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. Great series.
    Minor quibble:
    Impotent: Can’t get it up
    Sterile: Can’t produce offspring
    In Pandu’s case:
    It is conceivable 😉 for Pandu to not know he was sterile and thus blame Kunti for being barren, especially in those days.
    It is very difficult to imagine that Pandu didn’t know he was impotent. It was right there: If he was impotent, he couldn’t get it up!
    So you must be using ‘Impotent’ in the broader sense to mean ‘Sterile’?

  2. Prem,

    I remember reading that Arjuna had lots of wives and in turn lots of sons.

    II wonder what happened to them.

    As kunti says, the plight of all those wives (whom Arjuna spent probably a month and left them in lurch) is miserable.

    Life of a princess in those days could be a worser than that of a common women

  3. One more question that comes up – and thanks to a friend of mine who pointed it out to me.

    Early in this narration you come across this:

    “Uncle Vidura’s sons were supposed to join us for lessons, but they never came. ‘Good,’ Yudhishtira once told me when I asked, ‘They are sudras; they shouldn’t be seated with us kshatriyas anyway.’ He was a big one for that sort of thing, my elder brother, very conscious of who he was and who was inferior to him.”

    There was indication of how Yudhistra felt when he got to know that he was himself Vidura’s son. Does not Bhima note anything in Yudhistra? That he was the son of a Sudra himself would have been a bolt from the blue for someone like Yudhistra – someone who was big into who was superior and who was inferior to him. Wouldn’t Yudhistra then feel that he is inferior to Duryodhana and hence not the rightful heir to the Hastinapur throne actually? Will it not result in a huge conflict within Yudhistra that cannot be easily hidden under a quite and unassuming demeanor?

  4. Hi Prem

    I would love to read Mahabharta from the central woman prtogagonist’s, Draupdi’s, POV. The books that I read before on this: the palace of illusions, Yagnaseni were both disappointments. Both, well particularly the first, victimizes Draupadi thoroughly – Draupadi’s character I believe goes way beyond.


      • Hello Prem

        Hope that day is not too far after you finish Bhim. 🙂

        Mahabharat, as written, essentially narrates men’s stories, but there are several fascinating women in the backdrop (and unfortunately only n the backdrop). These women seem to be way ahead of their times. Take for example the friendship between Draupadi and Krishna, havnt seen anything remotely similar relation between a man and a woman depicted in literature of similar times or even the literature that extends to the middle ages, either in India or that of other countries (whatever limited I have read). Note that Draupadi never called Krishna her brother, father, and the likes, but just her friend. Again, think about Draupadi’s powerful arguments after the dice games, certainly an example of an independent woman with a powerful intellect and an even stronger will-power.

        Can’s wait to read your take on this character.


      • Bhimsen has been a joy to read. I have really appreciated your view of Bhim. The characterisation, perception (through Bhim’s limited POV in the broad scale of the MB) and all of his relationships with just about everyone is just awesome.

        I would love it if you could write from Draupadi’s POV since none of the current books on her (Yajnaseni, Palace of Illusions, etc) seems to do justice to her and almost all of them fall in to the Karna tangle (Draupadi/Karna nonsense).

  5. Prem,

    Let me just put my vote with a few people here who are not able to digest the kunti rape idea. Yes, it is possible. But is it the most likely scenario? When you are filling silences, I would expect that the silences are filled with the most likely events. You may have heard that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is probably the correct one. So if Bhim is the son of a tribal, it seems far more possible that he was somebody who used to come to Kunti’s ashram once in a while or perhaps regularly. And Kunti choosing him seems possible because as per your narration she has already conceived once with a charioteer.

    So perhaps this tribal was someone who supplied wood to the ashram. Or perhaps the doodhwala… 🙂 🙂

    • I do not agree with the Karna from Charioteer affair interpretation as well.

      This is how I interpreted. Again IMO – so Prem or others need not agree to this POV.

