Monday, June 12, 2017

Ekalavya - The Mahabharata Chronicles #16 - Part 1

Govinda looked down upon the scenes unfolding below. He had to admire his cousin’s tenacity. He doubted if any of the Kuru princes would have had the guts to do that. The thought struck him that both of them, princes in their own right, standing in front of each other, were in fact third cousins, through him, though neither knew that.
His hand still bleeding, he looked at his future fallen carelessly by the side. The severed thumb seemed to be mocking at him. He was still in a state of shock. He was now wondering if his courage was nothing but foolhardiness. Which archer would give their right thumb willingly? But then for that matter, which guru would ask for such a heinous guru-dakshina?  All to save the ego of a Kuru prince? 
He had glanced at Drona, looking straight into his eyes, when the request was made. His face betraying none of the emotions he felt underneath, he had calmly taken his hunting knife, severed his thumb in one clean movement and laid it at his guru’s feet. He thought he had discerned a gleam in Drona’s eyes - regret, guilt, relief? He would never know.
Govinda climbed down from his perch. He walked over to the boy, still in shock. He sat by his side in a comradely way and touched his shoulder. Ekalavya looked up at this newcomer. His touch felt a tad familiar, like a long-forgotten memory.
They both sat in silence for some time, at the end of which, Govinda got up. He looked at Ekalavya and said, “You may not know this. But we are related. Your birth father, Devashraya, is my uncle. You got lost when you were young, just a mere boy, when a hunting trip went awry. I know now, that your father is the King of Nishadas, Hiranyadhanush and you are very happy with him. Your fathers, both of them, would be proud of you. As for whatever happened now, think of it as being for the greater good.”
Saying so, Govinda smiled enigmatically and walked away.
Ekalavya, glanced at the retreating figure. He had known about his adoption, but things were a lot clearer now. However, in place of those cleared questions, more perturbing ones arose.
Why did this have to happen?  What would he do now? How would he shoot again? What would happen to his lifelong dream? A feeling of resentment coupled with anger took over. Wasn’t he also a prince in his own might? And by this stranger, who said they were related, wasn’t he again a prince of the Yadava clan? How could he be differentiated so?  This wasn’t fair at all.
He sat there in the dark, trying to figure out and make sense of his thoughts and feelings.
At dawn, he got up, shook the caked dirt off his clothes, and in a resolute manner, walked towards his home.
Drona was disconcerted. He couldn’t believe what he had asked, or why he had asked that. Surely there was a better way he could have dealt the entire thing with. It was almost as if his mind was controlled by someone, when he said those darned words. How could he as a teacher have said something to that effect, even if he hadn’t taught the boy himself? And he couldn’t believe the fearlessness of the Nishada boy. How could he had have just severed his thumb like that? What was the matter with him?  Didn’t he know he would never be able to shoot again? Yes, he had turned the boy down when he had come to him with a request to accept him as a disciple. His hands were full enough with the Kuru princes, and the boy belonged to a lower caste. The rules of the kingdom wouldn’t have allowed Drona to teach him.
But of what point was all this now?
The boy had retreated willingly enough, understanding in his face and sorrow in his eyes at being turned down. However, who in their wildest dreams would have thought that the boy would practice in a front a statue in Drona’s form, revering him as his guru and with no proper guidance still best all the disciples Drona had ever taught.
Something shook him out of his reverie. He looked around and saw nothing. Still disturbed, he turned back to his thoughts.
And as if earlier, as in the forest, he heard himself say, “it was necessary. For the greater good.”
(to be continued)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Vidura - The Mahabharata Chronicles #15

Na hrishyatyaatmasammaane naavamaanena tapyate
Gaango hrada ivaakshobhyo yah sah pandita uchyate
That one is wise who does not rejoice when honoured, does not become dejected when dishonoured and is not swayed by emotions under the most trying circumstances.       [Vidura Neeti 1.31]

