Bhimsen: Episode 67

[Episode 66] [Archives]

Duryodhana leapt high. I bent at the knee, going low in a counter.

In a move I had never seen before, his left hand came off the mace. The right hand slid down the handle till his fingers held it by the tip, and then he flicked it at my face like a whip.

I blocked it with ease – and realized too late that the move was meant to distract, not hurt. Even as I moved to defend, Duryodhana lashed out with his leg, smashing his heel against my shoulder and sending me staggering backwards.

We had been fighting for a long time. Or maybe it just felt that way. Early into our bout, I realized that Duryodhana’s mace – his favorite one with the gold-plated handle and the wickedly sharp spikes along the head – was considerably lighter than mine. Whatever it lost in power, it more than made up in the speed with which he could wield the lighter weapon.

All those years ago, when we fought for the first time during the trial of strength, I had won by using my strength, hammering my mace repeatedly against his to tire his wrists and arms.

Thinking to repeat that tactic, I went at him hard from the moment Balarama finished his little speech. “Just in time to watch your two disciples in battle,” Krishna had said as Balarama’s chariot rolled into the glade.

Balarama always spoke of impartiality, of how the Pandavas and Kauravas were equally dear to him and how he wanted no part of our quarrels – but for all that, he had over the years favored Duryodhana, taking him under his wing and teaching him the tricks of the mace.

When war seemed inevitable, Balarama had gone off on an extended pilgrimage to avoid taking sides – but only after he made sure the bulk of the Dwaraka army would fight under the Kaurava flag.

I had listened to his little speech about fair play, about the rules of combat and about making him proud of us, with growing disbelief – did he think this was some contest got up for his amusement?

Duryodhana swung at me – a powerful, underarm swing aimed at the right side of my chest; as my mace met his in a block he disengaged, spun in reverse with startling speed, and swung at my left.

There was no time to bring my mace around. I smothered the impact by stepping into the blow and blocking the handle with my body — but even so it stung, driving the breath out of me and forcing me to one knee.

Duryodhana roared in triumph and charged, swinging; I parried and, still on my knee, spun around with a sweeping strike at his legs that forced him to jump back, giving me room to recover.

What had started off as a contest of speed and strength was slowly turning into a battle of skill and wits. My arms were beginning to feel the strain; I was gasping for breath and struggling with the sweat that poured down my face and into my eyes – and by the look of him, he was as drained as I was.

I sensed desperation in him as our battle dragged on. There was an increased frenzy to his attacks. He must have known his best chance was to finish me off quickly, before my strength and endurance began to wear him down.

I realized I had to change my tactics, find his weakness and figure out how to exploit it.

Duryodhana jumped high, as he had repeatedly done since our battle began, using his lighter mace and his agility to advantage. What made his tactic dangerous was that he kept changing the angle of attack – sometimes he jumped high and swung down at my head; at other times he feinted, forced me into a defensive posture, then waited till he was on the way down to attack me from an angle lower than I was prepared for.

With sudden clarity, I saw the flaw in his tactics – and what I had to do.

I breathed deep to center myself, and settled down to a calculated defense, blocking his attacks without launching any of my own, conserving my strength and waiting for my opportunity.

I had to make him think I was more tired than I was, that my reflexes were slowing down, that it was all I could do to defend — and that he had no reason to fear a sudden counterattack.

Duryodhana changed tack and launched a series of swift attacks, swinging the mace to the left and right with great dexterity and putting all his power into each strike. I countered with force; our maces struck sparks off each other.

Seemingly hard-pressed, I staggered back, letting one hand come off the handle and taking one of his strikes on my body.

Dimly, I heard my brothers yelling encouragement. I shut it all out – their shouts, my rage, the memories of all the insults Duryodhana had visited on us…

It was only a matter of time, I knew, before Duryodhana would go airborne again. This time, as he reached the apex of his jump he swung from the right, aiming for my shoulders and chest. I made as if to block, waited till he was committed and then pulled out of the feint.

To exploit the weakness I had spotted, I knew I had to take a serious blow – and this was it. I did the best I could to minimize the impact, but even so his mace landed on my side with a thud that drove the breath out of me. I bit down hard on the searing pain, spun around and using the momentum of my turn and the full strength of my arms, I smashed my mace against his momentarily unprotected ribs.

The crack of breaking bones as the head of my mace smacked into his side told me all I needed to know. Duryodhana crashed to the ground, the mace flying out of his hand.

Vaguely through the percussive pounding of blood in my head, I heard the voices:


“Bhima, he is unarmed, you have won …”


Almost as if it had a will of my own, my mace rose high overhead. Duryodhana raised his legs in a desperate attempt to block. I adjusted and smashed the mace down against Duryodhana’s thigh, just below his waist.

“What have you done?!” Yudhishtira rushed up to me. “He was unarmed – to hit him then… it was wrong!”

I stared at my brother in disbelief, amazed –not for the first time – at a sense of wrong and right that he seemed able to switch on and off at will.

Just yesterday, he had danced with glee when Arjuna felled Karna.

Karna had voluntarily put down his weapons; Duryodhana had lost his in a battle that had not yet ended – that was right, this was wrong?!

I looked away and caught Balarama’s eye. His face contorted with rage, he was straining to get away from Krishna and Satyaki, who struggled to hold him back.

“Coward!” he screamed. “Duryodhana was the better fighter — you tricked him and then, when he was unarmed, defenseless and hurt you hit him! Your act was against dharma, against the laws of combat! Coward!”

Deep inside of me, something snapped. Duryodhana was finished – I knew that he would die of his wounds even if I didn’t lay another finger on him. But this – this was more than I had the fortitude to bear.

“Let him go!” I roared at Krishna. “I vowed to kill Duryodhana – and kill him I will, right here, right now. I know no kshatriya dharma greater than that!”

I raised my mace high overhead.

“Anyone who thinks to stop me can step forward now and try!”

I waited, mace poised, as Krishna and Satyaki let Balarama go and stepped back. He took a step towards me, then another, his eyes locked on mine.

And then he stopped.

I held his eyes with mine as my mace came down with all my strength, crashing into the side of Duryodhana’s head. Almost in continuation of that blow, I flung my mace away. I had no further use for it – my war was over.

For long moments I stood there, mentally and physically drained by the toughest battle I had ever fought in my life.

I felt their eyes… my brothers’, my kinsmen’s, my friends’… eyes that looked down on my dying enemy with pity… eyes that lacerated me with a scorn I had done nothing to deserve…

I walked over to where Visokan waited with the chariot, and painfully hauled myself in. On the deck, I saw my blood spattered mace.

“It is a good weapon,” Visokan said gently, as he held out a cloth for me to dry the sweat that poured off me in an unending stream. “What does it know of dharma and adharma? What does it care?”

He drove slowly towards the river. I threw away my robes – and felt the soothing, healing caress of a gentle breeze.  My ‘father’, Vaayu – where were you when I was all alone, when my enemies covered me with their arrows and my friends with their contempt?

As I dived into the river, I heard the sound of Visokan driving away.

I floated in the water, letting the gentle eddies rock me like a baby in its cradle, and thought back to what I once was – the little boy who, every evening, would come to the riverbank looking for his father… the boy who, on feeling that first gentle touch of breeze on skin, would pray with all his heart to become the strongest, the bravest, the best warrior of all time.

