The Epics

"To be Indian, or to simply live in India at any period in her recorded history, is to open oneself to the benign moral influence of two epics - the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Caste, creed, colour do not matter here; what matters is the degree, range and subtlety of exposure, which in turn determines the quality of the affected person's 'Indianness', whatever that very large word means" - Professor Purushottam Lal

Oct 26, 2012

Timely reminder

I am Time

With each rotation of my wheel, I see the world evolve. I see thoughts transform into life and life recede into imagination – each a caricature of itself.

I remember, I recollect, I reflect.

When I view the past, I see it reflected in the consciousness of human knowledge as a patchwork of truth, conjectures and fables. And when I see the future grind its way to reach the present, it is but a feeble mimicry of what was envisaged – to be documented yet again in memory of man, retold as another quaint imperfect patchwork.

Yet, these patchworks create the canopy that shelters the human soul from an eternity of nothingness. Each retelling has its merits, its positives and negatives.

That is why stories are to be formed – and storytellers not to be reformed.

The epics happened before my eyes, but not everything that is in the epics happened and not everything that happened is in the epics. A lot is said through metaphors, allegories, magical tales.

Gaps remain to be filled and layers persist that need to be peeled off.

The only way that can be done is through retelling , rethinking.

Let us absorb the wisdom of telling a tale.

Almost all about Beards

From ancient times, in epics and life, wisdom is metaphorically represented in human form through beards. The term greybeard is synonymous with all that is wise and experienced. Even Roget will agree.

There is reason enough. Enlightenment is acquired through telling and retelling and suppression cannot stop its course in history. Just like a beard can be shaved and re-shaved, but cannot be stopped from sprouting.

In the first page of Mahabharata, the sage with the longest beard coaxes Sauti to tell the tale in detail. That is the metaphorical way of the great epic to tell the world how wisdom, and by induction greybeards, should encourage retelling the whole story.

Vyasa’s matted red beard itself has such an important role to play in the evolution and propagation of the story.

It is not limited to the Mahabharata. The world has seen plenty of such symbolism take place over the years.

The word of God compiled into the Old Testament, the most retold stories across three faiths, often shows the Almighty in flowing white beard. In fact, when he was depicted on screen in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it was an animated version of the famous bearded face of WG Grace.

WG Grace was nature’s way of showing how the English depiction of eternity, cricket, was nurtured by the gravest wisdom.

Down the years we have had excellent men who told us tales that have become part of the human consciousness, and in most cases, the stories have emerged from the recesses of serious facial vegetation.

Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and the other Russians, the greatest teller of stories, had beards which underlined their wisdom as much as their bulging foreheads. Their English counterparts – Shakespeare and Dickens – had smarter trimmed versions, but the personality was there for everyone to see. And even in the land where the Mahabharata was spoken, written and continues to evolve, the Nobel Prize was obtained for Literature by a man whose beard was long enough to cover several parts of his complete works.

Why this obsession with beards? As Time, I know from immemorial recesses of my own being, wisdom has been depicted by the allegory of life with bushy beards and they in turn promote the telling and retelling of tales.

So, why is that today I see beards, grey and not overly grey, of several shapes and sizes, often speaking against the retelling of the epics in ways that they do not approve?

Has nature evolved to that extent that retelling is no longer required and knowledge is a finished product, finite enough for hairline absorption?

Or have human beards lost their symbolic virtue and have little to do with the nurture of thought? Does it lengthen using the principles of bristle growth that makes the hair continue to increase even after death?

However, I am Time, and have witnessed my wheel rotate again and again and again till the past, present and future merge together in a – dare I say story – of human thought.

And I can assure that telling and retelling of the fascinating epic called Mahabharata will go on and on ... as long as, to quote a wise greybeard, the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit.

The Mahabharata has infinite facets which can be perhaps glimpsed by interpretations from the most lofty to the most profane.

This will continue.

Just like the beard – shave it as much as you want, it will grow back.

So no matter what metaphorical and physical greybeards say about irreverence, the answer is an idiomatic expression – about hair and tearing of the same, in vernacular if required.

The show will go on – because my wheel cannot stop.

Oct 11, 2012

Krishna's Diary: Entry 4

Krishna, King of Mathura - I like the sound of that.
As well I should, since that's what I am now. Really.

In retrospect, it turned out much easier than expected.
A "mad" elephant which was, in fact, so drunk on mahua that it collapsed halfway through an attempt to chase us around the arena.
Two wrestlers - overweight and out of form - beaten with little difficulty.
And so on and on with the crowd roaring approval at each victory

Finally, it was time to roll the dice.
Flushed with victory, assured of the support of the applauding, yelling mob - I challenged Kamsa to single combat !!

A matter of calculation and gamble.
The calculation was simple. Kamsa ruled by fear, not love, and he who rules by fear may never appear weak, especially not before a crowd in a public place.

Even so, he may have feigned outrage, may have refused to fight and had me clapped in irons, and then all would be lost.
That's where the gamble came in.

I gambled on pride - that obdurate "kshatriya pride"  which blinds our entire ruling class, forcing them to put "honour" before expediency, even against the most ridiculous odds.
I gambled and held my breath, glaring at the king with the most arrogant expression I could muster.
A long silence, stretching for eons while my heart hammered in my ears - and Kamsa accepted.

After that it was easy.
Bloated with wine and over-indulgence, severely out of breath, the guy never really had a chance.
I drew it out a bit, playing to the crowd, milking their support and sympathy.
Then a swift sidestep, a quick parry, a thrust to the neck - and Kamsa lay dead in the arena while coins, flowers and articles of clothing showered down from the audience....

So, King of Mathura then ?
Not officially.
If my popularity had soared to the skies with Kamsa's death, I pushed it far into the great beyond by releasing the imprisoned Ugrasena - father of the Kamsa - and crowning him king.

You don't get it, do you ? You and our entire blockheaded kshatriya caste ?
Understand, my friend, that while people may genuflect to him who sits on the throne with crown on head, true power lies with the one who holds the reins behind.
With the added convenience that a rival's sword is almost always aimed at the head with the crown.

So, there we are. From cowherd to de facto king in the space of a day. 
Impressive, eh ?

Now the first problem at hand - establishing a royal lineage for moi.

A minute's thought reveals that all the multifarious kings and nobles dotting our land couldn't possibly have been of royal blood.
But you see, good form demands that one must at least try to link oneself to a line of kings stretching right back to the dawn of Creation.
Plus a royal lineage - genuine or invented - allows you to draw on a network of contacts and alliances.
Extremely convenient in a pinch.

So, yes, a little "blue-ing of the blood" would be very useful indeed. 
I have set the local brahmins to working on the problem.
Trust they can come up with something interesting.

Krishna's Diary: Entry 3

I have left Vrindavan. 
For good.

To back up a bit - a couple of weeks ago, one Akrura arrives from Mathura bearing a summons from the local king, Kamsa.
"His royal highness has been impressed by stories of your prowess and wishes to see a demonstration in the arena."

