Bhimsen: Episode 63

[Episode 62] [Web archives] [PDF of Bhim 1-62, courtesy Karun]

Krishna was waiting for me when I returned to my lodge that night. He needed to talk to me, he said.

In all these years of knowing him, Krishna was invariably punctilious in doing what he saw as his duty. Whenever he visited us, he made it a point to go first to see Yudhishtira and then, as inevitably, he would seek me out, touch my feet and ask after my well-being before going off to find his friend.

But never once had he sought me out for a private conversation, never once asked for my advice, my help, as he was doing now.

“You must talk to Yudhishtira,” he told me. “You are the only one who can. It is not good for him and Arjuna to quarrel.”

When Karna led the Kaurava troops out at dawn on that 16th day of the war with Shalya as his charioteer, I’d guessed there would be trouble.

My brother – ever since the day Visokan had told me who he really was, I often caught myself thinking of Karna as my brother and even feeling a momentary twinge of anger when others referred to him as the suta putra – had wanted this command; it was this desire that had led to his quarrel with Bhisma.

From the moment the heralds signaled the start of combat, Karna hit us with the force of a whirlwind. If Bhisma and Drona had deployed strategies and tactics based on the principles of war craft we had been taught since we were young, Karna’s tactics were more free-flowing, and considerably more dangerous.

He led the Kaurava troops in a series of raids, swinging from one end of the field to the other, catching us off balance and hitting us hard, causing immense losses to our foot soldiers and cavalry.

Nakula was the first among us to face the full force of his fury. Karna caught him at an unsupported moment in his defensive position on the right side of our formation and engaged him in combat. While his forces decimated the troops Nakula led, Karna toyed with my brother, destroying his weapons one by one, cutting his armor to shreds, wounding him in a dozen places and finally, in a supreme act of contempt, jumping onto Nakula’s chariot, grappling with him and throwing him out into the dust.

I spotted him as he was leaving the field to seek treatment for his many injuries. “That suta putra told me to tell mother Kunti that he remembered his promise, and would spare even the sons of Madri,” a bewildered Nakula told me. “What promise? What did he mean? And why did he let me go? When he jumped onto my chariot, I thought the end had come…”

I had no time to explain, even if I could – Ashwathama’s peculiar war cry rang out just then, and I turned to confront this challenge.

Drona’s son had a voice unlike any other – more the shrill neigh of a horse in rage than anything human. The story I heard was that when the startled wet nurses first heard his cry at birth, they gave him the name ‘Ashwathama’ – the one with a horse’s voice.

I looked to use the same tactics that had worked so well against Karna – with Visokan keeping a distance from Ashwathama’s chariot, I tried to use my remaining stock of larger arrows and my superior shoulder strength to hurt him, tire him out before closing with him.

Ashwathama’s skill as an archer was without parallel – and I was now finding out that he was considerably shrewder. Where Karna had felt insulted at being bested by me and repeatedly tried to close the distance, Ashwathama increased it and, staying just out of ideal range, effortlessly cut down the arrows I aimed at him.

My stock of special arrows was rapidly running out; the danger for me would come when they were all gone, and Ashwathama could close the distance and use his greater skill to good effect.

“Save one or two of those,” Visokan, as aware of the danger as I was, said over his shoulder. “Let him think they are all used up – when he looks to attack, you might get a chance to use them.”

It was a desperate ploy; I thought afterwards that only the skill of Visokan and the timely arrival of Satyaki saved me from humiliation or worse.

The prolonged combat had drained me; besides, I needed to replenish my stock of arrows. I signaled to Visokan to drive off the field, but we were cut off by a band of Duryodhana’s brothers attacking in formation.

For this I needed no strategies, no tactics – just the deep, burning anger that surged up within me whenever I caught sight of any of my cousins. The skill level of the younger ones in the group was rudimentary – in a few moments of furious combat, with Visokan weaving the chariot in and out of their ranks, six of them fell to a combination of my arrows and spears.