That prayer had come true. I had grown big and strong – there was in my world no warrior to equal me, no one who had ever bested me in combat. I had fulfilled my vows, every last one of them; my last remaining enemy lay breathing his last in the dust, the thigh he had slapped in a lascivious invitation to my wife a bloodied, broken mess.

I had become what I wanted to be, done all that I vowed to do — and yet, what did I have? A wife I shared with four others… two other wives whose faces I couldn’t remember… a son who had given up his life for those who had delighted in his dying, two other sons who I did not know… and brothers who could never appreciate the depth of feeling I had for them…

Evening gave way to the pitch black of night, matching the darkness that swamped my mind, my heart.

I sat there for a long, long time. At some point, I thought I smelt smoke…

The urgent clatter of horses’ hooves woke me from my reverie. I looked around for my robe as Visokan drove up at reckless speed.

He jumped down before the chariot had come to a halt and ran towards me, sobbing.

“They are dead… Ashwathama… he came in the night, like a thief… he set fire to our camp… he killed them all while they slept…”

He collapsed to the ground, sobs wracking his frame.

From the depths of a heart grown suddenly cold, a question welled up and lodged in my throat: who?

My brothers had gone off into the forest to celebrate the victory, with them went Krishna and Satyaki. Dhristadyumna broke away from the party – I want to celebrate with the first good night’s sleep I have had since this started, he told them.

Ashwathama came in the middle of the night. With him was Kritavarma, and Kripa – the guru of our race. They set the camp on fire – that must have been the smoke I sensed, and ignored… as our people woke to this conflagration and rushed out in panic, Ashwathama cut them down one by one in the dark.

Dhristadyumna… our children, Draupadi’s sons… Prativindhya, Suthasoma, Shrutakirti, Shatanika, Shrutakarma… my son Sarvadha, who had become inseparable from his cousins…

Young men… boys, really – the future of the Kuru race, for whom we had slaughtered our kin and won a kingdom…

All dead.

I looked down at hands that seemed suddenly drained of their strength.

The war was over, but the enemy still lived.

The enemy never dies…

159 thoughts on “Bhimsen: Episode 67

  1. This discussion forum seems even more hyperactive than usual, today. 🙂 Not complaining — just a note, leaving office now, not likely to access internet till tomorrow, so if there are subsequent messages and you get no replies, you know why.

  2. Can’t say if I liked this episode.
    The feeling may be similar to that of other Pandavas of relief (D’s death) and resentment (B’s hurting of unarmed D).

    Anyways keeps me eager to look forward for next episode.


    • I do not seem to get this line of argument. D lost his weapon during combat. That is to say B overpowered him and due to which he was un-armed so to speak. B gained this advantage during a fair combat!

      Putting it in simpleton terms, every warrior would lay down his arms if he felt he was about to loose and conveniently get away??

      I understand the kshatirya way etc, but in any combat being able to dismantle the opponent’s armory is a path to victory.

      • Yeah, I didn’t much understand the fuss in the conventional narrative either. Maybe all these months of trying to get inside the guy’s head is making me too much like him — horrors! 🙂

      • “every warrior would lay down his arms if he felt he was about to loose and conveniently get away??”

        There was probably a lot more shame attached to doing such a thing, than what we can comprehend in today’s terms. Shame worse than death, in all probability.

        Warriors lived and died on the battlefield — and accordingly were exalted for following the Kshatriya dharma.

        • True. Equally, there was shame attached to running from the battlefield. That didn’t stop warriors from doing it all the time, though — even the conventional narrative is peppered with instances of everyone, up to and including the master warriors, being defeated and leaving the field rather than let the battle play out to the logical conclusion.

          Today we have lots of conventions that govern war — conventions that are routinely ignored, just as they were then. So it is not a reach to say someone who valued his life more than some notional honor would use the loophole.

          • I have a friend who is in the Indian Army (a Captain who was part of numerous covert ops). According to him, during battle with the enemy, all a soldier thinks is how NOT to die. Among the list of the things he would die for during battle, country is the last thing that he would die for (even though that is the main reason he would have joined the army for).

            This is what he said – a soldier thinks first of himself – then his fellow soldiers right next to him, then his unit, his company, his regiment and finally comes the country. The soldier has to defend himself first. Then once that is done, he defends the soldiers next to him. They are like his shield, if they are killed then he is alone and he will be killed too. After that comes the unit – if the unit is safe then all the soldiers in the unit are safe, so he is safe. And so on….

            What he was trying to say was – the last thing on a soldier’s mind when in active battle is Jana Gana Mana and his country – all he is thinking is how to stay alive and he will use any means to achieve that goal.

  3. Prem

    I rediscovered my love for the Mahabharata thanks to you and this unique POV style of narrative. I got my grandmother to recollect the Mahabharata and narrate it to me. The simple beauty of listening to her vivdly describing the war, the characters, their emotions rammed home to me the beauty and depth of our culture and our epics.

    I am not sure if you are as skilled a narrator as you are with written words, but a meeting/gathering in the metros to rehash Bhimsen, followed by an interaction with the readers would be great. If that could be accompanied by a reading, nothing like it.

    Thanks once again for this. I for one, wish , you would take a sabbatical from rediff and devote yourself full time to writing. : )

    • Strange that you said this — these last few weeks, been getting similar and related questions in mail.

      The suggestions thus far include: (1) Doing a live chat on the blog using coveritlive, once the series ends; (2) Doing something like a q & a post, where once it is over people post their comments and discussions, and I respond on the fly like I’ve been doing here for individual episodes, only this covers the whole narrative. And then there was this girl who asked if I would sit down for a q & a she wants to videotape and put up on her blog.

      I’m not sure if I can in a finite span of time make it to all metros — but if there is interest, I certainly can do Bombay quite easily, and think of the others in time. Or alternately, go with one of the suggestions above.

      You guys decide 🙂

        • How about you guys decide if you want to do a meet up in Bombay when this is done, hopefully mid-way through next month? 🙂 The open forum on blog is easily done, doesn’t need a poll anyway. But come to think of it, meeting a bunch of folks over beer for a chat could turn out to be great fun. Anyone want to work it out, I’m game

  4. You know what.. Guys.. The discussions regarding the episodes are getting even more fascinating. I for one,am refreshing periodically just to look at new comments and Prem ‘s reply to them…

    • *LOL* Tell me about it — it’s been totally fascinating and invaluable — the kind of questions people ask work as an ongoing litmus test about the logic of the narrative, and how strong or weak it is at various points.

  5. Prem, the pain and anguish of Bhim that you depict hits a raw nerve. Bhim almost comes across as a loner in the end. Unrequited in love (Bhim is one who does everything for Draupadi but never gets back what he entirely deserves), he does not have a friend like Arjun has (Krishna), ridiculed as a bully and idiot pretty much all his life, does not get the credit he deserves as a supreme warrior and for the deeds accomplished.

    As tragic (if not more) as Karna as someone pointed out.

    • I would think — especially in light of some developments to follow [not trying to be mysterious, it is simply that writing this, while simultaneously travelling to Pune and spending considerable time with friends, left me with no leisure to consider the details of what-next — that is something I have to find time later today or tomorrow in time for Thursday’s episode] — that it is this central thought that prompted MT to write Randaamoozham in the first place, just as he wrote the screenplay/story of Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha, that I referred to in the tribute note on his birthday recently.

