Saturday, August 9, 2008

When the Second comes first...


"He's still the world number one" said Rafael Nadal after winning the Wimbledon this year. Now, this swashbuckling Spaniard is going to relieve Roger Federer from the number one position for the first time in four years. Roger Federer has been in the First position for 235 weeks while Nadal was the second for 185.

At the beginning of the year, there were talks about Federer being the first person to win six consecutive Wimbledons in the modern era but in the end it was Nadal to entered history books as the first since Bjorn Borg to win the French Open and the Wimbledon in the same year.

After steamrolling Federer for the French Open,they again clashed at Wimbledon with Nadal walking away with the honours. The final was epic and there was no shame in finishing second in a match where it was tennis which eventually won.

Nadal did not win the Cincinnati open and his run of 32 straight win was finally broken in the final. But that has only delayed the inevitable.

Vamos Rafa!! No. 1 finally!!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Karna Again..

Saw the Tamil movie Karnan the other day. The movie is a heart wrenching rendition of Karna portrayed in a near perfect manner by the legendary Sivaji Ganesan. The movie is a treat for the people who are interested in Indian mythology or have a taste in tragedy. The exaggerated expressions so reminiscent of the cinema of yesteryears, the intricacy of the language and Sivaji, in all his magnanimity, make the movie a treat to watch.

The movie remains the same as my previous post with not many changes in the storyline. However what prompted me to write another post for Karna is the ending of the movie and of course, my fascination with the character. The death of Karna is portrayed differently in this movie when compared to the Mahabharata or to Mrityunjay. I would have to research more on it to check if it was just an artistic twist or the South Indian version of tragic hero. But then It again got me started upon my favorite mythological character.

Zoom into the great battle of Kurukshetra. The Supreme Commander-In-Chief of the Kaurava army, Bhishma, refuses to fight alongside Karna or to command him. Bhishma was serving the Kaurava army only because of his vow to serve the King of Hastinapura. Bhishma justifies his act as a necessary action to curb Karna’s undue hatred of the Pandavas. However, Karna is hurt more when his only friend, Durydhona does not intervene. Always the astute politician, Durydhona knows only too well to have the grand patriarch on his side and not annoy him. Karna would only enter the battle after Bhishma’s fall.

Vrishasena, Karna's son, enters the battle and fights fiercely. For a young kid, Vrishasena fights very bravely and almost brings down Nakula piercing him with arrows and Nakula calls out his brother, Arjuna for help. Seeing Arjuna enter the battle, Vrishasena rushes to fight his father's bitter rival. Little Vrishasena pierces Arjuna in the left arm pit with an arrow. Then, he even pierces Krishna with arrows. An enraged Arjuna then vows to slay the kid, Vrishasena. Arjuna, capable of slaying the Yama himself, laughs terribly and says to Karna, "Today, in this very battle, I will slay the fierce Vrishasena and send him to Yama's abode. You slew my son in my absence when he was alone and unarmed. I will slay Vrishasena in your very sight. Let all the Kaurava warriors protect him. After I slay Vrishasena, I will slay you who is at the root of this quarrel and have become so proud in Durydhona’s patronage. Bhima will slay Durydhona, the wretch among men, through whose evil this quarrel born of dice has arisen.”

Having said these, Arjuna proceeds to rain arrows over little Vrishasena. Cutting off Virshasena’s bow with his razor sharp arrows, Arjuna proceeds to sever his limbs and eventually kill the little child.

On the seventeenth day of the battle, Karna faces and defeats Bhima and Yudhishtira in the battle. Keeping his promise to Kunti, Karna doesn’t kill them. Enraged by the death of his young son, Karna defeats Nakula as well and spares his life too though fully aware of the fact that Nakula was instrumental in Vrishasena’s death. Karna finally comes face to face with his most intense rival, Arjuna in the battlefield. Deprived of his impregnable earrings (Kundal), armor (Kavach) and his most powerful weapon, Karna has to face the widely equipped Arjuna on the basis of his skills alone. Putting up a dazzling display of archery, Karna pins Arjuna to the chariot with a rain of arrows. Arjuna, too, lives up to his name and the intense fight continues with both the heroes, matched equally for skill and bravery, are unable to overcome each other.