Even as I have followed these words all my life, I sometimes feel the small stirrings of discontentment in me. I thought I had gained control over my uncertainties. Instead I find that as I am growing older, the weight of the older, smothered down resentments are catching up.
My mother named me Vidura.  I doubt if she knew what it meant, for while she was a wise woman, she was not very educated. She probably heard my father mention it in passing and remembered it. My father is Veda Vyasa, son of sage Parashara, my grandmother is Queen Mother Satyavati. My mother, Parishrami, was a maid-in-waiting to the queens of Hastinapura. Vyasa had come to Hastinapura at the beckoning of his mother, Queen Mother Satyavati, to extend the lineage of the Kurus. I was, perhaps a mishap then, for one of the queens sent my mother to serve him instead of herself. My mother, handed me over to Bhishma, I heard, as soon as I was born and slipped quietly into the shadows of the palace to resume her duties. I rarely saw her in the palace, always inconspicuous, but making sure that I had timely food and that I had nothing to complain about. I didn’t really miss her presence, having never really had the privilege of knowing her. As for my father, I heard plenty of legends about him, but I never really had the fortune to know or meet him.
In the eyes of Hastinapura, I was the half-brother of Dhritarashtra and Pandu. I was treated the same way as them, I was given the same lessons in warfare and in the scholarly arts. I was taught by Bhishma himself in the arts of weaponry and by other renowned teachers in the kingdom as well as those who visited us from far and wide. At the palace, I was never made to feel insignificant. Bhishma took care of that. Outside, it was a different story altogether. I have had people taunt me because of my low-caste, bully me and even poke fun at me. But those words that you read above, have always been my motto in life.
Today, however, I am seething with anger. I have held on to my tongue for as long as I can remember, only speaking out when it’s of utmost importance and within my duty as the Prime Minister of Hastinapura. But things have gone too far along now to stop the chain of events from transpiring. I did try with all my might and the powers vested in me, however, I couldn’t. Today, when Duryodhana insulted me in front of all present, accusing me of favouring Krishna and the Pandavas, it was then that my rightful place in the kingdom was revealed to me. My half-brother, the king didn’t speak a word during the proceedings, and just kept quiet while his eldest-born cast aspersions on my birth, my character and my role in shaping Hastinapura. He talked of me as though I was obligated to the kingdom, because of the Prime Minister’s post I held.
What Duryodhana, failed to understand, however, was that I was in no way obligated to Hastinapura. I was neither a Kshatriya nor of royal blood. I was never appointed for any specific post in the kingdom. I self-appointed myself as the advisor to the king, purely because he was my half-brother and disabled, and thus became the de-facto prime minister of the country. I only always advised the king and the sabha on matters of Dharma and the right way to do it. Whenever the righteous path was being veered away from, I strove to bring the wayward back to the virtuous path. Sometimes I failed, sometimes I succeeded. But mostly, I failed.