With only Chitrasena and Vikarna left standing, I vaulted out of my chariot, sword in hand. Chitrasena fancied himself as something of a swordsman – back when we all trained together, he loved to show off his skills.

It was with drawn sword that I met him. He was good, no question – fast on his feet and lightning quick at switching the angles of his attack. Against him I used my sword like a bludgeon; instead of merely deflecting his attacks, I repeatedly smashed my sword against his on the blocks, using my superior strength to drain him.

From the diminished power of his strikes and the time he took to bring his sword back in line after each thrust, I sensed that he was tiring fast. There is a trick that I had learnt during my time with the Nagas – they use it with spears, but I had practiced it with the sword whenever Arjuna and I trained together.

Instead of repelling his thrust, I caught Chitrasena’s sword on the blade of my own and rapidly twirled it around in quick circles. The pressure of holding on to the sword began to tell on Chitrasena’s already weakened wrists; I judged my moment and, when our swords were at the lowest point on the circle, suddenly disengaged and with a reverse sweep, cut deep into his neck.

Vikarna ran to where his brother lay in the dust, his life blood gushing out through the cut in his neck. I had no intention of killing this youngest of my cousins; I had never forgotten that when Duryodhana, Dushasana and others insulted Draupadi that day at Hastinapura, Vikarna was the only one in the Kaurava ranks to brave Duryodhana’s anger and to protest the wrong that was being done.

I was walking back to my chariot when his challenge stopped me in my tracks. “I don’t want to fight you,” I told him.

His answer was to rush at me with his sword raised high. I decided to finish this fast – it was the only thing I could do for him. I blocked his downward cut with my elbow against his forearm, knocking his sword out of line; before he could recover, I buried my sword in his chest all the way to the hilt.

Catching him as he fell, I lowered Vikarna gently to the ground and pulled my sword out. For a long moment I stood looking down at this most honorable of my cousins, wishing things had been different, wishing I could have befriended him, wishing his decency had prevailed with his own brothers…

I strode back to my chariot and ordered Visokan to drive me back to my lodge, wanting space, needing some time to myself. The last thing I expected was to find Krishna waiting for me.

“Yudhishtira and Arjuna had a huge quarrel today,” he told me.

Alarmed by the havoc Karna was creating, my brother had foolishly challenged him. Karna toyed with Yudhishtira, destroying his chariot and disarming him with ease. He then threw aside his own weapons and attacked Yudhishtira with his fists, battering him into submission. Yudhishtira fell; Karna stood over him, mocking, taunting, then left him lying there in the dust with a parting word and a kick.

My brother retreated to his lodge, and found Arjuna there.

“That set him off,” Krishna told me. “He called Arjuna all sorts of names, upbraided him bitterly for leaving you alone on the battlefield…”

Krishna had tried to pacify Yudhishtira, but that only goaded my brother more. “I’ve been listening to his boasts for thirteen years,” Yudhishtira said, “I’ve been hearing him talk endlessly about how he will deal with Karna – but now that the time has come, he hides here while Karna destroys our forces!

“Coward!,” he said. “If you can’t do it, give your Gandiva to Krishna – maybe, like that suta putra you are so afraid to face, driving a chariot is what suits you best!”

Seeing Arjuna’s hand tighten on the hilt of his sword, Krishna had hastily come between my brothers, looking to make peace. But Yudhishtira’s words had pushed Arjuna over the edge.

“This fellow – what has he ever done but live off the fruits of others?” Arjuna lashed out. “From the moment he saw her he wanted Draupadi, and he managed to trick mother into getting her married to all five of us!

“He talks of cowardice, this man who has always stayed a mile away from any actual fighting, hiding in the middle of our troops and letting others kill and die so he can be king. If Bhima calls me a coward, I’ll take it – but not this…”

Krishna had somehow managed to push Arjuna outside before either of them could say something irrevocable. “But now Arjuna has shut himself up in his lodge; he says if Yudhishtira wants a kingdom let him shed his own blood, win the war if he can.

