Bhimsen: Episode 66

[Episode 65] [Archives]

“They saw three men standing by the lake, talking,” Visokan told us with the air of having penetrated some deep mystery.

Dhristadyumna and I were resting in my lodge, talking desultorily of all that we had been through. The war was over – it had officially ended the moment Shalya, the latest commander in chief of the Kauravas, fell to Yudhishtira’s arrows.

When our uncle led the tattered remnants of the Kaurava troops out onto the field that dawn with only Shakuni among the major warriors for company, it was obvious he was prompted not by any expectation of victory as by his own notions of kshatriya dharma, the belief that a kshatriya who once sets foot on the field of battle cannot turn back until the war is won or he is killed.

Arjuna and Dhristadyumna, exhausted from their revelry of the previous night, did not bother to take the field. Sahadeva replaced me at the head of our forces and, as soon as the bugles sounded, headed straight for Sakuni’s position.

I saw no sign of Ashwathama and Duryodhana in the Kaurava ranks, and decided to stick close to Yudhishtira, to guard against some last minute surprise.

A messenger came with news that Shakuni had fallen. So many years ago, while waiting for the final throw of dice that would send us into exile, Sahadeva had told me he would one day seek out and kill Shakuni – another promise fulfilled and one more left, looming ever larger in my mind.

Off to one side of the field, Nakula had engaged Shalya. Yudhishtira headed in that direction, seemingly intent on battle. Over the last 17 days he had never once been part of any decisive battle involving a major warrior on the Kaurava side; he alone among us had no deeds the balladeers could praise in song.

My brother seemed bent on redressing that. Racing his chariot past Nakula’s, he challenged Shalya to direct combat. I maintained position to his left and a little behind, from where I could keep an eye on the field and intervene if necessary.

Yudhishtira seemed to be managing well enough against our uncle. My brother was fairly skilled in fighting from the chariot, but Shalya was his equal or better – and unlike Yudhishtira, our uncle had a lifetime of experience to draw on.

Discreetly, without giving my brother reason to suspect I had taken a hand, I used a few cleverly placed arrows to cut the traces of Shalya’s chariot. The suddenly freed horses bolted, bringing the Madra king to a standstill. I fell back to await the inevitable outcome; sure enough, Shalya soon fell before Yudhishtira’s arrows.

Our troops roared in celebration as the Kaurava army, now bereft of leaders, turned tail and ran. The war was, finally, over.

“Duryodhana still lives,” I reminded Yudhishtira as we headed back to camp.

“I saw him fleeing from the field, heading in the direction of the river,” Visokan interrupted. “He was alone and on foot.”

When we reached camp, Yudhishtira summoned Yuyutsu and charged him with rounding up a few boats and conveying our womenfolk to Hastinapura. Born to Dhritarashtra through a serving maid, Yuyutsu had abandoned the Kaurava side after the events in the assembly hall and, once our term of exile was over, joined our camp.

With Nakula and Sahadeva to help, Yudhishtira immersed himself in the task of breaking up the camp and preparing for our return. I left them to it and went back to my lodge; Dhristadyumna found me there a few minutes later, and it was as we were sipping from a skin of sura, talking of all that we had been through, that Visokan entered the lodge with two tribals in tow.

“These are hunters who live in the forest here,” Visokan told us. “They saw three men standing by the river bank, talking.”

Three men talking by the riverbank – what, I wondered, was Visokan fussing about?

“They say these three were talking to a fourth person who couldn’t be seen…”

“Duryodhana!” Even as the realization dawned in me, Dhristadyumna raced out of the lodge, yelling instructions to the soldiers.

Within minutes, a force mounted on horseback raced in the direction of the river with instructions to flush out the fugitive.

“We’ll go see if we can pick up his trail,” Visokan said, running towards my chariot with the two tribals in tow.

The hubbub had alerted everyone in our camp. I climbed into Dhristadyumna’s chariot and we set off after Visokan; Arjuna, Krishna, Yudhishtira and the others followed in our wake.

A tribal was waiting at the river bank to guide us; at his direction, we moved away from the river and through the woods until we came upon an immense lake that, the tribal told us, was known locally as Dwaipayana.

Visokan was waiting for us. “He is hiding in there,” he told me. “We tracked him from the riverbank to this place. These men are sure he is in there somewhere – they think he could be hiding in one of the subterranean caves.”

The lake stretched in front of us, calm, placid. Amidst the rushes near the bank, a few boats bobbed about.

“It is not possible to find him – we don’t know where to start looking. The only thing to do is shame him into showing himself,” Krishna suggested.

Yudhishtira approached the bank of the lake. “Duryodhana! Coward! You wanted this war – you wanted the kingdom for your own, so come out and fight for it like a man!”