In case you've been living under a rock these past decades, Kamsa is a much despised tyrant who brooks no rivals.
After ascending the throne by imprisoning his father, sister and brother in law he's unleashed a reign of terror, apparently fueled by persistent paranoia
of being overthrown by a subject.
And it seems now that news of my "heroic achievements" has reached his ears, hence this thinly veiled invitation to assassination.
Thanks, people of Vrindavan, for your unquestioning adulation and wagging tongues - you might just have signed my death sentence.

And yet. And yet.
The germ of an idea - an opportunity of a lifetime if I can pull it off.
Chances of success, very low. But if I play my cards just right perhaps....
Anyway, best not speak of it too much - eyes and ears everywhere.

So, I have left Vrindavan with trusty Balaram and on my way to Mathura.
Much tears and heartbreak from my female following - "Do not leave us, dearest", "Please come back swiftly to us" and on and on.

As if.
I will never come back here. 
Either because I am dead or, if my luck holds ... well, I'll soon find out if my luck holds.

Oct 10, 2012

Arjuna's diary - that Grand Delusion of Gita


Well, let me touch upon the mass massacre of Kurukshetra – the eighteen days we spent slashing and killing each other. To tell you the truth, from the very moment we approached each other in our great throngs, I had a eerie feeling that something was wrong.

I asked Krishna to drive me to the middle of the battlefield, so that I could get a good look at the two sides before we hacked away at the closest heads and limbs and all the while I could not really make any sense of it all.

As is usual at the beginning of any jostle of this proportion, there were the customary butterflies that fluttered in the stomach, a sudden dryness seemed to have spread around the throat and a giddiness developed inside the head. A couple of times, the Gandiva slipped from my sweaty palms.

As I looked at the enemy camp, and saw the venerable forms of Grandpa Bhishma, wise Reverend  Kripa and my favourite teacher Drona, the fallacy seemed to strike me between the eyes. How on earth could I fight all these men, who had rocked me on their knees when I was young, and had spoken wise, well-meaning words through their beards as I had gotten increasingly heavier climbing on their laps? Old men who would much rather sit on the old charpai, chewing the fat about the ancient Dwapar Yuga over jugs of soma. What nonsense it must have been for them to get their decrepit bodies inside the massive suits of armour.

Granted, I didn’t really trust the sly Duryodhana as far as I could throw an elephant, but did we really need to kill each other for that? What was the bally sense in annihilating the Kaurava brothers and throwing in the rest of the clan for good measure?  Why couldn’t we just sit around doing nothing and just bitching about it in secluded somras shops? Inactive liking of like-minded venom, conquering the world with our tongues, these were traits more suited to us, that would be mimicked years and years down the line, in social networks. Why hurtle into actual action?

I looked at Krishna and said, “I say, mate. Don’t look now, but it increasingly seems to me that my own people are to be respected and loved, not wasted. Mutually assured destruction is not a very chummy way of doing things; certainly not my way. Figure out the acronym and it will be clear. I mean, killing is the pits. Come what may, I won’t kill. If one has to make me fight, he has to do it over my dead body. Er, that didn’t quite mean anything – but, you get the gist..”

Saying this I flung the blasted gandiva from my hand and slumped rather thoughtfully on the chariot seat. Don’t be confused by the mind numbing hash BR Chopra made you see. Chariots did have seats, although they kind of poked if you lowered yourself abruptly.

Krishna turned to me with eyes that seemed calm, but I could see that he was not amused.

“Indeed, Arjuna?”

“You can bet your flute on it, Krishna and throw in your chakra for good measure. I am not going to indulge in this dashed business, and you can put knobs on that.”

I had turned and looked away, thinking that was it. I would hand over my resignation to Yudhisthira and just walk away – and steer clear of Draupadi for about twenty years or so. Maybe I would go north-east. Ulupi and Chitrangada ...

But then Krishna spoke.


“It’s quite normal to experience such dilemma on the verge of the battle, Arjuna. Especially when the stakes are high. It is variously called  stage fright, nerves and cold feet. Generally standing up and shaking your limbs is considered a good remedy. Years from now, sporting teams will hire psychologists for this very reason...”

“Don’t talk rot, Krishna. It’s nothing to do with nerves,” I said haughtily. As usual, canny campaigner that he was, he had deduced part of the problem.

“Indeed, Arjuna?” I did not like the smirk on his lips.

“Of course not. How on earth do you suppose I can go ahead and shoot arrows at people like Bhishma and Drona? They are elders, teachers. And anyway, Bhishma won’t die unless he wants to, so a fat lot of good it will do to shoot at him anyway.”

Even as I turned away, Krishna spoke. Well, all those of you who have spent weeks in front of the television sets in the late eighties, eagerly waiting for the big battle to finally begin, you know very well how long he spoke.

 “Arjuna, the wise one does not mourn the living or the dead.”

“Really? Who does he mourn in that case?”

“Youth, maturity and old age are but the natural scheme of things. So is the procurement of a new body. The body perishes, we think it dies. The soul just finds a new dwelling. It moves into a new body, it is indestructible.”

“Are you saying bodies are like clothes?”

“Exactly, Arjuna, bodies are nothing but clothes.”

“I don’t see any in the stores, unless you mean the mannequins. Then the clothes that we wear are some kind of second derivative garments. Really, I have never heard such nonsense in my life.”

Krishna smiled. “We’ve just started Arjuna. There are sixteen and a half cantos to go. Brace yourself. Now as I was saying, weapons cannot harm the Self, the soul. Water cannot wet it. Fire does not burn it. Wind cannot dry it.”

“I guess only words have the ability to drive it off its rocker. But, then, why on earth do we need to fight if the Self cannot be harmed? Why are we intent on destroying these things that are nothing but clothes, whereas the true Self just trots down to shopping malls and gets himself new ones? I understand the bodies are bio-degradable, but even then it seems a lot of waste. Which brings us back to the beginning. Our elders are to be revered, not wasted.”

“Ah, but whatever that may be, you need to fight because it is your dharma. As a warrior there is nothing better to you than a war. This war allows all the soldiers to enter heaven.”

“And what happens to the new bodies or clothes they are supposed to get?”

“Don’t interrupt with such blatant materialistic questions, Arjuna. What we are having is a spiritual discourse. I will cover your doubts in due course. Think of your swa dharma as a warrior.  Ignoring it is shameful. Shame is worse than death to a man of honour.”

“Maybe, but at least you get to keep your clothes on.”

“Shut the fuck up, Arjuna. If you run away, the ones who once praised you will brand you a coward. Your enemies will hurl insults at you.  Is there a worse fate? Arise, Arjuna, and fight. Equate pain and pleasure, profit and loss, victory and defeat. And fight! Your duty is to work, not to reap the fruits of the work. Do not seek rewards, but do not love laziness either. Be indifferent to failure and success. Be the man who sheds desire; is content in the atman by the atman. Conquering desire. Whenever there is desire focus your mind on me…”

“Ahem! That’s going a bit too far. What do you think I am?” I scratched my head and tried to make sense of his blabber.

