Bhimsen: Episode 71

[Episode 70] [Archives]

A chance meeting with two wandering rishis gave me the first news we had of our mother.

I was supervising the clearing of a large tract of forest on the outskirts of Hastinapura. Sahadeva wanted to create an enormous central cattle shed well away from the town and concentrate all our herds there – easier to protect and to focus on the breeding, he said.

I led a small band of our troops and a large group of wood workers in the task. The troops stayed alert against the chance that we might encounter militant tribals sheltering in the woods; the workers cut down the trees they needed for constructing the cattle sheds and adjoining buildings, had them towed by elephants, and burnt the rest.

The rishis wandered up while I was working with two elephants to haul away an enormous tree we had just felled. Our uncle, aunt and mother were doing well, they said. A large number of rishis, elderly Brahmins and sages had made their home in the vicinity; great-grandfather Krishna Dwaipayana had also joined them.

Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and our mother spent their mornings in prayer and penance and their afternoons and evenings in intense discussions on karma and dharma, on why we do the things we do and whether it is all part of pre-destiny or did we have any choice in the matter…

Yudhishtira sighed when, later that evening, I recounted my conversation with the rishis. “It’s been so long — maybe we should go, see how they are doing, inquire into their well-being,” he suggested.

“And we could try once more to persuade mother to come back with us,” Sahadevan suggested.

Yudhishtira shook his head. “She won’t ever come back, child,” he said. “But… you know, that day when she first told me she was going into the forest, we had a long talk. I was angry — I said things I shouldn’t have… harsh things, the kind of things no son should tell a mother. I need to see her again, to apologize, to tell her I understand things better now…”

We set out early next morning, Yudhishtira, Sahadeva and I.  Arjuna opted to stay behind — someone had to, he argued; what if there was some sudden emergency and no one here to deal with it?

He had over time reconciled to the war, to those we had killed and those we had lost, and had plunged into the task f recruiting and training fresh soldiers for our army. But his anger towards our mother still smoldered deep within him, like live coals under ash, and there seemed no point trying to persuade him to join us.

Nakula was away at the time, touring the kingdoms south of the Vindhyas. He had been gone for some months now. Every once in a while, groups of artisans would come to Hastinapura with messages from him – stone workers, wood workers, master jewelers who could work in gold and precious stones, master carvers, painters, experts in the design and construction of weapons…

One day, a group of dancers came to our court. They were adepts at a form of dance that, they said, had been first created by the founder of our race, Bharata. Yudhishtira was so entranced by their performance he showered gifts on them; Draupadi installed them in one of them outbuildings within the palace compound and persuaded them to teach the younger maids and the daughters of the townsfolk.

It was late in the afternoon when, following the directions the rishis had given me, we arrived at the ashram. Uncle Dhritarashtra made no attempt to hide his happiness as we paid due obeisance; tears streamed from those sightless eyes as he blessed each one of us. “My child, I am grateful you came to see me,” he told me as he laid his hand on my head in a gesture that was both benediction and caress.

Mother said nothing. She sat beside aunt Gandhari, watching and listening with a smile on her face as uncle Dhritarashtra asked about how the kingdom was faring, and gave Yudhishtira advice on various matters of statecraft.

It was quite a while before Yudhishtira finally managed to detach himself from Dhritarashtra and got a chance to ask after uncle Vidura. “He left the ashram several months ago,” our grandsire, who was seated next to mother, said. “He is in the forest not very far from here, immersed in intense penance.”

Yudhishtira decided to seek him out; I went with him while Sahadeva stayed behind to talk to mother. We walked a long way into the forest until finally we came upon a gigantic peepul tree.

We didn’t immediately recognize the man who lay stretched out on the ground under its shade. A wild, unkempt beard covered all of his face except his eyes; his ash-covered skin hung loose on a skeletal frame; his breathing came slow, labored.

Yudhishtira exclaimed in shock and rushed to prostrate himself. Uncle Vidura’s hand rose weakly in a vague gesture of benediction, then fell back at his side. His lips moved; Yudhishtira bent close to listen.

“Child, I think his time has come,” Yudhishtira said. “Quick, fetch some water.”

I raced through the forest, heedless of the brambles that scoured my skin, until I burst into a clearing beside a small lake. Fashioning a little cup out of a lotus leaf, I carried the water back to where I had left my brother, and found him sitting beside the still form of uncle Vidura, staring off into the distance.