      The flawed, misunderstood hero is more than any other creation inspirational for a story teller, and Bhima fits that profile. While doing this episode and indeed so many others before this, the greatest challenge and the fun was to try and get into his skin. Writing the battle was easy — merely a matter of visualization. Writing the bit that follows — his going to the river, his reverting to childhood dreams, all of that stuff — took forever, simply because you had to forget who you were and try and be someone else, empathize, and through that empathy, try and figure out how he would have felt and what he would have thought.

      Sad… scary… and fascinating.

  6. Another generic comment not specifically related to this episode. Something that has been rankling in me since the beginning of this narration. Thought I will let it out now – with the war all over and only the closing ceremonies left.

    We live in an age where breaking rules is second nature to us. We run red lights, pay bribes to policeman for even something as mundane as a passport verification enquiry, pay the registrar while registering our new home, violate building norms saying that the norms are not practical and then apply for regularization, par cars at no parking zones, watch illegal/pirated DVDs, etc.

    This is an age where we are now desensitized to breaking rules. And probably the reason why we cannot understand or accept the fact that Yudhishtra was very righteous. He was righteous with respect to the norms set in those days. A righteousness that set him apart from the other kshatriyas. The reason why he was liked and the reason why he was considered to be more rightful to the Hastinapur throne. That he was righteous is something that we fail to see and accept from today’s context. And hence we come up with manufactured ways of putting him in poor light; of character assassination; and by justifying the misdeeds of others in the war.

    There is no place in the conventional narrative when Yudhishtra resorts to adharma. Even in the Drona episode, he agrees to only add the ‘hataha’ part that gets drowned in Krishna’s panchajanya. MTV or Prem have conveniently added many aspects from Bhim’s perspective that puts Yudhishtra in poor light – including that of Draupadi’s wedding to all five. But even if that were true, Yudhishtra still does not do anything outside the cloak of Dharma that he wears. He stays righteous throughout the Mahabharata.

    By portraying him in poor light, I believe it just dilutes the Pandava side from what they were fighting for. The war just becomes another fight for power, for the throne. Dilutes what they stood for. If all is fair in love and war, if the Pandavas felt that they can break rules to win the war and get at the kingdom, what stopped them from waging a war immediately after the dice game was lost? That was the time when they already had a kingdom (the one that they lost in the game), they had completed the Rajasuya yaga and hence would have definitely had many kings on their side, and more would have joined them if they knew that it was all lost over a crooked game of dice.

    What stopped them then? Was it not Yudhistra’s sense of dharma? Was it not because the brothers accepted that fact and agreed to go with their brother’s sense of justice? And only when they were denied their due, as was promised in the game of dice, after 13 years do they go to war?

    The trouble I find with this narration is that sans the “sense of justice” that Yudhihtra has, the Mahabharata becomes less of an epic. If no longer holds the exalted position that it does in us. I do not mind the “humanizing” part of the narration – but the crux of the story, the central line in the epic, that it is a fight between dharma and adharma, should not get lost.

    And in that crux, it is our Yudhishtra who figures most. He is the pivot of dharma that the pandavas fight around. By painting Yudhishtra in a poorer light, of being manipulative and not being impartial in his sense of justice, the story loses its central theme. And boils down to be a dramatic fight for power, a war that satisfies many egos.

    • “Character assassination”? A touch too strong, surely?

      You mention the ‘hataha’ bit. Let’s see: so Y’s dharma tells him that as long as he mutters, sotto voce, that Ashwathama is an elephant, all is well? If truth telling was an inviolate norm for him, he would have refused to be part of the entire charade, no — rather than participate, and then add under his breath a word he knew, with or without the conch blast, would never be heard?

      To suggest that Y is portrayed in a uniformly bad light is to forget many things about this narrative — not least the fact that Y single-handedly decides/insists on doing all that is humanly possible to avoid war, up to and including sending Krishna as emissary to ask for five villages, which goes against the mood of his brothers.

      The Mahabharat was always a battle of succession — all efforts of the Pandavas were aimed at securing a kingdom, and all attempts of the Kauravas were to stop them from achieving that goal by any means possible.

      If “justice” or even “revenge” were the driving factors, if it was always about dharma versus adharma, how is that consonant with saying we can avoid war if you give us X amount of territory? And if you can’t give us X, how about a reduced amount, say a smaller x? Does that then mean dharma and adharma can coexist if both parties have their own space?

      I won’t argue the point about whether this narration has the larger themes of the conventional one. Maybe not — but if the objective was to stick to those lines, then why bother writing it when that version already exists?

      And then there is Y. Again. And this constant angst that he has been painted in a poorer light — addressed repeatedly elsewhere — omits one central point: an impartial outside observer can see actions of a whole spread of characters one way; a participant in an event will likely see it another — and this is the narration of one participant, from his particular point of view. A Dhritarashtra would probably see all this differently.

      A Duryodhana would likely ask, my father was the eldest, he only voluntarily stepped aside for Pandu because of his own physical problem, but that does not mean Pandu’s sons have to automatically inherit — my right as the eldest son of the eldest son is incontrovertible. From his position therefore, all acts of Y and his brothers are aimed at depriving him of his rightful inheritance — and that is a perfectly valid viewpoint too.

      I could go through the list in similar fashion, changing the perspective every time. Why for instance is it inconceivable to imagine that Arjuna could harbor resentment over the fact that the woman he won through his skill had to be shared with others due to a notion of ‘dharma’ he did not personally subscribe to?

      To suggest that Arjuna felt that way dilutes the character of Y how?

      My point is this: the conventional Mahabharat sets out to tell a story one way, to introduce various themes, motifs, motivations. Absolutely fine, absolutely valid.

      This looks at the narrative differently — you may not find in this the same themes that draws you to the conventional story, but this one has its own themes, its own motifs — more human, less concerned with larger philosophical questions.

      To reject this narrative in part or in whole is absolutely fine, and the inalienable right of any reader; to say however that the other is the only way of looking at it is however not.

      • Character assasination – a touch too harsh, yes. What I meant to say was, if you take away the only aspect of Yudhistra’s life – i.e. his dharma – then it is tantamount to character assasination.

        I agree – the motifs in the conventional narrative may not find a place in this which is from a single character’s POV – but the central theme of dharma v/s adharma is violated here if you take away Yudhistra’s righteousness. That was the point that I found hard to take.

        The hatah part is where I find Yudhistra was at his best. He sees Drona running havoc and him the risk of losing the battle – the battle that means most to him and his brothers. And then Krishna comes up with this devious plan – and bheema and Dhristadyuma agree to it. However, there is a catch. What if Drona does not accept Bheema’s cry of victory? What if he does not believe that his son is dead? He relies on Yudhistra – that aspect alone makes the character of Yudhistra tower over the rest. That the commander-in-chief of the opposite party chose to rely on his word says a lot about Yudhistra.

        So now, Yudhistra agrees to play the part – party due to desperation and that makes him human. He wants to win the war and churns out the Aswattamah hatah….Kunjarah! He wants to win, prepares himself to lie and then at the last minute has a change of heart. He cannot do it, it is not in him to say a lie; to cheat. And he blurts out the Kunjarah. But gets submerged in the conch blaring.

