You'll always be my baby
That does it, I thought. When your very own toyboy's eyes glaze over as you hold forth about something, it is time to blog about it and get it off the chest than bend ears.
To be frank, I talked to Chenthil about it and he sounded amused, in a 'Missus Em and her foibles' kind of way. I talked to another friend who called from London, and I could sense her falling asleep as I spoke. I raved at friends who visited me in the nursing home and they escaped citing visiting hours. I tried explaining why I was upset to my sister, who said she stood a better chance of understanding what some lady called Saroj Khan was teaching on the telly. It turned out to be Bollywood dancing. The lord and master said I'd get over it, and suggested I read some nice book to lift my mood. Then my toyboy's eyes glazed over.
There is no help for it but I have to inflict this on my readers. You are warned.
I'd been waiting for lo these many years to read some of the works by a favourite author that have been consistently out of print. These included a couple of novels, some plays of uneven length and some skits.
Now, my family knows about my obsession about this author, so my brother-in-law brought me a copy of the plays that he managed to acquire when he came to visit me in the nursing home. It wasn't his fault. In fact, he did stellar service towards keeping my mind off the pain of surgery because I was in an 'ancient Indian ancestry (12)'* fury over the plays.
Let's pass over the details, I don't want to froth at the mouth again. The plays would send people to sleep before the first scene ended, unless they were seething like me. I am only going to restrict myself to mourning sloppy usage from an author I always admired for 'le mot juste'.
bala, balaka, balika refer to children. balakrishna is baby or child Krishna. balakarna would be child Karna. Boys and girls below sixteen years of age could be referred to as bala, but that is a stretch.
Just think about this. Kunti had a child by the god Surya and abandoned him to a river (memories of Moses and the bulrushes, Huckleberry Finn and all). Then she got married, had more children, got widowed, and went to Hastinapura to bring up her sons and her co-wife's. Okay?
The author wrote a play with two imaginary scenes that decide Karna's loyalties early on. In one scene, Kunti recognises Karna walking down the street, invites him to her palace, gushes over him, and Arjuna comes in and acts all haughty and rude. In the next, Karna runs an errand for Duryodhana; the prince and his brother decide he is worthy of being in their retinue and befriend him. Bah! But still, the author is entitled to his imagination.
My grouse is with something else though. In the initial description of the scene and settings, the author says Kunti is talking to balakarna. After gnashing my teeth and raving about it, I sat and did a heroic thing. I did numbers; counting on fingers and toes, and asking the Resident Mathematician to check them later (the numbers, that is, not my fingers and toes). I wanted to arrive at a sensible figure, the reasonable number of years before Kunti could have met the infant she consigned to a river, and the difference of years between Karna and the Kunti's other children.
Kunti begat Karna by the god Surya, a boon she didn't want. Now the epics and Puranas, classics all talk of sadyogarbha and say she bore her son immediately. Sadly, sadyogarbha only means she conceived right away. Tryst and travail happening immediately after is fond imagining of people who refuse to think. Even if you assume that by some miracle she came to term immediately after her dalliance with Surya, she still had to go through childbirth; very likely, she had to go through the entire pregnancy too.
(A minor digression, do think twice before you use the word travail whether in singular or plural next time. Originally, it meant the concluding stage of pregnancy, from the beginning of contractions till childbirth. The secondary meaning is use of physical and mental energy, and hard work.)
Kunti couldn't have got back from consigning her infant to the river and traipsed off to marry Pandu in a swayamvara right away. There must have been a year or two at the least between the two events.
Then she went to Hastinapura to be queen. But journeys those days were long and arduous. There might have been carts drawn by oxen, but queens travelled in litters and much time was spent making and breaking camp. There were seasons to consider and rivers in flood and more.
Assume three years of marriage, happy or not, before she acquired a co-wife, Madri. Now Madri was as much a princess, if not more so than Kunti, so assume three years of being a co-wife that Madri got used to, too.
Then Pandu went conquering on behalf of his brother. Armies might march faster than bridal processions, but they still need provisioning, and provisions and baggage trains travel slow. Also, conquering isn't quite like walking down to the corner shop and buying groceries. It takes years.
Assume five years, or let's be generous and assume three years of conquering. Then Pandu came back and distributed the plundered wealth, Dhritarashtra performed sacrifices, and there was much rejoicing all round before Pandu got the hunting bug.
Even if we assume that the first animal Pandu shot at was the ill-omened deer, and he was cursed right away, there must have been a year before he retired to be an ascetic in the foothills of the Himalayas with his wives. He would have needed that much time to inform his family, take permission, and formally renounce the world.
He spent some years being an ascetic before he got to thinking about dying without heirs. It couldn't have happened overnight. Assume two years.
Even if Pandu convinced Kunti to beget children through niyoga quickly enough, and she bore three sons before the jealous co-wife wanted children too, so there was one more birth, this time of twins…clockwork though it could have been, it still must have taken some four years. More likely some six or seven years.
Some years passed while the children are described in the Sanskrit version of Mahabharata, and the Telugu version I am more familiar with, as flourishing and growing rapidly. They must have been older than toddlers, when Pandu tried to bed Madri and died.
Lamentations, debate with Madri about who should accompany Pandu on the funeral pyre, the cremation, going to Hastinapura with the children, all these take time. More lamentations and more funeral rites by Pandu's brother and nephews; it would all take time, too.
They would have to have been settled into a routine in the city before Kunti could have spotted Karna on the streets of Hastinapura, recognised him and invited him in.
Now tell me if the adjective bala was le mot juste.
Post Script: Tivi, please don't argue that these were semi-divine births and took no time at all. That still would lessen only four years from my estimate.