Monday, June 27, 2011

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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Avenged

If the phrase "Sabina Park" doesn't make your blood boil, you might skip this article altogether. Do let me know, though: I might tick you off my friends' list.

It was 1976. We had chased down 406, a world record, at Port-of-Spain in the previous test. Lloyd's spinners couldn't prevent a defeat: Gavaskar and Viswanath scored hundreds, and we had cruised to victory. A frustrated Lloyd thought he won't let it remain anything short of a bloodbath anymore. He picked four fast bowlers, and when we crossed 200 for the loss of just a single wicket, the bowlers, especially Holding, was asked to do something different.

Holding was the fastest of the pack: he came round the wicket, and with a bunch of fielders on the legside, bowled short-pitched deliveries. He was ably supported by Daniel. The umpires didn't intervene, despite the batsmen's repeated protests. As the Indian batsmen were hit, time and again, the crowd cheered. The arena hardly looked like a cricket field any more: the crowd was actually preferring to see blood instead of cricket. They kept shouting for blood.

Gaekwad, Brijesh Patel and Viswanath were all hit (the first two had to retire), and Bedi had to declare to protect himself and Chandrasekhar from being murdered. West Indies took a lead of 85, and then, at 97/5, the Indian innings folded with three men injured and two not being exposed to brutal savagery.

Having grown up on Sunny Days, my blood used to boil as a teenager whenever I used to read this chapter. Why cannot we avenge 1976? We had gone on to lose narrowly in 1983, easily in 1989 and one-sidedly in 2002. Shall we never win at Sabina Park? We shall never have a Holding, or for that matter, anyone from that pack. But it still had to happen sometime, right?

So I waited. Then came 2006. It was a strange-looking pitch, with prominent uneven bounce from day one. We did not have Tendulkar, and we had dropped Ganguly. The openers scored zero and one. Even Laxman looked uncomfortable.

But we had Dravid, who had decided to set up camp at the crease. The usual pack of four fast bowlers hunted for wickets, but The Wall had remained unconquered for close to six hours (no other batsman in the entire test managed to go past two). He handled bounce and pace with ease: he negotiated lifters and shooters; he used loose hands; he waited; he took blows; and when the bowlers finally tired, he got the runs as well. With the help of a late surge from Kumble, we reached 200. Dravid was eighth out, scoring one of the most attractive 81s you'd ever get to see.

The bowlers supported well. Sreesanth removed Gayle for a duck, and once the top order was removed, Harbhajan came on and took 5/13 to bowl them out for 103. Could we win this? A lead of 97 on a wicket that was definitely difficult to bat on: Dravid had bailed us out in the first innings. Who shall it be this time?

The openers got 1 and 4 this time. Dhoni's 19 was the second-highest score of the innings, and no one managed to bat for an hour: no one except Dravid, that is. With the wicket getting worse by the hour, Dravid batted for 215 minutes, scoring 68 to equal his previous effort. Once again he took blows, defended dourly and played his strokes: he went on and on, making me stay up the night.

For some inexplicable reason there were some people watching World Cup football that night (and through the entire tests). I mean, if you can't stay up, that's pardonable: but stay up and still not watch a Sabina Park test? No wonder Fardeen Khan has made a career out of his acting skills in this country.

They needed to get 269. Sreesanth got Gayle for a duck again. Sarwan, Lara, Chanderpaul followed. There was a late burst from Ramdin, but Kumble kept chipping on with wickets. He took 6/78, and we went on to win a test at Sabina Park. After a wait of thirty years. THIRTY.

But then, it's always sweeter if you get to beat them AGAIN. In the next test. And unlike spinners, it was the seamers who did it for us. Ishant bowled unplayable legcutters and bouncers, taking six wickets in the match; the debutant Praveen Kumar made the ball do U-turns in the air, taking six more; Raina and Harbhajan scored fifties; and well, that man got 40 and 112.