      Kunti has an affair with X and begets a son. Now as per the conventional narration, Karna was born with the kavacha-kundalam – kind of gifts from Surya. The way I looked at it, the dude who had an affair with Kunti was probably the prince/king and a mighty warrior who gifted the kavacha and kundalam to the son born of Kunti. While letting the child go in the river, Kunti made sure to wrap these gifts along with the baby. This actually allows her to identify Karna later during the graduation ceremony. 🙂

      It is not possible for this X to be a charioteer as a charioteer cannot gift such items. If you notice that in the epic, all 5 panadavas as well as Duryodhana take after their fathers with respect to character and valour. So Karna’s father should also have been a very skillful warrior.

      Similarly, on Bhimsen’s birth – that he was born to Vayu is a personification of a characteristic in the man who fathered him. It does not imply that someone came and forced Kunti like a whirlwind.

      The Vayu personification is to imply that the person can be an gentle as a breeze. But when kindled turn into a mighty hurricane capable of uprooting anything that comes in its way. Again, cannot relate this interpretation to the tribal-rape version of Prem’s.

      • Kalki, much of your objections are rooted in an attempt to reconcile the *conventional* narrative with this one — a problem I don’t have.

        The charioteer does not have to be rich enough to gift the earrings and armor; those are signals Kunti places with the baby at the time of abandoning it.

        As to people taking after their fathers, if you insist on that as an unshakeable rule, you remove from the equation the possibility that nurture has something to do with how you shape up. Besides, is it a mathematical equation that your genes come only from the male parent? Kunti was a kshatriya princess, strong, firm, determined, focused. Improbable that two of her children, Karna and Arjuna, could in their own ways have inherited those genes, and that environment determined the rest?

        Also, might help to remember that divisions weren’t as strong as you imagine them to be — Shalya was a brilliant warrior, but he was also a master charioteer. As was Krishna. As, in fact, was Bhima. Possible to imagine that kshatriyas demeaned themselves learning the craft of the lowly sutas, but not that someone of suta blood was upwardly mobile?

        No problem with disagreement, mind. I focus on telling the story my way, and leave it up to you guys to accept or reject.

        • When I mentioned that the Pandavas had taken after their respective fathers, I was referring to the way the characters were developed in the epic. I am not alluding to a genetic trait. Of course, it is possible that they took after their mother’s traits! Of course it is also possible that all 5 born out of such out of wedlock liaisons happened to be sons (and no daughters, which is another curious question that arises every now and then).

          Since the epic is written with this type of characterization, it is but natural to assume that Karna’s father was also of similar type. Was he a charioteer who was upwardly mobile? Maybe, but it does not seem to be the kind of narration that is seen in the epic. So look at it that way only for Karna seems to me as inconsistent.

          But more than that, what I find not entirely palatable is the rape part – as you had explained in your comments below. I would think that Kunti conceived out of her choice (that is where I alluded to in that boon – the boon is another euphemism for Kunti having the strenght and resolve to beget her sons out of wedlock but still stay firmly rooted and loyal to Pandu) and the concept of rape violates this basic characterization of Kunti.

    • The adverse reaction seems to be largely centered on the fact that *rape* is indigestible — where an affair with a tribal likely would be. Fair enough. A tribal could have been a regular visitor, Kunti could have seen in him a likely sperm donor, and gone with the flow.

      Equally, though, she could have had a chance encounter of the kind I described, and Bhim could have been born of that.

      The concept of a rape is, I can understand why, less easy to digest — but IMHO, not an improbable scenario. Besides, what the heck, it is ONE scenario. If it tempts/prompts your imagination into constructing alternates, so much the better.

      • The forced-impregnation is possibly to ‘explain’ any bias in the way Kunti treated this son of hers, any rejection/ fat-fooling/ overlooking Bhim felt he received from his mother.

      • Interesting post Prem, thoroughly enjoyed it. Infact this series has been making me think of each character separately.

        Thinking about Kunti, I’m wondering whether her own polyandrous relationship (fathers of K, Y, B & A and then Pandu himself) made her insist that Draupadi should have five husbands. Like ‘Saas’ like bahu, eh?