“You are the only one they will listen to,” Krishna said.

As I walked over to Yudhishtira’s lodge, I couldn’t help thinking that our real problem was not the Kauravas but the bitterness each of us had accumulated over the years.

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48 thoughts on “Bhimsen: Episode 63

    • Yeah, been thinking for a while now that I have to find a way to collect and collate the feedback/discussions, linked to their respective posts. Will work on this once I am done with the narrative, mate, thanks.

  1. Prem,
    I was recently referred to this mahabharatha of your by your friend and this is awesome ..
    Have you come across this book called “Parva” by S.L. Bhyrappa ..
    The original is in Kannada, but I did manage to get a English Translation of it

    Its available on Amazon and the book basically is pretty interesting, since its a compilation of Mahabharatha, from various character’s point of view ..

    Anand

    • Anand, hi and thanks for the kind words. Yeah, thanks to good friends commenting on this, I’ve been in course of this narrative introduced to several outstanding works in other languages, and Parva was one of them. I found that – in English translation — and other books like Prathibha Ray’s Yajnaseni, on flipkart.com and bought them. Haven’t read these books yet though, cos I don’t want while working on this interpretation to fill my head with others. Waiting to end this before I can start reading some of those other versions. Appreciate any other recommendations, btw.

  2. hi prem,

    If Karna captured Yudhishtra, then he could have declared the war to be over, rite? I am asking this because there was reference in an earlier episode where the Kings once captured, the war ends.

    • Karna’s promise to Kunti is that he will not kill any of her sons save Arjuna. By capturing Y, he becomes duty bound to hand the prisoner to his king, D. Now if D puts Y to death (which is not unlikely as we don’t know the rules with POWs), Karna, in a way breaks the word given to his mother. I suppose this could have been one reason.

    • Yes, capturing Y would end the war, which is how Drona figured it too, but that is assuming it can be done — throughout the war, the Pandavas have gone the extra mile to ensure that Y is always well buffered and never exposed to the enemy, and that would hold true even now.

  3. I know I am being unreasonable to expect the next installment today…..but this suspense is killing. I want to know what Arjuna and Bhima talk.

    Please, please….. just this once! :)

    • *LOL* No — actually, that is from Kalari, where they are adept at switching the direction of the stroke of the sword, reversing instantly.

  4. Quick question, Prem. Why is MT’s original book named Randamoozham (Second Turn)? What does that term signify? If you could clarify or put up a post explaining this, that’d be great.

    • At a surface level, the term signifies just that — second turn, or second in line of succession.

      The problem with languages like Tamil, Malayalam [and for all I know, a dozen other Indian languages] is that they have words to express a specific thought, that have no equivalents in English and do not even lend themselves to easy translation.

      To the Keralite, Randaamoozham is an evocative word; the best I can do in English is to ask you to imagine the second son of a joint family — always second in everything. His opinions may be better than that of the first born but it comes only second in importance; his wedding or indeed everything in his life happens only in relation to, and secondary to, that of his elder. All of which is compressed in that one word.

  5. Prem,

    A question has been bothering me for a while now. It is about a previous episode but I believe that I post it in that episode, you won’t see it. So here it is to quench my curiosity:

    Visokan stops Bhim from killing Karna saying that it will be a great sin because he is your brother. However he knew that even otherwise either Karna will kill Arjun or Arjun will kill Karna. And being on the Pandava’s side his wish should be that Arjun should kill Karna. So if that is a given and that is something they would be planning for anyway, why stop Bhim from killing Karna. How is it better to stop Bhim from doing this great sin and letting Arjun go for it? It seems illogical. It also doesn’t fit Visokan’s character who has been portrayed by you as pragmatic and business like.