Sleep time. Thanks guys, yet again. What would I do without you?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cricket! Cricket!! Cricket!!!

When you're grow up watching cricket, these are the days you dream of witnessing at some point of time in your life. And when they happen, the only feeling that passes through your mind is that of elation.

"Yayness!" is possibly the only thing that you can say. Even if I'm an atheist, cricket possibly has a God, and my prayers have been answered.

***

PS: Did anyone notice that Greece plays two matches today?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A journey in photographs - II

Since I'm still suffering from that blogger's block mentioned here, I shall follow a similar approach here as well. What's more, all these pictures have not been clicked in the recent past: some of them, yes, but others are merely screenshots from my computer, and I had put up some of the others on a dead site called Orkut ages back.

Here we go:

Exhibit 1: I thought this guest house would win the award for the most imaginative, innovative name in Kolkata, but...


Exhibit 2: Smashed exhibit 1 to pulp. A definite winner. How could they even think of something so amazingly original?


Exhibition 3: Advertising on Facebook is fine, but shouldn't there be a censorship of any kind on brand names?


Exhibit 4: Some people are nice enough to forget humiliations from over a decade back. Happy social networking, Henry!


Exhibit 5: Christopher Nolan, it seems you've made Inception a big success in my city. I wonder whether anything is ever sold here, though.


Exhibit 6: I suppose it would have taken an Indian Government company for this to happen.


Exhibit 7: Of course, helmets and cellphones are detrimental towards the physical security of HSBC ATMs. Interestingly they do not mention sledgehammers anywhere.


Exhibit 8: Too Bengali to be enjoyed by others, but there is a Hindi version as well that goes tedha hai, phir bhi mera hai (in case the Bangla is too small to read, it goes বাঁকা হোক্‌, তবুও আমার). Isn't Juhi Chawla cute?


Exhibit 9: Finally, someone thought of doing something for sore eyes. Long live, BWC, we're dying for those 38DDs on Kolkata streets.


Exhibit 10: This was taken at NOIDA. I didn't have an idea that such clinics even existed, but then, truth is stranger than fiction.


Exhibit 11: They'd give you a facial. Pedicure. Manicure. Massage. And goodness knows what else. And they also put up shows of their performances for the public. Amazing business tactics, these.


Exhibit 12: This was a wedding-special issue. I agree that marriages come with certain aspects of life, but I didn't expect questions this direct. Once again, apologies if you're not Bengali.


Exhibit 13: Possibly the most specialised photocopying shop that has ever existed. Wow. Just wow.


Exhibit 14: Whoever had taken the uploader's sex education course had missed out on a thing or two. In case you think this is photoshopped, the URL is also there.


Exhibit 15: Bubai, as your name suggests, we know what you've been eyeing. Diya, as her name suggests, we know what she has done. Now, Bubai, please follow the instructions. They're written in red, after all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day XIV

Arjun woke up with a start. He knew that it was a dream - the one about Shiv. But the other one, it dawned on to him, wasn't really another of his dreams. It was real - as real as they made them. He had really vowed to kill Jayadrath by that evening; if he failed, he would commit suicide by walking into a (well-lit, obviously) fire.

No one dared ask him the two obvious questions (you see, the Arjuns of the world are not to be messed around with):
  1. Why Jayadrath? He wasn't one of the seven soldiers who had felled his son the previous day. He simply guarded the vyuha, not allowing anyone to enter. He didn't seem very keen to go after the big fish like Dron, Karna and Duryodhan, all of whom were directly responsible for Abhimanyu's demise. Can you imagine Thakur sparing Gabbar, but going after his checkpost guards? Let alone Thakur, would even Fardeen do it?
  2. Why take his own life? What good would that do? Yes, it would do a world of good to his own ego, but that would possibly end the war then and there. It was, like, if-I-can't-hit-six-sixes-in-this-over-I-shall-deliberately-get-out-hit-wicket-the-next-over.
Krishna, of course, had realised Arjun's folly. He had asked Daruk, his capable charioteer, to keep his own chariot ready, just in case.

