Banner by Rituparna Chatterjee, a woman with the potential to make it big. It's not that she can't: she just won't.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Et tu?


Cross-posted on CricketCountry.com. I do not usually cross-post CricketCountry URLs, but I simply could not miss this one.

***

There were two Sachin Tendulkars.

One of them was for the world. He scored thousands of runs and truckloads of hundreds. I know exactly how many, and even if I forget my birthday, these are numbers that will never elude my memory, these somehow take a backseat today. What stands out today is the other Tendulkar. My Tendulkar.

This doesn’t even begin with ODIs. This was an ODI curtailed to an exhibition match of twenty overs. India needed to score 43 from the last two overs. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the Indian and a happy-go-lucky slogger himself, did not look too keen on chasing the target. Abdul Qadir, champion leg-spinner with a mysterious, somewhat tangled run-up and a legend from my school days, ran in. The boy, my Tendulkar, took him for 27 runs.

I had later heard that Qadir had baited my Tendulkar before the over, challenging him to have a go at him. The kid had accepted the challenge. He was still a schoolboy: I was still in shorts, and he was of the age that, in the 1980s, had merely migrated to trousers.

People are not supposed to face the fiercest attacks in their teens. They are supposed to stay at we affectionately refer to as hotel-de-papa; fight with their parents in the incessant struggle for extra pocket-money; bunk tuitions to watch movies; chase up girls and borrow money for Valentine’s Days; and perhaps consume copious amounts of paan-masala to cover up the odour of tobacco.

They were not supposed to take on the best bowlers in the world at that age. That too in their own den, thousands of miles away from the security of their home; representing their country; carrying the hopes of a billion on their shoulders; at the biggest stage of all.

Remember the 1990s? India were often set 250ish targets; we all tucked in (or had tea, depending on whether it was a day match or a day-night one) and waited with bated breath – for the batsman whose face emitted innocence and determination at the same time. We waited. We watched as the ball was overpitched; my Tendulkar’s elbow bent at an unmistakable angle as the familiar backlift happened; the bat came down in a menacing arc and bat met the ball, resulting in the sweetest sound possible; not a fielder moved; the ball sped past the bowler and crashed into the sightscreen.

We didn’t shout at that stroke. We smiled. We nodded. We looked reassuringly at each other. He is there, we thought. He batted on. He counterattacked in an era when we merely succumbed to the mightier opponents from all over the world. They had the advantage of ruthless batting and superlative fielding. We had a single weapon to stand up against them.

And when my Tendulkar got out, mostly because he needed to score fast as the opposition had succeeded in bottling up his partners, we changed the channel; or probably gathered at a friend’s to play carrom; or even studied. Because nothing else seemed to matter. Nothing. The match had slipped.

Remember Sharjah 1998? Remember how my Tendulkar took on the mighty Australians by the horns and sent them packing amidst an intimidating desert blizzard? Remember how we had read that half a dozen or so Australian cricketers had lined up outside the dressing room to take his autograph? Have you ever seen batting like that? Has anyone?

Remember World Cup 1999? When my Tendulkar had missed the Zimbabwe match (that we promptly lost) to cremate his father, and then came back to score that hundred that melted the hardest of hearts, moistened the driest of eyes? Would you lie today and say that you could hold back your emotions that day? I doubt.

Remember Nairobi 2000? Remember when my Tendulkar suddenly took Glenn McGrath’s aggression a tad too seriously and hit him over his head for a six? Remember how Harsha Bhogle, for once, could not hold his emotions back and gave a clarion call to all the viewers to ask their friends to turn their television sets on? It wasn’t a big innings – but have you ever seen such ferocity hidden behind that smiling disguise?

Remember my Tendulkar’s fairytale 175? Remember the day when my Tendulkar scored that 200, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni – then Indian captain (and a much popular one than his stature in recent times) – was booed for hitting a six in the final over, because it simply meant that Tendulkar was deprived of strike?

I know you do. All of you do. You see, he was the only one who had united all of you, across religions, languages, states or even countries. You have probably not helped your classmates before exams or backstabbed your colleagues up the corporate ladder; have belittled people on the grounds of money or caste; or worse, have shed the blood of your neighbours during riots; but when he batted, you became mates, hugging each other as every milestone was achieved. You certainly did not check the religion or financial status of the people you celebrated with on the streets when he won the World Cup for us.

