For those who came in late:
Grim. No that was a softer word by all norms. The Pandava camp was dismal. Arjuna was especially perturbed. He kept adjusting his position from side to side on the wooden stool that he sat on. True to his colour, he was feeling blue.His left shoulder, where one of the arrows sent by Karna earlier found its mark, throbbed really bad. He had already drunk 3 small pots of pain relieving herbal milk that the army physician had prepared. But both his body and mind ached.
Yudishtira sat contemplating on his concerns on the silk laden wooden stool. His broad shoulder drooped as if he had lost yet another match of chess. He looked clueless as to what needs to be done, since Karna commanded the Kaurava army now. To his relief Beeshma and Drona till date sent arrows that were soft on Pandavas. They had conspired in their own subtle ways to keep away the mighty Karna from ransacking the Pandava army for almost 15 days. Beeshma had cunningly kept Karna at bay from entering the war citing the reasons that Karna had insulted Draupadi and cheated Parasuram. Beeshma helped Pandavas further by insulting Karna, calling him Artha Rathi (only half a rathi-a warrior capable of fighting just 2500 soldiers at a time). Drona did not let Karna come near the Pandava brothers and sent him to fight the invincible Gatotkacha (Bhīma’s Demon Son) and lesser forces for forces for four days. But now, neither Beeshma nor Drona were there to save them.
“He is just a charioteer’s son and an Arth-rathi… how the hell could he raise such havoc…” Yudishtira broke the gloomy silence of the camp. His body was slumped and head stooped lacking confidence.
“Only a fool would say that Yudi… he is far superior than any of you…He equals two Maharathis… maybe more…” Krishna replied. He looked up from the empty golden grail and smiled at Yudishtira as if he was enjoying the tension in that room. His misty dark face glowed in the feeble light of the lamps in that tent.
“Then why did he not allow Karna to fight till now?” An ever confident Arjuna asked Krishna; but this time fear brimmed out of his every word.
“With Karna, Beeshma and Drona together in the battle field, none of us would be alive to have this talk…By now the war would have been over Arjuna…and mind you we will be on the losing side..” Krishna replied, still smiling.
“You mean to say we would all have been dead by now….?” Yudishtir lifted his head and looked piercingly at Krishna.
“Exactly. Hard to digest but true Yudi. Since every combat is a fight to death… probably none of us would survive the brutal assault of the trio…there are no prisoners of war in Kurukshetra and probably no survivors other than horses, elephants and victors. You fight and win or you fight and die…You know the rules better than me…” Yudishtira and Arjuna shuddered at Krishna’s voice.
“Then why Beeshma mislead us by showcasing Karna as a far inferior warrior Krishna? Was this any kind of combat tactics?” Arjuna questioned with his voice and eyes brimming with concern.
“Beeshma has injected enough inferiority complexe in Karna’s mind. That made Karna think twice before challenging you. In fact, that is the only thing that has saved you till now or may be save you in future as well Arjuna. Years back, as a teenager when he challenged you in the archery competition, I understood his potential. He is immensely talented and what more, he is trained by Parasuram who has wiped out Kshatriyas 21 times. You are trained by Drona who has the experience of this lifetime, but no match for the great Parasuram. Teacher matters. Most important of all, he is here with a mission and he has nothing to lose. A man is most dangerous when he got nothing to lose Arjuna…” Krishna’s reply stung every heart in that camp, except Bhima who by now had dozed off resting his huge body in the stool.
Bhima was happy, gleefully happy since he ripped off Dushasana’s right hand and took the blood from his dead body to Draupadi.
“There is nobody who can defeat Arjuna…” there was a surge of hope in Yudishtira’s voice
“I would like to contradict. Karna can defeat two Arjunas at a time Yudi…In fact he is only warrior who can defeat Arjuna in a battle…” Krishna replied dispassionately.
“Yesss Yudi… that is a fact…” Krishna retorted.
“His armour and earrings (Kavacha and Kundala) are gone…” Arjuna said. There was a kind of childish hope in his tone.
