Over the years, like many Indians, I too have read several books in English and Malayalam that reinterpret the Mahabharatha from a specific point of view, such as that of Draupadi. I was a teenager when I read Malayalam writer MT Vasudevan Nair’s classic ‘Randamoozham’ (Second Chance) which positions Bhima as the protagonist. It was mind-blowing brilliant and I was haunted by Bhima for years.
Vikas Singh in his recently released novel, Bhima, states that he was inspired by MT’s ‘Randamoozham’ but felt that he had another ‘Bhima’ in his perspective.
So, what makes Vikas Singh’s ‘Bhima’ different?
For one, Vikas Singh’s ‘Bhima’ is full of passion, action and humour. The first chapter catapults you into the fiery passionate love making between Bhima and Draupadi, after he ties her hair with Dusshasana’s blood.
Sex sells – be it in books, movies, art, etc. But while reconstructing mythology-based classics, an overdose of sex is a dampener. A classic needs to be experienced as a classic – especially when it is reinterpreted.
Let’s move to the blurb may give you a further hint of what to expect:
‘I am the mightiest warrior of my time. I have violated my dharma and murdered a man in cold blood. I have, single-handedly, wiped out a whole generation of my kinsmen. I have committed acts of unspeakable brutality on the battlefield. I have done it all for the love of one woman.
I am Bhima, the second Pandava.”
Vikas Singh’s ‘Bhima’ explores the curious, passionate, courageous and sensitive side of the great warrior. He is the only Pandava who sees through Yudhishtira’s intentions behind every action and raises logical questions to Krishna about every important event.
None of the other narratives on the Mahabharatha offer such glimpses of Bhima with this unique intensity – as a curious son, a selfless brother, a passionate and caring husband and a most protective father and uncle.
Then why did Bhima keep quiet when his mother Kunti said to Arjuna that all the brothers had to share the “prize”?
His thoughts go like this:
Yudhishtira says that “Mother’s words are like a command of the gods...”
A part of my brain was pointing out to me that if all five of us indeed married Draupadi, then as the eldest brother, Yudhishtira would be the first to consummate the marriage with Draupadi.
“What would have I done if I were in his place...maybe I would have just taken Draupadi’s hand and walked away from there forever...”
The technique of evoking humour will delight readers, especially with the consummation sequence, where the author tactfully uses Bhima’s witty nature to reconstruct the scenes.
We know that Arjuna has almost always been the unspoken hero in the Mahabharatha but he is side-stepped in this narrative. Throughout the narrative, Bhima’s honesty and integrity as a warrior is brought to life. You will feel for Bhima like never before.
Bhima’s love for Draupadi and his part-love, part-jealousy of Arjuna is explored across every sequence of his life. But as a reader, I would also liked to have seen an interplay of magical facets and a playful narrative in this book, instead of the straight-forward retelling of Bhima's version of the events that led to the Mahabharatha.
“Mother was always a formidable woman but Arjun could cuddle and kiss and tease her in a way that none of us dared to, least of all me. Since I was completely hopeless at displaying affection through words or gestures, I tried to do so through actions. I would tirelessly run errands for mother, or do things that I think would make her happy. This pattern, set in early childhood, would become a recurring theme later in all my relationships with the women I cared about. Sometimes they noticed. Mostly, they took it for granted. Still, I was grateful for any scraps of attention that came my way.”
‘Bhima’ by Vikas Singh is a deeply moving account that provides the definitive answer to the question: What was it like to be Bhima?