From the first chapter, when Bhima arrives as a child to Hastinapura, it is made obvious to the reader that the fates have never been kind to the second Pandava brother. Dronacharya ignores his talent in archery, Yudhistra dismisses his counsel, Draupadi manipulates his raw love for her and most painfully, the entire Pandava camp celebrates the death of his beloved warrior son, Ghatotkacha.
It is difficult to talk about the flaws in this book, for it is a translation. MT’s famed prose has not been preserved during the process of translation, and as a result, you don’t feel strongly for the characters. There is no anger when Dronacharya picks Arjuna to be the most talented among his students, no righteous outrage when Yudhistra blindly refuses to listen to his counsel, no sympathy when Draupadi carelessly drops the precious Saugandhika flowers that Bhima risks his life to obtain, just to fulfill her whims.
One of the few living memories I have of my paternal grandfather, is of sitting on his lap listening to him narrate the story of Gajendra Moksham to me. One day, Gajendra, the wise king of the elephants, came to the lake to bathe, and fell prey to a hungry crocodile who managed to trap Gajendra’s foot with his enormous mouth. Gajendra cried for help, but to no avail.
“Help me!” he cried to the fish. “Help me from this giant crocodile!”
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. “Ask the frogs!” they told him, and swam away.
“Help me!” he cried to the frogs. “Help me from this giant crocodile!”
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. “Ask the birds!” they told him, and hopped to safety.
“Help me!” he cried to the birds. “Help me from this giant crocodile!”
But they were too afraid of the giant crocodile. “Forgive us, Gajendra, but we can’t help you.” they told him, and flew away.
Gajendra was now alone. The crocodile tightened his grip on his leg by the minute. He began trumpeting loudly.
“Do not waste your energy, foolish elephant” said the crocodile. “No one can save you now. Didn’t you see the way those cowards ran away from me?”
Gajendra trumpeted even louder.
“Elephant! I have had enough of your trumpeting. I am going to be your death” said the crocodile, and bit harder into Gajendra.
Stranded, and unable to bear the pain anymore, Gajendra called out to The Lord.
“Narayana!” he cried. “Narayana! Help me! Help from this giant crocodile!”
No sooner had Gajendra spoken the words, the clouds thundered, lightning blazed and the heavens parted, making way for Lord Narayana to come to Gajendra’s aid. With a single swipe of his finger, he released the Sudharshana Chakra which killed the giant crocodile, and saved Gajendra.
This Hindu fable is supposed to illustrate Lord Vishnu’s loyalty and benevolence towards his devotees, and is narrated to to tell people that the Lord will not let you down if you call upon him. I can never forget this story – not because of the message it carries, but because of the way my grandfather used to narrate it. I cannot narrate it like him. He made me believe in Gajendra’s helplessness, Gajendra’s pain, and Gajendra’s faith. Truth be told, he could’ve made me believe that the crocodile was a poor, hungry reptile who was deprived by the nasty loud elephant and the masochist god Vishnu if he wanted to.
Today, the more I read, the more I realize that fables and epics are never about the story as much as they are about the story teller. MT Vasudevan’s Bhima: The Lone Warrior, has his story, but it does not have him.
Buy it here