        What the above incident portrays is an immense read into Yudhistra’s character. Despite the odds, despite agreeing to lie, he just could not. It is one thing to look at this incident as Yudhistra’s inability to lie, inability to step away from his dharma and another cynically look at this as his way of justifying his own lie. But given his character till that point in time, you would think that he would have probably said kunjarah because he just could not cheat.

        The fact that Yudhistra took the decision to ask for just 5 villages instead of the entire kingdom also attributes his eagerness to avoid a war and at the same time protect his rightful inheritance. Duryodhana’s inflexibility forces him to go to war – something he would have avoided even at the cost of not avenging all the injustice faced by the Pandavas and Draupadi.

        I agree that there could have been differences in opinion among the brothers. Arjuna may have felt bad about Draupadi being wedded to all five brothers. All that still has space in the narration even with Yudhistra being righteous. This need not be compromised to add the other perspectives.

        I am not rejecting the entire narrative – I felt that by painting Yudhistra to not be all that righteous, takes everything away from the Pandavas. There was no reason for them to agree to the dice game thing after it got over. There was nothign bding them – they could have just gone back to Indraprastha and declare that the dice game was void. They need not have sat and watched Draupadi getting humiliated. They could not fight because they were then slaves and had no right to fight their injustices. They need not have spent 13 years in the forest. Instead they could have gathered their forces within an year or two and fought the Kauravas. After 13 years in exile do they not risk losing their relationships with other kings; they may even get forgotten. But still they did because that was the condition with which the dice game was played. They even risked the one year agyathavasa. All this was done because of Yudhistra’s insistence on fighting it out the right way, the path of dharma.

        Long story – and to sum up – I feel in this narration, the yudhistra part was the only jarring aspect. Maybe, Bhim could have been a little more understanding and sympathetic of his elder brother for whom he was even ready to die in battle. 🙂

        • Granting all you say, that actually plays into my point. All of this would be valid in the conventional narrative. They would even be enhanced, explained in greater depth, had the narrative been from Y’s point of view.

          However, this is the story of a person who is perhaps Y’s polar opposite — less shackled to the philosophical underpinnings of life, more apt to act and react as circumstances dictate.

          Such a person would not understand the motivations of a Yudhishtira — had I tried to incorporate such an artificial understanding, the character of Bhim would have become considerably diluted, which is not fair to *this* narrative and to *this* character.

          However, that does not devalue Yudhishtira — you look at it one way, I’ll suggest another:

          Bhim follows his brother’s lead in everything that matters; he accepts his leadership, he subjugates his own feelings and defers to his brother’s opinions at all crucial moments; he constantly stifles his own doubts about a particular course of action, and always allows his brother to dictate even the course of his own life.

          He even defends his right to do so against all others — even his favorite brother, Arjuna, when the latter is incensed. “He is your elder brother, and he is your king”, Bhima tells him, subjugating his own doubts, “and if you don’t do what is necessary to put him on the throne, I can and will.”

          You could equally argue that all of this underlines Y’s greatness, that a man with Bhim’s strength and ability is prepared to play a subservient role.

          All of that, a Bhima would do; all of that is consonant with his character, no matter from where you source its development. But to have him understand what is outside the scope of his intellect would be a reach I couldn’t make, not without so diluting the central character as to render this narration meaningless, merely so I could create some sort of philosophical connect between one story and another.

          You make the point about the epic being diluted because the spine has been taken away. But that is the thing: this is not an epic, nor does it ever pretend to be. This is a more basic story of a family ravaged by time and circumstance. To create or re-create a narrative of that kind, and at the same time to say wait a minute, it also has to adhere to another narrative of another sort, is to straddle two stools at the risk of falling between them.

          One other point: the raison d’etre of such recreations would be precisely what is happening here: by presenting a different point of view, such a narrative forces or at least tempts the reader to re-look at the original. Sometimes, this re-examination could result in rejection. At other times and for other people, it could result in re-affirmation. Either way, it brings such questions to the forefront, and permits, even prompts, the individual to think in a way a mere rehash of existing tropes never would.

          • I agree – Bhim may not understand where Yudhistra comes from – it may be beyond him, or just that he does not care.

            But I guess in this narration, we get so close to Bheem, so much into his way of thinking, that we start to empathize him, begin to look at the other charaacters through his eyes and feel that Yudhistra was being foolish, scheming, unreasonable, or whatever is the mood at that point in time in the narration. That may be the conflict I faced since I have this hard cut character of Yudhistra etched in my mind. 🙂

            And again, if you go by all that you have said above about Bhim always being with his brother – it did not go well. As you said, maybe he did not understand Y’s motivation but trust him he did.

            The trust was not very evident in this narration – thought there was more room for contempt.

            But agree – I have not tried to analyze the characters in such depth before. This narration gave a fresh perspective. I was sharing this with one of my friends just this morning – he too reads this blog – and that this has actually motivated me to go back and re-read the original. This epic is so complex that you can derive a 100 interpretations and still feel that it was inadequately covered.

            • Hmmm…I’ll take that as a complement; in the sense I at least got Bhim’s voice right. As for the balance, there is as you say always the conventional version, so Y’s place in the imagination is secure no matter what happens to his image here 🙂

            • Oh yes!! you got Bhim’s voice right except for the part when he relates to Yudhistra. The narration does not bring out the love he has for his brother, the trust in his King. For Bhim to be ready to give his life for him (as he tells Arjuna during his standoff with Y), it has to be backed with something that is much stronger than the fact that Y is weak and also manipulated to marry Draupadi. That is probably the only missing link in this version.

              I agree – Bhim does everything as per Y’s wishes; does not rebel even when they lose everything; even after D’s humiliation; Bhim is ready to even lose his life for Y. But given that this is narrated in HIS POV, will Bhim not once think fondly about Y? Not once feel for Y? Try to at least see why Y is doing/saying things the way he does?

              From the initial days when he has disagreement with Y’s lofty standards, the narration slowly moved towards contempt. Was that also deliberate or is it just me feeling this way?

            • No, I don’t see him trying to think things through from Y’s point of view.

              Be fond of him yes. Unquestioningly obey yes. Be prepared to put his life on the line yes. But not think of things from his point of view — that is easier said than done.

              Actually, one of the templates I drew on was my own relations with my father, which were stormy to say the least. I love him to bits; I wept like a baby when he died. But there were things he said I didn’t agree with and rebelled against [unlike Bhim, actually, who accepts even if he cannot understand]; when my uncles would try to make piece by suggesting I try to see things from his point of view, my invariable response would be, I am not him, therefore that is no more possible than it is for him to see things from my point of view and understand where I am coming from.

              I don’t think there is at any point any contempt for Y the person. A lack of understanding, yes. Again — it is possible for me to disagree bitterly with my father, and to hate what he is doing or saying in a particular instance. I have, to the point where I’ve left home thrice during my twenties; and to the point where for the last six years of his life I neither wrote nor called. Did I have contempt for him, or hate him? No way — I was fonder of him than he knew, but that does not mean I bought blindly into all that he said or did.