Krishna gave a sarcastic smile…
“On the 11th day when Karna was about to enter the battlefield, his father Lord Surya offered his majestic chariot with seven horses of different colours, along with Aruna (the best charioteer in the whole of universe) to him. You know what Karna did? He rejected the offer saying he was completely confident about his skills and he did not want any undue advantage over his enemies…But when Lord Indra offered his chariot to you Arjuna…” Arjuna interrupted Krishna:
“I accepted it without a word and kept you as my charioteer, so that I could have an edge over my foes…” Arjuna bent his head in shame. Krishna felt pity for him.
“Arjuna, I’m not telling these things to dishearten you. But if today gets repeated tomorrow, we are doomed. When we are looking for his weakness, Karna is gathering his strengths. Till now Karna was eating whatever crap Beeshma and Drona fed his confused mind regarding his power and potential. Like every human being he too felt week when everyone looked down upon him based on his caste and creed. When man succumbs to social norms, even the greatest of them becomes ordinary. Even though far superior than any other warrior on earth, feeling of inferiority diluted his confidence to face you and fight you Arjuna… you need to thank Beeshma for that. Whenever Karna would take an initiative to fight you, Beeshma Sire would insult him so much that he would fall for those discrediting words….”Krishna ignored Arjuna’s gaze…and continued looking at the grail.
“And today he came face to face with Arjuna… so tell me Krishna, if he was that good, why did Karna not kill everyone today and put an end to this wretched war?” Yudishtira was losing his temper.
“Karna would never want to see this war being won under Drona’s commander ship. He would desire of a Kaurava victory under his leadership. As of today he was testing and feeling the pulse of every Pandava…and Upa-Pandava. I could see that in his eyes today. He probably realizes by now,that we are scared like dead cats. Moreover, it was not the warrior in Karna that was fighting the battle today, it was the strategist in him playing with our morale. He was not even fighting…and see what he has done to you all…” Krishna’s each word instilled a new fear in Arjuna.
“”His armour and earrings (Kavacha and Kundala ) are gone…” Arjuna blabbered again.
“And he used up the Shakti Weapon on Gatotkacha… and without these he is nothing Krishna…” Yudishtira added. It sounded more like a plea than a affirmation.
Krishna got up from his seat and walked towards the entrance of the big linen tent. He stood facing the cloth that covered the mouth of the entrance. It was flapping slowly as the cold December wind touched it.
“Today 12 Athirathis (Generals of Pandava army each capable of fighting 60,000 soldiers single handedly) along with Arjuna surrounded and engaged Karna from noon till dusk. Arjuna you want to tell what happened…”
Yudishtira turned his gaze towards Arjuna, but Arjuna held his head down, unable to come to terms with himself. Words won’t come out of his lips. Yudishtira looked back at Krishna and asked:
“Only Arjuna survived the day. And that too he is lucky to be here, sitting and talking to us.There was no other go but to retreat… And mind you Yudi, this was all without his armour and ear rings. He wiped out almost an Akshauhini of our army today single handedly (battle formation that consisted of 21,870 chariots, 21,870 elephants; 65,610 cavalry and 109,350 infantry).I have never seen such valour, speed and marksmanship ever in my life…”
“We can plan an all out attack on him tomorrow Krishna!!! Attack him from every flank…” Yudishtira opted.
“Don’t be foolish. He would then carnage the entire Pandava army and ride to Hastinapur before sunset to celebrate the victory… we need something solid. A plan that wears him off. Something that makes it difficult for him to reach you all at a time. I doubt he would do any mortal damage to you, but with Arjuna he won’t be lenient….”
“Will it not be easy for us to defeat him without his armour. He is naked without that… and…” before Yudishtira could continue, Krishna turned around. He walked towards him with anger bursting all over his face.