He seemed not to be aware that I had returned. I touched him lightly on the shoulder. He looked up at me. “He is gone, child,” he said.

Taking the water from my hands, he wet uncle Vidura’s lips and then his own, sighed and, seemingly in a trance, walked away in the direction of the ashram. I followed.

It was only when the ashram came in sight that he stopped and turned to me. “I had meant to tell you this before, but somehow the time never seemed right,” he said. “Vidura was my father – my real father.”

I stared at my brother in stunned silence. He shook his head, and smiled wryly. “No, child,” he said, “there is nothing in this for you to get upset or angry about, or to blame our mother for. Our father was impotent, you know that – and the practice of niyoga, of our women accepting other men in order to produce children, is common among us kshtriyas.

“I had known for a long time that King Pandu was not our father but it is only that evening, when mother told me she was leaving us, that I learnt who my real father was.”

He walked towards the ashram. I watched him go, then turned and wandered aimlessly into the forest till I came to a little stream.

I drank deep, splashed cold water on my face and body, and stretched out on the grass by the stream. I lay there for a long time, eyes closed, listening to the gentle murmur of the water and the soft rustle of the wind in the trees, trying and failing to work up the will to get up, to go find my brothers.

Thoughts whirled through my mind like dead leaves in the evening breeze. Yudhishtira… Bhima… Arjuna… Nakula… Sahadeva… sons of Pandu, the balladeers called us, the Pandavas, children of a crowned king and rightful heirs to his kingdom… uncle Vidura is dead, my brother, his son, has a funeral to arrange, he will need my help, I should go… but is he my ‘uncle’?… what is Vidura to me, what is the word I must use to refer to the father of my brother?

I did not know how long I lay there.

The light touch of a hand brushing away my tears startled me. I sat up abruptly, and found mother beside me in the gathering dark.

“Go home, my child,” she said gently. “Your brothers have left. There is nothing here to sadden you, no reason for tears — go in peace.”

“Peace?!” I jumped to my feet and stood looking down at her. “Mother – please… I have made enough mistakes, committed enough crimes… At least now, tell me who we are, tell me who I really am…”

Mother sighed. She was silent for a long, long time. Her voice, when she finally spoke, startled me: it was not the harsh, emotionless tones I was so used to but the soft, gentle tones – or so it seemed to me – of a young girl…

“Your brother Karna – he really was the son of a charioteer, a suta,” she said.

It was too dark to see, and maybe it just my fancy, but I thought she was smiling. “He was the son of Kuntibhoja’s charioteer… young… handsome… glowing like the sun…

“It was a hard life, those years I spent as Durvasa’s servant, his slave… there was no one I could talk to, no one to share my pain – except him. He noticed. He was the only one who noticed my suffering. He tried, in many little ways, to help ease my burden; he spoke to me, he listened and when I couldn’t bear it any more, when grief overwhelmed me, he held me and let me cry…”

Mother seemed lost in the labyrinth of memories.

“When Kuntibhoja told me I was to marry Pandu of Hastinapura, I was overjoyed – finally, my years of slavery were coming to an end. I was to marry a king – not just any king, but the most famous king of the time. When he came to see me, to take me to Hastinapura – he was so tall, so strong, handsome like a god…

“And then…”

Mother’s voice became thin, reedy, drenched in tears. “He loved me, at first; we spoke of the child that would be born to us, the son who would inherit the kingdom… and then, over time he began coming to me less and less. It was all my fault, he told me, though I knew different – I had already had a child and, in my shame, abandoned him in the river…

“And then one day my maid came to me, weeping, to tell me my husband had gone to Madra to marry… She was so beautiful, your cheriyamma, Madri… I watched while they greeted her at the palace gates with the traditional aarti – I should have been the one doing that, but — I was in their eyes a barren woman, inauspicious…”

The silence stretched interminably, until I felt I would burst. “Mother…?”

“It took a while for the king to realize the problem was with him, that he was impotent. No one could know, he said when he came to tell us he had decided to go into the forest. We must get children, he told us, while we were away from the kingdom — the succession needed to be secured.

