Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bhima - Lone Warrior

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Ever since I read a review of this book in The Hindu Literary Supplement, I have been wanting to read it.

Thanks to a friend, I finally got a chance to read this book originally written by the great Malayalam author, Shri M T Vasudevan Nair,with the title Randa Moozham. This is the story of the Mahabharata as told by Bhimasena, the second Pandava brother, fondly called Bhima.

The character of Bhima has always intrigued me, especially after reading a similar book by Chitra Banerjee Diwakarunni, Palace of Illusions. Was he just all brawn? Did he ever feel pain? What was the real person like?

These are the questions that Lone Warrior answers for you. It introduces you to the person that Bhima might have been. It traces the story right from Bhima's childhood to the end of his life. Just like how a warrior's perspective should be, Bhima mostly talks about his valour, the duels and the battles with various people and armies. The description of the Kurukshetra war is told in complete detail, keeping the logic completely intact. We, as readers of the Mahabharata know the story from many perspectives but Shri M T does not talk of things Bhima would not have possibly known.

The most endearing part is when Bhima talks about his feelings and emotions. The hurt he feels at being insulted by the Kauravas as a child, his love for food, his first love, Hidimbi, his feelings towards Draupadi and his lament for his dead sons, especially Ghatotkacha who, for being a tribal woman's son, does not only get his due credit but does not even get a decent funeral. One really feels sorry for Bhima when everyone keeps calling him 'blockhead' right into his adulthood. We, as readers know, he isn't. That fraction of a second when Bhima almost dreams of becoming King after the war is conveyed so beautifully.

For me the most striking part is his relationship with his brother, Yudhishtir, who is generally looked upon as a symbol of righteousness and high morals. Though he is always respectful towards his brother, Bhima is often miffed when Yudhishtir's virtuousness becomes more important than fairness. This makes Bhima think some very sarcastic, often irreverently funny things about Yudhishtir.

Interestingly, his equation with Krishna is also not great,  though there is immense outward respect. He adores Draupadi, though she seems to use him. Even Bhima doesn't know this but the writer secretly conveys it to the reader through his wonderful craft.

We've all grown up listening to the glorification of the Mahabharatha heroes, giving them an almost godly status. But Shri MT turns it all around and portrays everyone as normal human beings but much more strong - emotionally and physically than the average queen and king. The vastraharan scene is explained in detail but the most popular incident of the endless yards of saree is not even hinted at. Similarly the mayasabha event is not made a big deal out of. Even Bhishma's bed of arrows is not mentioned. Many such surprises. This kind of interpretation makes the story-telling so much more stunning.

There is an ample sprinkling of wry humour by the way of Bhima's thoughts and this brings us closer to him.

I had two wishes while I was reading this fantastic book. I wished I knew how to read Malayalam so that I can experience the joy of such brilliant writing, first hand. It would have sounded so poetic. Since that will not be, my second wish was that the translation could have been much better. Though the translator (Gita Krishnankutty) has captured much of the essence, a lot of emotion has been lost in translation, as the cliche goes. Also she has used many terms which seem inappropriate in a book like this. Though there are many instances, the one I am unable to forget is the use of the phrase "red light area", which I am sure wasn't used in Bhima's time or even Shri MT would not have used! The title however, is very apt to the story.

The narration sometimes seems a little too prosaic and monotonous, like the drone of a man talking without a pause in unending baritones. I need to check this with someone who has read the original.

Yet, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the human nature or the lives of celebrated people. Men and women readers will like this book equally. While Palace of Illusions uses every thread of emotion possible to weave its story, Lone Warrior makes use of a perfect blend of fabric to build a sturdy tale.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with only a few of your points: I wish I could read the original; quite a bit has been lost in translation; the narrative is like a drone; surprising/shocking that many 'popular' events have been 'glossed over'. I read this book with high expectations but was very disappointed. But yes, a new perspective on one of my favourite characters in the Mahabharata.


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