“But a person who is established in firmness, free from pleasure and repugnance, traversing experience with his senses restrained -- such a person finds tranquillity. When tranquillity comes, sorrow departs; a person whose wisdom is tranquil is truly stable. The wavering person does not grow. Without growth, there is no peace; without peace, there is no bliss. The mind is swayed by the senses; they destroy discrimination, as a storm sinks boats on a lake.”

“My good man, let me at least take a look at the footnotes.”

“The true way is to be tranquil. True knowledge of the Vedas exceeds all action.”

My head was swimming by now.


“You know, you are not making any sense at all. Firstly, how can I equate profit and loss if I don’t even think of the fruits of work? And then on one hand you say knowledge exceeds action and tranquillity is the way to go. While on the other hand you insist that I have to fight. They don’t add up. You are talking right through your crown.”

“This is just the beginning,” Krishna smiled. “Believe me, by the time I finish ...”  He continued to babble some obscure stuff about perfection through inaction, renunciation of work, how the senses compel all to action. There was a slight throbbing around the temples, and unfortunately Eau de Cologne was not to be available for another several thousand years.

Krishna went on, “To work is better than not to work. Inaction will not keep the body together. As my counterpart in another religion will say long after we have slipped out of these clothes, he who shall not work, neither shall he eat. Insert the detachment stuff here. Not to worry about rewards and remuneration. And what do you get? Bingo. Action with detachment. Selfless action. Without which, all deeds are traps. Does it add up now?”

“Er …”

“Let me tell you what Brahma said when he created the world. He had said, this world will be your wish-fulfilling cow.”

“How could he use that comparison? Were cows known before the world was created?”

“Concentrate on the essentials, not fringe nittie-gritties,” Krishna snapped. “You are bent on sidetracking the conversation.”

He went on about worshipping gods and how it would satisfy desires and continued to say stuff about sanctified food, rituals, rain … I had soon lost track of why Brahma and his cow had come into the conversation anyway. The sun was beating down and ahead I could see Duryodhana itching to start the big fight. In our camp, Bheema was looking distinctly pissed. I could not help but feel that we were keeping people waiting. And when I refocused on our talk, Krishna had somehow tied up all the threads to conclude that even if I acted I was actually not the doer. A bit too much, that. No amount of sophistry could ever convince me that was true. That made sense only when I was playing the dholak as Brihannala.

He went on about selfless action being the path to perfection, and all such action should be dedicated to him.

Him? How did he step into the picture? It was becoming all the more confusing. And as I tried to figure it out, he was back to desire and disgust being deadly enemies and in one expert laddering act jumped right back to the issue of one’s own dharma being the best.

Well, my sva-dharma told me to lay down arms; my kula Kshatriya dharma advised me to fight; the dharma of the Dvapar-Yuga prompted me to take sides in the doomsday clash; and the sanatana dharma stated that all life was sacred and the atman could not perish. What was I to make of it?


And before I could puzzle out any of this, Krishna had moved on to some gag about what he had told Vivaswat. Now I really had to protest, because Vivaswat was from an era when neither of us had been born. And here, he spoke in bold, italics and size-24 fonts – “When dharma declines and adharma flourishes, I give myself birth, to restore the balance. And every age witnesses my birth; I come to protect the good and destroy the wicked. I come to re-establish the dharma.”

And immediately he went back to the question of clothes. It seemed the man who approved of Krishna and accepted his divine and miraculous powers would get rid of these mortal clothes and go permanently to heaven. It did ring rather thin to me. Rather far-fetched that a cowherd would wield so much power over all humankind. However, he added that disbelief was the product of ignorance, so I decided it would definitely make me look better if I claimed to believe.

It sounded pretty lofty too. Freeing oneself from hate, fear, attachment one realised that he was more than a body, one with Krishna – and that was when the body could be cast aside like old clothes. There were some queer stuff about action in rest and rest in action, and it seemed realising this would make me learned. Well, I guess I had not reached that far, because I did not quite get it. But, when I was asked to cut through my disbelief through the sword of knowledge because the raft of knowledge would ferry me to the goal of peace, I could take it no more.


“No look here, pal,” I said. “You are speaking in blooming paradoxes. You recommend selfless action and then renunciation of action for knowledge. Again these seem to cancel each other out.”

And he started saying how selfless service was the best of all. Without attachment, performance of one’s duties was nothing but renunciation. In selfless service one could make out one was not the actor. Then he began his drivel about meditation. How to achieve stillness of the mind. We had come so far away from the question of war and killing that these methods of mind control seemed kind of superfluous. But once in flow, Krishna was a difficult man to stop. Experience had taught me to hear him out. So, I waited.

He moved on to how everything depended on him and how he was like a thread passing through precious gems, holding them together. A bit too much on the side of self-important propaganda, I thought. He soon moved to harmony, activity and inactivity – sattva, rajas and tamas. Everything seemed to come from him. Did he really think he was God?

I stifled a yawn and asked him about Brahman, Brahman nature, body and spirit. Brahman has ever since had a distinct relation with yawns in a certain part of the world.

In response he started, “I am Brahman.” Somehow, even in this, the answer was to fight. Since I was not really questioning him, he seemed to be encouraged and started digging deeper into what he called ‘the mystery of his being’. How he produced forms from himself over and over again …how he was the eternal origin …

The drone became steadily monotonous. He went on and on …. “I am the atman, conscious in the heart of all life; I am also the beginning, the middle, and the end of all life. I am the Vishnu of the Adityas, the glorious sun among the heavenly bodies; Marichi among the winds, and the moon among the planets. Of the Vedas, I am the Samaveda, Indra among the gods; of the faculties I am intelligence; and I am the consciousness of the world's creatures. ... . I am Bhrigu among saints, Aum among words, among sacrifices I am Japayajna, and the Himalaya among the steadfast objects. Among trees I am the fig-tree, and Narada among holy men, among Gandharvas Chitraratha, and Kapila among saints. Among horses I am Ucchaishravas, sprung from nectar; among elephants Airavata, and among human being king. Among weapons I am the thuderbolt, and among cattle the heavenly cow: I am sexual desire too, creator of life; and among snakes I am Vasuki.”


By now I was positively drowsy. It seemed Krishna was the whole world and much more. My eyelids drooped and I guess my breathing became regular.

The battlefield became blurry and I was soon drifting away into sweet sleepy reverie.

And there too I heard Krishna droning along, how he was all in all, supremo, omnipresent, omniscient … I saw him with thousands of arms, with numerous mouths spouting such nonsense, and multiple eyes looking at me reproachfully , glittering with divine ornaments, displaying divine signs, all-shaped, all-powerful, transcendent and limitless. Brighter than a thousand suns – much like the atom bomb explosion later. And in the body of Krishna, there seemed to be separate universes united, and resting.


And in front of that form a normal sized Krishna emerged and told me how to worship him. He went on speaking as I floated between dream and consciousness, explaining about the field and the knower of the field. Half awake, I gaped around the battlefield trying to see which field he was referring to. As I reverted back into dreamland, all his words about sattva, rajas, tamas came back to haunt me, punctuated by his eternal drone. All that he had said about slashing with a sword seemed to be repeated again, only this time detachment merged into it, a curious inverted fig tree appeared from somewhere, and a lot of thoughts got muddled up.