“It is the fate of the Kuru women, my son – to the men of Hastinapura we are nothing but a vessel for bearing heirs. Look at you with Hidimbi, with Balandhara…. Look at Arjuna, that dearest child of mine who today cannot bring himself to look me in the face — how many women has he married and bedded and left behind full with child, without a thought, without a backward glance?”

“My eldest child would be born to rule — and a king has above all to be wise, compassionate, just, schooled in the ways of dharma. In your father’s brother I found just such a man – the incarnation of all that was good and just. I took him to my bed and Yudhishtira was born – the son, I told Pandu, of Yama, the god of Dharma and of Death…”

“And I, mother? Who was my father?”

Slowly, painfully, she rose to her feet, walked away from me and stood on the banks of the stream, looking out into the darkness. When she spoke again, it was a whisper in the wind.

“A king needs someone at his side he can trust with his life, someone strong beyond belief, unshakeable in his loyalty… someone, I used to think as I bathed in the Ganga each morning,  like Vayu, the god who wanders the earth with the seven winds on a leash.

“I prayed. For many many days and nights, I prayed with all my heart.”

Afraid to break the spell with some sudden movement, afraid to miss a word, I inched closer to where she stood.

“The king was besotted with your cheriyamma, with Madri who I called my younger sister. There was nothing for me in that lodge once my work for the day was done. I took to spending all my time in the forest looking for flowers, herbs – anything, any excuse that kept me away from them. One day I wandered deep into the forest, too lost in thought to notice the skies darkening, to see the approach of the storm till it burst around me in all its fury.

“He burst from the trees like a whirlwind… this tribal, tall and dark and powerful beyond belief… he came upon me as I cowered beneath a tree, sheltering from the storm, and without a word he grabbed me and he threw me down on the ground and he took me and when he was done with me, he left me there in the mud, his smell on me and his seed in me…”

Obeying some impulse I did not understand, I fell at mother’s feet and lay there for an eternity, chest heaving with a sadness without end.

At some point in the night, I sat up and looked around.

She was gone.

92 thoughts on “Bhimsen: Episode 71

  1. One of the versions I read about the origins of Pandavas was Pandu goes to Forests to meet a tribe called Devas ..
    The King of the Deva Tribe has niyoga with Kunti .. as per the custom to beget Y
    But the Army Commander who is a very strong and powerful person, falls in love with Kunti and begets B …

    The King’s Brother is a very handsome man and Kunti falls in love with him to beget A

    The Royal Physician then sleeps with Madri to have the N & S …

    Just another version of the same .. which I kind of bought into ..
    The fact that B was a child without Kunti’s consent is a little too much for me to accept ..
    Sorry Prem, this is the first time I have add issues with your brilliant series …

  2. Prem,

    Cant help but notice someone description of Vaayu – “strong beyond belief, unshakeable in his loyalty”;
    Why does “Unshakeable in Loyalty” adjective apply to Vaayu? How can a force which can shake anything in the universe, be described as unshakeable?

    Apart from that glitch, Brilliant stuff! I dont know Kannada so I might never know fully, but just wondering how much of this is MT’s brilliance in capturing finer points in humanizing mythology and how much your narrative genius in creating this bewitching tale. The right answer is somewhere in the middle I guess.

    • Precisely because the force can shake anything in the universe, but always keeps itself in check and is always subservient to the leader — Vayu does not wreck mayhem on his own account, but only and always at the behest of Indra — though you could argue that Vayu is as strong, as capable of wholesale destruction, as Indra, perhaps even more. Just as Bhim could have wrecked devastation at any point, won a kingdom for himself at any point if he so desired, but always kept his power on a leash, and used it as his natural leader, his elder brother, willed. Hence, “unshakable in loyalty”.

  3. Prem,
    I understand that the story of Vidura fathering Yudhishtir has been mentioned by other authors before. Is the Bheem story created by you, or have you based it on something that you read earlier ?

    Now I am kinda curious about who Arjun’s father might be (I know its out of context). If Vidur showed extra love for Yudhisthir, Drona showed a lot of love for Arjun ….ofcourse by conventional narratives, Drona was introduced to the Kuru princes only when they were young adults ….but just wondering. If Arjuna was ideed another result of voluntary niyoga, he must have been sired by a man known to be a peerless warrior at that time.