Winter was setting in. As he strode towards the makeshift loo in the frozen Haryana dawn, Arjun possibly repented his vow. Perhaps soothing Subhadra in the cosiness of a blanket was definitely a better option in this chilly weather. But then, it had already been made, and had to be executed.

By the time he was through with his teeth sparkling and all, Krishna was ready, waiting. Arjun put on his 24-carat gold crown and stepped on the chariot. They teed off.

Arjun, as throughout the war, had the Panchal warriors Uttamauja and Yudhamanyu escorting him on either side. These two heroes are seldom spoken of, but throughout the Great War they served as more than capable bodyguards for Arjun.

***

Dron, on the other hand, was quite well-prepared. He made a triple vyuha - a chakrashakat (wheelbarrow, possibly) vyuha; inside it a padma (lotus) vyuha; and finally, a suchi (needle) vyuha. I'm not the best at drawing vyuhas (or anything else, for that matter), but this is probably what it looked like:


Mind you, the distance between Dron and Jayadrath was about six kroshas, or about twelve miles.If ever a task could be classified as Herculean, this was probably it. "Even the days are shorter at this time of the year", Jayadrath told himself in utter glee.

***

Arjun, however, started off in Chris Gayle fashion, bludgeoning his way through the elephants stopping him from reaching Dron. Dushshasan broke ranks and attacked Arjun, but was defeated shortly (what chance does Raina have against Steyn anyway?).

Arjun, possibly on Krishna's advice, tried to convince Dron to let him through. But then, as I have found out myself umpteen times, it isn't really easy to hoodwink teachers into doing something stupid.

 A furious duel followed. It seemed to be reaching a stalemate when Krishna yelled "Eureka!" in Sanskrit, and simply drove the chariot around Dron's. So skilled was the great man that Dron's trailing arrows fell way short of Arjun's back. Yudhamanyu and Uttamauja slipped through as well.

Led by Kritavarma, a band of lesser warriors assembled to attack Arjun. As expected, all of them perished, though none as uniquely as Shrutayudh, who aimed his mace at Krishna and fell when his own mace ricochetted off Krishna.

At this point of time Duryodhan came to the fray. He went through his daily ordeal of having a verbal bash at Dron, this time for letting Arjun through. When Dron asked Duryodhan to take on Arjun himself, he chickened out the way managers do when engineers ask them to solve a problem.

Dron then gave Duryodhan his impregnable kavach (armour); thus confident, Duryodhan chased Arjun.

***

It was past midday, and Arjun was halfway or so through. The Kauravs kept coming at him, and he kept on making his way through them. But however vigorous Krishna and Arjun might have been, the horses were mere mortals, and much to the dismay of Maneka Gandhi, couldn't move any further.

Less than four days after he had pierced the earth to provide Bhishma with drinking water, Arjun did it again. This time he created a lake of a decent size; while Krishna ensured that the horses had their fill, Arjun kept the asking rate going by massacring the Kauravs.

As he alighted his chariot after Krishna gave him the heads-off, Arjun's 20-20 vision actually saw Jayadrath for the first time that day, still miles away. But before he could proceed, he was intercepted by the supposedly impregnable armour-clad Duryodhan.

It took Arjun a moment to realise why his arrows were bouncing off Duryodhan. He killed off Duryodhan's charioteer and horses, broke his bow and pierced his bare hands with the choicest of arrows. Finding Duryodhan in peril, all the protectors of Jayadrath broke ranks and rushed to help him. They surrounded Arjun from all sides and tried to attack him. This probably gave them a sense of déjà vu from the previous day's action.

But Abhimanyu didn't have Krishna as his ally: Krishna's conch Panchajanya went tooooooooot, calling for help.

***

The Pandavs were alarmed. This was the first time in fourteen days that the Krishnarjun combo had pressed the F1 button. Yudhishthir called a quick conference, and asked Satyaki to join Arjun.