During the course of the battle, the earth is pressed deep due to the weights of the chariots and the elephants. And Aswasena, a snake who was hostile to Arjuna for having killed its mother at Khandava, rises from the nether region. Recollecting the death of his mother and the enmity that he had harboured against Arjuna, the brave snake rises to the skies and thinking that it was the right time for gratifying his animosity towards the wicked Arjuna, enters Karna’s quiver assuming the form of an arrow, the Naga Astram. Karna, though, is unaware and when he shoots that arrow at Arjuna, Krishna recognizes the Naga-Astram and he plunges the chariot into the ground as a desperate measure. The arrow strikes Arjuna’s diadem instead, saving Arjuna from sure death.

The snake returns to Karna and says, “You sped me, O Karna, without having seen me. It was for this that I could not strike off Arjuna's head. Please shoot me once again, after seeing me well. I shall then slay your foe and mine too."

To which Karna asked, “Who are you to have possessed such fierce form?”

The snake answered, saying, "Know me as one the one who has been wronged by Arjuna. My enmity towards him is due to his having slain my mother. Do not disregard me. Do my bidding. I will slay thy foe. Shoot me without delay."

Hearing those words, Karna said, "Karna never desires to have victory in battle today by relying on another's might. Even if I have to slay a hundred Arjunas, I will not still shoot the same shaft twice."

Aswasen implores Karna, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Krishna exhorts Arjuna to slay the snake. Deprived of Karna’s mighty bow, the brave snake perishes.

The fierce combat continues until Karna’s chariot wheels get stuck in the ground. Karna tries to remove the wheel from the ground. Krishna exhorts Arjuna to attack Karna. Arjuna lets out a powerful volley of arrows at Karna.

Struck by the arrows, Karna falls down to the ground. Wounded, but not dead. Arjuna continues to fire arrows at Karna but the arrows don’t pierce Karna’s body. Instead, they become a garland of flowers and fall on him. Puzzled, Arjuna seeks to Krishna for help. Krishna smiles and shows Arjuna that it is the Goddess of Righteousness who is protecting Karna. Krishna says that Karna has been so righteous throughout his life that the Goddess herself seeks to protect him. Krishna concludes that the only way to slay Karna would be to deprive Karna of all his righteousness.

Assuming the form of a poor Brahmin, Krishna walks up to the fallen warrior and says that he came all the way to meet Karna to ask for a favour. Karna, the ever generous says, “The only thing I have now is my life. If you want, I’ll happily give it to you.”

Krishna laughs and says “I do not seek your life.What good will it do?“

Karna implores the Brahmin, “Ask for anything you want. “

Waiting for this moment, Krishna says, “I have sinned greatly and I need the fruits of your good deeds to save myself from hell. I want all the righteousness that you have in yourselves. All the Dharma you have.”

Without thinking Karna slices his navel and spills his righteous blood on the poor Brahman’s hands remarking that the Brahman has given the lowly born Karna an opportunity to redeem himself. Karna finally is deprived of the one last thing that set him apart from mortals. Krishna, touched by his generosity grants him vision of his Viswaroopa. Krishna asks him to ask for a boon.

Karna replies,” Please make my pyre on the most barren place on earth, so no man may suffer the pain I did in case it's reborn.”

Having done that, Krishna walks back to Arjuna and tells him to kill Karna. Dutifully, Arjuna fires a volley of arrows upon Karna and the Great Warrior finally dies.

Upon his death, Karna’s wife Vrushali, his Mother Kunti and the Goddess of Righteousness mourn his death. Arjuna asks Krishna “Why is the Goddess mourning Karna’s fall?”

To which the Goddess replies, “In this World of greed, power and betrayal, Only Karna has followed the path of righteousness. And I am mourning the death of my only son in all the three worlds.”

