Human mind seems to relish the stories which left the best imprints on it during the infant stages. In a gap of a couple of days I happened to get hold of two different books on the characters in Mahabharatha. One was by a Chartered Accountant Ms Roopa and another by the much renowned Shri Gurucharan Das. The first one was a good preparation ground to launch me into the second. Both books left me with a lingering feeling that I was not merely Jekyll and Hyde but much more than that. The character of Karna was dealt with in great detail and left me feeling that I was indeed blessed ( despite the unending battles on the domestic front). At least it was not a scenario where someone had disowned me and sought me out only with a request to betray the faith of a friend.
The enchanting figure of Bhishma remained the favourite. All seem to only question him on the silence at the disrobing of Draupadi. No questions are raised on his ethics of fighting a battle for his brothers at a swayamvara of the sisters of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika. It is claimed that he was silent because of his loyalty to the throne of Hastinapura but it is forgotten that the same venerable man attested the completion of the exile period during the war with Virata. If one were to have the occasion to read the Anushasana Parva the thoughts that Yudhishthira is the hero of this epic will fall apart. Laid on a bed of arrows as well as undergoing the mental trauma of not being able to fulfil his pledge of ensuring that Hastinapura never comes to grief in a war, he excels by providing a discourse to which Krishna also raptly listens. The salient point that emerges is that an authority is not made of himself but by the persons accepting him as such. In the absence of acceptance where would the authority emerge from?
In the epic, Bhishma is respected by his step mother and brothers and he wields the authority. Pandu regards him and the authority continues. Dhirtarashtra, the blind king, blind more in wisdom than by sight, does not trust the elderly man. However, he lacks the courage to stand up against him. As the reins go into the hands of the remote control of Shakuni and Suyodhana, the authority of Bhishma wanes. His efforts pale into insignificance. Effectively, he realises the futility of the situation. The pinnacle of this occurs at the time of humiliating Draupadi. It would be heroism to imagine him doing an Amitabh Bacchan and hold Dushasana's hands and utter " Agar Ma ka Dudh piya ho to, pehle mujhse takkar lo" or even do a Shahrukh Khan in saying to Draupadi " Main Hoon Na" . These are unrealistic heroes while Bhishma ages and reacts accordingly.
Then why does Bhishma battle on the side of the Kauravas? Well, he is a kshatriya warrior who would any day prefer a death on the battlefield than retire and watch the battle from the sidelines. Sanjaya can sit on the sidelines not Bhishma. Further, with Krishna on the other side, the balance of power could be evened out only with his presence. The choice is limited by his oath and he does his nation proud by fighting dsipassionately till the end. He could timed his death before the war but that would be like out politicos who win elections on the sympathy wave. Suyodhana would have reigned supreme. It is for nothing that he is called Bhishma Pitamaha.
Gurucharan Das describes Krishna's strategies in detail but fails to credit Bhishma with avoiding a conflict among brothers. Though Kunti is unaware, Bhishma is aware of the truth of Karna's birth. The only way he could avoid the battle between the brothers and maintain the secrecy was to ensure that Karna does not venture into the battlefield. This he does by addressing him as Ardharatha. No father-in -law much less a step father-in - law can claim such credit and while the famed curse of Yudhishthira ensures that women do not keep secrets, Bhishma is not even noticed. The honour of intimating their kinsmanship is also deftly addressed by Bhishma when he requires the Pandavas to perform the last rites irrespective of rank and file leaving it to Krishna and Kunti to divulge the truth. The celebrated heroes of today's movies and teleserials fade in comparison. He has his human flaws but could anyone of aspire let alone rise to his levels of empathy and loyalty as well as accepting his fading authority with grace.
My hats off to him.