Was it because the national flag never looked as apt as it had on his navy blue helmet? Perhaps. Or perhaps there was more to it.

He isn’t there anymore, though.

The earlier generations had cleaner cricket, involving less money and glitz, and thereby more unadulterated passion for the game; the future generations will probably lift fitness levels to new heights, break and set new records, and take technology and commercialism to new altitudes.

But our generation will always have the final word. We had a Tendulkar. TENDULKAR.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The curious case of Mumtaz

This is not about the Mumtaz. Mumtaz Mahal was the wife of a gallant emperor; Shah Jahan was so deeply in love with his wife that after her death he made a mausoleum in her memory; he took the second half of her first name, distorted it a bit, kept the last name intact and named it likewise.

A corresponding tomb of mine would probably have been named Shake Mukherjee.

Anyway, this is about the other Mumtaz. Mumu. The diva who ruled Bollywood in the late 1960s and the early 1970s; The fashion icon who usurped the throne of the Sadhnas and Sharmilas; the actress who was elevated from Rajendra Kumar's sister (Gehri Daag) to his heroine (Tangewala); the fighter for whom Shashi Kapoor had once turned down Sachaa Jhutha, but later went on to convince her to play opposite him in Chor Machaye Shor. The superstar who...

... well, it's a long story. Let us begin at the very beginning.

***

Mumtaz had started off as a child artist; in her early movies she was found adorning the action hero's arms in movies with self-explanatory names like Pathan, Veer Bhimsen, Samson, Hercules, Sikandar E Azam, Rustom-e-Hind, Tarzan Comes to Delhi, and Tarzan and King Kong. All these movies ensured that Mumtaz's career had taken off to a power-packed start.

Mumtaz had even acted as bonafide vamps in movies like Mere Sanam and Kaajal, and even as a comedian in Pyar Kiye Jaa. She also played the second heroine in multiple movies; she was even relegated to the villain's sidekick in Brahmachari where someone of the stature of Rajshree was given the lead role, thereby taking the would-be-glamorous belle's career to an all-time low.

Then, there arrived on the scene a comet called Rajesh Khanna, and their paths crossed; Bandhan happened, and more significantly, so did Do Raaste a few months hence; a superhit was followed by a blockbuster, and Mumtaz was instantly propelled to stardom. The entire nation was converted to Mumtazdom as she glittered her bindis and jingled her chudis to Rajesh Khanna across strange-looking pipes:
A few more months after Do Raaste, Mumtaz gave the nation another blockbuster in the form of Sachaa Jhutha. Suddenly Mumtaz had became hot property, and was competing with the leading actresses of her times. It was her hairdo that had started to inspire women rather than the erstwhile Sadhna's, and it was her style of acting that shone the limelight the Ashas and Sairas and Sharmilas into backstage.

In between all this, there was Khilona, a movie where she surpassed all expectations and matched a peerless Sanjeev Kumar throughout the movie. Khilona won her a Filmfare Award. With that, she had stamped her authority as surely as Idea has replaced Abhishek Bachchan with hello Honey-Bunny thing.

She was sizzling; she was hot; she was desirable; she could dance; she oozed more sex appeal than almost any of her predecessors or subsequent stars and starlets. If you do not believe me, check out this video (do  try your best to ignore Rajesh Khanna's coat, though):
But that was not all. The sensuous hypnotism of her eyes made anyone go weak in their legs. Mumtaz could conquer any man with her eyes. She probably had the best eyes in the history of Bollywood. Men from Kashmir to Kerala wanted her to melt in their arms. Check out this song in case you have doubts:
But above everything, she was an amazingly talented actress. She was at ease through an amazingly varied assortment of emotions - as displayed in multiple movies, but never more than in Khilona, where she surpassed all expectations. Do watch the movie in case you have not. Please do. Seldom have two Bollywood protagonists matched each other to this extent in a movie. Ever. She was only twenty-three then - an age where most of us are somewhat nervous about what to wear on our first day to work.

