Sunday, November 23, 2008


After hanging around in jungles for twelve years, the Famous Five and Droppy had to meet the final condition - stay undiscovered from Duryodhan's cronies for another year (Agyatobash). Getting discovered meant having to repeat the twelve years once again. Now, thanks to this, Yudi managed to wangle a boon from his foster father that they would remain unrecognised by everybody in that year even without disguise.
Once in the 12 years, Arjun had pushed off to the heavens to get hold of some special weapons... As you can see, the second and third Paandavs were using the 13 years of exile to prepare for what they thought was the inevitable war. While in the heavens, apsara Urvashi tried to seduce him and he refused. Not used to being spurned, Urvashi cursed Arjun that he since he behaved like a eunuch, he would be one for one year of his life!

The five brothers decided that they would spend the last year in the courts of King Viraat. Viraat had a son by the name of Uttar and a daughter named Uttara. He was a generally harmless, ineffective king whose kingdom was run by his brother-in-law - a rather dangerous sort of chap called Kichak.
They went to a forest near the kingdom, put all their weapons into a bundle made to look like a corpse and hung it onto a tree. After that, they separated and reached the kingdom from different directions.

Yudhisthir landed up at the court of the good king and declared that he was a brahmin by the name of Kanka. He claimed to be an expert at harmless gambling and expected to be employed by the king. And he was.
Within a couple of hours, Bheem landed up. He said he was an excellent cook by the name of Ballabh. He wanted to be tried out in the royal kitchens. By way of extra-currics, he claimed to be an amateur wrestler and offered to do an exhibition bout or two. Employed.
Nakul and Sahadev landed up at the royal stable and cowshed respectively, claiming knowledge of horses and cattle. As Granthik and Tantipal, they too were employed without much ado.
Mr Arjun, who - thanks to Urvashi's curse - was now Ms Arjun reached the royal court and introduced himself as Brihannala, a dancer par excellence. (S)he was immediately appointed as Princess Uttara's teacher. In an interesting piece of detail, it is noted that Arjun had scars on his forearms due to his bowstrings grazing him there and as Brihannala, he was able to hide them under bangles (s)he wore.
Mrs P landed up at the Queen's palace as Sairindhri and wanted to be taken into her entourage as a hairdresser / makeup-artist / eye-candy. Of course, the Queen got totally flustered at her beauty and said (I quote), "Your thighs are close to each other. Your navel, voice and behaviour are subdued. Your breasts, buttocks and nose are elevated. Yours hands, feet and lips are scarlet. You are as beautiful as a Kashmiri mare. You deserve to have an entourage of your own. I would be lucky if the King did not take a fancy for you." But she took her on nevertheless.

Interesting to note here that five strikingly handsome men and one excessively beautiful woman landed up at King Viraat's court on the same day (which also happens to be the day when the five Paandavs and Draupadi were supposed to start their agyatobash) and nobody connected the dots. Duryodhan was supposed to have spies all over the country and in any case, the entire country knew about the incognito thingie but this remained unnoticed.
Not really the sharpest knives in the kitchen...
So, the Bros. & Babe happily got initiated into the daily routine of the palace and hoped to spend this one year in relative boredom.
In addition to the names mentioned above, the five brothers had taken an additional set of code names (But why Sir? Generally!) - Jay, Jayanta, Vijay, Jayatsen, Jayatdal.

But then, the Queen's thoughts about the king taking a fancy for Sairindhri turned out to be prophetic in a different sort of way.
Her brother - Kichak - was the de facto ruler of the kingdom. He was a very capable warrior and protected the kingdom. Since the king depended on him, he did everything that caught his fancy and Sairindhri caught his fancy like Jonty Rhodes caught a cricket ball. He badgered his sis to set him up with this new babe. The Queen - having a bit of a soft corner for dear bro - tried to broker the (d)alliance but Sairindhri vehemently junked the idea.

Eventually, Horny Kichak could not take it any more and jumped the babe. The babe - having practiced the routine with Duhsashan earlier - ran into the king's court where all the five brothers were generally hanging about. They did nothing - having practiced earlier as well - so as not to give away their identities.
King Viraat managed to pull his bro-in-law off but he threatened the babe that if she did not come to him willingly, he would come back at her.
Bheem, who was gritting his teeth all this while, decided to do what he did best. Take matters in his own hands.

A plan was hatched. Sairindhri passed a mesage to Kichak that she could not accept him publicly (having done so much nakhra) but if he came to a secret meeting spot at night, she promised a lot of hanky panky. Kichak, who had a hard-on from here to Ludhiana, agreed. He would have ageed to anything!
At the appointed hour and spot, Kichak landed up and was overjoyed to see a figure covered in a saree. On more intimate inspection, the figure turned out to be the cook Ballabh, who had claimed to be a decent wrestler. The decent wrestler managed to tear Kichak limb to limb without raising a din and vanished without even leaving a fingerprint.
The next morning, of course, was chaos and mayhem at the discovery and the subsequent realisation that without the mighty Kichak, the kingdom was at considerable risk with a wimpy King and a teenaged Prince Uttar.