  6. nobody seem to notice that I predicted Y- Vidura angle in the previous weeks comments section. -:)

    As for this episode, I have one quarrel with prem’s version and by extension MT’s version. I like taking the original source version and analyzing it and coming up with some possibilities for the alleged super natural things in the epic, but still using the source material for hints/winks etc. IMO, it was an age which placed a lot of value on truth and dharma and people tried not to mess with truth too much, so in many instances we find the epic writers struggling to explain away contradictory stuff instead of denying the actual event. So, you won’t find a Vyasa or Valmiki twisting the entire event like killing of Vali or kunti’s niyoga or pandavas marrying draupadi etc., but they or their later followers try to explain it away in convoluted/divine terms. Inspite of these attempts at obfuscation, truth still comes out in many instances. I am much more interested in this analysis rather than coming up something like rape of kunti without any proof or supporting material. If bhim is indeed a result of rape, Vyasa would definitely have provided some clues couched in some elaborate word play, like giving descriptions of some bhim as someone more prone to lose control of senses owing to his origin etc. and leave it unexplained. Vyasa did have some clues regarding draupadi’s marriage ( Y in fact says for all these divine reasons and also because it is our family tradition), kunti’s niyoga, possibility of vidura fathering Y etc. There are enough clues in original to support such possibilities, but none whatsoever regarding kunti rape.

    I do not have any problem with people taking the original and taking liberties to twist it and retelling it but personally I am more fascinated with analysis of possibilities based on original rather than complete deviation unrelated to original, because personally, I truly believe that this epic is based on true history. It is almost impossible to come up with something as complicated as this thru thin air without some real happenings. Also, there are simply way too many locations all over India connected to mahabharata for this to be a pure fiction.

    I am also tending to now lean towards what someone said earlier regarding MT’s and Prem’s version i.e left leaning version. Prem’s version definitely seems to have lot of left leaning thought processes associated with it probably because of source material. Bhim, his tribal origins, his sympathy for tribals, complete downplaying of Krishna’s character etc. are probably products of kerala communism. I have no problems with stripping the epic completely of its supernatural things, I have no problems with stripping Krishna of his divine characteristics, but if a normal human being who played large role in a family fight is elevated to the status of GOD by people, he must hae done something extraordinary, something special dear to people. But, prem’s version seem to make him out to be nothing more than a scheming fellow who killed tribals without remorse. Personally, I see a strong possibility of the whole epic being a clash of dharma as interpreted by Bhisma and Krishna. Bhisma chose his selfish dharma without regard to the world at large and Krishna chose the greater good of the country even at the risk of losing his personal dharma and earning bad name and bad reputation. During those momentous days, it is impossible for Bhim to be so indifferent to Krishna and his form of dharma. Such small role for Krishna in MT’s version and by extension prem’s version is most probably because of left leanings.

    • Quickly, mate — I have no *left leanings*, and to the best of my knowledge, neither does MT. Neither, actually, does Vyasa, or Vaisampayana, who in their successive tellings of this story found no room for Krishna’s divinity to take a hand in proceedings. That got tagged on later, as Hindu theology gradually developed and built on the Vishnu avtaar concept — at the time the Mahabharat was set in, Hindu theology was largely centered on the concept of a *parliamentary* style pantheon presided over by Indra, with Surya and Vayu and Agni and the others as gods in charge of carefully calibrated portfolios. The trinity concept was born out of the thinking of later theologians.

      Rushed for time, so will keep the reply confined to the central point.

      • Actually, it was Krishna who made the switch from the Indra dominated concept of Gods to the concept of brahman! The Gita precisely addresses this.

        And, Krishna’s goading of people at Braindavan to not pray to Indra (and hence take on Indra’s wrath via the Govardhana mountain episode) is a direct result of this. Krishna’s philosophy took the concept away from individual task driven Gods to a single, monotheistic entity or the brahman.

        In that sense, the Mahabharata plays an important part and Krishna’s role is pretty significant.

        • Kalki, accepting every one of these arguments — may I point out for the nth time that we cannot sustain an argument if you are rooted in the conventional version and I am not?

          The Bhagavad Gita, with all its brilliant teachings, does not figure in early renditions of the story of the Kauravas and the Pandavas — that is pretty much the consensus of scholars.

          I therefore find it difficult to argue my interpretation of or rather MT’s interpretation of Krishna’s role. If this version was based on the most accepted form of the epic, the argument would have a point. It is not, as has been clear from the very beginning, so why are we even going back and forth on this? Equally, would you then suggest that Vyasa’s Jayam and Vaisampayana’s Bharatam missed the bus?