              I’ve tried to bring that sense into the narrative at times, of disagreement, and of one type of personality unable to understand the other type of personality. Contempt I think would be your read, not something I have tried to infuse.

            • Prem, I agree with kalki here. In fact, this was exactly the point I was trying to make during our brief interaction in the last episode. To me, the most jarring aspect of this narrative is the lack of rationale or characterization which would make someone like Bhim stand quiet while his wife is being molested. I did read your justification regarding joint families etc., but I don’t think that would explain a character as volatile & strong as Bhim not doing anything while his wife is molested.

              I think, in our effort to humanize the epic, we should not lose sight of the cold fact that pandavas stuck to their version of dharma thru thick and thin inspite of repeated attempts to kill them in a non-combat scenario, they value their word and left their kingdom after a mere dice game (a kingdom they built from the ground up). What will a person like Bhim be thinking when he stands quiet like draupadi is getting molested? what will a person like Bhimbe thinking when he agrees to give up kingdom and goto forest? Can a mere loyalty to his king alone make him do it, don’t you think he needs to have some notions of dharma which makes him follow him? even bad guys know in their heart of hearts what is right, so why is so difficult for someone like Bhim to know in his heart that Y is dharmic and not hypocritical? if even enemies in war are willing to believe Y’s word, why will Y’s own bro have so lil value for his righteousness? I think Prem, you are probably making a mistake in comparing these characters to your own personal life experiences with your father and joint family. We should look at other known momentous characters in known history to possibly dwell into what someone like Bhim might be thinking. For example, take the example of Gandhi & Vallabhai Patel ( Gandhi and patel will be Y & Bhim, while Gandhi and Nehru will be Y & Arjuna..there is a lil bit of lonelyness and sadness in Patel’s life too). Patel disagreed vehemently with Gandhi many many times, but he knew about Gandhi’s righteousness and never doubted his intentions, in the end Patel many times went with Gandhi’s word inspite of not agreeing with him. but to think that patel thought gandhi is a hypocrite is really a stretch. To further add to this parallel, 1000 yrs from now, people might as well find it very difficult to believe that someone like Gandhi existed( just like Einstein predicted) and might seek to dumb him down and make it a battle for the right to rule India between the brits and congresswalas. No?

              bottomline is, going by your own characterization of bhim, it is really hard to fathom or expect someone like Prem’s bhim to stick with Y inspite of his so much dislike for Y’s ways and methods, inspite of him thinking that Y is a hypocrite who turns dharma on and off at his convenience. I don’t think joint family alone explains this part of Bhim’s character. Also, if you don’t mind me saying, it looks like you rebelled and took your own decisions and went your own way inspite of your father’s objections, eventhough you were deeply touched and cried like a baby when he passed away. in contrast, in your narrative, Bhim never really rebelled against his king/elder bro, he always, all thru his life stood by his bro thru thick and thin, even when that bro lost entire kingdom. I am not able to understand how you are seeking to explain Bhim’s characterization using your experience with your father, afterall , we are not questioning bhim’s strong feelings for his bros. A volatile character like bhim is more likely to rebel just like you did, don’t you think? unless, Bhim too, at some level, bought into prevailing mores and values and honor etc. but there is no evidence of his buying into that stuff anywhere in the narrative.

    • I don’t mean to play the devil’s advocate here, mostly because I’ve quite enjoyed this re-telling of my all time favorite “story” — but I have to applaud Kalki for raising the same doubt I’ve been having for some time now.

      Adding a post-modern twist to a tale that’s been ingrained into the collective consciousness through different forms of media, is definitely an interesting experiment. I applaud Prem here for his assiduousness in keeping up with the daunting task at hand, and by no means wish to belittle his effort. It’s really been a wonderful re-telling.

      I’d compare this re-telling to a “voiceover” driven movie, where what happens on screen is analyzed and interpreted by a single character, leaving little or no room for any alternative explanation. Giving life to emotions inside a hardened warrior like Bhimsen, when there is little proof or otherwise that such a thing existed, is again a nice ‘experiment’.

      But taken as a whole there are far too many deviations from the original/conventional narration. Yudhisthir is definitely portrayed in negative light and his own brothers think of him as an opportunistic wimp! Krishna is a strategist, not the omnipotent deity that we know of; Arjuna — who by all accounts was the primary hero of the battle is relegated to the background. It’s all about Bhimsen (fair enough, since he’s the centerpiece here) and his interpretation of events, which by the way just sound too post-modern. There’s added complexity by way of Bhim’s conflicting emotions, when simplicity in terms of framing the events is desired — taking away the demi-god status of the Pandavas, portraying Krishna as an ordinary king etc.

      It’s all interesting, no doubt, but having read the entire Amar Chitra Katha (some 48 volumes, comic books if you will) recently, I can’t buy it for long. Not long enough to drown my childhood memories of the C Rajgopalachari version I read, and definitely not the graphic images of Amar Chitra Katha!

      • Prem, you surely have re-ignited the flame here. And we see how we are struggling to come to terms with the traditional way of how the Mahabharat is represented (with the folklore and curses and fanciful events, Krishna being given God’s status, the narration suggesting that the story itself being much more than an internal squabble in a family and conflict for land).

        If you take the Mo-Maya out of that and present it with an objective view with the key players very human like, we mortals brought up on the fancier version (no offense meant) find it difficult to digest. At the very least it is surely food for thought 🙂

        The story being passed on from yore, sure has made legends out of many characters. This narration surely helps in seeing through some of them!

        • “Struggling” is probably not the right word. Proclivity/Preference is what defines the concept of choice, and in my case here, the argument slightly against a more “complex” version.

          Since I raked up the film analogy up in my post, a “Memento” is a fine work of (post-modern) art, but can it beat the simplicity of a “Godfather”? Even comparing apples and like, surely “The Sopranos” doesn’t beat The Godfather! Or so I happen to think, anyway.

          • But see, here’s the thing: does a Memento even want to *beat* the simplicity of Godfather, or set out to do that?

            I believe a narrative, any narrative, deserves to be seen in its own right. Yes there will be the inevitable conflicts with other narratives, and that can — as I keep finding out here — fuel interesting discussions.

            The bottomline though would be, no one version needs to be *the* one, in the sense of carrying with it the compulsion on all other narrators to adhere, to paint within the same lines it draws.

            If every mafia/crime movie set out to be the Godfather, we’d tire of it pretty soon, no?

          • Though it is futile to compare, I for one thought the Soprano’s was much better but hey what do I know? The Godfather was good no doubt and any movie in sepia and set in the early 20th century will find romantics drooling over but the Soprano’s was a hugely more difficult task from a director’s perspective.

        • Yeah, and that sense of ownership is understandable, so I don’t see this is a flame anyway, never have.

          What I would have a problem with would be if one of those fundamentalist idiots began hurling bricks through my bedroom window, demanding to know how I dared insult one of the greatest epics of all time — you know the kind of thing 🙂

          • Just to clarify the re-igniting flame comment was made wrt your narrative regenerating interest and making us see things through a new light.

            Definitely was not trying the ‘How can you defile the holy epic’ routine 🙂

      • But that is the thing, Saket — who said you had to replace your ACK version or the Rajaji version with this?