By the time I had shaken myself awake, he was saying, ”Om Tat Sat.” I had no idea why.


Seeing me blinking at him, he asked, “So, Arjuna, have you listened carefully? Have your doubts been erased?”

I looked at the battlefield. At the venerable Pitamaha and Acharya who stood waiting patiently for us to finish our semi-monologue … Were my doubts removed?

If yes, I would have to reach for my quiver and shoot arrows at them.
If not, I would have to go through another eighteen chapters of Janardana Krishna.

In the end, it was a no brainer ….

“Yes, Krishna. I have no more doubts. If I have realised something fully, it is that I am a man of action, not knowledge …,” I shuddered. “Come let’s go to war.”

“Any confusion?”

“None whatsoever.”

We went back to our forward line and waited for the battle to begin.

Would you believe it? Some days after the war, when I was struck by some conflict and asked him to repeat what he had said, Krishna responded that he had forgotten all about it. The whole thing was bollocks, really.

Many many years later, one great warrior mastered the core principle of Gita. In 1796, he entered Milan at the head of that young army which had shortly before crossed the Bridge of Lodi and taught the world that after all these centuries Arjuna, Caesar and Alexander had a successor.

The great Napoleon Bonaparte always slept before a war. And it served him well.

Oct 8, 2012

Of love, hate, pity, envy and worship


That letter that I will never send to you. But would love to believe that you know about it, all of it, nevertheless. That you know how much I feel for you, and what. 

That day when a social networking site asked me to choose my "relationship status", it took me aback. Really, can this ever be that simple, just a drop-down? Is it really so easy to answer - soul-search, find and confide? Which relationship is that, one that defines me, that spells out my identity, my self? Is it that wife, who is dutiful enough to play a wife and sensitive enough to not demand a husband of me, or that mother who loves me so or the one who leaves me so, or, you? Really, is it you who define me most? I'm afraid it's you. And I swear, "it's complicated!"

Coming back to ourselves, we have some uncanny similarities, don't we, you and me? For one, our families are the same. The Pandavas. And that neither of us ever belonged to it, in a real sense. But again, how different we are in that. I have always yearned to live a life at that place, where my heart always belonged since the day I came to know of that, with the worthiest of the brothers that a man can ever have. And for you, how much you had to give up, in your heart and your soul, to live there, to kill your sensibilities, to play wife to five brothers, to surrender and to not say a word.

They call me a true Kshatriya. Just because I bore a pain of an insect drilling in to me, and did not move. They do not know what a true Kshatriya means. They do now what what courage it takes to not tell that father that you are not a trophy to be won in an archery contest. To not tell a mother-in-law that you're no property to be distributed to avoid sibling rivalry. That to get you is not to own you. That you cannot be given away, only your company can be earned. And that they have no idea what that means. So you oblige. So you cook, and dress-up and entertain. And so you mate. With whoever they ask you to mate with. To tell them you do not care enough to disobey. To not tell them that they are wrong, and to not tell them that you gave up fury for forgiveness.

I heard somewhere that as God could not be everywhere and so He made mothers. Is that why He got Radha for me, and saved me from the wrath of Kunti? I'll spare you an account of what Kunti could be and what she could do, to me, and to you, and I know you know better. Only if that woman knew that the biggest mistake she ever made was not to give birth to me, but to have chosen to come herself to me to make a deal than to send you to win me back to her. She told me she can get you to belong to me, that I can lay my claim on you being the eldest of her sons. She would never know how I have always belonged to you, all my life.  And that she would never know that it is the only way to ever be with you, for anyone, and that you never really belonged to any of hers sons in a way she presumed.

I want you to know this. That I love you. For being yourself. For forgiving them, for they do not know what they have done to you. For letting the world chant hymns in praise the stalwarts of Hastinapur, as you'd never tell them they're actually not worth a dime. For loving Arjuna, the worthiest enemy I could ever have. And so I love you all the more.

But I hate you too, Yajnaseni. For all the same reasons. For wasting your life. For compromising. For giving up, all so easily. For giving your virginity, first, to the very cowardest of the lot. For dedicating all your youth and your beauty to the grim of the Indraprastha kitchen. For not giving a damn in being used, in being raped. For not caring to seek what you were worthy of. And finally, for sacrificing your sons to the unworthiest of the causes, and without a sigh. How could you be so indifferent, Yajnaseni? How could you not feel a thing?

And I pity you. For a life like yours that goes so ill spent. While it's your grace that you forgave, it's a disgrace that you did not find your equal. That you married five but did not find one single man for a husband who you could belong to, who you could both trust and love at the same time. I pity you that you could never stop loving Arjuna. Knowing well that neither did he love you back, nor did he deserve your love. And I pity you that you could never get yourself to love Bhima, the only brother I stand proud of, till today. It's a shame that there was not one single man who stood up and killed Duhshashon for touching you, or the unpardonable Yudhisthira, even before that. Bhima, who was close to it, could not as well. I pity you that you could not, at that point, throw everything aside and come to me. Alone and fearless. Because I knew, all along, that you've known me deep inside. Known that you could come to me. Anytime.

And at this moment of confession, let me also tell you how I always envied you. Because you lived your life where I could not. Because you could touch Bhishma's feet and seek his blessings, whenever you needed to. Because you always had a shoulder to weep on, that most dependable friend one can ever seek, Krishna. You got everything that I could also have had, if luck was on my side. And what I can never haveAnd just how much I could give up to have them, I know I cannot imagine what it takes you to live with that.

Well, I told you, it's complicated!

I'm glad I have not met you enough. In fact, it's funny that we saw each other just twice in our lives. Once when you humiliated me at the Swayamvar, enough for me to wish to die. And once when I gave that right back to you. Not moving an inch but watch you be raped. Watch you look at me for help. That glance that only I understood, and knew that you know that too. I'm glad you didn't consider me to marry. I could not bear living a life with you, to discover the reflection of each and every of my vices and virtues in another body, another soul. "You are more myself than I am!" Because I do not love myself, let me love you. And let the distance be. Stay away, my goddess.

I can never be yours, truly!


Oct 7, 2012

Arjuna's Diary - the Curse of Urvashi

The Evening

Being the son of the King of the Devas has its perks, even if one is born out of wedlock.
I mean, not only are you trained in the use of the deadliest weapons, including the dreaded thunder – you are also treated to a banquet with a feast fit for gods.

Dad even allowed me to sit on the throne in the evening while celestial music played and somrasa flowed. If I had any reservations about the hard-work required to get to heaven, I witnessed the flash of divine light. As the spirits rose and things became heady, food appeared in ambrosial splendour – and the fare included the best aphrodisiacs, the viand tailored to the vine.

When the pleasures of the palate had taken ecstasy to ethereal levels, the thoughts of my four brothers walking the forests kind of flitted by. Bheema, the stud, would have loved the feast. Nakula and Sahadeva would have enjoyed the attention. And Yudhisthira? Well, he would have created the impression of not caring the least, but there would be an inner glow if he sat on the throne with Draupadi.

