The Unfallen Pandava
By Mallar Chatterjee
We, with our large army, reached Kurukshetra quite early in the morning from the west side with our faces to the east. The Kaurava army had not yet arrived. The new sun was just some distance into the sky from the horizon, beaming away serene rays of light. The morning looked too good to make anybody wary of any ominous prospect.
I was feeling sad that such a beautiful day was soon going to be completely marred by a senseless holocaust throwing party to the vultures sailing up in the sky.
Suddenly I noticed a thin, continuous black line along the horizon. It had not been there only a little earlier. The line was not static but moving. It was slowly broadening into a black strip or band. I now heard a faint noise, somewhat similar to the roar of a tumultuous sea, coming from a great distance. The black strip had already become broad enough and the noise much louder. Now we understood what it was. It was the enormous, roaring, clamouring Kaurava army marching towards us with the rhythm
of drumbeats. The closer they came, the louder the hubbub became. Soon, the din became deafening. I could now vaguely see the people standing upfront, despite the dust. Then with an ear-splitting command and the final beat of kettle-drums, the
army came to a halt.
When the mist caused by the dust faded away a bit, I could first recognise Pitamaha Bheeshma and Acharya Drona, standing in the front of the army on the other side of the ground. Their expressions were complex. Then I saw a visibly sad Uncle Shalya who ended up being on the wrong side. Usually amiable Kripa and Bahlika wore grim, anxious looks. Bhurishrava lowered his head to avoid eyecontact. Ashwatthama smiled faintly. Jayadrath twisted his face in contempt. That scoundrel must be remembering the ordeal he had had to endure at our hands. Duryodhana and Shakuni both looked
unusually serious and sombre, the former without his notorious overbearance and the latter his wry, sinister humour. Duhshasana was with his usual
poker face, though. He was too dumb to put up any other expression. Karna was not there. I saw the bright-looking Vikarna. I saw all other brothers of Duryodhana. I saw Yuyutsu, the sensible stepbrother of Duryodhana. Almost everybody present in the
front rank was known to me. Some of them were venerable preceptors, some my very own kinsmen and some former friends. Those differently aged men were central to my childhood memories. The last time I had seen all of them together was perhaps
at the rice ceremony of Duryodhana’s son Laxman in Hastinapura. How joyfully we had celebrated that day together and all those warriors glowering at us now with murder in their minds had looked so different that day!
Exactly what had changed between us since then? Wherefrom had this terrible malice come into being?
I felt I was seeing countless images of my own face in the Kaurava line-up, as if I was standing in front of thousands of mirrors. I momentarily felt a debilitating numbness in my limbs. I started to realise what this war was actually going to mean! I would be required to defeat none but myself in this war and should I win, my own history would
be desecrated. This war, most certainly, would be survived by only some losers.
I felt a little ashamed for getting sloshy at the time of action. I quickly tried to see Krishna. Arjuna and Krishna were positioned far away from me. I saw them moving towards the Kauravas slowly. What were they up to? Their chariot stopped in between
the two armies. Arjuna stood up. Now I understood he wanted to have a closer look at our enemies.
But what happened to Arjuna? Why did he drop his Gandiva? Why did he sit down in the chariot burying his face in two palms? Was he feeling unwell?
Krishna had stood up meanwhile. I saw him put his hand on Arjuna’s shoulder and say something to him. Arjuna was shaking his head violently, evidently revealing his deep reluctance for something. Krishna seemed to be trying to console him. Then Krishna
took his hand off Arjuna’s shoulder and sat on the driver’s seat facing Arjuna. Arjuna was looking at him. Krishna was probably saying something to him. I could not hear them because of the noise all around. From a distance, I could understand that Krishna was delivering a lecture and Arjuna listening to him with all his attention. But was it the right place for a discourse? The two armies were getting restless.
‘What the hell are they doing, brother? I am dying to start thrashing the Kauravas and here these two have started a private conference!’— an extremely annoyed Bheema asked impatiently. Even Dhrishtadyumna and Drupada were getting impatient. The restlessness was precipitating into the Kaurava side as well. I noticed Duryodhana rush his chariot towards Bheeshma’s and indignantly discuss something with him pointing at Arjuna and Krishna. The soldiers of both the armies started fidgeting and flustering.
But the restive multitude surprisingly calmed down quickly, on its own. All eighteen akshauhini (eleven of Duryohana and seven of us) men stood breathlessly staring at the duo with rapt attention. Perhaps everybody was identifying his own internal struggle with Arjuna’s. Perhaps everybody wanted Arjuna’s weakness to prevail over meaningless bravery and wanted to go back home all smiles with a nice story to tell his beloved. Arjuna’s sudden mawkishness and his momentary abhorrence for fighting seemed to represent, for once, the very conscience of the monstrous assemblage at
Kurukshetra. Arjuna personified the last bastion of human dilemma before succumbing to a dreadful craziness.
But Krishna was in complete control of the situation, as usual. From a distance, I wanted to read their body languages. Krishna was apparently preaching something to Arjuna with animated gestures. Arjuna stared unblinkingly at him, evidently spellbound. I could not hear them, but it became clear that Krishna’s rhetorics were taking effect on Arjuna. He was evidently getting back his poise and his confusion was fast receding.
Krishna must have been telling Arjuna why he should fight his enemies, even if they were his blood-relatives. This particular war was not in conflict with dharma; rather it would help enforce dharma. This great Armageddon happened to be the much awaited dharmayuddha the world was in dire need for. But how did Krishna drive home his point when Arjuna, his disciple, was so down?
Krishna’s preaching seemed to have been over. There was a distinct change in Arjuna’s posture. He looked menacing now, and started stringing the enormous Gandiva. Krishna was spectacularly successful in changing not only Arjuna’s mood, but also the general disposition of numberless soldiers arrayed across the ground in peculiar formations. They did not know what went on between Arjuna and Krishna, nor did they need to. They only witnessed that Arjuna had been apparently convinced. That was enough for those common, simple men to shed their own weaknesses. Krishna
not only removed the confusion of a certain man, but actually did away with the general skepticism regarding the legitimacy of this particular war in a
most evocative manner.
Though the Kuru family survived on Vyasadeva’s seeds, he never belonged to the house. Moreover, being an ascetic, he was even exempted from obligations of the complicated dynamics of human relationships. This armed him with a ruthless dispassion and he could go on telling his stories with stoical detachment, free from any bias and uncontaminated by quintessential human dilemmas.
But had any of his characters given his own account of the story, would not that have lent a different dimension to the events seducing ordinary mortals like us to identify, if not compare, our private crises with those of our much celebrated heroes?
The Unfallen Pandava is an imaginary autobiography of Yudhisthira, attempting to follow the well-known story of the Mahabharata through his eyes. In the process of narrating the story, he examines his extremely complicated marriage and relationship with brothers turned co-husbands, tries to understand the mysterious personality of his mother in a slightly mother-fixated way, conducts manic and depressive evaluation of his own self and reveals his secret darkness and philosophical confusions with an innate urge to submit to a supreme soul. His own story lacks the material of an epic, rather it becomes like confession of a partisan who, prevailing over other more swashbuckling characters, finally discovers his latent greatness and establishes himself as the symbolic protagonist.
About the Author
Born in a suburban town in North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, in a family of academicians, Mallar Chatterjee’s childhood flame was mythology, especially the Mahabharat. The Unfallen Pandava is his debut novel. Mallar is a central government employee, presently posted in Delhi.
Yudhisthira – The Unfallen Pandava is available online at Amazon.