“The Kavacha and Kundala, if you are talking about that, was given away as alms. Indra, the god of gods stooped as low as a beggar to save his own son’s life. You get me Yudi? That is the kind of power Karna has.Even without those, he can sew all five of you in a single arrow. Stop undermining you enemy or you will eat your own words tomorrow. He is impulsive and thinks he is inferior to you all. Those are the only two reason why you all are alive…Arjuna is alive…”
“I will kill myself but would not die at the hands of a charioteer’s son….” Arjuna roared.
“This attitude is what we need to throw away. If you want victory, you need to plan and know your enemy. He is the supreme commander of the Kaurava army. For god sake, accept that. I’m not saying Karna cannot be defeated, but our attitude towards him should carry more respect…If not for me you would be just history by now Arjuna…Who do you think deflected the chariot from his rain of arrows”
“Then why the hell he did not use any of his celestial weapons and finish me off? Tell me Krishnaaa…..” Arjuna jumped from his seat and kicked the stool away in anger.
“That is what I’m wondering Arjuna… it was luck and only luck that saved you today…”
Arjuna could not stand this any more and was about to storm out of the tent. But he stopped near Krishna:
“Whatever happens, first thing in the morning once the battle starts I’m going to go at his throat…”
“Bad idea.. ” Krishna replied without looking at Arjuna.
“He cannot stand against my wrath without his Kavacha and Kundala…without any special weapon or power…” Even those words of Arjuna, intended to be confident were clouded in speculation.
“You are absolutely wrong. He has something that you would not even have dreamed of…”
“What is that? Why he did not take it out till now? Arjuna was now clearly tensed.
“It is his OTHER BOW… I was wondering why he did not take it out till now…Arjuna…only he has the answer”
“His other bow…?”
That is when the crashing boom of thunderclap tore its way through the silence of that winter night. There was a flash of lightning whose electrifying glow penetrated the tent and illuminated it for a flash of a second. This happened for four more times in regular intervals. Then it stopped and the night became silent once again.
“Thunders in rhythm, that too at this time of the year…?” Yudishtir was now standing abreast Krishna and Arjuna. Bhima woke up hearing the thunder. He looked bewildered and alarmed.
“Those are not the thunders Yudi. It is Karna is intimidating us…”
“What…?” Both Yudishtir and Arjuna asked simultaneously, looking confused.
“He has decided to use his master weapon…He is becoming more aggressive by the day. Tomorrow we will face a wrath and fury like never before…we are doomed…” Krishna sighed.
That was when two hooded men crashed in through the entrance of the tent. Yudishtira sensed danger and in a flash went for the hilt of his sword. But Krishna stopped him. The two men removed their black hoods. In the dim lights of oil lamps, the handsome young faces of Nakul and Sahadev glowed like fresh cut diamonds. They radiated beauty and agility like no other in seven heavens. But their boyish faces were drenched in perspiration and they were heaving heavily like they had run a marathon all day long. Their cloths were covered in mud and so were their fingers and nails. Krishna looked at their glowing faces expectedly.
“Did you do as I say?”, Krishna asked them lowering his voice.
“Yes…” they replied simultaneously.
“Ten miles North –East from whre Beeshma Pithamaha fell, near the bank of Parusni River. We used the water there to create the muddy hole…”
“Did you cover it up properly?Did anyone see you? ” There was a kind of tension in Krishna’s voice.
“Yes we covered it up pretty well and put a Neem sapling to mark the spot. We hope nobody saw us… it is Margasheersha today (Shani amavasya)…it was completely dark…” Nakul replied in a hushed voice.
“What are you talking about?” Yudishtira growled at his brothers.
Krishna smiled at him and kept his arms on his shoulders.
“If everything goes as planned, we might save this war…” Yudishtir saw a twinkling delight in Krishna’s eyes.
“How is that possible Krishna?” he asked
“Nakul…unroll the map of battlefield over the table… over there. We have a long night in front of us…” Every one of them, including Bhima listened to Krishna with rapt attention. Together they walked towards the big-oval table made of rosewood to plan the strategies for 17th day of the great war.
It thundered. One last time and then there was silence.
To be continued tomorrow…
Image courtesy : http://nek143.deviantart.com
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