I banished the thoughts – after all, these were the fruits of labour, of preparing for war. However, I need not have bothered to struggle against my conscience. Soon, my brothers were as far from my mind as possible. For there had appeared the heavenly bodies. One by one, they came in, with movements of luscious rhythm and grace, platonic levels of sensual perfection.

I had heard of their beauty, the fire of desire that they worked up, the greatest feats they managed with the slightest movements of the arched eyebrows. But even all the legends had not prepared me for the absolute bliss. It was as if a secret door of paradise had been opened exclusively for my manhood, where it was stroked, pampered and cultured. 

Rambha, Tilottama, Menaka, each a fountain of desire waiting for parched thirsty lips of the enchanted to gulp down their nectar of delight. And outshining all of them was Urvashi – the charmer nonpareil. The sparks of attraction reached me through aggressive ripples that seemed to have lives of their own. I gaped at her, perhaps my mouth hung open. The somrasa had done its bit, and as she twisted and turned in step to the heavenly music that played from the band of Chitrasena, I leaned back and was fully smitten. 

Through the corner of my eye I saw Dad looking at me with amused eyes and I hastened to concentrate on the food and wine. After all, my ancestor Pururavas  had had some sort of a fling with the magnificent lady in front of me, and with all the gods watching, I could hardly afford to demonstrate my lust.

However, with time, music and wine, the gyrating heavenly hips, and the heaving beatific bosom, my little general was no longer under my command. He was threatening to put on a massive demonstration on his own. It was one of those rare moments when I envied Karna for his Kavach and Kundala. Forget wars, they are so very essential for such circumstances. I could bear it no longer and excused myself from the festivities, quickly stumbling to my sublime bedchamber.

The Night

Seeing the way things stood I took matters in my own hands. Five times in fact, once each for Rambha, Tilottama, Menaka and twice – oh, dear god – for Urvashi.

At last the fire in my loins was doused – with the most liberal flow, egged on by the consumed amounts of somrasa, saffron, shilajit, watermelon juice and artichokes. The throbbing had subsided and the little man was at last lying quietly when there was a soft knock on the door.

I wrapped my waistcloth around me, made sure my hands were wiped clean and opened the door. And then I started violently.

There she stood, the epitome of human and divine desire – the nymph from whose every posture poured liquid eros.  Urvashi waited  like a spectacular pitcher full of sex appeal sloshing about, with currents and undercurrents that swept men off their feet and carried them to the gorgeous depths, to the point of no return.

 “Shall we?” she did not say it, but passed the message in a series of eye signals that made every hair on my body stand on its end. She was there for taking, for having, for ravishing – and the fool that I was, I had spent myself five-fold.

“Can I help you, ma’am?” was all I could manage.

She laughed in a silvery chime that could easily have been a ray of moonlight reflecting off a celestial pool.

“Shy, are we?”

“Er ...”

“Yes, yes, I know ... very chivalrous and all that ... but your dear dad saw you ogling me and sent me over. Now isn’t that sweet? Parental Guidance at its best.”

I tripped over the loose end of my waist-cloth.

“Er ... ma’am.”

She passed me and walked in.

“The King of gods does treat his son well, I must say,” she said looking around.  “You can cut out the ma’am business, now.  In fact I am curious to see the great warrior’s most potent weapon. Pierce me with it.”

I grimaced and groaned, my hand painfully patting the flaccid fellow who slept all worn out.

 “You know, there are whole cities that know you by your loins,” she continued.

Well, many many years later, these very words would be transliterated to create a memorable villainous dialogue. But, at that moment, I was on the verge of kicking myself. 

Since desire of manhood would not rise, a sham of manly dignity had to be used to cover it up.

“I’m sorry ma’am, there is no way for this to happen.”

She started like a shell shocked siren. The many, many layers of her charms seemed to be peeled away, and the raging slighted woman stood bare in front of me.

“I beg your pardon, young man?”

She had glanced down, perhaps wondering if I was a man of flesh and blood and I quickly covered up the inert area.

“This is not meant to be. You are beautiful and all that ... but ...”

“But what? Have you had too much to drink?”

“I mean you were involved with Pururavas.”


“He is my ancestor. You ... you are kind of like my mother.”

She stood there, looking aghast.

“Well, was that it? I reminded you of your mother? Were you reminded of suckling your milk as well? Was that why you were gazing  steadfastly at my breasts.”

I mumbled ... “Er ... not quite ...”

“Listen here, you upstart. I have felt enough gazes on my bosom to know what’s what ...”

“But, ma’am you are really like my mother ...”

“Pretend that you are Greek. Oedipus complex and all that...”

“Er ma’am – I don't know what you are talking about."

"That Krishna doesn't tell you anything of importance, does he?"

 "But, say, how would you like to have people calling me mother-f***er?”

Her gaze burned through my vital organs.

“If you were so conscious of what people called you, you wouldn’t be carrying that great bow of yours called Gandiva. You want me to give it a shortened nickname?”

“But, look here ...”

“Have you been spending too much time with Krishna? Or Chitrasena? Gay as a picnic basket when I, Urvashi, come and offer myself to you on a heavenly salver?”

“Now, really ma’am ...”

“Don’t enjoy making love, do you? Let me make it easy for you. From now on you will be an eunuch ... wait a minute, shouldn’t it be ‘a eunuch’? These are always confusing. Anyway. Whatever it is, you don’t need to bother, for your precious article is not going to work any way.”

“Er ... ma’am, are you cursing me?”

“You bet your cute unfelt ass I am. And I will give you a piece of advice, kind of a freebie gift to go with it. Forget the arms and weaponry of Yama, Shiva and your precious dad, who has no idea he has fathered a disabled son. Spend time with Chitrasena. Pick up the finer points of music and dancing. As an eunuch, it will serve you well.”

“But, I say, dash it ...”

“Don’t provoke me any further, you ... you ...If you were man enough to disrobe, I would dash it for you myself.”

She turned and walked out, haughty and hyper – and even as she went away my eyes would not leave her wondrous behind.

It took a couple of moments for the enormity to strike me between the eyes. The heaven reeled before me. If she had really cursed me ...

The Morning After

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” dad said with feeling . “And I dare say neither has heaven.”

“I wouldn’t try this on earth either,” I agreed.

Dad nodded. “If you get a chance, that is ...”

I looked at him as Chitrasena patted me on the arm. “Do you think the curse is binding?”

Dad shrugged. “She has inscribed it in the divine database, so the curse is there to stay ... but ...”

I looked at him eagerly, eyes forlorn with hope. “But?”

“The valid duration has to be set by EOD tonight. I guess she has set it for lifetime by default, but if we can get her to soften ...”

I winced. “Dad, could we use some other word?”

“Well, we will try to get her to customise it and shorten ...”


“Okay ... I will stop talking. Chitra, come let’s go ...”