[Pic Courtesy:]
In body, I may be mortal, cursed to be only a kingmaker, never a king even while having the qualities to rule and sustain a kingdom, by Sage Mandavya, whom I punished for a transgression he did as a small boy. But in thought, actions, words and deeds, I uphold the post of Dharmaraja, the title given to me by the celestials. And it is always those that will be reflected in whatever I do. In this mortal role of a kingmaker, I, the amsa of Dharmaraja, the Lord of Justice, have always strived to adhere to the written and unwritten laws and striven to stick to a harmonious outcome, bearing no ill-will towards my kith and kin. But then, being a mortal does bring with it its own fallacies, doesn’t it? Self-doubt being one of the primary ones that rankle me.  
Maybe I was not a good enough prime minister and advisor. Maybe I failed in my dharma, or maybe Dharma failed me at opportune times, probably for a higher reason, I am not privy to yet. Maybe these turbulent times could have been averted had I learnt to keep my mouth shut when I should have and advised my half-brothers better in times of their needs and indecisiveness. Maybe I shouldn’t have let Duryodhana be pampered so much by his parents, maybe I should have more focused-on imparting what I know to my brother’ children. Maybe I should have controlled my temper, yet again, when Duryodhana provoked me, yet again. Maybe I should have expressed my interest, in spite of no pressure from the kingdom, to fight in the war. Would we maybe have won then, with my war tactics pitted against Krishna’s?  Would Krishna have maybe taken up arms and fought in the war, to counter my infallible bow? 
Everyone knows me as an intelligent man, upholder of Dharma, and a good strategist. Not many, however, know that I am also a skilled archer and that my bow, Govardhan, was a gift from Lord Vishnu himself, against which none stood a chance, not even Arjuna.
But, of course, Krishna knew that.
For today, in the Sabha, when I broke my bow against the words hurled against me and with that, cost Duryodhana this war, the war which could have gone either way, I saw him smile. This was probably one of his masterstrokes, his doings, as are many that I have heard and some, that I have seen first-hand.
Then, maybe this is all pre-ordained. Destined to be so. And we are all mere puppets in the hands of the Preserver himself. And me, I should stick to my duty of an advisor, and a listener for like the wise me before me have said, you can only take a horse to the water, you cannot force it to drink it.
Some call me a wise man. Some call me a pragmatist. Some say I am calm and collected while many others have said that I may not be what I seem.
Me? I call myself an ordinary man. One who has learnt to be content with what has been destined for him. 
For, I have learnt that “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”
And so, I will always be me. 
Just as I am. 
Just as I was.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Abhimanyu - The Mahabharata Chronicles #14

Soma looked down on the battlefield.

Today is the 12th night of the war at Kurukshetra. Soon it will be the 13th day and a much important one at that, for it is then that Varchas turns 16. The day he will come back to me. I have missed him so much these last few years.

For 16 years, I have been separated from my son. I have pined for him. I have wondered whether it was a mistake to send him down as a human, as my amsa, for the greater good.

Like I have been doing every night for the last 16 years, I peek down through the shimmery curtains, at his taut form. The warrior that he has become. Progeny of Nara. Nephew to Narayana. And trained in the martial arts by the Yadavas themselves. Does he sense my presence? Does he remember that his father is yearning for him? Or is he in all senses a true Kshatriya prince now, about to become a father himself?

Oh! How I remember that conversation with Narayana, when he came to me asking for Varchas to be incarnated as a warrior to cleanse the earth. I remember how hesitant I was. I was wondering what would be the politest way to refuse The Lord himself. I couldn’t be away from my boy for a fraction of a second, he was my favourite after all. But Narayana was insistent. He was very convincing and his persuasive powers were of course legendary. I was ready to give in, but I had a few conditions of my own.

---- X ----

Krishna looked up at Chandra. He could see the moon-god smiling in all his glory. It was evident that he was happy, for after all, his beloved son was returning home the next day.

He looked at Abhimanyu. Warrior Prince. Draupadi’s favourite son of all the Pandava offspring even if he wasn’t her own. The blood of the Pandavas and the Yadavas ran in him. He was so skilled that he could probably take on the entire army of Kauravas and disintegrate them. Married to crown-princess Uttara, he was about to father the first grandchild of two historic empires. He had so much to look forward to. And yet his life would end even before it began.

---- X ----

I saw Krishna looking up at me, his face scrunched up enigmatically. I sent his way a flutter of breeze, gently reminding him of his promise to me, and the conditions that applied to it.

When I agreed to let Varchas be incarnated, I wanted him to be born into the mightiest empire there was. I wanted the blood of Nara to run in his veins. Krishna did even better, he ensured that the boy would have the bloodlines of both Nara and Narayana himself.

I also asked for him to be returned to me after 16 years. I knew I was asking him to be returned to me in his prime, but I couldn’t let myself be away from him longer than that. Krishna agreed. He also ordained that the boy would be one of the mightiest warriors the world would see and that he would be the fulcrum for the great war that was to ensue.

I knew Varchas was in safe hands and agreed to Narayana’s words.