Mumtaz was probably the most versatile actress of her times. I wonder whether any Bollywood actress (barring Helen) has been as sizzling, as sensuous, as desirable on screen:
First curious decision:
Amidst all this, in 1971, Mumtaz took a first curious move in her life: she acted in a movie called Upaasna. No, that's not curious. Anyone can act in movies called Upaasna, which seems rather pedestrian after Tarzan Comes to DelhiUpaasna had both, I repeat, both Feroz and Sanjay Khan as her co-actors. Both.  I mean, acting with one at a time is bad enough -  but both? Why, Mumtaz, why?

24-year olds do commit blunders, you see.

I have absolutely no idea who decided the casting of the movie - to cast Mumtaz and Helen, the two most seductive women of the era - against the Khans. This is how the poster looked (do note the contrasting expressions of the men and the women):
From there Mumtaz's career reached a plateau. Though she kept on providing movies like Chor Machaye Shor and Roti, the hits became fewer and fewer in number as the 1970s preferred action heroes and trophy heroines, which really did not suit Mumtaz. She got married to Mayur Madhavani (?), quit her career, and had two daughters, Natasha and Tanya.

Second curious decision:
Once her daughters grew up a bit and were in boarding school, Mumtaz did a weird comeback in Aandhiyan, one of the earlier movies of - hold your breath - David Dhawan. It was an utterly serious movie where she played the mother of - hold your breath once again - Prosenjit Chatterjee. Of course the movie didn't do too well in the box office (though Mumtaz looked as young as Prosenjit in the movie). It was simply not possible to make Mumtaz look old. They did try to make her wear glasses, but the scheme failed miserably.

The movie, however, did not do too well in the box office either. Thereafter she vanished completely from the limelight, came back to take the Lifetime Achievement Filmfare Award in 1997 - from Shah Rukh Khan - who has always mentioned Mumtaz as one of his earlier crushes.

Mumtaz has survived breast cancer recently; she had been a part of the 2010 documentary 1 a Minute on breast cancer survivors. She continues to live, and as always, do so rather gracefully.

Third curious decision:
In December 2005, Natasha Madhavani, Mumtaz's elder daughter, got married to - hold your breath for one final time - Fardeen Khan. I guess Upaasna (and other solo movies with one of the brothers) had something to do with this. But in that one fleeting moment, the image of the woman in my mind changed forever. The smouldering diva was metamorphosed to Fardeen Khan's mother-in-law in one single decision. All those movies, all those songs - well, seem to vanish into oblivion now; the only surviving image that endures is Fardeen Khan seated at a table in the Madhavani household, and Mumtaz asking him whether he'll want more baingan ka bharta or kheer...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Shalya: a serious biography

I had promised the mysterious rgb, one of the few followers of my blog, that I will do a write-up on Shalya sometime soon. This, as you must have realised by the title of the post, is that post.

Now that I have used two commas in each of my first two sentences, I might as well get along with it. Let me first put a disclaimer that Shalya was not a great surgeon by any means, and shalyachikitsha, a word generally used for surgery, has no relationship whatsoever with Shalya.

No more commas for some time, then.

Also, this is going to be one hell of a serious biography. Not the usual yadda yadda you expect from my blog. I mean business here, folks. Serious business. Which means that I shall abstain from using Microsoft Paint.

Shalya was not your everyday guy. He was the king of Madra, or modern day Punjab, the valiant land that has produced valiant Sons of valiant Sardars over centuries and generations. Madra, where the actions of men are perceived as ones determined by brawn rather than brain and where the women are as lethally pretty as their counterparts anywhere in the world, had been where the Aryans had settled down first, before moving on to the Gangetic plains of the east.

In other words, Shalya was not a person you'd ordinarily mess around with. Like Gabbar. Shakaal. Loin. Mogambo. Only with a good soul. You get the basic idea.

Shalya had somehow acquired another mysterious characteristic: during any war, the more aggressive his opponent was, the more powerful and indomitable Shalya became. In other words, Fardeen Khan had a far more chance of defeating Shalya in a battle than Mahima Chaudhary had.

Anyway, Shalya ruled Madra quite peacefully with all his traits, probably dancing lusty bhangras to while  away his time; he had no business in getting connected to the nearby Hastinapur - the centre of all drama - and knowing him, he had no intention to either.

