidservant like me in the service of Rama.
KAIKEYI: My love for my Rama is boundless. He is the embodiment of Truth and Light. In him I see the message of Divine Perfection. To be his maidservant is to be the great instrument of God. I am prepared to be his maidservant or whatever he wants me to be when he becomes the ruler of Ayodhya.
MANTHARA: O Queen, still there is time. Don’t act like a fool. You are still the most beloved wife of Dasharatha. Have you forgotten that he once promised you that he would fulfil your desires, no matter what they were? When he was ill, you served him, you nursed him and you cured him. Because of your dedicated service he offered you two divine boons. You told him that when the time came you would ask him. Now the time has come. Do you remember how many times you have been unkind to Kausalya? When she becomes the mother of King Rama, don’t you think she will pay you back?
KAIKEYI: That is true. I scolded her and insulted her many times, just because I knew I was the favourite wife of King Dasharatha. But Kausalya’s heart is big. She is full of love and compassion. When her son becomes King she will not pay me back in my own coin. She will forgive me. As a matter of fact, she has already forgiven me.
MANTHARA: Wait, just wait. It is only a matter of a few hours until tomorrow, and then your sorrow begins, your suffering begins. The night of excruciating pangs begins for you, O Queen!
KAIKEYI: I am fully prepared. Whatever is going to happen will happen for my own good. My Rama will not do anything wrong to me. Kausalya will never do anything to humiliate me. Both of them are great in heart and soul.
MANTHARA: You must know that it is not for my sake that I am asking you to ask the King for the boons. My only interest in life is your joy. My life on earth is only to please you, only to make you happy. Now here is my humble suggestion. Go to the King and ask him for your two boons. Then, when he agrees to give them, ask first that Rama be exiled for fourteen years. And for the second boon, ask that your son, Bharata, be made the crown prince.
KAIKEYI (shocked): I? I should ask Dasharatha for these boons?
MANTHARA: Yes, Rama has to go into the forest for fourteen years and your son Bharata has to be installed on the throne. Only then will you be happy, I tell you.
KAIKEYI: Shame, shame, unutterable shame on you, Manthara! Your advice is poison, nothing else! Leave this place immediately, before I kick you out!
MANTHARA (leaving): O Queen, tomorrow you will see!
(Exit Manthara. Kaikeyi sits down and rests her chin on her hands. She is thinking.)
KAIKEYI (to herself): Perhaps she is right…