        About proofs — I frankly did not let that bother me too much, or at least as much as consistency. What proof is there of anything at all even in the master narrative anyway? It started out as some 8000 verses. By the time the disciple told the story it became 24,000. Next thing you know, it is 90,000-plus. Clearly there has been extrapolation, to the order of three, four times the original storyline, and somewhere in there, stories have been added, motivations ascribed, dialog invented… to the point where you don’t know [more so given the lack of a printed copy of the source text] just what is *true* or *false* any more.

        The thoughts and emotions I write in for Bhim have likely no factual basis, but in that it does not differ from much of the conventional narrative — that is a work largely of the imagination, and so is this. Hence my point about consistency — I only try and make sure that anything he does or says is consistent with the character as it has evolved through this narration.

        Yes, there has been deviation. Quite a lot, too. But then, I would think if you researched and wrote the history of my family, it would differ substantially from if I were to write it myself.

        In the case of Bhim, it would be a problem if I seek to argue that *this* is the real narrative, that the demi god version is fake and a concoction of many fevered imaginations. I do no such thing, however — this is a version, and that is all it is, and hopefully there is space in the public imagination for this to coexist with all other narratives, conventional or otherwise.

        Had a sudden, amusing thought: Imagine if I finished this and started off on one of the two things I have vaguely considered: redoing Shivaji Sawant’s Mrityunjaya from Karna’s pov or the other malayalam master work from Draupadi’s point of view. Likely, half the time I’ll be fielding questions on the order of ‘But you were the one who said in your Bhim that…’ 🙂

        • Prem, I never suggested that your version or MTV’s version shouldn’t co-exist, only my preference for the conventional narrative. Had I been so impudent, I would not be following your episodes with such eagerness (speaking of which, I probably broke my blogosphere hibernation today, which must have lasted at least 6 months :))

          The other point, if it was drowned in between my rambling thoughts was that the Mahabharat, in its conventional/pristine form alone is a treasure trove of thematic depth, plot, character-driven narrative and so on. By adding a few character motivations here and subtracting a few there, it probably takes away the focus from the intrinsic merit of the story, of which there is enough to expand till the cows come home.

          I like “complexity” in stories as much as anyone else — character motivations, the humanizing of heroes, the concept of “duality” and so on. It serves as good fodder for the brain, but what I see here, and I mean no offense whatsoever, is a filtering of the story, where the filter is defined by the mores/conventions of present day society! I happen to like the conventional, the more “fanciful” version if you will, simply because I was and still continue to be in awe of its thematic richness. If additions were done to the original narrative and imagination stretched to the limit, I say it’s as good an example of imagination as we’ve seen — perhaps since time immemorial.

          • Oh, I agree with all of that — I am an epic freak, and the Mahabharat remains my favorite of all time. And strangely, I haven’t attempted to use any contemporary filters in this retelling.

            MT makes a point, when he says he has neither added to nor taken away from the original storyline of the Mahabharat, as set out in Jayam. I have, he said, only tried at times to expand on the silences [come to think of it, one such is coming up I think next week 🙂

            When you think of this version, it might help not to think of the conventional narrative, from which it draws nothing, but to see it more as being sourced in that original, now largely lost, first critical edition of the epic.

            Incidentally, a few people on here have already mentioned this book — but you might want to try reading Yuganta, by Irawati Karve. I did over the weekend. Brilliant.

    • The fact that Yudhishtra marries Draupadi by itself (not going into whether he tried to influence Kunti or his other brothers) is not a righteous act. Again, when Draupadi, his wife, pleads with Y (being Virata’s confidante) to save her honor from Keechaka, his silence betrays his righteousness. The thought of spending another 13 years in the forest won over his sense of righteousness in that instance. Add these two to the war incidents (Dhrona’s and Karna’s death) and you have enough material from the conventional version to question his character. The Arjuna-Yudhishtra war of words in the middle of the war is also part of the conventional narrative and it shows the kind of contempt Arjuna has towards his elder brother for coveting Draupadi and manipulating their mother to succeed in his scheme. If Arjuna had feelings of contempt towards Y, why is it hard to accept Bhim having similar feelings towards his elder brother?

      • Prem,
        Thanks first of all for allowing us in having a wonderful discussion on Mahabrarata.

        IOI also have a similar question as Kalki.

        I mean I do not get a sense of bondedness that must have been present between the pandavas from your writing. (Maybe I have missed it out)
        Without a sense of affection towards each other, it would have been impossible for them to stick together through out their life.

        Having fight between brothers is understandable, as it is bound to happen. But I do not see instances of where Bhim show genuine affection towards his brothers.
        I think there was an admiration of Arjuna’s prowess, and one instance of recognition of administrative capablities of Nakula and sahadeva.

        But other than that Bhim comes up as pretty much an introvert.

        May be the conventional narrative itself does not have this kind of show of affection.

        My basic query is what keeps the pandavas together during to the extent that they are always united even under duress.

        My apologies if I had missed something obvious.


        • There is as much bonding here as there is in the conventional narrative. Maybe more. The Mahabharat as I recall it does present the picture of five brothers united by purpose, but there is nothing in there of the brothers bonding as we would today.

          Here, there is actually more — as witness for instance the many references to B and A practicing together, discussing things together, etc. N and S would be a unit, with complementary skills. And typically in a joint family, the patriarch — which here would be Y — did not mix too closely with those below him in the hierarchy, not out of pride but because that distance had to be maintained in order to be able to take the hard decisions that sometimes become necessary.

          What keeps them together? The concept of family, of brothers united against the fates. Often, that is all there is. Tough to understand, perhaps — but then I’ve looked at husbands and wives who fight bitterly all the time, and wondered what on earth keeps them together.

          The other adhesive is the mother, who has always gone the extra mile – up to and including ensuring that the brothers shared a wife — to ensure that nothing breaks them up.

          Actually, there is in some narratives a dialog between Karna and Duryodhana, where the latter talks of strategically creating rifts between the sons of Kunti and Madri, and Karna tells him, forget it, Kunti ensured nothing of the kind would happen when she got Draupadi married to all five.

          There is that link, there is self-interest, the feeling of family that is heightened by the fact that they are surrounded by dangers… plenty of adhesives, without the need for bonding as we understand it.

        • Here is my two cents about the question of no bonding between Bhim and Yudhisthar or actually lack of show of bonding between B and Y, how many time it happens that when you expect somebody to be good at something, you don’t really show your appreciation that easily. Arjun, Nakul and Sahadev, being the younger ones, B sees them growing in front of him, sees them coming leaps and bounds. But for Y who was always supposed to be good leader and future king, anything he does is taken in that context and never really appreciated that much. B did appreciate Y when he notice that the way he builds the spy network while in Vanvas so its not that he doesn’t appreciate his brother’s skill at being his King, however he can be at best be said guilty of taking him for granted when it comes to be the Man to lead in the peace time.

          On a separate note, I think the real crux of this Narrative as Prem has also pointed out before is that somewhere in the conventional narrative, B was not given its due. He along with Arjuna was the strength of Pandavas and it was always A who was considered a Hero. B the loaner and real hero who never got it his due is the central theme and the hitting point.