    • I’m not getting into the parentage of Arjuna and others, Dibyo — I have at all times kept the narrative focused tightly on Bhim, and here the spine of the narrative is the protagonist’s desperate desire to know his identity. That revelation has to logically end the episode — Bhim at that point is hardly likely to be in the inquisitive mindset of the outsider who goes, righto, then, tell me who you bedded for the third son.

      The version is a creation of MT in a sense, and me in another. MT’s version, which I went back to last evening after reading some of the disagreement on here, says something like “He came out of the forest like a whirlwind”… and leaves it at that.

      It could be, he came like a whirlwind, I felt passionate towards this man who was like an elemental force, and we made love. He leaves that to your imagination.

      I elaborated; I imagined the back story with Pandu and Madri [based on the hints the original epic leaves you, about how Pandu preferred his younger, more beautiful wife], I imagined the man coming out of the forest, chancing on this woman, and taking her in a storm burst of passion. Did she acquiesce, albeit passively? Did she resist? Or did she too succumb to the drive of the moment? I don’t know, I didn’t go there — I merely said, through Kunti, that he came, and he took her [which permits any of the above three interpretations, though the preferred one for the readers appears to be forcible rape].

      • Agree completely, I was wondering if you could throw some light on Arjun’s dad in the comments section and not the story.

      • I reread this portion from Randamoozham. What I noticed was, when Kunti says he came out of the forest… the word she uses for he is “Adheham”, (which is respectful, similar to Voh(?) in Hindi, used to address Kings, husband, etc.). So i guess this precludes rape in MTs version. But then how you interpret the original is upto you, and I respect your right to do that.

  4. Now we have shifted completely from a retelling to a different version. May be it should not be called the mahabharata then. Its simply just a different story.

    • Eh? this is *not* called Mahabharata — it is Bhimsen. It does not purport to be a retelling of the Mahabharata as you know it, it sets out to be a narration of certain events, as seen and understood by a particular character. So, yeah, it *is* a different story.

  5. Lovely Episode, as comparable to the mild economic issues faced after a war which was illustrated in the previous episodes.

    The idea of Yudhistir and Vidura being so similar in terms of approach and qualities is something for which a rational logic being identified is something which I loved…Thanks for bringing it out in this interpretation.

    Are you planning to bring about the decline of Yadavas and Krishna and their impact on Bhimsen and his brothers ?

  6. Ok, I re-read the episode again (Yes, am addicted.!). I knew what was bothering me first time I read that V is the father of Y. In my mind, this started making an immediate association that B must then be son of Dhiruthashtra..!!! Why? Because in several of the episodes B keeps saying that D is as big as him (or bigger?).

    My Conspiracy theory: Did Kunti not say to B his actual father because B would not have been emotonally mature like Y? Ok, I am hallucinating now.

    • Ditto here. I had the ‘uncomfortable’ feeling that it could turn out be Dhritrashtra despite no evidence in that direction.

        • Indeed, that’s why I said there was no evidence in that direction. Dhri’s relation with Bhim was also *special* in a sort of way. As for Arjuna – could it be Drona, I was thinking.

        • Granted. But not being in the forest with his brother does not preclude coming there for a visit etc.! 🙂 Also did I miss the fact that Vidura was also in the forest with Pandu?

  7. Yudhishtra addressing Bhima as “Child” is getting on my nerves. It sounds both unnatural and slightly irritating considering their age. I know Y being eldest male in the family has fatherly affections towards his younger brothers but calling Bhima who is only a couple of years younger as child doesn’t seem to gel. If it were Nakula or Sahadeva who are addressed as such it won’t seem so bad. Don’t laugh, just my thoughts. :))

    • It would stem from the fact that in such societies, the eldest brother took on the role of the father to the younger ones, especially after the father was dead.

      Talk of getting on nerves — centuries after the period of these events, my father behaved almost exactly that way, even to the point of calling them ‘son’, with his younger brothers — the eldest of whom was just four years younger.

      Maybe a result of said father, when he was 17, abandoning school and going to work so he could contribute to the upbringing of his siblings.

  8. Okay folks, leaving office now, have some stuff to do outside that will keep me away till late tomorrow afternoon/evening. Will check back for your comments when I get back; for the duration, off blog. Be well.

  9. Must say I am quite disappointed with this episode. The Niyoga process did not allow for indiscriminate sex. It involved a careful selection of the partner.