Kunti then, in her grief reveals that Karna was her eldest son and the true heir to the throne.

Arjuna realizing the gravity of his action laments that he killed his own brother. To which Krishna replies that Karna was not killed by one man alone. Six other people were involved in killing Karna.

Krishna explains to an inconsolable Arjuna, “Parushuram’s curse ensured that Karna would forget the incantation of the most powerful Brahmastra when he would require it the most. A poor Brahman, whose son he had killed mistaking it for a deer, had cursed Karna saying that the wheels of his chariot would get stuck in the ground during battle. Your father, Indra disguised himself as a Brahmin and asked for Karna’s invincible Kavach (Armor) and Kundal (Earrings) thereby rendering him vulnerable to death. Your mother Kunti, extracted a promise out of him that he would not kill any of your brothers except you. And that he would use a divine weapon only once against you. Shalya, Karna’s charioteer refused to help him when his Chariot wheels get stuck into the ground. And finally when all this failed to kill the Great Man, I myself, robbed Karna of all his righteousness left him to the dead. You have killed a man already killed six times by his own people.”

Lord Krishna, remembering Karna’s dying request and being the Lord himself, made Karna’s pyre on his palm.

This is beautifully depicted in the song Ullathil Nalla Ullam written by the poet Kannadasan. It’s shown that Krishna sings the song while he walks towards Karna in the end to ask for his righteousness. I’ll  translate the last stanza of the song. It manages to capture Karna’s whole life in just four lines.


Senjotru Kadan Theerka,

Seradha idam sendhu,

Vanjhathil vizhnthiyada, Karna

Vanjhagan Kannanda!


To repay a debt,

You sided with people you shouldn’t have

And got caught in the web of deception, Karna

But Krishna is the real deceiver!


His acts of generosity are unmatched. One goes that a Brahmin, who required sandalwood to cremate his departed wife approached Karna for the same. It was raining heavily and the Brahmin needed dry sandalwood (An alternate version is that there was a shortage of sandalwood in the city)Karna, unable to procure sandalwood from the market, noticed that the pillars of his palace were of sandalwood, and calling for an axe, cut them down to give the Brahmin his wood. His palace collapsed, much to the dismay of the Brahmin, but he told him that as a King, He could rebuild it easily.

Some little known facts about Karna would be that he was the most handsome person in the Mahabharata. All the ladies of Hastinapura used to stare at him when he used to go to the Ganges for a bath. Being the son of the Sun-God himself, the radiance on his face was irresistible. He had defeated Arjuna in the battle once but spares his life pulling back his arrow realizing that they would not reach Arjuna before sunset (End of the day’s battle). Later when Durydhona asks Karna about it, he replies that as the commander of the Kaurava army, he would adhere to the rules of combat so that the future generations cannot complain that the Sutaputra Karna killed the Kshatriya Arjuna by cheating.

Two moments that test and define Karna’s unwavering loyalty and strong character would be when Krishna comes to Hastinapura at the end of the Pandavas thirteen years of exile and to negotiate a peace settlement as Duryodhana refuses to give the Pandavas their kingdom. Instead of negotiating, Durydhona tries to capture Krishna. Before leaving, Krishna tries to win Karna over to the Pandava’s side by reasoning with him. Though Krishna is aware of the kindness that Duryodhana had shown Karna, he argued that Karna had a higher duty, to follow him on the path of righteousness.

It is here that the depth of his character is seen. Apologizing for his role in Draupadi's attempted molestation, Karna tells Krishna he knows that Duryodhana is wrong, and in supporting him he is doing the wrong thing and moreover, that he will certainly face death and defeat for it. But he resolves nevertheless to stick with him.

He tells Krishna “All my life, I have been a Sutaputra first and a warrior and King later to the world. Duryodhana alone has seen me, not just as a warrior and king, but as his equal and friend first. Never has he seen me as a Sutaputra. Now that this one friend of mine is in need of a friend, do you expect me to desert him?" Krishna then reveals to him the secret of his birth - that he is Kunti's eldest son. Upon Krishna's exhorting him to join his brothers, Karna is steadfast in his refusal to join the Pandavas.