      • Prem, you got me wrong. As I clearly mentioned in my post, I did not claim that original had divine aspects attributed to Krishna. I am well aware of the historica view of this epic. You seem to respond in a generic way considering me as someone who is hurt because of lack of divinity in Krishna. please read my post again.

        The thing I am not entirely comfortable with is the fact that Krishna is so totally bereft of influence, charm and that trend setting characteristics attributed to a strong personality. If those strong characteristics are absent, how come later age theologists and people in general found it acceptable to make him a God? for example, it is possible that later ages will worship Gandhi, but isn’t it impossible for Nehru to be elevated to that status? so, that special something which will elevate a human to the level of God is missing in your characterization of Krishna. for example, again, in your narration, Krishna is reduced to someone similar to Chanakya and nothing more, but chanakya never became God for hindus? SO, why did Krishna become a God and not chanakya? what is so special about him that later age writers, ballads attributed divinity to him? remember also, it is not only theologists/writers who write these stories, there is strong possibility that mahabharata came into present form around Maurya’s time, which is when all the popular legends, myths, cultural memory were solidified into one single source book to counter Buddhist influence.

        I know you think from the eyes of Bhim, it is not visible, but shouldn’t such a strong character which is so closely involved with pandavas have more influence on Bhim?

        So, it is really not the Bhim’s POV, but your characterization of Krishna too is not strong enough for it to come thru in your narration. If you don’t mind, Can you tell us what is your cue card for krishna?

        I am so intrigued about historical analysis of epics and not very interested in random filling of gaps by your imagination because I think by elevating humans into Gods, we might have succeeded in preserving our legends, but India lost a pantheon of founding fathers ( Rama & Krishna & other characters in mahabharatha itihaas) who gave our culture and civilization a beginning and direction.

        • Your point is Krishna could not have been elevated to God-incarnate after his time if his influence over his contemporaries was not much stronger than what is evident in Bhimsen. What you ignore in your rationalization is the fact that Bhim lived most of his life in the forests looking after his brothers and his wife or mother than worrying about Dharma or how great Krishna was or how knowledgable he was in his understanding of the Upanishads. However great a person may be you cannot expect his/her influence to affect the people close to him in the same manner. You cite Gandhi as an example of someone who in the future could be elevated to God-like status – true, but not everyone who had known Gandhi closely were impressed by him. In fact, Gandhi’s long-time secretary had gone on record saying that Gandhi made him clean his toilet and verbally abused him often.

          Jesus Christ , Buddha, Mahaveer were all men who had the ability to think ahead of their time and devoted their lives enlightening others. While there is no evidence of Krishna taking on the role of a public preacher, his actions spoke louder than his words. According to some, the Gita is just a condensed form of the Upanishads which existed from before Krishna’s time. In my view, the whole Mahabarath story was created just as a means to convey the essence of the Upanishads.

          • you understood my point very well eventhough we disagree. I still think krishna should be occupying more mental space in bhim’s mind if his character is indeed as strong as to become a God for future generations.

            I disagree with your gandhi’s secretary example, because, what you have is not his secretary’s autobiography. one interview, one article, one tidbit is different from the kind of narration of bhim’s mind we have here. I am sure that secretary must have been in awe of Gandhi inspite resenting some of his methods, because if not, why will he work for Gandhi for a salary much lower than the market rate?

            also, a more approprite comparison is with someone who fought along side Gandhi ( just like bhim who was also on the same side fighting) say a netaji or patel or nehru. they either hate or like gandhi, but gandhi definitely occupied a large mental space on these other leaders. That is mainly the difference with epoch/path breaking men in history.

        • Enthusiast: A very broad answer for starters — great men walk among us from time to time, but when they do, their influence is not equally profound on all who come into contact with them. Gandhi’s relevance to his time notwithstanding, enough people failed to see it and some disagreed violently enough that one such killed him. Ditto Jesus, ditto pretty much any such figure you care to think of.