Satyaki was having a peaceful day till then, guarding Yudi from Dron. He tried to convince Yudi that Arjun could cope, but Mr Honesty wasn't really convinced. Satyaki wasn't left with much of an option: he left Bheem in charge of guarding his elder brother, rushed towards Dron, quickly killed his charioteer and rushed past him. Dron tried to follow him, but his confused horses ran helter-skelter, leaving Dron with no option but to switch chariots and get back to the main entrance.

In typical Yusuf Pathan fashion, Satyaki bludgeoned his way through the opposition ranks. Duryodhan and Dushshasan were no match for him, and soon Arjun was in sight. Duryodhan's Yavan soldiers (possibly imported by Shakuni), clad in their bronze armours, attacked him in unison with the Himalayan tribes.

But there was a valid reason Satyaki went on to become one of the eleven survivors of the Kurukshetra War: he fought them all of them alone, and ran through them at an express pace to join Arjun.

***

At the Pandav camp, however, Yudhishthir was really anxious: there was no news of either of Arjun, Krishna or Satyaki. Once again he called the brains (whatever was left of it, that it, with Krishna absent) of his army together.

Bheem was the next to be sent (Dhrishtadyumna was left in charge of Yudi). Once again Dron proved to be the first barrier. Bheem, never one for the subtleties of life, smashed his chariot, charioteer and horses with his mace, making the old man run for dear life. He killed a handful of Duryodhan's brothers, then a few more before Karna, on Duryodhan's request, broke ranks and attacked Bheem.

What ensued is one of the most fiercely fought, yet underrated duels in the war. Both men were great warriors, and inflicted serious physical damage to one another. Karna definitely had the advantage of fighting from a distance (Bheem, being primarily a mace warrior, preferred fighting from a closer distance). But Bheem hung on, wounded Karna quite heavily, and when another bunch of Kaurav brothers came to Karna's aid, they were all killed.

But as the duel went on, Karna clearly emerged the superior of the two. Bheem fought valiantly with his bow and arrows (weapons that were not his forte) but gradually chariot was destroyed, and he had to take shelter behind a barrier of broken chariots and elephant corpses. He hurled a mace and missed, and when he tried to use his sword, he lost it as well.

He resorted to throwing chariot wheels and elephant corpses (!) at Karna. I shudder at the plight of the common soldier: just imagine whole elephants being flung over your head. Anyway, these were also negotiated with (I wonder how), and Bheem was left stranded, without a single pachyderm for cover. Satyaki tried to rush to his help, but he was too far away.

It was Karna's promise made to Kunti that saved Bheem that day: Bheem quickly rushed to Satyaki's chariot and took refuge as his charioteer made arrangements for a fresh one (possibly an ownerless one left in the battlefield).

Satyaki, after seeing Bheem to safety, thus went to join forces with Arjun. It was then that Bhurishrava intercepted him. This, well, calls for some serious flashback.

***

Long, long ago there was this hot belle called Devaki. She was the sister of a mighty ruler called Kangsa, king of Mathura and son-in-law of the invincible Jarasandha. As it happens with all hot belles, Devaki had plenty of suitors, some of whom featuring in the Who's Who of Ancient India.

Vasudev, a charming Yadav prince, was among these suitors. Unfortunately, Somdutt of the Bahlik kingdom (in Punjab) was another. Obviously, there needed to be a duel between the two to decide who would go on to win Devaki's hand.

Vasudev didn't go for the duel himself. Instead, he sent Shini, possibly his best Yadav warrior, to fight for him (Agamemnon-Achilles anyone?). Shini soon got the better of poor Somdutt, grabbed him by his hair and kicked him (this was apparently the greatest form of humiliation shown by an Indian till Harbhajan was accused of calling Symonds "monkey").