“Is it manly for so many of you to surround someone who is exhausted, and defenseless?” The voice came to us from amidst the rushes. Duryodhana was hiding in their midst, sheltered from sight by the boats.

I toyed with the idea of diving in, and going after him.

“I have had enough of this war, enough of Hastinapura,” Duryodhana’s disembodied voice floated out to us. “My brothers are dead, my friends are dead, what is there left for me? Of what use to me is a kingdom of widows? I give it all up — let me go, I will retire to the forest and do penance for the rest of my life…”

“Have you no shame?” My brother seemed inspired by a rage he was no longer in control of. “You send your brothers, your friends and relatives to die for the sake of your greed, your selfishness – and all you care about now that they are dead is saving your own skin?!

“I will not take the kingdom without defeating you. Come on out and fight – it is the least you owe those who died for you. Pick any one of us — single combat, your choice of weapons… if you win, Hastinapura is yours!”

I chanced to glance at Krishna, and saw his face crumple in dismay at these words. “Are you mad!” he muttered in disgust. “What if he picks you or Nakula or Sahadeva – and chooses to fight with the mace?

“Apparently the sons of Pandu are destined to spend their entire lives in some forest or other, because this man is at heart a gambler!” Krishna walked off, muttering to himself.

I noticed movement among the reeds. Duryodhana emerged, caked in mud from head to toe, his favorite mace with the golden handle in his hand.

“I accept!” I saw the glimmer of hope in his eyes as he walked towards Yudhishtira.

My brother stood there crestfallen, unable to take back the words he had spoken in a moment of unthinking arrogance.

I stepped forward.

“We have a history between us, Duryodhana – and many, many debts to settle,” I said, eyes locked on his. “Let’s settle it all right here, right now. Maces – and only one of us walks out of here alive.”

“The man who can defeat me with the mace is yet to be born, you fool!” His voice was harsh with contempt.

I laughed in his face. “That’s right — I remember now. The first time we met, during the trial of strength, Drona had to stop me from killing you. And the last time we met, on the field of battle, you ran like the coward you are!”

He hesitated; it seemed to me that for that one instant in time, he was contemplating the escape route Yudhishtira had so carelessly offered him. And then something snapped; his arrogance — and the contempt he always had for me — kicked in, as I had hoped it would.

“Come!” he said. “Our battle will be one for the gods – and when I am done with you, your brothers can wander in the forest for the rest of their lives, knowing you died in vain.”

My trick had worked, just when all seemed lost. I had him now.

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89 thoughts on “Bhimsen: Episode 66

  1. I may not have elaborated enough earlier, here is some more detail of what I think.

    Draupadi’s marriage to all five Bros: This is essentially the difference I found between Illiad and Mahabharat. From a historical perspective, in India, the priestly class, namely brahmins had a very very strong hold on the soceity ( a lot lot more than other civilizations) and whatever their ommissions and commissions, they did give the soceity a steel frame of dharma and made the soceity confirm to the same. For 1000s of years, they were able to make the soceity dance to their concept of dharma ( including the varna, caste etc. You see a conflict between kshatriyas and brahmins in Ramayan, but I digress). So, from that so called brahminical dharma POV, we can view pandavas and kauravas as confirmists and rebels. We hear various characters mostly the conventional good characters in mahabharat talking about “what scriptures say” to decide or exhort others to do something. I find pandavas doing stuff (which is illogical from a reader’s perspective) mainly because theiy believe it is the dharma as prescribed by the shastras/scriptures. Remember, the five brothers are together mainly because of their sense of Dharma. So, draipadi marrying all bros can happen because of following scenarios

    a. It is their tribal tradition: Y in fact did mention this in Vyasa bharat quiet clearly. He says, for all these reasons and also it is our family tradition anyway. In this scenario, all bros still think they are following their dharma and accept it. IMO, this is probably the simple and most probable scenario. There are tribes in uttaranchal who in fact follow this tradition till today and they claim to be descendants of pandavas.

    b. Misplaced/messed up sense of truthfulness: this is probably inserted later, this concept of mother asking them to share the loot etc. Even in this case, it is more likely that the bros are ready to marry the same woman out of sense of dharma than anything else.

    c. Y’s conspiracy: Say Y coveted draupadi and wanted to have her so came up with bullshit to make it happen, even then, if all the bros are not sold on that bullshit ( that concept of dharma), will they agree to it? Will a bunch of guys who left their hard earned kingdom in a game of dice marry same women if they think it is not dharma?