          To the particular: I did read your post carefully and I did not go away with the impression that you were hurt. The only impression I did take away was that you were retro-fitting a non-existent leftist leaning onto me, which at a personal level I object to but did not articulate. The objection is this: I — personally — dislike labeling people and interpreting their sayings and doings through that prism. ‘Pseudo-intellectual’, ‘liberal’, ‘leftist’… whatever. In all honesty, I am the antithesis of the leftist, so when an entire post or worldview is attributed to that non-existent political philosophy, I tend to get a touch antsy.

          And now to cases: Krishna’s importance in the mindset of the time and of his growing influence on the thinking of subsequent generations, the seminal influence he has on Hindu thought, and all the rest of it, are areas where we agree on.

          The point of disagreement seems to be, you believe Bhima should have been more influenced by Krishna than I show him as being [the underpinning of this disagreement is that I have written what you could call Bhim’s autobiography, and thus everything in it is viewed from his standpoint — let us accept that as a working premise].

          So who is Bhima? He does not have the worldview of his elder brother, who is more fitted by temperament and training to appreciate Krishna’s view of an akhand Bharat, for want of a better phrase. Yudhishtira can appreciate that encompassing vision in a way his other brothers cannot — to cite just one example.

          Arjuna can see in Krishna a friend who is the greatest influence on his life — someone who not just buys into his personal ambition of becoming the greatest archer of all time, but actively supports it, props him up when he faces doubt, helps him when he needs help, and is always there for him [the kind of friend I’d love to have]. And, as the direct beneficiary of his teachings [ignoring for the moment that the Gita was a latter extrapolation which is not incidentally to diminish its importance], he would have an awestruck sense of his friend’s enormous intellectual and philosophical stature, his gifts.

          So how would Bhim see Krishna? Leave the question to simmer for a moment, and see Bhim as I see him. He is a man of elementary passions, and a very tight-focused mindset. There is, in that order, his family — elder brother first, the one next to him in age next, the two juniors for whom he feels what is a mix of the brotherly and the fatherly. Then there is the wife of his dreams and his longings; a mother he holds in reverence even as he is continually exasperated by her. And that is that — his world is confined in that narrow circle.

          Not for him the impulse to conceive of a greater Bharat, to imagine that concept of a larger nationalism. His focus is simpler: this kingdom belongs to my brother, he has been deprived of it unfairly, my job is to get it for him. Period.

          Not for him, too, the ambition his other brother holds dear, to be known as the greatest anything of his time. If he practices arms, it is towards an end he has accepted for himself — to kill or die trying in the attempt to get his elder brother what is due to him.

          Not for him too the fascination with administration, with the economy, that characterizes his step siblings. If a forest has to be destroyed because his brother’s kingdom is to be enlarged, he will do it — but he will not be the one who sees the need, merely the one who implements it.

          His narrow loyalty is confined to his family, and Krishna is part of his family. Krishna, he notes, invariably seeks him out as second of the Pandavas and pays him due obeisance. He accepts it as his due, and is not perturbed that after that pro forma salutation Krishna rushes off to seek his dear friend — he expects nothing from Krishna beyond that acknowledgment of his position, nor does he seek time with him, try to get to know him better. Krishna, too, has very limited interactions with Bhim [none of this is me, incidentally — given your immersion in the epic, you will know as well as I do how few references there are of interactions between the two].

          My Bhima is not just fine with it all, he in fact sees it as only right and natural. In the case of Krishna, Bhima is the elder in the family, and he would have been upset had that not been recognized. But he asks for no more, expects no more, sees it as perfectly natural that Krishna will discuss the most with his elder brother, who has the authority to make decisions and who temperamentally is best fitted to understand Krishna’s worldview, and that he will bond the most with his younger brother, who is closest to Krishna in age.

          None of this, however, will stop him from laying his life on the line if Krishna needs him to. What is Bhima’s beef with Jarasandha? There is none. He only knows that Krishna for some reason wants him dead, and that Krishna believes he is the one who can do the job. He knows J’s stature as a warrior, he is aware that this could be one battle that ends his life — but that is not something he will concern himself with; Krishna needs Jarasandha out of the way, Krishna is close family, Krishna thinks he alone can do the job, so he will step into the arena and give it his damndest. Was Krishna trying to gradually eliminate malevolent forces? Bhima doesn’t ask himself that question; to him it is irrelevant — family needs him, he is there. Period.