          • The analogy I draw between Bhim and Yudishitir is one which you typically in a “india” classroom. In Indian classrooms one always had a awe and appreciation for the academically brilliant (as the society values it more) vs. the athletic variety. The athletic variety (once labeled such) could never be academically brilliant and once in a while academic brilliance from the athletic kind is looked at by suspicion or labeled “fluke”

            I would venture the same dynamic is going on here, Y becuase of his constant association with gurus held that “academically brilliant” stature and Bhim was the athletic kind.

            My 2cents!

  7. Actually, I was expecting Bhim to hit below the belt – and by that I meant not on the thigh but on the loins or the pubes. That I felt was probably Bhim’s punishment to Duryodhana for all the injustices meted out to Druapadi, disrobing her, asking her to accept him as yet another man in her life in addition to the existing five, etc. The hit below the belt to have constantly been berated by Duryodhana all his life that he was born to an impotent father; for Duryodhana to also have doubted Bhim’s potency.

    I did not mind much about Krishna’s involvement in the decision making – you could have taken both options. Personally, I believe this was closer to the truth as it would have been difficult for Bhim to have heard/seen Krishna referring to Duryodhana’s thigh.

    Also, hitting below the belt in a one-to-one combat even if it is war, was probably not on as per the Yudha Dharma. Many rules were broken and this was just one more. And Yudhishtra would have felt that it was probably not required at this stage of the war given that the war was more or less won with only Duryodhana left.

    • You know, all these notions of dharma and adharma miss one point: we are talking of human beings, not automatons.

      Here is a man who for 13 years has been the first and only port of safety for his family; a man who for 17 days has fronted the war effort, playing the lightning rod and making himself the prime target for the combined might of the Kauravas. A man who when the family wanted him to gave up the first woman he ever loved; a man who always put his comforts second to the needs of his mother and brothers; a man who systematically destroys the enemies that have plagued his family.

      The last, deadliest enemy is before him. He has had through presence of mind had to divert a potential disaster his elder brother caused by issuing a generic challenge [which incidentally is no creation of mine, but is from the conventional narrative], he is fighting for life against a highly skilled enemy, and he finally overcomes that enemy. If I were him, I’d look for acknowledgment, for a smattering of applause, or at least a kind word — when instead he is greeted with condemnation, he is entitled as a human being to question it; in fact, he would be inhuman if he did not.

      Y can sit on the sidelines and say it was probably not necessary to kill D — like he did earlier with say Jayadratha. Not that I have fought a war, but I would think if there is one thing a person cannot and will not be in the heat of battle, it is philosophical, or rational even.

      • True – the least his brothers could have done is to applaud his effort, closed ranks and defend him against Balarama’s verbal assault. The famed Pandava unity has cracked in this point? Kunti’s purpose of the common wedding is defeated, I would think. They have lived in exile and managed to keep their sense of purpose. Now when their enemy is down, they cannot help bickering about the method?

        As mentioned by Vineet, after winning the biggest battle of his life, Bhim finds himself all alone. Tough to imagine what Y and Balarama want here?

        Does Bhim ever turn around and put Y in his place, given that he knows he has done singlehandedly done most of the hard work, without ever reacting like, say Arjuna has. Probably not at this point of time, but later perhaps?

        • No, one of the characteristics of Bhim is that no matter how much he disagrees, he will never ever publicly challenge his brother’s will, or question his decisions.

          Actually, I was thinking while responding to the questions about Bhim and his contempt for his brother, which supposedly contrasts with the conventional narrative: wouldn’t that be the narrative where Bhim asks Sahadeva to bring him fire, so he can burn his elder brother’s hand for having staked all on the dice?

          • Bhim asking Sahadeva to bring him fire – was the imagination of Mahakavi Subramanya Bharati in his Panjali Sabatham (Tamil). Not sure if it was part of the conventional narrative.

  8. Balaram’s out-of-the-blue appearance just as Duryodhana and Bhim are readying themselves to fight each other was a tad dramatic and too much of a coincidence to be believed. I guess you chose to stick to the accepted story in this instance.

    • Yeah, more or less — Balarama would for all his wanting to stay away have kept abreast of what was happening, and likely decided to return once the result of the war became apparent. That he lands up there just when these two square up is an accident of timing I thought about, and figured I could live with. Besides, it is Balarama’s strictures that really angers Bhim, so his presence at the venue was more or less mandatory — more so, because I wanted to explore his state of mind after his final battle, and it would have been harder to do without some strong emotional prod; defeating D would have brought relief and a touch of weariness, but not the overpowering angst that comes from being so totally misunderstood.

  9. Prem,
    Good job,though was quite abrupt.Wanted to read how you would depict Krishna indicating to Bhima through twigs how to end Duryodhana,but you made it all of Bhim’s doing.Will you address the final walk to heaven with the dog?Would like to see Bhim’s perspective when he falls down.Waiting to read the forthcoming episodes

    • I didn’t go anywhere near that whole Krishna with the twig thing quite deliberately.

      I don’t see the logic in this below the belt business — that is more suited to stylized combat than to war, and to my way of thinking, the subsequent extrapolation of storytellers with their heads in the romantic clouds and their feet not too grounded in the realities of war.

      • If you see both Mahabharat and Ramayana have stylised combat interspersed with war! that’s what makes these stories ever lasting and evokes romance.Whether it’s the 10 heads of Ravan ,the laxman rekha or below the belt Duryodhana or the eclipse created by krishna to end jayadratha-logic has to be put on the backburner.In case of mahabharat- what it shows is inspite of the 5 pandavs it was Krishna who made all the difference,and as Balaram says it was Duryodhana who was more skilled-but maybe Bhima who was hungrier for revenge and victory.Again your viewpoint and depiction-but if logic was the keystone-Karna couldn’t have been concieved!

          • Prem,let us hear what naughty thoughts you have about Karna being Conceived?Adultery/Artificial insemination…
            On a lighter note-Infants don’t enjoy infancy as much as Adults enjoy Adultery !

        • As to the other bit, about Krishna’s omniscient role in the Mahabharat, that is not what Jayam or even Bharatam says — that was a later addition, with the epic itself being recast primarily as a showcase for Krishna as the Vasudeva of the age. Not dissing it, that is the epic as it stands and I am fine with that — but there have been even earlier versions that detail all these events without however leaning on Krishna to make every single thing happen.

          • this is one thing I don’t get about it. I am well aware of the historical sense of the way mahabharata developed, but what I don’t get is why Krishna became a GOD and not one of the pandavas? this historical narrative and also your narrative seem to characterize Krishna somewhat along the lines of Chanakya, but people almost forgot chanakya but Krishan becomes a GOD. not sure why that happened from a historical perspective. are we missing some pieces from history?

    • Oh sorry, forgot the other bit. I haven’t yet figured out where to end this thing and how, but I suspect I need the walk to heaven. MT in the original uses it as his prologue; when I started doing this version I skipped that and went straight to the kids appearing before the gates of Hastinapura; now I’m thinking I might circle back to MT’s beginning, and use that as my own ending. Will see how it plays out in the mind 🙂

      • Isn’t the walk to the heavens too much of a fantasy. It could have been a pilgrimage all of them were undertaking which ended in disaster.

    • Krishna depicting with the twigs is when Bhima is battling Jarasandha, not Duryodhana. According the the “accepted” version, Jarasandha was torn apart and stitched back together by his mother (or someone else) when young. Hence, when Bhim also does the same to him, the two pieces of his body come back together to form a whole body again. That is when Krishna splits the twig and throws the two pieces in the opposite direction.