    And to make Bhim the son born from a rape, and that too by an unknown person! hmm – cannot buy that!

    Very unconvincing!

    • Niyoga involved the woman choosing her partner, yes, which she points out when it comes to the conception of Karna and Yudhishtira.

      ‘Cannot buy that’ is fair enough — there is always the accepted version, that she recited a prayer and Vayu came down and impregnated her, mate, no issues 🙂

      The problem likely is, Bhim is the protagonist, the hero, how COULD you possibly have such an origin for him? Yes well, my argument would be, deeds determine a person’s place in history, not his conception. Incidentally, by today’s moral standards Karna would be a bastard born of statutory rape of a minor. So?

      • My argument was not because of this reason. It was based on Kunti character – that comes across a strong, fiercely determined and resolute woman. I cannot think such a woman to fall prey to a mindless act of violence.

        • No wait a bit — like I said elsewhere, I can understand your objections, but not if you base them on the theory that a strong willed woman is ipso facto immune to rape. Then and now, women no matter how strong of will can be and are violated.

      • also, I may be getting very technical here. but the practice of Niyoga has to be a lot more scientific than just a woman choosing some male and bedding him to get a child. The process, if I remember from what I have read about it, is to choose a man capable of fathering. This in itself would have been a fairly laborious process. Once such a man is chosen, then you have to choose an appropriate time for the two to get together. It is not possible that a woman gets impregnated at just the first hint of these guys getting into bed. For all I understand, it could have been multiple attempt in one or two ovulation cycles to get the lady impregnated.

        So, making it a rape from a random tribal in a forest and the lady getting pregnant – seems a bit too filmy! Like the hero’s sister getting into bed one night with the villain and a month or so later…..the mom asking pertinent questions on seeing the girl throw up!

        Not trying to be sarcastic here, Prem, but the rape thing just does not gel well with my understanding of the process.

        • Nor am I trying to be sarcastic, mate, but to my personal knowledge I know of two women impregnated through rape — one of whom was related to me, and who committed suicide at the age of 17. So I’d have a tough time accepting that part of your argument that a one night stand cannot lead to conception. It might recall to your mind various Hindi movie tropes, but to reject it on those grounds is akin to rejecting a newspaper report about a corrupt politician who orders a killing, on the grounds that it too closely resembles the roles of the late Amrish Puri.

          As for Niyoga, I will confess that the only parts of the concept I have some notion of are what has been detailed here and in earlier conversations — the mechanics of it, the number of liaisons, time of month they occurred, what happened if despite all that the woman just didn’t get impregnated — didn’t find too much about all of that.

          But I’d point one thing out: in the conventional version, where is there any mention of Krishna Dwaipayana repeatedly bedding Ambika and Ambalika? He goes to Ambika, she shuts her eyes, he does his stuff, she gets knocked up. Ditto with Ambalika, only she keeps her eyes open but turns pale. Or are we to believe he repeatedly went to them and they shut their eyes or turned chameleon as repeatedly? If there is no issue with accepting that the patriarch impregnated both widows with one attempt each, why is it not possible that Kunti could get knocked up by one chance encounter in the forest?

          Incidentally, I don’t have kids so maybe I shouldn’t be the one talking of all this, but my belief was the chances of getting pregnant are not based on whether the act itself is born of love, of lust or of violence, but more based on the right timing for the woman.

    • Oh btw, about “careful choice of partner” — presumably Krishna Dwaipayana was the best man available in the Kuru kingdom at the time, when Vichitravirya died? And when he goes to the bedroom of the two widows in turn to impregnate them, and they recoil in horror but he impregnates them anyway — does that spell ‘rape’?

      • hmmm….point! 🙂

        Maybe they did recoil in horror. Or maybe, they were not prepared to be part of this Niyoga ritual that was forced on them by Satyavati! Either way, it amounts to rape, yes!

        but then it was a procedure followed. Not a blind rape when the woman walks down a deserted lane or pathway in a forest.

        And given that Kunti till now has been shown as a forceful woman, a woman of conviction, I would have preferred to see her pick and choose her mates.

        In fact, is that boon not about this always? She observes penance on a God and chants the mantra and lo! The God appears in front of her to grant her the boon of a child!

        So, I would have preferred a narration that sticks to this fact – that Kunti chose her mate and that she gave this option to Madri as well.