Vasudev and Devaki got married, while Somdutt walked away, dejected. He did not give up, though. He went through a rigorous tapasya, and was granted the boon that one day his son would grab Shini's descendant by the hair and kick him. This has possibly gone down in history as the most precise boon ever wanted and granted.

Somdutt showed commendable restraint here. Any other man would possibly have wanted a death or at least a bloodshed. Anyway, he got a son in the form of Bhurishrava, and Satyaki was born to Satyak, the son of Shini.

***

Bhurishrava, despite being a great warrior, should not have been a match for the great Satyaki. But on this day, he had his father's penances by his side. He blew apart Satyaki, and when the latter was disarmed, Bhurishrava jumped on Satyaki's chariot, grabbed him by his hair and kicked him.

With that, the results Somdutt's prayers were fulfilled. Vasudev's own son, sharing a chariot with Vasudev's nephew, saw this; and when Bhurishrava raised his sword to behead Satyaki, Arjun, acting under Krishna's instructions, fired a lethal arrow to ampute Bhurishrava's right hand.

This was plain and simple cheating, but when Bhurishrava pointed that out, Krishna and Arjun both reminded him of how Abhimanyu was killed the previous day.

Bhurishrava then did something extremely weird: he gripped his right hand with his still intact left one, and decided to do a prayopoveshan (hunger strike till death). His act has undoubtedly inspired the Anna Hazares in coming centuries, but apparently it had no impact on a storming Satyaki.

Here we shall take another timeout. This time it's flashback #2:

***

Satyaki had once promised (to himself) that if anyone grabbed him by his hair AND kicked him AND let him go alive he shall kill him, whatever be the circumstances. I've often wondered exactly what had triggered off a promise this specific, but then, it all strangely fitted that day.

***

Satyaki rushed towards Bhurishrava, his sword gleaming in the Sun. Before anyone knew he was on the fasting hero and decapitated him. When everyone (including Krishna and Arjun) shunned his action, Satyaki defended himself by
  1. narrating his promise, as stated above, and
  2. obviously, reminding everyone of Abhimanyu's death.
***

Time was, on the other hand, running out for Arjun. The asking rate was mounting, and batting powerplays were not introduced at that point of time. Duryodhan sensed this (possibly his only bit of wisdom in the span of eighteen days), and withdrew all his main generals to form a circle around Jayadrath.

Though Karna had emerged victorious against Bheem earlier in the day, the duel had sapped a lot out of him; he was sore, fatigued and severely wounded. He was joined by his son Vrishasen as well as the likes of Kripa, Ashwatthama, Shalya, Duryodhan and Kritavarma. Jayadrath himself fought on from behind, and despite Satyaki and Bheem supporting Arjun as much as they could, it seemed that Arjun's promise shall remain unfulfilled.

The darker it got, the more gleeful and confident the Kauravs became. Jayadrath was still heavily shielded, and while Arjun showed no signs of tiring or retreating, he didn't manage to advance either.

And then it happened. Krishna was apparently the only one who knew about the solar eclipse, and just like Tintin in Prisoners of the Sun, he took advantage of the eclipse: as soon as the Sun hid behind the moon, he promptly shouted to make the Kauravs aware of the fact.

The Kauravs got engaged in a moronic act of celebrations, high-fives and hula dances. Krishna smiled, and disclosed the truth to Arjun. However, there was something else that needed to be conveyed as well, which shall lead to flashback #3:

***

Like all men, Jayadrath had a father. He was a caring, and if anything, slightly eccentric one. Briddhakshatra prayed to Shiv and somehow managed to obtain the boon that whoever was responsible for Jayadrath's head hitting the ground would have his own head split into a hundred pieces instantly. This, obviously, led to the following questions:
  1. Why did Briddhakshatra want the potential threat to be killed after, and not before the killer had killed Jayadrath?
  2. Even if he had secured a boon of this magnitude, why did he decide to keep it a secret? Wouldn't spreading the news have been more effective?
  3. If Jayadrath was killed with caution, the killer would have been safe. For example, if he was nailed to a wall with a sword or a spear, the killer would have walked away unharmed.
***

The eclipse cleared. The Kauravs were in shock. Jayadrath, who, in ecstasy, had stretched his giraffesque neck to have a good view of The Sun, now stared in horror. Arjun cast an arrow to behead him; and then flung a volley of arrows that carried the head and made it land on Briddhakshatra's lap (why not into Karna's hands, one might wonder). The old man stood up in utter shock, and, well... you know the rest.