      Remembered another interesting piece: Only one of the following were destined to live a full life – Bhima, Duryodhana, Jarasandha, Keechaka and Bakasura.

      • Yeah, but if I remember right, when B and D are battling, K points at the thigh to remind B of some vulnerability. Not too sure of the details without cross checking, but I figured I’m not going anywhere close to reading the conventional narrative while trying to write this one — can get too tempting to take stuff from there and reinterpret here. 🙂

        • Right. Krishna slaps his thigh while cheering Bhima, which was also meant as a reminder to Bhima about his vow of breaking Duryodhana’s thigh.

        • In the BR Chopra version, on the night before the battle with Bhima Duryodana is summoned by Gandhari. She plans to make his entire body invulnerable by just looking at him using her “visual power” accumulated over the years of blindfolding.

          When D is on his way to meet G, Krishna meets him on the way and asks him if he is not ashamed to stand naked in front of his mother and coerces him to wear a loin-cloth at least. So when G sees D, she makes all his body parts immune to any attack except the ones covered by the loin-cloth.

          And during the battle Krishna points to B by slapping his own thigh.

          • An alternate version I have heard is that when Duryodhana was born he was dipped into a river with magial powers and he was held at his loins. Not sure if there exists a narrative depicting this

            • Yeah, sort of like Achilles being dipped in the Styx by his heel. I think in later years, there was considerable cross pollination.

  10. Nice episode. Great description of the nothingness Bhim feels now that his lifelong mission is over. Something made worse by therealisation that there are more enemies to be dealt with. Bhim’s life is depressing right now.

  11. Usually they finish the fight at the moment he is hit at below the belt but here the below the belt hit is used as a immobilizer which is followed by a crash… yes more logical (I’m almost positive it was your add-on)

    • Yeah — the battle scene was pretty much my thing. I was trying to visualize it like a stunt director would in a movie, and then write those images up. The blow to the ribs to finish off the challenge, the blow to the thigh as an inadvertent incident where B is looking to administer the coup de grace but D in twisting away from the blow gets it on his legs, and the final blow more aimed at Balarama than at D, is how I saw it.

  12. Waiting to see how Prem deals with Aswathama – knowing what Bhim does to his enemies (the way he crushes his kaurava cousins) he would definitely want to finish him off, come what may.

    • I dont think Aswathama dies. He is supposed to be a chiranjeevi (who never dies). From what I remember, in his duel with Arjuna, he and Arjuna tries to use bramhastra, then krishna (or somebody else) forces them to stop using it, as it would cause great destruction.
      Aswathama is unable to control his brahmastra and is humiliated. But he does not die.

      • Yes I have read that – it is Vyasa who stops them both (Arjun can recall the weapon but Aswathama cannot – it causes damage to Uthara’s son but Krishna gives him life again) and curses him to wander the earth without salvation. But I’m expecting a change in Prem’s narrative 🙂

      • Aswathama’s story is another instance of the cross pollination between the mahabharatha and the myths from the west. It is similar to Cane’s end in Old testament. Cain also lives forever and has a mark on his forehead so that no one will harm him.

    • Not at this point expecting to do too much with Ashwathama — I have some thoughts of bringing him briefly back in maybe in the next episode then keeping him for the very end, but as yet half-formed ideas, so will leave it to play itself out in time 🙂

  13. Another amazing episode. Usually we get to read / see the end of the war as a triumph for Pandavas with no window into the minds of the warriors.

    The battle was more realistic than the usual version seen on TV and supported by this wiki entry on Gandhari:
    “Gandhari made a single exception to her blindfolded state, when she removed her blindfold to see Duryodhana rendering his entire body except his loins invulnerable to any foe. This was however to prove fruitless as Bhima smashed Duryodhana’s thighs in their decisive encounter on the eighteenth day of the Kurukshetra battle, a move both literally and figuratively below the belt.”

    Your version is more believable.

    However, it is strange that none of the brothers chose to be with B even for a few minutes, specially since he was the one who had finished it all for them. It is not uncommon to have people seek the company of winners. In moments like these one feels if he really had someone close to him at all – except for Abhimanyu for a brief period.

    • Yes Mahabarat is not a typical “they lived happily ever after” – it gives details of what happened to each one of the warrior who took part in it including Krishna.

    • Yeah well — I can’t recall ever hearing of a man dying of a broken thigh, so this ‘rendering inviolate’ business seemed a tad silly, it is not as if the thigh is all that important a target, especially in war as opposed to more formalized exhibition-style combat. A more plausible reason for disagreement would be whether B was right or wrong to hit D when he was weaponless, is what I figured while trying to visualize how the battle could have played out.

      As for the brothers, N and S wouldn’t really count, nor would they have the confidence to side with B against the heavyweights. A in the heat of the moment would tend not to want to take sides between his brother on one hand and his best friend’s brother on the other — besides, unlike B who instinctively backs people he thinks are in the right, as for instance he did with Dhristadyumna after the killing of Drona, Arjuna never intervenes in such cases. He is a self-centered chappie — quick to sense his own hurts, but not as quick to sense those of the others.

  14. Regarding Y’s switching on and off of dharma, I think he is pretty consistent w.r.t dharma filtered through caste and clan. He does not consider Karna a Kshatriya, so he is ok with the way he was killed. He is not happy with the way Drona was killed, since he is a Brahmin. Again in the forest episodes, he lets go Jayadratha away but wants a tribal to be killed for laying hands on Draupadi. He gives more importance to the birth rather than the deeds of the person when it comes to right or wrong.

    Again my opinion, could be wrong.

    • Yeah, you are more or less on target. But that is precisely the problem if you try to set him up as the man who absolutely stands for truth and honor and sugar and spice and all things nice: for such, right and wrong should be absolutes; in fact, that is how he is described, but then it turns out prejudice guides his moral compass just as much as it does everyone else’s. Makes him human, admittedly, and that is not a bad thing. Trouble though is, Bhima is a black or white type of person, less casteist and more egalitarian than any of the others, and thus cannot understand people who make such fine distinctions.

  15. Engrossing and Excellent as usual. Is this the last episode? Are there more episodes to follow ? The last couple of sentences does seem to indicate that this is the end.

    • The last episode in the war segment — a few more to follow on post-war developments. I’d think a dozen tops more to go, give or take a couple.

  16. One qs. if Satyaki went with the other Pandavas into the forest to celebrate how did he end up dying with D and the Pandavas’ children?

    • Like I just said, was an error. 😦 Not because he was with Bhim so how could he die — Dhristadyumna was with Bhim too; some of them went back to camp, and Satyaki could have. Error not of improbability, but because Satyaki is one of the people who survives the war, and much later, it is his quarrel with Kritavarma that sets off a chain of events that ends in the destruction of the Yadava clan and the deaths of Krishna and Balarama. My bad.

  17. Prem,

    The narrative first says that Satyaki went to the forest along with the Pandavas and Krishna. Later, it says that Bhima puts down Satyaki in the list of dead. Is this just an error or is it meant to convey something else?


    • Sorry, Sriram and Vinayak — Satyaki in the list of the dead is an error, correcting it now. He dies along with the rest when Dwaraka collapses.

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