Chitrasena spoke now, “I will hitch up a plan with His Highness, but it won’t hurt you to workout with me from now on. You know, the curse will stay for some time and the better your music skills are the more you can deal with it. Unless of course you want to prey on the families with newborns ...”

I shuddered, and they left me ....

Soon, the celestial band echoed from a far corner of heaven. Chitrasena was at his innovative best with composition and my dad’s voice came through ...

“If there’s no freedom, what use then my kingdom ? 
To reduce the sentence, is to win it dear
 ... Let him please enjoy, his youth without fear.”

In other words  ... the song which was modified in this manner thousands of years later...
“Agar Azaadi na ho to, Swarg Milane se hoga kya? 
– Jeet ka, mantra hai, Take It easy policy.
Chaar din ki  chandni,  yeh jawani fantasy ... 
Urvashi, urvashi take it easy Urvashi ...”

Hideous as it might have sounded to my sensitive soul at that time, it worked. By the proverbial End of Day, Chitrasena came in with the glad announcement that Urvashi had set the period to one year.

 “Works rather well for your incognito exile ...,” was my dad’s advice that was borne along by the Gandharva. 

Dad had not been able to deliver the news in person. He was busy assuaging the ego of his greatest apsara, convincing her that she still had it, by filling her calendar with new sages to seduce.


Oct 6, 2012

Krishna's Diary: Entry 2

The tantrums were long-drawn and tearful as predicted. 
Just when I felt I could stand no more, I had a fit of inspiration and grabbed Radha's feet.
 "Forgive me, love of my heart", I cried, voice a-tremble with false emotion, "Grace my head with your lotus feet and forgive me."

Something that corny can't possibly work, you think ? You'll be amazed.
Radha's back in the sack again with much mushy talk and protestations of endless love. Completely predictable.

Is that all life has in store for me ? Herding cows, playing the flute, bedding gullible gopinis with cliches and play-acting, always in this same little village ?
The elders say it is. 
That, as a cowherd, this is my "swadharma", determined for me by my actions in previous lives. 
That I should dedicate my life to enacting my swadharma with no thought of future reward or consequence.

Ridiculous !!
Why resign myself to a life of tedium based on supposed actions in past lives I can neither recall nor verify ?
Why act at all if I do not care about reward or consequence ?
I suspect this nonsense was dreamed up by the elders to rationalize the futility of their own narrow lives. I'm having none of it.

There must be something more than this. There has to be a way to escape this idyllic morass. There has to be.

Voice of a shadow

The setting sun is glowing red, with shades of darkness tinging it. It is reminiscent of a father's face who is ashamed of his son's failure, reddened with angst, anger, disgrace and distress. The father who knew that his son studied well for the exam, but failed for some strange reason. Darkness has already set-in in that house on the banks of Ganga.  Two shadows sit there still, in that corner room. A slow voice echoes out of a shadow, with a slight tremble in it.


Oh dear Mother! How can I thank you for letting my head lie on your lap. It is this lap that protects me, more than this kavach that I was born with! Like the Sun who goes down into the Western hill to rest, I come to your lap for solace. The love you showered on me, all my life, is immeasurable. Wasn't it you who fought with father to send me to Drona's school. I pestered you night and day about learning archery! I don't know why, but I wasn't ever satisfied with just driving chariots, the chariots of someone else. I wanted to have my own chariot, lots of chariots, and become Maha Rathi! It is you who constantly encouraged me all along, keeping all the bruises caused by arrow sharp whispers of our neighbors, to yourself. Oh Mother, how come you love me so much!

Even today, when I came back home, it is you who recognized my grief. Neither father nor my dearest friend Duryodhan could see it! You asked me why my face looked like the Sun in the clutches of Rahu. Mother, I'll tell you why. I'll tell you all the questions that are piercing my heart in spite of this kavach covering me. I'll let loose the fire burning inside me, hidden, like the oceanic fire. I know, you can bear it for my sake. 

As you know, I went to Parasuram to obtain Brahmastra, the astra that Drona denied me giving because of his favoritism towards Arjun. That obsessive partiality of Drona, right from the school days, made me burn with jealousy. He used to teach him many new techniques for many extra hours. Is it fair of Guru? And that Arjun! His eyes drooled with haughtiness as he looked me down as an insect. Oh, how much I hate that big black pig! It is that pique which drove me, to somehow get that astra possessed by Arjuna. But alas, I returned empty handed today! But mother, that is not what makes me distressed. I went there with deceit and that didn't pay off, as simple as that.
But do you know why I failed? I did manage to obtain the Brahmastra from Parasuram, posing as a Brahmin. But yesterday the fatal thing happened. He was taking a nap on my lap, under the shade of a tree. At that time, a bloody damn demon insect came from nowhere and started biting my thigh. I resisted the pain. I couldn't move, as that might disturb my teacher. I've heard enough stories of rishis getting disturbed by slightest of things and giving curses! So I sat there still, like a statue. Blood oozed from my thigh. It slowly started trickling down and touched Parasuram. He woke up. "Oh, I'm in soup!", I thought. It was a soup indeed, but with a completely new recipe! I said that I endured the pain lest his sleep gets disturbed. And that, O mother, enraged him! He spoke some strange things to me. He said that such an endurance, such a valor, are the traits of a Kshatriy, and a Brahmin cannot have them. He said he was convinced that I am not a Brahmin, but a Kshatriya. Holy Cow! What was he saying? I was damn confused! I fell on his feet and revealed the truth. I told him I'm not a Kshatriy, but a Suta! He didn't care to hear thereafter. Boom came out the curse! The Brahmastra which I got with deceit, will come to no use for me. 

Mother, do you see the paradox, the contradiction here? Today, solely based on my traits, my Gunas, I was declared a Kshatriy! These very traits, did not come to any help when I challenged Arjun for a dual that other day. The day when princes were showcasing their skills. That time, it was my birth which took the upper hand. What an irony! In both the cases, I was at the losing end. Does this happen to me alone? - this strange mixture, of being someone by birth, and someone else by their characteristics?  Are the characteristics according to one's birth varna, or is the varna according to one's characteristics and deeds? Is a thing named after its characteristics, or does it inherit them from its name?

Mother, my head is bursting and heart is burning with such questions! Let me tell you one more thing, something which I didn't tell anyone, even to you. From the childhood, I had a deep desire inside me, to become a king and rule a country.  That desire grew with my age. Why should I have such a desire? Is it my dharma? I don't know. But I had the required qualities too, didn't I? Then why this discrimination based on birth? Shouldn't every one get the same opportunities to learn? Shouldn't jobs be given solely based on skills and talents? Mother, tell me, who will answer these questions for me? My aspiration remained unfulfilled, till that moment when Duryodhan appointed me as the King of Anga rajya. Oh Mother, Mother! That was the happiest moment of my whole life! It was like a re-birth to me. At that moment, I felt, I became the twice-born! And so, that new life that I got from Duryodhan, I decided to dedicate it to him. Whatever is good for him, is good for me. Whatever he asks me to do, I'll do. Now, the only wish I have is to kill my one and only enemy, that middle fiddle of Pandavas, the Arujun. I don't even care about the other four guys. To my mind, they are not even Kshatriyas. Arjun is the real guy. The real warrior. One should either kill him or get killed by him. There lies the ultimate meaning for my life. 