However, his days of bliss were not to last: Bhishma, the Grand Old Man of Hastinapur and possibly The Most Eligible Bachelor of India (true, there were some who questioned his orientations, but we will not pay attention to these back-biters), arrived at the doorsteps of the illustrious Shalya with a proposal.

***

We will use a flashback here (drumroll):
Pandu, Bhishma's nephew and the king of Hastinapur, had once been out hunting in the forest. He came across a couple of deer involved in, well, a rather intimate act. Pandu, possibly thought it was incredibly brave to shoot a mating couple with one arrow, went ahead. This was probably the reason for a popular swear-word being coined to rhyme with Pandu's name.

However, the duo turned out to be a sage and his wife with an insatiable cervine fetish: they had somehow come to the conclusion that making it out deer-style would satisfy their desire in a way more fulfilling than missionary or other pedestrian poses.

The sage (my guess is that they both died in the nude, but this is not a post dedicated to naked women) had cursed Pandu in his last moments that the latter would die whenever he made an attempt to have intercourse (animal forms were not exempted either).

This meant that his conjugal life with Kunti came to an abrupt end.
(end of flashback)

***

Bhishma, however, had reached Madra, asking for Madri's hand in marriage for Pandu. Madri was a woman of unmatched beauty and sex appeal; when her bright gold complexion dazzled brighter than the Sun; her face could bring about downfalls of kingdoms; the serpents of her hair could mermerise all and sundry; the mystique of her eyes turned the proudest of men to her slaves; in short, she was someone every man would have liked to you-know-what.

So Bhishma asked her hand for a man sworn to lifelong celibacy. Go figure.

Shalya was pleased and confused at the same time. Being related to Hastinapur meant power, but there was a rather uncommon ritual he had to ask Bhishma for: in Madra the dowry worked the other way round - the groom had to pay the bride a hefty amount. To his surprise, Bhishma consented and took Madri away.

The rest, as they say, is history. Between them, Kunti and Madri underwent exactly five (it may be four - given that Nakul and Sahadeb were twins - read more on that here) registered incidents of coitus; Pandu could not resist Madri any more after a certain point of time; had a steamy session and died subsequently; Madri accompanied him to the pyre; the Pandavs and Kunti went out on a hideout; Bheem and Arjun went to Draupadi's swayamvar disguised as Brahmins; and met Shalya yet again.

Bheem and Arjun must have felt somewhat awkward. Meeting your step-mama at a swayamvar must have been a feeling as unnerving as bumping into Rabindranath Tagore in a Sulabh Complex.

We know the rest. Shalya, unlike a couple of big names like Jarasandha and Shishupal, was at least able to lift the bow, but could not pierce the target. Arjun won over Draupadi; the kings, not able to digest a defeat in the hands of two innocuous-looking Brahmins, stood up against the duo; Karna and Shalya - later to feature together in one of the most poignant days of the epic - were the chief protagonists. However, Bheem wrestled and thrashed Shalya, and that was that. Karna lost his duel against Arjun, as expected (more on that here).

Had Shalya been able to hit the target that day, the whole epic might have been written differently. Sigh.

***

Shalya mysteriously disappears from the scenario after the swayamvar. It should be noted that the swayamvar marks the appearance of Krishna in the lives of the Pandavs as well. The two queens, Kunti and Madri, had families significantly different from each other in their respective roles in framing the course of Hastinapur; while Kunti's brother's son Krishna was instrumental in the royal politics of the kingdom, Shalya remained completely aloof, waging wars elsewhere in the country.

When news went out the Great War was about to commence at Kurukshetra, our hero was summoned by the Pandavs to join forces with them. Shalya set forth with his massive army to join his nephews and stepnephews. On his way he came across an establishment of sort where the army was greeted in the most exotic of fashion.

This was no ordinary arrangement: food, alcohol and other non-trivial pleasure were in abundance. The predecessors of the Sardars made merry in abundance; they ate, well, in all likelihood, heaps of makai di roti dipped in a gargantuan quagmire of sarson da saag, accompanied with drunken revelry of the highest order. There was possibly tandoori chicken to boot as well.