    • Visokan’s commitment and loyalty will logically be to Bhima, Saurabh. While he will want to do what he can to help his master, he has no need to buy into the entire family.

      Besides, throughout this rendering the one quality above all else that stands out about V is his strategic and tactical sense — he is clearly much more than the guy who holds the reins of Bhim’s chariot. From that viewpoint, V would clearly be aware that with Karna alive the war will never be over — the option of roping him into the Pandava camp has already been tried by Kunti.

      So K must die. Which in turn means Arjuna is best fitted to do the job. So, fitting right into the pragmatic side of V that you point at, the logical course of action for him is to let events take their course, as long as it is not his own master who is at fault.

        • My wife, who has worked on scripts with a couple of quality film-makers, told me after reading a much earlier episode that a particular character was not in character. Thought about it, realized she had a point.

          From her, I learnt the trick of making little index cards for each of the central characters and on it, scribbling one line descriptors and little notes relating to them.

          Writing narrative is easy — the hard bit is keeping the actions consistent with the nature, the characteristics of the actors. Fail in that and you end up with Bollywood films — an array of papier mache characters who have no depth and with whom you cannot identify.

          Actually, the best part of doing this has been the little lessons in writing I’ve had to learn. And feedback on the episodes, most of which force me to think, accelerate that process of learning.

          Thanks, guys. Mean it.

      • Actually, I would have preferred the standard narration when it comes to Karna. In the accepted version, Karna trounces all 4 Pandava brothers easily but pardoned them because of his promise to Kunti. Why change that fact only in Bhim’s case? Because our protagonist here is Bhim?

        Can our hero not lose one battle on the ground and get humbled? And then later realize that he was actually let go because of an extraneous reason?

        I would have preferred a version where Bhim gets confused, just like his other brothers did, when he was let go by Karna. Bhim’s thought process quizzing the whats and whys into Karna’s action may have been a fascinating read. Visokan’s eavesdropping Kunti-Karna episode and revealing it to Bhim, etc was making it a bit too dramatic and glorifying our hero. The message from this narration is that Bhim cannot lose – not even to a warrior like Karna.

          • thought there were two instances when the two met. In one instance, Shalya takes away Karna to safety after he faints. In another instance, Karna defeats Bhim but pardons him due to the promise.

            • There are actually three instances on the same day of the war where Bhim and Karna are engaged in a tete-a-tete. In the second instance Karna deprives Bhim of his car and his bow but Bhim resorts to killing the Kaurava troops on foot with his mace. In the third instance it is a stalemate. Nowhere in Vyasa version does Karna gets close enough to comprehensively defeating Bhima leave alone pardoning him. Karna’s life being a tragedy is fascinating for movie-makers and writers and several books have been written about him and in those he is naturally shown as a supreme warrior who cannot be defeated in a fair fight.

            • Kalki, there are dozens of versions, take your pick.

              Teacup made one part of my point for me — in the “accepted” version [and no one seems sure what that one is], Bhim defeats Karna.

              He is clearly not the central character, the hero, of that version, yet he is perhaps the only Pandava who manages to defeat his eldest brother in battle.

              So the argument that here Bhim is shown in heroic terms at the expense of accepted narrative is wrong. Incidentally, Bhim is often shown as less than omnipotent — Ghatotkacha has to rescue him from Bhagadatta when he thinks his time has come; on another occasion he owes his life to Abhimanyu…

              That is the answer to your “can our hero not lose on the battlefield” question. Yes he can. Does not mean that I have to deliberately create scenes of his defeat over and above “accepted” storyline — even which, to reiterate, has Karna losing to Bhim [once he loses, once he wins? yeah, well, I donno -- once I am done with this and begin reading Shivaji Sawant's Karna-centric story, I wonder how that will treat his battle with Bhim.

              My point is, this is not some mathematical formula to be adhered to at all costs]. That Bhim cannot lose is not the message of this narration — it is the message throughout the “accepted” Mahabharat, where Bhim in fact is often in trouble, but does not lose to any of the major warriors.