So you see, nothing is left in my life except revenge! Dear mother, the only love that remains, is you. Please let me rest in your lap till my life's wish comes true. 


The voice went mute. The two shadows dissolved into the darkness of night.

Big Brother

I didn't bother to take one last look at Draupadi. I simply went on. Bheem, possibly the one who had cared for her the most, gasped. He went to retrieve her. I had to tear him away from the spot: he couldn't comes to terms with the fact that D wasn't going to be a part of his life anymore.

For the first time I saw him in tears. Not mercurial ones, but silent ones that really don't heal on wiping. "Your majesty", he almost begged, "why did she have to fall?"


I smiled. Your majesty, I told myself. That's the way it has always been. Unconditional respect from the four of them. When was the last time they thought me as their brother? Or childhood playmate? And speaking about my wife, when was the last time she had looked or touched me as a partner, a husband? Did she ever, actually?

Taking a deep breath I went on to console Bheem. I had to explain him that it was because our wife was partial to Arjun (as was our mother; and Krishna; and the whole of Indraprastha and Hastinapur; and everyone we knew). I really cannot blame her for that. Arjun was the star of the family: and more importantly, he had won her over at her swayamvar.

Am I being jealous? Nah. Am I brooding? Possibly not. Complaining is something that no one has ever associated me with. Complains come from emotions, and I am supposed to be devoid of them, you see. I am supposed to abide by the rules and norms, and never let my heart rule over my head.

Being Yudi has been difficult, you see: people usually assume that the leader of any pack is the strongest or the most heroic of the lot. I wasn't. I simply had the advantage of age. I had my qualities, but my USP has been good judgement and honesty - attributes most people can hardly relate to. They had maintained their distance from me - my subjects as well as my brothers.

And my wife, well, for her I was always the demon who had won the right to her virginity, once again, simply by virtue of his age: I was never as passionate as Bheem or as heroic as Arjun or, well, as cute as the twins. I was simply honest - how do you expect the most coveted woman of our times to be impressed by that? And whatever was there, well, went away that day at the Kaurav court when my passion for the game of dice went on to change the course of history of my country.

I sighed. And walked along, Bheem by my side, and a curiously anonymous dog at my footsteps that had been tailing us since Hastinapur.


I have no idea as to who had named me Yudhishthir. The word literally stands for "one who remains sthir during wars", which sounds quite cool. I am, as you all might have figured out, unbelievably cold-headed: there have been moments where I have had lost my temper, but I shall come to that later.

My family, as you might happen to know, is filled with dubious births: during my twelve years worth of leisure days in the forest I had once planned to create a three-dimensional family tree for ourselves, but when I came to know that Abhimanyu's father-in-law Virat might have been a descendant of Satyavati's brother, I gave up the whole thing altogether.

Let me make things simple: I had an impotent (official) grandfather. When he died, my great-grandmother called upon my grandfather's stepbrother to have a go at my grandmothers. Each of these women gave birth to a single son, one blind and the other pale. The pale one turned out to be my (official) father, who was cursed by a rishi (who was, for some reason, under the impression that having sex disguised as a deer in a hunting spot was the brightest and safest thing to do) against sex. My mother then informed him that he was blessed with a cool boon (have you ever constructed a sentence with two consecutive words containing an "oo"?): that she could call upon a God whenever she wanted, and, well, you know the rest.

The pale man consented. Divine intervention happened, and I was born of my mother and Dharma (Yama), the God of death. Which possibly makes this weird walk to heaven all the more ironic, I suppose.


Talking of the walk, Bheem's gasp brought me back. I knew one of the others had fallen: Bheem confirmed it was Sahadeb. Are they going to fall off in reverse chronological order of their births, I wondered. In that case I'd be stuck with the thickest of the lot, having to explain the reason for every fall.


No one, I repeat, no one has made my blood run fast in my veins the way Draupadi had. The moment I saw her I knew two things. One, she was different. And two, she was never going to be mine.

For the first time in my life I felt that my life was a wasted one. The philosophical texts and discussions didn't have any meaning in the swayamvar. It was all about archery skills: and I didn't stand a chance. That woman shall not be mine, I had uttered to myself.

She was turning heads. She was created for that. She was The Quintessential Woman that was born once in a thousand years. Not a woman, but Woman herself, Woman created to fulfill all sorts of desire Man has.

Then everything happened in a whirlwind. Arjun won the contest. The kings protested. Bheem and Arjun fought them while I, as always, stood like an imbecile: I knew I wanted to defend my brothers, but I also knew I didn't have a chance in front of the likes of Karna, Shalya, Duryodhan, Jarasandha and Shishupal. I might have challenged them in a long-drawn conversation on philosophy, but I somehow suspect that it wouldn't have been the best way to handle the situation.

The rest, as they say, is history. D had to marry all five of us. I now know that my mother had seen the same fire in our eyes. I cringe at the thought of the shameless desire that the eyes of all five of us must have given away. She knew that this woman had to be shared, otherwise the bond between the brothers shall be broken. She had lost everything - her husband, her kingdom, her stature, her wealth. This bond was her only chance of having a stab at a revival. And she wasn't going to let it go because of one woman.

When the annual sharing law was imposed, I knew I'd have the first go at her. Hurting my own brother had never seemed so perversely pleasant. I tried my hardest to conceal my elation, but I suppose many of those present saw through me. Today, as I walk up the rough, steep Himavan, I don't really feel proud of the moment. I loved Arjun. I had loved them all. But women like D can do certain things to men, you see. She ended up resulting in destroying almost the entire male population of the country.


"It's Nakul", I told Bheem, who had by now seemed to accept what was going to happen to us. I explained him the reason, and he toiled along, trailed by Arjun and, well, that ubiquitous dog.


I shouldn't have taken up playing dice. I really shouldn't have.

I wish I could apologise to my brothers and wife for that fateful day. Or rather, those fateful days when Shakuni kept on defeating me, and I betted on, losing all and sundry. It was for me that my brothers were called slaves. It was for me that my wife was stripped in public. They were sentenced to thirteen years of misery - all because of that single addiction of mine. And what hurts me the most was that even after all that, all five of them remained as loyal as before to me for the rest of their lives.

Was I worth it? At all? What have I done for them? Do they owe anything to me?

Yes, they do - a voice replied from inside me. You had saved their lives, remember? My mind raced. I ignored the stray incident of saving Bheem from Nahush, cursed into a humongous python, and thought of the bigger one.

My father had disguised himself as a yaksha, who in turn had disguised himself as a crane, who had disguised himself as a deer to steel the Brahman's arani and mantha (pieces of wood used in rituals). This is possibly the only known example of a disguise of the third order. Trust my father to come up with things like that.