Shalya was pleased.

No, this deserves to be written with a capital P. Shalya was Pleased. Such was his satisfaction level that he called for the organiser of the entire arrangement, and - hold your breath - promised whatever the man behind the curtains would ask for.

He was sure it was Yudhishthir. Who else, after all, would arrange for such a welcome for his fatigued garrison? He had called for Shalya in the first place.

It was just that it turned out to be the wily Duryodhan. He had heard about Shalya's fun-loving nature, and had helped him indulge in the grandest of pleasures on his route. A helpless Shalya had no option but to grant Duryodhan his wish - and join the Kauravs at Kurukshetra.

He had a request, though. He wanted to visit Yudhishthir once to inform him about the latest change of plans.  Yudhishthir did not hide his resentment, but he managed to keep his calm. Always a great judge of character, seasoned by thirteen long years of exile, he knew the characters of Duryodhan, Karna and Shalya like the palm of his hand. He requested Shalya for a two-fold favour:
1. If Duryodhan and Karna ever asked Shalya, who had mastered Ashwahriday (the art of riding and driving horses), to become Karna's charioteer, Shalya would oblige; and
2. Once condition 1 was fulfilled, Shalya was sledge Karna to the fullest, thereby making the latter lose concentration, especially during his duels with Arjun.

Before the Great War commenced, Yudhishthir went ahead and took the blessings of his the elders - Bhishma, Dron, Kripa and Shalya; during the process he reminded Shalya of his promise.

***

Shalya entered the Great War with his two sons, Rukmangad and Rukmarath, and his brothers - all of whom were renowned warriors. He fought a furious duel with Abhimanyu on the first day: they started with bows and arrows, and then stepped down to fight with maces. After a fierce battle both of them had to be carried away in their respective chariots.

However, Shalya came back some time later with a single-mindedness as strong as diarrhoea and attacked Uttar, Abhimanyu's brother-in-law. After a bloody tussle, Uttar, fighting from atop an elephant, managed to destroyed Shalya's chariot, but the Shalya fought valiantly, and finally had his revenge when he killed Uttar with a spear.

Shalya was thus responsible for the first major killing of The Great War.

Shalya fought several mini-wars here and there, but remained largely away from the forefront till the thirteenth day. As Abhimanyu entered the Chakravyuha, Shalya was one of the few who had been seriously injured in the hands of the teenage hero. He recovered the next day, though, and took an active part in defending Jayadrath - albeit in vain - the next day.

***

After Dron's fall, Karna was appointed the senapati of the Kauravs. After a largely eventless sixteenth day, Karna maintained that he was superior to Arjun (mwahahahahaha), but could not produce the desired results because he did not have a charioteer as competent as Krishna.

The conversation went somewhat like this:
Duryodhan: Dude, I need you to become Karna's chauffeur for the day.
Shalya: Are you bonkers? Do you even know who I am? I, Shalya, emperor of the cool Madra - you want me to drive for the son of a chauffeur? Are you aware of my strengths, my power?
Karna: Look here, mate. I wanna defeat this Arjun guy. He is acting too big for his boots - and I all I need is a suave chauffeur to help me. My guy is a retard, and cannot tell one end of the chariot from the other. I also need someone who can do a stock-taking of my inventory from time to time, and -
Shalya: Hang on. Who do you think you are? Julius Effing Caesar?
Karna: Mate, will you explain this guy what he's supposed to do?
Duryodhan: Dude, do you know who drives this Arjun guy's chariot thingy? It's Krishna. You know why I'm asking you? Because you're greater than this Krishna guy. You rock, man.
Shalya: Both of you are morons, since none of you could see that I was play-acting. I'll drive anyway. This obnoxious son-of-a-charioteer will die today anyway.

Thus began the eventful seventeenth day of The Great War. Shalya decided to keep a fresh Karna away from Arjun; he sledged him skilfully throughout the day. He compared him to a fox trying to take on a lion or a crow attempting to fly with geese.

Karna, the hot-tempered person that he was, retaliated rather harshly: he accused that Madra was infested with men who ate beef and fish and women who got drunk on an excess of alcohol and often turned desperate in search of partners. They never hesitated to sleep with strangers in exchange of alcohol, and shouted out loud during the most intimate of moments.

