Archive for the ‘Personalities’ category

Tharoor and Karna

April 30, 2010

Yesterday, my good friend, Bharat sent me this brilliant article from Outlook India by Vinod Mehta. The article dissects, deliberates and drives a point about the mallu mud-hook who has had the media chugging after him time and again – Shashi Tharoor.

The life and times of Shashi Tharoor resemble a morality tale. Here is a man who begins life with an extra-long silver spoon in his mouth. Clever, even brilliant, awesomely well-educated, lucky enough to land one of the most coveted jobs on the planet, author of several critically acclaimed books, he comes within a whisker of being elected Secretary General of the UN, manages to win a Lok Sabha seat, becomes a minister in the privileged foreign affairs ministry…

I cant help but notice the striking similarity between Shashi Tharoor and the character of Karna from The Mahabharata. And pardon me for using a few phrases from Mehta’s write-up – just to make the comparison more interesting. (Excerpts from the article are in a different font and italicized)

The life and times of Karna (too) resemble a morality tale. He too was a man who began life with a silver spoon, and also a golden kavachh and kundal. Remember he was really a Kaunteya – born to Kunti & the Son God. Clever as a fox, very well-educated and trained under the great, Guru Parashurama (who was also Bhishma’s guru), lucky enough to land one of the most coveted kingdoms to rule (Anga, one of the 16 greatest nations of the time – Solas Mahajanapadas), most acclaimed leader of the Kaurava sena during the Kurukshetra war (lead the side after Bhishma’s fall and no rules were broken under his leadership), the only one on the Kaurava side, who was most respected by Krishna, the Lord of Lords. During pandavas’ exile, Karna, in order to establish Duryodhana as the king of the world, conquered numerous kingdoms.

From a very early age, he was seen as the genius boy. Once, as he watched Drona teach the chakravyuha to Ashwathama (Drona’s son), Karna wisely pointed out to guru Drona, that Ashwathama was neither a kshatriya nor a rajputra (king’s son). This was a virtual slap on the face of Drona because he declined from teaching Karna, claiming that he would play guru only to either rajputras or kshatriyas. Karna went on to become the sarvashreshta dhanurdhar (supreme archer) albeit the protection Arjuna got from all sides to hold the title. Karna was also the only one, other than Arjuna, who could have struck through the marma matsya (moving fish) during the Draupadi swayamvar.

His fairy godmother had bestowed on him another curse: Karna was fearless and on-the-face when he spoke of his willingness or unwillingness of something. (Just as Mr Tharoor’s frank tweets or as Mehta points out – Vijay Hazare to single malt whisky to global finance to jehadi terrorism.) I wouldn’t say Karna was articulate in his speech but the clarity of thought and precise verbal message are two things that he displayed brazenly.

Karna openly opposed to all of Shakuni mama’s flimflams ranging from lakshagrah (palace of wax designed to kill pandavas) to Draupadi vastraharan to the rigged dice game. Karna drove in his point to guru Kripacharya’s accusations of him being a shudra and could not consequently compete with Arjuna. He asked Krishna to mind his own business when the later told him of his birth origins thereby asking him to join the pandavas in the war. He didn’t hesitate to give away his only protection (from Arjuna’s wrath) – kavachh and kundal stating that he was the daan-veer. Such clarity with words and thoughts…

Self-doubt, is a phrase Karna had never heard. If he ever got into trouble; if the itihaas (history) questioned him about his blunders, he was sure his well-formed arguments and verbal valour would see him through. And Karna did get into trouble because albeit he opposed the lakshagrah, vastraharan, chausar ka khel, etc. he always stood by Duryodhana owing to his obligation/friendship to the latter. Karna was the symbol of dharma residing in the house of adharma. He was the ‘other’ Vikarna.

So, where is the morality tale? What is it that the mahaveer Karna shouldn’t have forgotten? Albeit, he was the best, with the most aggressive and dazzling mind and talent, he was his own worst enemy. He placed the obligation-to-Duryodhana card higher up in life, than dharma. Yes, his conscience pricked and pierced at him, hard. His mind did a ‘Karna calling Karna’ several times, but the unfortunate, egoistic, jealous warrior never paid heed. Karna was brought down by Karna.