He replies with bitterness in his voice "Kunti may have given birth to me, but her first act was to cast me into the river. Why should I consider her a mother, when I grew under the love of another? The Pandavas may be my brothers by blood, but they have shown me envy and hatred alone throughout. Why should I join them and desert Duryodhana, who has shown me the love of a brother?"

Karna requests Krishna to keep his identity a secret. If Yudhishtira were to know, he would renounce the kingdom rather than fight an elder brother for it, and Karna does not want him to give up.

The second time is when Kunti, fearing the war, approaches Karna and reveals her identity to him. In one of the most touching scenes in the Mahabharata, she tells him to drop the name ‘Radheya’ (Radha’s firstborn) and call himself ‘Kaunteya’ to which Karna replies that it was what he always wanted and craved for. Upon her requesting him to come over to their side, a request Surya himself reinforces from the skies, Karna refuses.

The scene between Karna and Kunti is brilliantly captured by Rabindranath Tagore which I came across while researching for this post. It is very touching, though it loses a bit of it’s flair having been translated from Bengali, it still deserves a separate post.

I cannot help but wonder if only we people possessed a little bit of the goodness that Karna has the world would have been a much better place to live in.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Baddest Man on the Planet........

I could never understand why boxing was a sport. War wasn't. I just couldn't imagine a person being a boxing enthusiast. Why a person would like seeing two people pounding each other... The person who pounds better is the winner.
Still I kinda liked Mike Tyson. The match against Lennox Lewis was hyped and I was eagerly awaiting the clash. Tyson lost without putting much of a fight. The moment of the match was when Tyson was floored by Lewis and Tyson looked up at Lennox Lewis with an expression of surprise..Tyson had done this so many others...It was a very sorry sight. With one eye barely open Tyson fought for his pride. But Lewis was too good for him and the fight had to be ultimately stopped because Tyson was virtually blinded.
That was the beginning of the end for a glorious career as a modern day gladiator.....

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

And I just cant understand......why I missed this gem. Though I dont follow football. I always liked Maradona more than Pele...
Tyson more than Mohammad Ali..

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Why Karna and not Arjuna.............

I grew up hearing a lot about Arjuna. About how brave he was and how he was instrumental in the Great Indian battle of the Good vs Evil. Almost unnoticed in the story goes Karna. The tragic hero. The sorry second.
All along the great epic of the Mahabharata,the story of Karna is that of poise, utmost loyalty, tragedy and the ultimate betrayal. No other mythological character, commands such awe and yet cuts such a tragic figure.

The birth of Karna is undesired by his mother. His foster parents, perhaps are the only people who don't take anything away from Karna and therefore hardly get a mention in the whole epic. Cursed by his teacher (Parushurama) for lying about his parentage into forgetting the incantation of a Brahmastra when required the most, Karna proceeds to make his way up. He makes a friend in Durydhona. One of the key relationships in his life. With unwavering loyalty he sides his friend. Durydhona, in return for the kingdom of Anga, asks for Karna's heart. Karna replies "Its already yours"