With a heavy heart, I sent down my son.

---- X ----

Krishna thought back to the time when Abhimanyu was conceived.

He realized that he had more than one reason to agree to Chandra’s demands, though it became clearer to him only then. Subhadra unknowingly had knocked open a box he had hidden, thereby unleashing the soul of King Kalayavan, whom Krishna had imprisoned inside. The soul looking for a place to hide, had taken refuge in Subhadra’s womb attaching itself to the foetus inside.

Abhimanyu was not yet born when he overheard Arjuna talking to Subhadra and explaining to her about war strategies. Narayana could sense his eagerness to hear more and he could see that the baby was comprehending each and every word spoken. He could see that the foetus was straining to catch every syllable so as to not miss anything. In order to thwart the knowledge falling into his hands, much before he may have been due to learn it, He used his powers to lull Subhadra to sleep, thus putting a stop to the war tactics being discussed.

Precocious child Abhimanyu was. His head was always held high, his stature tall and his demeanour a tad proud, owing to the blood that ran in his veins. After all, there were very few who could take on the combined strength of the Yadavas and the Pandavas. Inquisitive about everything, and keen to learn, he grasped mastery over weapons, war tactics and strategies much quicker than anyone I knew. The reason lay in his previous birth, when he was a much-feared king. After all, old habits do die hard. Once in a while, Krishna could discern a gleam in his eyes, a simmering anger, a sort of restlessness as though something was trying to escape him. He sensed that there was one way he could provide liberation to the trapped soul as well as fulfil Chandra’s conditions.

---- X ----

The 13th day dawned.

Hiding in the shadows of Surya, I looked down at the unfolding scene.

The time of reckoning drew near.

Promising to protect his uncle, Yudhisthira, Abhimanyu tried to break into the Chakravyuha, created by Drona, the great teacher himself. The Pandavas, unable to follow him through the momentary gap, soon found themselves crying out for him and his safety.

Nara and Narayana were occupied at one end of the battlefield, while their disciple wreaked havoc at the other end.

My son was unstoppable that day. He rampaged through the Kaurava forces, killing whoever came in his way, counting several maharathis as well as injuring the greatest of the Kaurava warriors including Karna and Duryodhana. The Kauravas were astounded by his prowess and in a fit of frustration and fury, broke one of the cardinal rules of war.

[Pic Courtesy:]

Seven elite warriors, all great in their own right, attacked my son together. More rules were broken in the wake of the first one; when his bowstrings were cut from behind, his steeds killed and his charioteers too. Forced to fight on foot, protecting himself with a sword and a shield, my son raced forth. They broke his sword, and shattered his shield.  Powerless now, he looked around and picked up a chariot wheel and charged at them, but they broke that too. He picked up a mace and killed as many people as he could, displaying more strength and valour than any of the cowards around him. However, while combating with Dusshasana’s son, tired, decimated and injured beyond compare, he knocked out his opponent and fell to the ground in a swoon as well. But before he could come to, his opponent who had awakened, struck him on his head and killed him.

In those last few moments, I could see the light ebb out of my son’s eyes. The gleam dimmed, a small whiff of breath escaped him, and through that the soul of Kalayavan attained Moksha for having fought on the righteous side.

Knowing that he was now truly Varchas in form, deed and glory, Chandra remembered Nara’s blessings to Abhimanyu, when they first set out for war.

“Yashasvi Bhava”
“May you attain eternal success with no obstacles in the way of achievement.”

Abhimanyu’s heroic death would now be the pivotal point which ensured the deaths of the unrighteous because of the traitorous means engaged to slay him.

My son achieved glory as a warrior should on the battlefield. He died fighting till his last breath and he would forever be remembered as the greatest warrior who fought for righteousness and demolished a fourth of the Kaurava army all by himself. 

Grahanam - A review!

It has been quite some time since I penned something on this blog, and even longer, since I wrote a movie review. But there is no good time ...