I was in a strange frame of mind when I reached the brook. All four of them lay dead. Not only was I crestfallen, I also realised that the task ahead of me was an almost impossible one without Bheem and Arjun. But then, I told myself, I won't mind staying in the forest for a lifetime if I had no one to share her with...

My father, now disguised as a massive yaksha, told me that he had challenged my brothers to play Mastermind. Most people do not take quiz-crazy yakshas seriously, and I don't blame my brothers for that.

I, however, accepted the challenge. My father, peculiar individual that he is, not only asked me incredibly obscure philosophical questions, but for whatever reason, he asked them in sets of four. It was like rapidfire rounds, but I cherished the challenge.

I'm leaving the list of questions for future generations facing yakshas, dead brothers and equivalents alongside brooks in forests. I doubt whether you shall be asked questions from outside these, so prepare yourself well. And no, I am not giving the answers away.

Set 1: Who keeps the Sun so high? Who revolve round it (hint: Copernicus shall not be born in centuries)? Who helps it set every evening? Where does it exist?
Set 2: How do Brahmans become Gods? Why are Brahmans respected? Why are they humans? How do they become evil?
Set 3: How do Kshatriyas become Gods? Why are Kshatriyas respected? Why are they humans? How do they become evil?
Set 4: Who is heavier than the Earth? Who is higher than the sky? What is faster than the wind? What outnumber blades of grass?
Set 5: Who doesn't close its eyes when asleep? Who doesn't move even after being born (hint: Inzamam-ul-Haq wasn't born then)? Who doesn't have a heart? What gains prosperity through speed?
Set 6: Who are the friends of people who stay away from home (hint: not porn sites)? Who are the friends of people who stay at home? Who are the friends of the ill? Who are the friends of people those in their deathbeds?
Set 7: The sacrifice of what makes you popular? The sacrifice of what makes you at peace? The sacrifice of what makes you rich? The sacrifice of what makes you happy?
Set 8: What is The Message? What is Surprise? What is The Way? Who is genuinely happy?
Set 9 (for whatever reason, this contained only two questions - I suppose he was getting frustrated and tired): Who is Man? Who is the owner of everything?

I nailed all thirty-four questions correctly. When my father asked me which of my brothers I wanted alive, I asked for Nakul. He was taken aback - but I knew I was playing my cards right. I knew this was no random yaksha - he was someone special, and if you acted deceptively innocent, you could manage a boon or two. Besides, Nakul was the weakest competition as far as Draupadi was concerned, correct?

It turned out to be my father in the end. Exactly why he had opted for a triple-layered animagus form I'm not sure, but the boon he gave us (no one would be able to identify us in the thirteenth year) came in handy.


There was a crash behind us. Bheem had probably expected Arjun to outlast him, but he wasn't aware of the fact that gluttony doesn't rank as high as pride on the list of sins. On another day he might have kicked the dog (or maybe made a snack out of it).


How did I fare in Kurukshetra, then? I knew my limitations, and I also knew the fact that however ordinary I was as a warrior, if the Kauravs managed to capture or kill me, the war would've been over. This made me feel like a chess king: the only advantage was that my protector was not my queen.

The first Kaurav commander was Bhishma. I fought him, along with the superior ones in my army. For nine days he remained unvanquished. He killed all that crossed his path, massacring thousands of Pandavs every day.

On the ninth night we went to his camp. Yes, I know, it was in the enemy camp, which is why my prouder brothers were against it. But I, the man above all ego, led the brethren, along with Krishna, and The Great Old Man told us how to use Shikhandi to defeat him.

For the next four days, Dron showed far more ruthlessness than Bhishma ever had. Rules were broken, my nephews were brutally killed, and once again an old man proved to be the main thorn in the Pandav flesh.

Yet again, I turned out to be crucial. Everyone knows the story, so I'm not going to narrate it (though I could never fathom why would there be two creatures with the name Ashwatthama on the same battlefield at the same time). As I told the pseudo-lie, my chariot wheels hit the ground for the first time in my military career, and finally Dron was felled.

On day seventeen, I had a terrible duel with Karna. Of course, it had to be terrible, since it was an out-and-out mismatch. I tried my level best, but I was no match for him. What was worse, he had me almost at his feet and then spared my life (it took me a few more days to find out why).

Of course, I was not going to absorb this bit of ignominy just like that. As I was being nursed at the camp, Arjun came back to see the proceedings. Then something incredible happened - I lost my temper. I gave Arjun possibly the most severe verbal bashing of his lifetime - severe enough to tempt Arjun to take my life. He would have killed me (and Bheem ruled India), had Krishna not intervened.

The outcome? An infuriated Arjun killed Karna, the third Kaurav commander, within a few hours.

As for the fourth one, Shalya, I killed him with my own hands. This remains the only occasion when I had killed a really great warrior in my life, and possibly the most significant entry on my military CV. But the bottomline is possibly the fact that I was the only one to have played a part in the demise of all four Kaurav commanders. ALL. The methods were not exactly military ones, but directly or indirectly, I brought about the downfall of all four of them.


This time the crash was the loudest. Bheem's voice sounded distant as he asked me the obvious question. I slowed down enough to ensure that he heard me, then went on.


Some people, you see, die. Just like that.

Some others live on for an eternity. It possibly gets kind of boring for this clan after a while: but Bali, Parashuram, Vibhishan, Hanuman, Vyas, Kripacharya and Ashwatthama have lived on. Of course they are immortals. The seven of them still exist somewhere, arranging summit conferences at random locations to share reminiscences of the past.

Some others could opt for their death. Bhishma, who either made the greatest sacrifice in the history of mankind or was gay, was granted this wildcard. It sounds cool, but not when you wait for The Sun to change its course lying on a bed of arrows.

However lucrative they might be, being an immortal or having ichchhamrityu come with their drawbacks. None of these gallant men had the opportunity of walk to heaven, retaining their own physical existences. I shall make it, though. The same old story - of the nice boy who finished first, you see.

I wasn't a great brother, and possibly not a great husband, either. I know this is getting repetitive, but it was my folly that had made Draupadi suffer; and it was my insatiable craving for Draupadi that made me ignore Debika; neither was I a responsible father for Prativindhya or Yaudheya.

But then, relationships don't stand the test of time. This is what no one seems to understand: you have company till a certain point of time, after which you're left absolutely alone. Look at myself now: the mother and brothers and woman who had meant so much to me are no longer there. What I am left with is the legacy - of being the greatest emperor the country has ever produced - of being the only king to have performed both the rajasuya and ashwamedh rituals successfully - of being the leader of the army that won The Greatest War - of being the embodiment of truth and righteousness in an era of crime and oppression.

I'm intrigued by this dog, though. It must be my father again, who is under the perpetual impression that disguising himself is an efficient way to keep a geriatric son amused. I'm not sure of the trick he has up his sleeve this time, but I'm sure that I shall outsmart him again.

It has been a lonely path all along: but then, that holds for anyone exceptional. And being able to walk up to heaven in human flesh is being exceptional. I am special. I always have been. It was the world that could not keep up with me. It never could. Which is why I have outgrown the world in stature, and shall achieve what no one shall ever emulate. Ever.