The complications in his character are also evident during the dice game. He is fighting his own demons. The Great Warrior Karna loses to the Karna who is weighed down by the weight of a crown gifted by Durydhona. Scorned by Draupadi at first during her Swayamvar for his humble parentage. He is incensed when Draupadi does not turn to him for help when she is being humiliated. Years of neglect, humiliation pours out in the only one moment when Karna is not himself. "Unsheathe the dark sword Draupadi from the scabbard of her clothes, she has been dangling all this while on the hips of the impotent Pandavas. Like the shrieking of a flock of parrots fluttering out of their tree-holes these words emerged scattering in a flurry of green feathers... I lifted the plate of my years- long neglect, filled with the flaming embers of revenge and emptied it on Draupadi's proud head"
And Karna feels ashamed. Of himself. He realizes that he has lowered himselves to the level of Kamsa and Shishupala.
However, the two most outstanding virtues of Karna would be his his Supreme Gift of generosity and his spirit of sacrifice. Karna's name is synonymous with sacrifice. It is this infalliable spirit of sacrifice that sets him apart from all other men. The King of Gods , Indra knew that Karna is invincible as long as he has the Kavach (Armour) and the Kundal (earrings) he was born with. Indra also knew that Karna would never refuse anything to anyone. Indra, disguised as a poor brahmin, asks for the armor and the earrings and Karna knows that he was wasn't helping a poor brahmin but Indra in disguise as his father (The Sun God) had already warned him in a dream.
But he readily obliges. The armor and the earrings refuse to part with his body. He cuts them off with a knife and gives it to Indra. Indra, shamed into generosity by Karna's gesture grants him the boon of using his most powerful weapon but only once.
Refusing to side with his brothers after learning the truth about his parentage. Karna symbolises the true spirit of friendship. Surya and Kunti try to cajole Karna to their side. But Karna refuses to side with the Pandavas. but promises his mother that he will not kill any of her sons except Arjuna. Arjuna, his most intense rival. They both have sworn to kill each other. He says that she will have always five sons not six. Either him or Arjuna. He also agrees to use the Naga-Astram against Arjuna only once. And requests his mother to keep the secret of his birth a secret until he dies,He being the true heir to the throne. The lure of power fails to corrode Karna's loyalty towards his friend.

Karna loses the opportunity to use Indra's weapon against Arjuna when Duryodhan asks Karna to save them from Ghatotkacha, the half-asura son of Bhima. Killing an asura at night would require a divine weapon. And Karna had the opportunity to use it only once. And without his armour and earrings. He had to take on an Arjuna, widely equipped with divine weapons, in the battlefield. But by using Indra's weapon against Ghatotkacha, Karna loses his sure weapon for Arjuna's death.
After Dronacharya's fall, Karna faces and defeats all the Pandavas except Arjuna. But spares their lives keeping his promise to Kunti. Fighting with Arjuna , he is first betrayed by his own charioteer, Shalya. And when he fires an all powerful weapon to kill Arjuna, Krishna plunges the chariot into the ground, saving Arjuna narrowly as the arrow strikes Arjuna's crown instead. After putting up a spectacular display of archery Karna's chariot sinks into the ground and the wheels get stuck in the soil. This was apparently due to a curse by a Brahmin whose cow he had killed by mistake. His charioteer refuses to help him. Karna disengages himself from the combat and while he is attempting to remove the wheel from the mud, Krishna exhorts Arjuna to attack Karna. Parushurama's curse ensures that Karna cannot recall the incantation for the Brahmastra and the chariot wheel remains stuck.

Karna in life and in death was all poise. Karna and Lord Krishna have a lot in common. Both being of divine origin, brought up by foster parents, warring with their own relatives. One despite being the king of Anga, was called the son of a Charioteer throughout his life. While the other, being the Supreme Lord Himself, is a Charioteer in War.But, Karna, unlike Krishna, does not even wish to forget his foster parents and beloved of that Suta caste. Krishna does not try to alleviate the pain caused to Karna throughout his life. But callously asks him to change sides in War by revealing facts about his birth.


When Karna was in his dying breath,Krishna assumed the form of a poor Brahmin and approached him. Krishna asked for gold in order to perform the marriage of his son. He implores Karna saying that he had heard a lot about him and not knowing his plight , had come to ask for the favor.

"Oh what a pity! Please go to my wife, she will give you as much gold as you need", said Karna.

The Brahmin broke into a laughter. He said, "For the sake of a little gold have I to go all the way to Hastinapura? If you say, you are not in a position to give me what I ask, I shall leave you."

Karna declared, "As long as breath remains in me, I will not say ‘no’ to anyone." Karna opened his mouth, showed the gold fillings for his teeth and said, "I shall give this to you. You can take them."