              As to when he learnt what he did, the “accepted” version is essentially a subsequent clean up, designed to undercut questions and argument by finding natural or supernatural explanations where needed.

              The original version, though, has Bhim at several times, from a very early age, questioning the accepted notions of his own parentage, and as often questioning the standard narrative and wondering what the Pandava antecedents really are.

              That version also has Visokan overhearing Kunti and telling Bhim the secret, midway through the war. I saw no reason to change what is clearly the source material of this rendering, in favor of the “accepted” narrative — where would be the point, since so many people have done that particular narrative anyway?

          • Just read this, mate — was struck by the resemblance to Bollywood movies where the hero gets hit with everything from fists to iron rods, tasers, bullets, you name it, and still keeps fighting.

            Bhima pierced his chest with 25 arrows, Karna pierced Bhima’s chest with 32 arrows… :-)

            Was an area that gave me considerable trouble, so tried thinking up tactics that would work to explain how Bhima beats Karna — the idea of keeping a greater distance and relying on superior shoulder and arm power to shoot arrows further than the enemy, and the related one of using special shafts with more power, so that even at a distance the impact would be sufficient to cause hurt…

            Great fun, all that has been. :-)

            • Hi Prem,

              Bhim’s tactic of using greater power to shoot arrows farther got me thinking about the science behind shooting an arrow with a bow.

              To shoot arrows farther than your opponent you would require a bigger bow, longer arrows and a larger wingspan. Power is only required to pull the string to the point where it cannot be stretched any longer. The limitations are elasticity of the bow and the string and the wingspan of the archer. To take advantage of a bigger bow and longer arrows Bhim should be considerably taller than his opponents.

              My point is, instead of power, you could have claimed that Bhim having a larger wingspan than most of the Kaurava warriors used a large bow and longer arrows to shoot his arrows from a far distance.

        • Actually, this post had me thinking of stories told from the protagonist’s viewpoint — and how that slight shift in perspective can sometimes change a narrative entirely.

          A friend who started reading this had helped me get hold of a Malayalam translation of Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya. I’d started reading it and got through some 100 pages before I realized that to read any more would put a lot of ideas in my head I didn’t need when working from a Bhim pov, so put it aside to read after it is done.

          But even in the bit I read, there were fascinating moments. For instance, the friendship between Ashwathama and Karna, which dates back to when the two were young.

          Particularly, though, I was thinking of this one episode. Everyone who has read the conventional narrative knows the story of Drona testing his pupils by hanging a bird on a tree and asking them to take aim, then describe what they see. Arjuna alone says he can see only the eye of the bird.

          In Mrityunjaya, it is Ashwathama who tells Karna about this, and asks him — if you were there, what would you see? “Nothing,” says Karna. “When I take aim, I see the eye only till the tip of my arrow is perfectly aligned with it. When my target is covered, I take a deep breath — and in the moment of holding it, I become one with my arrow.”

          That night, Karna goes with his brother to the same tree, has his brother climb up and hang a bird far higher than the one Arjuna hit. He then tests himself: I have to hit the seen and the unseen, he says. There is a description of how he prepares, and shoots — the goal being to hit the eye that is visible from the ground and, as the bird spins under the impact of the arrow, to hit the other eye.

          Fabulous. The traditional narrative was intended to teach you about concentration, focus. Sivaji Sawant takes that exact same story — and adds a layer to it, and it becomes a whole other thing.

      • Thank Prem for your reply and subsequent discussion that followed. I have a better idea about your thinking on this. I still feel that it is not pragmatic to leave Karna’s killing for Arjun because Visokan could not have been sure that Arjun will be successful. So taking that chance is a gamble. A gamble to avoid a great sin. The only way I can justify this to myself is that at that point Visokan got emotional, he could not stand Bhima commit this great sin and took a impromptu decision which was not pragmatic (in fact foolish) from the larger perspective of the war. Which is ok, even the most pragmatic person can sometimes take an emotional decision.