          So the Krishna Bhim sees would be through that very narrow prism. Krishna’s point that a Ghatotkacha alive and running riot is dangerous to the security of the nation states could be very well taken — to cite one instance — but that is not a concept Bhima has the ability to understand or to appreciate, so in Bhima’s eyes at that point, Krishna is just someone who sacrificed his son deliberately for the sake of his best friend.

          If the way I have conceived my Bhim doesn’t come through strongly in this narrative, put that down to my lack of real skill. That is okay, acceptable. [incidentally, all that I wrote of Bhim would be on my cue card]. If what I have done here comes across as random, ill-considered fillings of gaps, that too is a result of lack of real skill in getting the underlying logic across, and that too is a verdict that is perfectly acceptable to me.

          As I mentioned at the start and repeatedly through various discussions, one of the main reasons I did this is to learn what I could of a side of the writing process that I as a journalist otherwise do not have the opportunity to explore. I have found through these 71 episodes that there are certain things I can do; also, that there are certain things I cannot do, or do as well. These discoveries have been a huge bonus, and your points that my characterization does not hold, that these are randomized fillings of gaps, are opinions from which I likely will learn, too, once this whole thing is over and done with and I have space to sit back and reflect.

          And with that, an end.

          • thanks for the detailed post Prem. It cleared things quite a bit for me and also made me understand where Krishna is in your view. If you do not mind me asking, can you please elaborate what is your cue card for krishna?

            Also, please note, when I said ” random filling of gaps with your imagination”, I was not in fact referring to your narration in particular, I was saying in general, regarding epics, analysis of epics as history excites me more than story telling. I did not mean to call your narration “random filling of gaps”.

    • Incidentally, I’d have probably taken the same tack as you in arguing a case for different visions of Dharma — the egocentric version of Bhisma, the cosmic view of Krishna, the individual-duty-centric view of Yudhishtira, the familial version of Bhima, etc.

      But that is if I were writing that story. Here, I am not — Krishna would necessarily be seen through Bhima’s eyes, and in the limited interaction they have, there is no scope for the latter to understand the former. So if that vision you speak of does not come through, it is not out of any political leanings of mine or even of MT’s, but because (1) that vision was never part of the epic as originally conceived and (2) because it is a vision Bhim would never have seen.

  7. Irawati Karve In Yuganta does strongly suggest that Yudhishtra may be the son of Vidura but leaves it at that. No explicit statement there.

  8. Are you going to leave us wondering about Arjuna’s? – usually you dont continue the thread from the previous episode – pls dont do it this time…

  9. Also childrren conceived in the way Bhim was are always extreme on the emotional side and that is completly in sync with Bhim’s behavior with Draupadi and also his general nature. Such peope are generally introverts and generally have whirlpools of thoughts within that they rarely open up in front of others. Many including Y , A n D have come to Bhim to vent, but he is never shown to go to anyone. Maybe visokan but that has generally not been personal stuff. So Bhim really had to be conceived in the way Prem describes he is

  10. Boy o Boy, you are really shining in these post war episodes. Please continue and touch upon the destruction of the Yadavs.

    You my not have read it but your (and MT’s) depiction of Kunti has many similarities to that by Karve in Yuganta.

    The thing about Bhim’s father was a big surprise. To think of it, Bhim’s most cherished wife was a tribal. Bhim’s most able and loved son was a tribal. Bhim has that socialist streak in him as in tribals kshatriyas bhai bhai. There had to be some tribal genes in him.

  11. Brilliant episode Prem !

    I think the idea of how Bhim was conceived makes complete sense. With the hardships that she faced Kunti is seen as someone whose goal in life is to see Y on throne and get him a good support system. Since this a Bhim based story and going by how Bhim n Kunti interact it would be completly inappropreiate that bhim knows about how his other brothers were conceived. Also I could sense earlier Bhim had a tribal father coz hez the only one of the 5 that displays tribal traits that includes being attracted to a tribal woman and learning warcraft from them none of the other brothers display these traits. Also the narration of Kunti being alone lost in thoughts , yearning for love, wanting someone strong suddenly gets some one. This happens as shown in the movie astitva … she was thinking of someone as strong as vaayu. But the person in reality is someone best approximated

    Hats off Mr Panicker …. please keep them coming

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