(Dear reader, between you and me, doesn't Madra sound a rather cool place to live in given the era? Sigh.)

Shalya retaliated with more stories and fables and managed to get further under Karna's skin; this led to Karna getting enraged and losing his ATP and concentration in the process. When Karna rushed to capture Yudhishthir alive, Shalya mocked him for chasing lesser warriors and not pursuing Arjun instead, calling him a liar.

The mental disintegration thus completed, the day eventually ended in the famed duel between Arjun and Karna; all of us are aware of the outcome.

***

Shalya's role in the Great War, however, did not end there. The next morning Duryodhan appointed him as the new senapati for what would turn out to be the last day of the Great War. On his appointment, Shalya immediately drew up a plan: no Kaurav would fight the Pandavs alone: they should always attack and defend as a group.

Krishna, of course, was aware of exactly how great a warrior Shalya was. He knew that Shalya was no less a warrior when compared to Bhishma, Dron or Karna; he was also aware of Shalya's special characteristic in a battlefield; he knew that a Bheem or an Arjun may not be able to defeat him.

Keeping everything in mind, he knew that Yudhishthir was the correct person to slay Shalya. It would also go a long way to inflate the warrior's ego and reputation just before he was on the verge of ascending the throne of Hastinapur.

So Yudhishthir is had to be. Flanked by Satyaki (a warrior; not Arjun's charioteer: a grave error made by both Satyajit Ray and Sujoy Ghosh) on his right, Dhrishtadyumna on his left, Bheem in front and the invincible Arjun behind him, Yudhishthir sat smugly despite resembling a horizontal crucifix.

Shalya and Yudhishthir attacked each other in this unmatched five-against-one battle. He fought Bheem first, and after a ferocious battle, both of them managed to injure each other sufficiently to make them retire temporarily from the battle. However, since both of them were incredibly macho, they returned to the battlefield with a vengeance.

Enough was enough, thought Yudhishthir. He had already performed way above potential on the final day of the war. He vowed in public to kill Shalya or be killed. This was a vow almost as incredible as Fardeen Khan's assurance to provide multiple facial expressions, but then, Yudhishthir meant business.

He managed to kill Shalya's charioteer and horses; once again Shalya was rescued - this time by Ashwatthama. He returned to the battlefield, flanked by Duryodhan and Ashwatthama, among others. Meanwhile, Yudhishthir fought like he was on dope, alcohol and Viagara at the same time, and killed thousands of Kaurav soldiers.

While the big names had dominated the first seventeen days of the war, the final day belonged almost entirely to Yudhishthir: he surprised everyone by massacring thousands of Kaurav soldiers. As Shalya charged against him, Bheem killed his horses again. Shalya, being a genuine horse-lover, was not inclined on losing any more horses: he stepped on the ground with a sword and a shield in his hand.

Bheem, in a rare display of archery skills, smashed both the shield and the sword; with Shalya disarmed, the stage was now set for Yudhishthir. He picked up a jewel-encrusted (why, I wonder) heavy-duty spear and hurled it at the great man.

The spear pierced Shalya's chest; he staggered for a few steps, trying to advance towards Yudhishthir, with the possible intent of killing him with his bare hands: but this was a task as uphill as AK Hangal trying to look like a teenager - and the mighty Punjabi munda fell on his face, his hands still outstretched like Shah Rukh Khan, the hilt of the spear protruding out of his back, his chest immersed in dust soaked in his own blood.

It was several centuries too early for him to utter "waheguru ji ka khalsa, waheguru ji ki fateh"; instead, he possibly thought of the vast stretches of Brassica juncea fields in which he had spent his childhood days; and then, it all ended.

No, even if the name suggests, Yash Chopra's last movie was not named after one of the greatest sons of his soil. It should have been, though.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Tale of Two Eclipses

A solar eclipse is one of the coolest spectacles the nature can offer us. I mean, this is not the useless coolness one typically associates with a chihuahua, but serious coolness that reminds you of Karan Kapoor in a Bombay Dyeing commercial.

There were two solar eclipses mentioned in the epics. The first, an early morning one; the second, a late afternoon one. Both eclipses were crucial, instrumental in turning the course of the epics; it is up to the astronomers to find out the exact period of the epics from tracking the solar eclipses in known history.