Assuming a tone of revulsion, the Brahmin said, "What is it you suggest? Do you expect me to break your teeth and take the gold from them? How can I do such a wicked deed? I am a Brahmin."

Immediately, Karna picked up a stone nearby, knocked out his teeth and offered them to the Brahmin. Krishna in his guise as Brahmin wanted to test Karna further. "What? Are you giving me teeth dripping with blood as a gift? I cannot accept this. I am leaving", he said.

Karna pleaded, "Swami, please wait for a moment." Even while he was unable to move, Karna took out an arrow and aimed it at the sky. Immediately rain dropped from the clouds. Cleaning the teeth with the rain water, Karna offered the teeth with both his hands. Krishna then reveals himself to Karna.

Krishna begged for forgiveness to Karna, something he did not from any other individual who lost their life in the war. As always, the generous Karna, fully aware that Krishna caused his cruel death, forgives Krishna, a sign of the extreme generosity which has not been seen in epics before, even from Gods. But then Karna also indicts Krishna and asked questions that will always remain unanswered. "Why did he not slay Jarasandha with the infallible discuss? Why did he flee in Mathura? How could Jarasandha, whom Karna defeated, defeat Krishna? Above all, who is Krishna?"

Krishna then grants Karna the sight of his Viswaroopa- The vision of the mighty Lord Vishnu. Even Vishnu is overwhelmed by Karna's generosity. Karna is sent straight to heaven. A place the Pandavas would have great difficulty getting in.

Karna is the best example where an extremely talented, righteous individual is doomed because of his association with the Evil. A man wronged because of the choices he made in life. The only blot to his image would be his role in killing an unarmed Abhimanyu. His affection for Duryodhan led to his downfall. And Karna was aware of that. But still he chose to side with his friend.

I have written more about Karna in the post below. It was prompted after watching the Tamil movie Karnan and it’s slightly different ending. I have also listed a few more anecdotes  about Karna there. Click on the link below for that post.

The Prince who always finished second..........

Tendulkar or Lara??The proverbial debate. The one that never ended. Because there never was a debate.Lara himself admitted that "Sachin is a genius. I'm a mere mortal"
But Brian Lara at work was flamboyance. Flair personified. The Prince of Trinidad, as he was known, scripted many a beautiful poetries on a 22 yard strip.Ballads.And Sonnets.And Music.
Yes. This was Lara. Batsmanship was an art and he was the artist.For more than a decade, Brian Lara fought alone.Watched helplessly as his team sunk into depths of despair. And he scripted ballads. And more than once, he single handedly steered his team to victory in a way only Brian Lara can. Sometimes he was the fighting captain, trying desperately to save the Titanic. And sometimes, he failed miserably. it was a cruel twist of fate that Brian Lara crossed milestones, set benchmarks. but rarely attained success. Because cricket required 11 players, not a Brian Lara. The lone ranger for a hopeless team. He never had the comfort of a Ganguly or a Dravid in the team.
He was the conscience of the West Indies cricket when in turmoil. He was mercurial. A flawed genius. But a genius nonetheless.
Continuing where i left....

Being second is never, anybody's Goal. But there is always something romantic with the one who finishes second. In his anguish, we see his human side. We see him falter just like us.
He looks upto the winner like we look upto him. Tears, Sweat,Pain and Anguish. And an undying will.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Why not the Best??

I was listing my favorites the other day in yet another social networking forum. Satisfied, I went through my work again. I had listed my favorite Cricketer, my favorite tennis player, pop star, rock star et cetera. I always cheered for Agassi, not Sampras. Rafael Nadal, not Fedrer. Lara, not Sachin. Asha, not Lata. Tom, not Jerry. I liked Hector more than Achilles.
Even when I saw the Mahabharata, I found out that I was fascinated by Karna not Arjuna. The more I delved into it, the more I realized that it was a consistent pattern. Of not idolizing the best.Of cheering the ones who finish second. But aspire to be the first. The burning ambition to be the number one brings out the best in everyone.