        • Yeah, mate, and that option exists — in what we have been referring to as the *conventional narrative*.

          Let’s not get into boon territory. In this form, where children are born through more normal means, there is nothing for Kunti to *pass on* to Madri, except perhaps some know how in how to manage the required privacy. 🙂 So that is out.

          More broadly, a leitmotif of the Kunti story is that very, very rarely is she given the opportunity to make her own choices. She is a princess, but is given away as a gift to a fellow king, who then passes her on to a *sage* in return for a favor [the gift of children, whatever]. At no point is her consent sought. Her marriage is fixed; she has no choice. Her husband believes her barren and decides to marry again; again, she has no choice. And when that doesn’t work, her husband abdicates the kingdom, and demands that the wives produce children.

          The only time she acted of free will was in deciding the identity of the father of her eldest born — which would explain, if you stop to think about it, her single minded obsession with seeing that child on the throne of Hastinapura [even to the point of flat out telling her second born that he is not good enough to rule].

          I don’t deny that a less *objectionable* means of conception would gain wider acceptance, but then — and I don’t mean this disrespectfully — while crafting this, I tried to stay true to a narrative I saw in my head, without considering how high it would score in a popularity contest. A plus being, I remember at some point when younger rejecting various elements of the *conventional* version, reading other versions, etc. In similar vein, if reading this prompts some people at least to rethink this option and use their imagination/researches/whatever to come up with alternatives, so much the better.

    • Same sentiments.

      Think Kunti being impregnated by a nishada/hunk for a strong son would have been more convincing, IMO.

      But then, as Prem always says, this is his take and this also could have happened. Just that there was nothing in Prem’s narrative earlier to justify this version. Not sure, what, maybe a sentence or silence somewhere.


      • Yeah, I could have had Kunti make the conscious choice of being impregnated by a tribal, even made a social point about her thus defying the conventions of the age and bedding a suta and a tribal at various times. Nothing I read led me to think there was conscious choice; MT doesn’t go there either though he prefers to imply rather than state along the lines of my narrative — so, saw no real reason to come up with a narrative where Kunti while in the forest sees this tribal hulk, and goes out of her way to seduce him. I can accept that such an origin for the protagonist can jar the sensibilities, but that is fine too — this is one version, and there is freedom for many other imaginings.

        • In MT’s version (this is from my memory, so apologies if I am wrong), Kunti says to Bhim is “What King then wanted was a strong man (Mahabalavan)…” and then a description of how a strong tribal came in from the forest like wind to impregnate her.

          I had always assumed that by word King she meant Pandu, but you have a different interpretation of that sentence.

          • I didn’t read the book recently, but from my memory of a fairly immersive reading before I started it, that is pretty much what MT does. He doesn’t suggest deliberate choice — just that a tribal stormed out of the forest and impregnated her.

            About the second part — if memory serves, immediately before that Kunti tells Bhim that a king needs to be wise, scholarly, versed in the vedas and shastras, and therefore she chose the embodiment of those qualities, Vidura, to impregnate her. It would I thought then follow that when she says the king needs a strong right hand, she would be referring to the king she had created, not the one she was wedded to.

            • Fair point.

              But this set me thinking in another direction. Please bear with me.

              If Pandu had gone to the forest, so that he could get a heir when away from the Kingdom, why would he not return after Yudhishtira was born? If all was well, then Pandu could have returned as King and Yudhishtira would have been his successor.

              Why then spend time indefinitely in the forest (or till death). Yudhishtira was six when they returned to Hastinapura. So they should have been in the forest for atleast seven years. Nowhere is it suggested that Pandu was exiled, then why would he remain in forest, thus diluting his sons claim to the throne?

            • Per conventional narration, Pandu gets vexed with his inability and hence goes to the forest indefinitely. He tells Dhritarashtra that he will return when he feels good about ruling again. So, it was not just to get kids who will be heirs to his throne, but in general to get over his frustrations/depression.

            • You could postulate a dozen different reasons. Firstly, the practical — if out of the blue he quit, went to the forest, came back a year later with a heir, he might as well stick a sign on his forehead no?

              More to the point, it could be the emotionally shattering knowledge of his impotence that drives him to avoid the company of his peers, at least until he recovers enough equilibrium. In the event, he dies before that happens, but he didn’t bargain on that.