The Ramayan eclipse:
Epics typically involve gory battles. They are meant to have battles - it adds to their macho effect. They would have become Mills and Boon otherwise.

Ramayan, the older, holier and more classical of the two epics, involves lots and lots of gore; not the Ramanand Sagar-style gore involving two arrows meeting and one disappearing, but the kind that would make Hannibal Lecter cringe in horror.

On one of those blood-infested days there was a major fight between Indrajit and the Ayodhya brethren. Both brothers were great warriors, and fought hard in a well-matched battle, and the crimson that drenched the beach of Lanka was reminiscent of a hard-fought La Tomatina. Indrajit, however, had the advantage of fighting from behind the clouds, and soon brought down the two brothers. They never stood a chance.

The hapless monkeys and bears that assisted Ram and Laksham soon fell to Indrajit as well. Their lack of a long-distance weapon meant that they were no match for Indrajit. One by one they fell, the greatest descendants of simian and ursine origins - to the piercing arrows of the great demon warrior.

Soon, all that was left of Ram's gargantuan army were the two immortals - Hanuman and Vibhishan. They, taking the obvious advantage of their immortality, decided to go on a door-to-door survey to check whether anyone was alive.

Jambaban, despite studded with arrows, was in his senses for some inexplicable reason. The great bear - who went on to become the father-in-law of Krishna in due course of time - hung on to the last moments of his life. Immediately he instructed Hanuman to go to Mount Gandhamadan (which is located somewhere close to Rameshwaram) to fetch the four life-saving medicines - Bishalyakarani (to extract weapons and heal weapon-inflicted wounds), Mritasanjibani (to restore life to the dead), Subarnakarani (to restore the original complexion) and Sandhani (to heal fractures and to find - and join - severed limbs).

Take a moment to ponder on this: you're saving lives, you're restoring severed limbs, you're healing wounds - and amidst all that - you're also concerned about your COMPLEXION? Puts things into their true perspective, that.

I can almost imagine a conversation:
Doctor, will I live?
I think there is a 50-50 chance.
Doctor, will the injuries heal?
I think they may not, but let us still keep our fingers crossed.
Will you need to amputate both my legs?
Sir, that will be the only way you can survive gangrene. 
But I will still retain my baby-pink complexion, correct?

Let us move on, though. Let us venture deep into Hanuman's nocturnal adventures: Jambaban had mentioned that Hanuman was supposed to bring back the herbs before Sun's first rays kissed the shores of Lanka. Hanuman, already immortalised for his record-breaking leap to Lanka, took a leap back in the opposite direction: he crossed the Palk Strait again, and landed on top of the Gandhamadan with an incredible accuracy.

This is when confusion reigned supreme. Hanuman, already crippled by the fact that it was very, very dark  out there (someone had once explained to me that a solar eclipse is always preceded by a new moon night), was also not the greatest expert in the field of botany. Hence, he decided to uproot the entire mountain and carry it back with him.

This is somewhat similar to the following scenario:
O mighty System Admin, can you please, please delete the file My_Threesome_With_Cyborg_and_Giant_Panda.avi from my laptop?
Where exactly is it located?
I'm not sure, but you can find it somewhere.
...
I could not find it, so I have formatted your laptop instead.

It was a solution that efficient. Anyway, by the time Hanuman lifted the mountain in his left hand (he always carried a mace in his right; he looked more photogenic that way) and took off for Lanka, Indrajit had informed Raavan of his feat: Raavan had summoned Surya, and had asked him to rise early that day, defying all sorts of calendars.

Surya, as mortally afraid as any illuminant God ought to be of a ten-headed force, decided to heat up things. He left the smug warmth of his bed, drifted towards the east sky and threatened to rise. Hanuman, slightly startled by the early rays, pounced on Surya - and encountered him. With both hands occupied, Hanuman accommodated Surya in his armpit (my guess would be the right armpit; the left was held aloft with the mountain on it).

The rest, as they say, is history. Hanuman reached on time (he obviously did, with Surya tucked smugly in a somewhat smelly alcove) and restored the health and COMPLEXIONS of Ram's army; he also replaced the mountain and Surya in their rightful positions, and everyone was happy.