    My thinking is, there is no other epic or history anywhere else where a bunch of guys lose a game of dice and give up their kingdom ( so much hard work in building the same) voluntarily without use of force, just for the sake of keeping their word, their concept of dharma. What made them do that? what is their thinking? surely, their way of thinking and their decision making is quite different from how we think today. The parameters they consider, the pressure from soceity, the fear of losing honour, reputation must be much much more than what we face today. IMO, it was essentially an advanced tribal soceity and not keeping one’s word is worst than losing life. For example, Vyasa’s bharatam also has descriptions of how many people in hastinapura ridiculed them when they went into the city after the war. Y humbly bows to them and asks for forgivenness and a chance to redeem his honour. Is it similar to what we read sometimes about indian villagers? they are quite willing without second thoughts to lie in a court, but they are much more circumspect before their village panchayat. I think Nehru made this point in Discovery of India. It is this sense of dharma, this internal thinking in Bhim’s mind that is missing in your narrative IMO. I might be wrong, but IMO, going by your characterization of Bhim , it is hard to believe that this guy will give up his kingdom and follow Y just because of blood relationship with Y. I think, may be , this tribal sense of honour, dharma needs to be stressed out more to make these characters give up their kingdom and watch their wife getting molested quietly. Without this sense (or misplaced sense) of dharma or irrationality or superstition, even in 3000BC, a guy will react violently when he sees his wife getting molested/stripped, more so a guy who is physically powerful warrior. Why did Prem’s Bhim keep quiet?

    • The reason why Kunti wanted all 5 brothers to marry Draupadi was purely political. Y being the eldest is the chosen one to rule among them and they needed the support of the powerful panchalas to have any hope of defeating the Kauravas. She would have felt the panchalas would not stake their lives and their kingdom for the sake of Y unless he is their son-in-law. To ask Arjun to give up Draupadi for the sake of his eldest brother would have done great damage to the sense of loyalty the brothers had towards each other. Marrying D to all 5 brothers was the only way to get the complete support of the Panchalas and maintain the strong brotherly ties among the pandavas. Draupadi’s extraordinary beauty made Kunti’s task of convincing her sons rather easy. Prem’s narrative was also along the lines stated above.

      As for Bhim not doing enough to stop when Draupadi was being insulted in the Kaurava court, it can only be because of the shock that paralyzes people when they witness something unimaginable. Bhim and his brothers may not have recovered from the first shock when Y lost the kingdom and their self-respect to Duryodhana before being subjected to the more devastating second shock. He is though the only person who raises his voice and makes a vow to kill Dushashana after recovering from the shock – by which time Dushasana lets go of Draupadi.

      Giving up a Kingdom as a result of losing a game of dice is about honoring one’s word which for Kshatriyas like Pandavas was paramount. If they had not kept their word none of the other kings in the region would have respected the Pandavas. I don’t think you have to look hard for a parallel in other epics or history where people sacrifice what is dearest to them for the sake of honoring their word.

    • Why did Bhim keep quiet? Because all his life, he has struggled with what we all struggle with: two parts of you that pull in opposite directions. There is the part of him that is action-driven, that prompts him towards immediate and violent redressal of any and all perceived ills. And there is another part of him, likely nurtured by the social norms of the times, that impels him to always defer to his elder, to sublimate his own feelings whether he agrees with that elder or not.

      This dichotomy has surfaced at several points in this narrative, but most dramatically during the war, when Yudhishitra tees off on Arjuna and calls him a coward. When Bhim goes to make peace, he is conflicted because he basically believes Arjuna is right. Yet, that is not his message to his brother — when Arjuna asks him why the hell he should go seek out his brother, since he himself is the injured party, B tells him: because he is your brother, and he is your king, and it is your duty to do whatever it takes to put him on the throne and if you will not, then I will.

      Hard to understand in these modern times, perhaps. But I’ve seen this, at a smaller level, play out in my own home during my childhood and teens. Disagreements, even acrimonious ones, between the titular head and others, but at the last moment, a sublimation of all disagreement and a willingness to accept the right of the eldest to dictate, no matter what your own commonsense, your sense of logic or even of right and wrong tell you. This what to me has seemed a sheep like docility has resulted in the extended family losing all its one time wealth and power, but not a yip out of anyone because the decision was taken by the then titular head, and no one would go against it though almost everyone thought it was the wrong thing to do.

      Bhim would at that point be bound by his brother, who says we cannot fight back; the only thing he can do is publicly vow that when the time comes, and when his hands are not tied, he will get his revenge.

    • Not sure if he knows. I didn’t, though. Trouble was, the publishing house had no concept of ‘blogs’, and was riddled with red tape. “We already have a translation, why are you doing this, who will pay you, we won’t pay you, if you are not being paid why are you doing it…” — I bailed rather than get into an endless back and forth. This is non-commercial; I openly acknowledge the source, and if it comes to that, I have departed in so many ways from MT’s 300-page book, that it is not like I am ripping him off. I’d rather have done it the right way, but tripped over too much red tape

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