Abhimanyu had been avenged. Well, sort of avenged, since Jayadrath hadn't killed him. But then, as mentioned before, you don't really argue with the Arjuns.

And then, just like the rain in the last scene of Lagaan, The Sun set.

***

Somdutt, The Man With the Precise Promise, was still alive: he launched a furious assault on Satyaki, and it took the combined effort of Satyaki and Bheem to kill him. Somdutt's father then joined the party (the Bahliks, apparently, did the avenging bit in the reverse order of Bollywood movies: the father avenged the son's death).

Bheem's mace, however, posed too much of a challenge for the geriatric man. Ghatotkach, a fresh addition to the team, took on Ashwatthama and the other stalwarts. As the war got fiercer and fiercer, darkness spread over the battlefield.

***

The war didn't stop. The infantry was ordered to carry lamps instead of weapons; the horses were made to carry two lamps each (how?); the elephants, seven each; and as many as ten lamps were placed on every chariot. Kerry Packer would've been amused.

Humiliated by Duryodhan's words, Dron and Karna launched a furious combined assault on the Pandavs. Krishna was aware of Karna's ekaghni weapon (it would have killed anyone, whoever it was fired on; but it could have been used once, and only once) and kept Arjun away from Karna (I wonder why Karna didn't use it on Arjun while defending Jayadrath earlier in the day).

Ghatotkach, like a true rakshas, gained power at night. Krishna ordered him to take on Karna.

Pandemonium followed. Random weapons started dropping from the sky. Every now and then a rakshas popped up, threatening to gobble up the Kauravs. Karna fought valiantly, but there was little he could to combat dark magic.

Ruthless animals and birds of prey, spanning all three of Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery Channel, appeared out of nowhere. Karna killed all of them, but Ghatotkach seemed unstoppable: he expanded and contracted to ridiculous sizes; he disappeared all of a sudden and reappeared out of nowhere; he flew in the sky and penetrated the ground; he set panic amidst the entire Kaurav army.

Karna fought on. He was joined by the rakshas Alayudh; Ghatotkach grabbed Alayudh, beheaded him and threw the head at Duryodhan. The Kauravs retreated as Karna stood like Andy Flower amidst the ruins. Karna lost his chariot, charioteer and horses. He fought on, but as the battle dragged on, everyone realised that Ghatotkach would emerge victorious in the long run.

Karna had to do it. On Duryodhan's insistence he had to launch his favourite, well-preserved ekaghni at Ghatotkach. Ghatotkach expanded his body as much as he could, and as the weapon pierced him fatally, Bheem showed amazing presence of mind and shouted "fall on the Kauravs, Son!" The impact killed one akshauhini of soldiers, one-eleventh of the original Kaurav soldier count.

***

The Pandavs were devastated, especially Bheem. Krishna, however, looked quite gleeful (he even danced in ecstasy) as the ekaghni had now been used up, thereby leaving Arjun safer.

The explanation of Krishna's act possibly soothed the other four brothers; but an infuriated Yudhishthir made a suicidal dash at Karna. And then - believe it or not - Vyas himself stepped in (from where?) and cooled him down, assuring him that he would rule India in five days' time.

With everyone soothed, the war ended for the night; Arjun called for a temporary truce, and soldiers slept on the battlefield itself, and possibly the fiercest day's war in the history of mankind came to an end. Mind you, they woke up soon after moonrise and resumed, but that's another story altogether.

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