    • One slightly unrelated query on Niyoga: The practice almost guarantees to lead to a son always!! All the instances (Dhritrashtra, Pandu, Vidur, 5 Pandavas) have led to a son. Given that the actual desire is to have an heir and hence son, thats a bit too much?

  10. Prem, Electric episode, really well crafted. But should warn you though, that what you wrote might be against the ideology of some party, Did you check all the party manifestos to make sure that you are not writing against their core beliefs? 🙂 Who knows, somebody could ban your blog in some state (Hmm, how does one ban a blog in one state?)

    • Yeah! *g* Actually the problem giving me nightmares is, it is against *everyone’s* ideology. Talk of blanket bans. 🙂

  11. Brilliant episode! Heart goes out to Bhim…”sadness without end”

    Prem, last episode had Kunti talking at length to Draupadi and then Draupadi cried…will you be explaining this bit in any of the future episodes?

    One small typo I noticed: “…the task f recruiting and training…”

    • Nope, I think not — I’ve tried to leave some stuff out there for your imagination. I could be wrong — but to my way of thinking, dotting every single i and crossing every t will result in tedium. You know Kunti and Draupadi through this narrative — not a particularly big stretch to imagine the kind of conversation they could have had, what they would have spoken of, the kind of emotionalism that could have reduced D to tears. Imagine for instance Kunti telling her of her own life — a royal princess, destined never to rule as queen. And thanks, mate

  12. what was the take on nature-nurture debate in those days? Was Y an incarnate of Dharma because he was the son of Vidura? Or was he learned because he was training to be the future king?

    • I am not sure there was any debate on blogs and in the pages of Cosmo on such issues then, mate. 🙂

      Seriously, I’d assume in Y’s case that it was a bit of both. Partly genes, but more to the point the fact that from when he was old enough to speak and to listen, he was reared in that kind of an environment, with learned men drilling the Vedas and concepts of karma and dharma into him, plus all his extensive interactions with the man he only later realizes is his father.

  13. God this is insanely good! Read your take, Prem, and as usual went back to MT and read the relevant bit in the original. For the umpteenth time, struck by the differences between the versions, and wondering why you chose to make the changes you do. I hate to keep bringing this up, but in me there is the hope that if you explain how you think something through and write it the way you do, I’ll learn something about this art.

    To MT’s version you add all those bits in the early part, about how the kingdom is being run. Fair enough, I suppose — it is actually a surprising omission in the original narrative. But MT after Vidura’s death has B and Y returning to the ashram and Dwaipayana explaining who Vidura is, the link between him and Dharma, and that whole thing where he tells the mourning Dhritarashtra, “Dharma is Vidura and Vidura is Yudhishtira — and when he stands before you with bowed head like your personal servant, what need is there to mourn?”

    You left that out. But then you added detail about the relationship between Kunti and Pandu and Madri. And at every step of my comparison I keep wondering why this, why not that? Overall, Prem, what MT does in this bit is brilliant — and what you’ve done is sheer genius. Share your thoughts, please on omissions and commissions, if it is not too much of a bother?

    • First up, I’d suggest that such point to point comparisons are unfair, both to me and to the original author — in this case, more to MT. He wrote in chapters, and when you do that it is with a sense of where the story begins in a particular chapter, what it includes, how it develops and where it ends — all of this while keeping his eye on the word count he is working towards.

      I don’t have word count issues, for starters, so I can expand or elaborate at will — so the fact that I brought in expository grafs about the running of the kingdom is because I have the freedom to do it, not because he didn’t have the ability.

      Yeah, there are two changes of some significance. The first is what you pointed out, about B and Y returning to camp and there being all that conversation, Y asking about the funeral, Dwaipayana saying it is unnecessary for yogis, and then the explanation about Dharma and all the rest of it.

      I left that out for two connected reasons: Firstly, all of that does nothing more than elaborate on what is already established or will be via Kunti — that Vidura was the most upright, learned man of the age and, in that sense, Dharma incarnate. And since that entire segment, which if I remember right is about five or six paras, doesn’t add substantially to the narrative, I took it out because it helps me tighten my pacing. The episode opens slow, continues slow through till the death of V — but once Y tells B that V is in fact his father, the intensity needs to escalate. MT chose to go downbeat for a bit and bring in all that stuff with Dwaipayana; I chose to leave it out and drive the story forward at pace, with the focus firmly on Bhim.