    • Visokan has done his bit by stopping Bhim from killing his own brother and revealing the secret behind Karna’s birth. What Bhim does with this information is his own prerogative. Visokan has no way of knowing it’s consequences. Bhim, for whatever reason, has chosen not to reveal this information (thus far in this story) to his brothers. As Prem has speculated below, it could be for the reason that his mother himself knew that if she does not reveal the secret to her sons before the war began there is no way of making sure that one of her sons does not get killed by another.

    • Hey, those guys wandered in and out of the field at will, by all accounts — he could have returned for any of a dozen legitimate reasons, none of which Bhim would be privy to or care about, no? :-)

  6. Somewhat lost in this part of today’s episode:

    >>”It was a desperate ploy; I thought afterwards that only the skill of Visokan and the timely arrival of Satyaki saved me from humiliation or worse.”

    So, did Bhimsen kill Aswathama during this fight, or will the battle resume later?

    Other questions, did the Kauravas stop the night combat after Drona’s death?

    KP

    • That bit would mean Bhim disengaged from that particular battle.

      The Kauravas only fought at night for those two days, even in the perceived version of the epic, and not after Drona died.

      • To the question of whether Aswath was killed, nope and infact he along with some other dudes massacres the whole Pandava younglings, dhisti & other folk on the day Duryodhana falls in a surprise attack on the pandavas camp.

    • Ashwathama like Hanuman was immortal he burnt all the Pandava children to avenge his dad’s death by stealth so he did not die at the hands of any of the pandavas.He was cursed and still believed to be roaming the earth.

  7. Couple of typos to correct:

    “causing considerable immense losses to our foot soldiers and cavalry”

    “and ordered Visokan to drive me to back to my lodge”

    “upbraided him bitterly for leaving you alone on the battlefield”

  8. Bhima thinks of Karna as his brother. Why does he not come out with it and end the hostilities? More than once he has mentioned that he is tired of the carnage.

    In the ‘official’ version, the Pandavas come to know the truth about Karna after his death.

    Here, he knows the truth from Visokan, being the sensible and rational person he is, why does he not seek out Karna or reveal the truth to his other brothers?

    • I dont think the hostilities would end if Bhima reveals the truth to his other brothers. Karna is bent upon seeing Arjuna dead, and the others wont let that happen.

    • Besides the point Prahlad made, which is the most valid one [the war has a momentum that will not stop no matter what -- not until Duryodhana is dead, and to do that you have to go over the body of Karna], there is also the thing that Bhima has his own ethics. This is his mother’s secret, he is privy to it at third hand and would not feel able to reveal it.

      • Touche, gentlemen. True that war has its own momentum.
        The ‘mother’s secret’ is also appealing and gentleman that Bhim is, he would not be the one to reveal.

        Since this version brings out unique twists & turns and also because Karna is my favourite character, I was only indulging in a little bit of “What if?” to see if he gets a fair deal somewhere.

      • Waiting to see how you describe Karna’s death whether he gets an honourable mention(Like in Rajaji’s Mahabarat) or otherwise.Karna for all his faults was loyal,and very generous and had to face a lifetime of insults and plating second fiddle.
        I like the play of words from Arjuna here-and that he could have tolerated from Bhima.
        Great show!

  9. Wow! Interesting to read about the off-field duels. I have never heard of such a version. But it seems logical enough.
    Waiting to read about how Bhim kills Dushasana!

  10. MT mentions Vikarna’s death in passing around this point, without dating it or going into detail — a throwaway line in which Bhim mentally tots up the losses on either side. I gave it date and detail.

  11. Prem,

    In the “official” version of Mahabharatha, Vikarna gets killed in the 14th day war, when he comes to the aid of Karna against Bhima. The change here, is it MT’s, or yours?

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