Duryodhan's spy network had drawn a nought till now about the Paandavs - but they did relay back the news of Kichak's death. So, the Kaurav clan thought while they are waiting for the Paandavs to surface, they might as well attack Viraat's kingdom and make off with his riches.
And in no time, there were a 100 bloodthirsty bandit brothers (assisted by their weapons prof) standing right outside the kingdom.
Viraat - who never lifted a finger himself - kinda shat in his dhoti when he heard the news of this invasion. Strangely, dance teacher Brihannala cleared his throat and revealed that (s)he was also a trained charioteer. If (s)he was given a chance to steer the valiant Prince Uttar into battle, the young Prince would mow down the Kauravs. Uttar was had neither a sense of warfare nor a sense of reality. He readily agreed and his parents - not far removed from fanstasy themselves - agreed too.

Jumpcut to the battle field.
Drunk on false praise, Uttar came to his senses when he heard the commotion created by the Kaurav army. When he realised that the entire horizon was obstructed by the army and he was in it all alone, he felt it wise to instruct Brihannala to turn the chariot around as he needed to use the latrine pronto! Brihannala - on the other hand - assured that only about one-tenth the army was visible and it was a Kshatriya's greatest honour to take an arrow on his chest and die a glorious death. Uttar - at this point - jumped off the chariot and ran in the direction of the forest. An exasperated Brihannala checked out the position of the sun and decided that it was time to make an entry...

He turned the chariot around, picked up the cowering prince, went to the tree in the nearby forest where a 'corpse' was tied and asked him to bring it down. The prince forgot about fearing for his life and feared for losing his religion by touching a 'corpse'. The eunuch - in the meanwhile - took off his bangles, adjusted his clothing to a more battle-friendly and handled the innards of the corpse with a large degree of confidence. When he learnt the true identity of the Dancing Queen, he was infused with a large degree of relief.
And then, Arjun asked Prince Uttar to become the charioteer, twanged the bowstring of Gandeev and sounded his conch.

Some distance away, Dronacharya was intrigued to hear the signature twang. Could his favourite student be in the vicinity? His happiness permeated manifold among the Kauravs because they felt that Arjun had revealed himself before the one year of agyatobash was up and that meant an encore.
Drona, who had far more faith in Arjun than anybody else, did a few astronomical calculations himself and quietened the clan. It was a few moments since the thirteen years being up. Arjun was not a fool to have made an appearance before that.

At this point, two arrows from Arjun came and landed in front of Drona's chariot. And two more whizzed past his ears.
Did Arjun miss? Not exactly.
With the first two arrows, he symbolically touched his guru's feet. And with the next two, he asked about his well-being having met him after 13 years.
These are the cute details which elevate Mahabharat from a great epic to the greatest epic!

Of course, a pitched battle ensued. Of course, Arjun beat the shit out of the Kauravs and sent them back. But of course, the Incognito Year ended on a victorious note.

And it queered the pitch for the Mother of All Battles - Kurukshetra!


Rimi said...

"queered" the pitch. Interesting choice of words, Dipta. I am required to write several short essays concerning structures of masculinities, femininities, and other gender identities this semester (gender is not my favourite subject of academic discourse, but it's quite fascinating nonetheless, of course), and I chose to highlight on one aspect of the ogyatbaash for one such essay. To wit, the 'feminine' disguises the two most masculine Pandavs choose to hide under. That bit where Arjun says he shall be a dance instructor to Uttara? No one even bats an eyelid.

Of course, there has been a sustained rumble between the genders about male dominancy in chef-ing, and most men's relative inactivity in domestic kitchens. But when a man to equal Prabhuji's skill at laying out the evil folks on the chopping block volunteers to be the cook, and absolutly no one comments, even to say, "isn't that an unusual choice?" it goes to show something about social assumptions re. gender dynamics, I think. Perhaps at a time when men and women were more secure in their gender identities (to put it rather simplistically), they could play at being the other with far more ease*? What do you think?

*that was my thesis for maximum grade, anyway. the gender-insecurities one sees these days can be ridiculous. Someone I met here refused to drink a rather delicious cocktail because it was "colourful and all girly". And just took surreptitious sips from his friend's glass. Ki bolbo.

Rimi said...

Will you look at the size of that comment.

Anamika said...


adi said...

on why duryodhan wasn't able to find yudhistra and team - becoz he got a boon from the yaksha that his identity wl not b disclosed during the agyatvas.

btw, mahabharat seem to be your hot favourite and u present it excellently.

dipali said...

Vintage DKC! Looking forward to the next installment! I like Rimi's theory too.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

More! More!

Seriously, this is True Value. Make this a regular feature. Please.


pottsy said...

This was an awesome read, Dipta... Couldn't help myself ROFL... The best part was the sharpness of the analysis of simple details and the "today's" language wit to go with it.. can't wait to read more..!!

Have been going through your blogs ever since I discovered it through a link on Backpacking Ninja... May you find ready prose more often..!!