      The other bit about Kunti’s relations with Pandu is just straightforward exposition. Again, I have the space, so I could sketch a bit more back story where MT, again if I remember correctly, responds to Bhim by abruptly telling him of Karna’s father, of Vidura in a couple of lines and his own also quickly and tersely.

      What is worth keeping in mind is that formats can dictate to a large extent how you treat narrative. This episodic format gives me freedoms MT’s novel length treatment would likely not have given him — if I remember right, the book is, what, some 350 pages long in reasonably large type? My version would by this point likely be three, four times that big. So — have fun reading this and that in tandem, but I do believe that comparing the two is unfair, more to the original author than to me.

      • Thanks Prem — that was quick and detailed! And I didn’t mean to denigrate MT, incidentally — he has been and remains my favorite author in Malayalam. I was just struck by how much more electric I found this version, and that made me wonder about the changes you had made and whether they had contributed to the electricity and how. Again, thanks from me, the wife, the in laws, and various friends for doing this; it has provided endless, unlooked for joys.

  14. Definitely one of the best episodes!! After I was done reading, I realized that I had not moved an inch.

    Question though, is, how did Pandu accept Bhim as his own child?

    • Why would he not? The whole idea of heading into the forest was so the wives could conceive and deliver away from observation. His goal was children — he wouldn’t delve too much into who his wives slept with. Acceptance is an issue if the wife gets knocked up without the on-record father’s knowledge and consent. That doesn’t apply here — Pandu *wants* his wives to get themselves impregnated, and would have no inclination to sweat the details.

        • Nope. I think I mentioned in comments in an earlier episode — basically the wives picked who they slept with [though on occasion the choice was made for them, like in the case of Dwaipayana bedding Ambika and Ambalika at the behest of the queen mother] and, to make sure there were no problems between the husband and the others, cloaked the identity by naming some god.

  15. But doesnt this make B a bastard too (a la Karna)? I thought Niyoga required consent and careful selection in terms of equality of status, caste etc.

    • “Bastard” is a modern concept, a contemporary way of looking at issues of parentage. Back then, if the mother and father of record claimed a child, then that was it. You didn’t do DNA testing and go to court. Pandu wants his wives to produce children; how they do it is their own business as far as he is concerned and once born, he accepts them as his. End of debate. Niyoga did, from all that I can gather, involve some element of selection [kind of like we do today with artificial insemination, where parents chose the donors with some care]. So Kunti was very meticulous in picking out Vidura to father the son who would be king. But where Bhim is concerned, it happened, she got knocked up, what was she to do? She would rationalize, saying I was looking for someone strong and hoo boy, was that guy strong!

  16. amazing.. never heard about this before.. totally empathize with Kunti’s desire to see her kid on the throne.. she suffered enough for the sake of ‘Pandu’ having heirs.. sort of understand why she wanted Y in particular on the throne, looks like V was one she had some respect for.. was Vidura repenting or something? Why was he dying all alone? I thought they all die in a forest fire together? Do we all hear about A , N and S father’s too ?

    • I doubt V had anything to *repent* — death by such penance was fairly common in those days, and seen not so much as death as Yoga Nidra, a yogic trance where the body is left behind and the soul goes straight to heaven. And no, you don’t get to hear about the details of the conception of the others, see response below 🙂

    • Oh I’m not going there. In any case, Madri would know who the father of the twins was, but Kunti wouldn’t. More to the point, the focus is Bhima’s ongoing crisis of identity, and once that is resolved, to get into more detail is a narrative downer.

      • Prem,
        Yes, I agree that there is a line between gossip and cogency, and you have marked that line clearly in your mind, and don’t want to cross that line. I, for one, is thankful for that.

  17. Wonderful, Prem!
    and we keep thinking we always read the best episode!!!
    When is the book coming out ?
    And is the version captured here, even remotely mentioned elsewhere ?

    • There are hints here and there, in the two earlier versions. That Yudhishtira is the son of Vidura is more than hinted at — strongly suggested would be the right word. The rest is vague hints but no, nothing like this elsewhere — this is a fill in the blanks version, that takes suggestions and gives them a narrative.

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