As is probably obvious from the narration, Hanuman had caused the first recorded incident of solar eclipse; his was the armpit that helped create history. If only the astronomers were interested in some research...

The Mahabharat eclipse:
(yes, I'm aware that Premendra Mitra has mentioned this)
The Mahabharat, as we all are aware of, is a tale way, way bloodier than The Ramayan. It's an amazing saga involving lots of curious-minded people, including a lot of non-trivial stuff, as mentioned in the opening paragraph of this blog post.

The Mahabharat had a battle with effects more sinister than the Ramayan. An entire nation's sex ratio took a major dip over a span of eighteen days, and it took a few thousand years and some serious lack of family planning to bring things back on track.

I have written at lengths on the most eventful day of The Great War earlier, and would not indulge in another drone. I seldom indulge on encores (unless it does not involve Fardeen Khan), and this would not be an exception, either.

However, I must insist on repeating the fact that the entire mission was a useless one: when someone kills your son, you kill that person: you do not kill the checkpost guards involved. What's more, you do set yourself targets, however unrealistic, but you do not promise to kill yourself if you cannot fulfill it within the stipulated time.

Even though Arjun cut through the Kaurav forces as a speed as breakneck as Kanti Shah movies typically do through the brains of unsuspecting heathens, he could not break the final barrier. The relatively inferior Karna (read here for a research) held him at bay, and he was well-supported by a phalanx of rathis and maharathis, including big names like Ashwatthama, Kripacharya, Shalya, Duryodhan, Kritabarma and Karna's son Brishasen.

Jayadrath must have felt smug and warm in this amazing protection. To his credit, he had been fighting quite ferociously from behind the protection as well, piercing Arjun with his arrows. Duryodhan had asked his entire army to focus on Jayadrath's protection, and in the dying moments of the day, Krishna realised that it was, well, time.

Fortunately for the Pandavs, Krishna's research stretched far beyond weapons, women and gambling: he had  a profound knowledge of astronomy as well - a subject Arjun and the Kauravs, however, knowledgeable, had been careless enough to flunk.

Krishna knew there was a solar eclipse on the brink; he also knew how to capitalise on it. As soon as the Sun (who was, if you remember, Karna's father) was covered by the Moon, Krishna spread the news that it was, indeed, sunset.

The Kauravs rejoiced, none more than Jayadrath - who actually was moronic enough to peek out to check whether the Sun had indeed set. Arjun took this opportunity to behead Jayadrath. There was a catch in this, though:

Jayadrath had a father. No, that isn't the catch. Jayadrath's father Briddhakshatra had prayed to Shiv and had got a strange boon in return: the person who would be responsible for letting Jayadrath's loose head fall on the ground would not be spared either - his own head would be split into a hundred pieces immediately.

Briddhakshatra, despite emotionally true and committed to his son, did not make a foolproof plan to save him. I guess he was logically challenged to some extent, which might be evident from the following diagram:
The Briddhakshatra grid
The illuminated Krishna, however, was aware of the various cases mentioned above. He had figured out that since X had to be Arjun, and since 3 was not an option, it had to be either 4 or 6. Exactly why Krishna asked Arjun to carry Jayadrath's decapitated head to Briddhakshatra's lap eludes me (I would have possibly have preferred to place it on Karna's shoulder or something), but that was precisely what Arjun did.

Briddhakshatra, not brought up on Brainolia, had forgotten about his illogical boon completely, stood up in shock and the rest, as they say, is history. And a gory one, too. It is rumoured that they could never put the parts of the head together again, which was a tad unfortunate. The old man, being a Sindhi, was possibly rather handsome.

Anyway, amidst all the confusion, the Sun shone again, The Sun, with the stink of Hanuman's sweaty armpits fading with time in its extreme heat, came out again. With Jayadrath fallen and some time still left for sunset, the Kauravs felt tricked. But if they were astronomically challenged, they had only themselves to blame.

The war continued deep into the night; there was more bloodshed, more tension, more drama, more of everything. But that is another story altogether, something I have written once about, and have vowed not to repeat.

Now, where are the astronomers?

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