Sunday, 20 December 2015

Book review – Bhima – The Man In The Shadows

Author – Vikas Singh
Publisher – Westland
Genre – Fiction
Pages – 291
Price – Rs. 350

Sneak from the cover
A fascinating perspective on one of the most important characters of the Mahabharata, who lived in the shadow of his brothers’ fame.

The Cover

The mighty, macho and powerful Bhima welcomes readers to the book with his mace and bow. He looks every inch the perfect Indian warrior. Then what is it that makes him the man in shadows?

My View
I still remember the excitement around BR Chopra’s Mahabharat when I was a kid. Sunday mornings became family time as all gathered to watch the TV serial together. Even roads used to wear deserted look. Of the five Pandavas, my favourite was Bhima, because he was strong, brave, innocent and total hero material who didn’t hesitate once before knocking evil Rakshashas down. Give a challenge and Bhima would always spring up in action. Years later, when Chota Bhim came as cartoon series, I realised what a hit Bhima is with all kiddos.

That’s why the book “Bhima – The Man In The Shadows” invoked curiosity. We all know Pandavas as the perfect humans, Bhima being the perfect, sincere son, husband, father and brother. But he was after all a human! Having best of men as brothers and conflicting love interest can prove to be a tough situation even for toughest of men. And so, our macho hero too, felt like a man in shadows.

The book tries to capture an aspect of Mahabharat that no one has attempted to touch upon before – Mahabharat from Bhima’s perspective. It is a herculean task to capture all the important aspects of a story like Mahabharat, but the author’s attempt is commendable. Writing style is narrative as Bhima looks back at the story of his life.

The book begins by Bhima killing Dusshasana and fulfilling his vow for his lady love. However, was the similar love reciprocated by the lady? Well, for a lady who loved and married her hero, but was shockingly presented four more husbands, loving five men equally must have indeed been tough. One feels sorry for Bhima as time and again, we see Draupadi using him for her own selfish interests but playing smart when it comes to being the wife. Bhima is a very pure soul at heart and that’s something we all love him for. Instead of exercising his right as a husband, our dude decides to be Draupadi’s true friend and win her heart. Despite other Pandavas breaking her heart at some point in their lives (Yudhishthira in gamble game, Arjun by further marriages), Bhima stays loyal and plays the protective hubby – be it by killing Keechak, or avenging insult from Duryodhan and Dusshashan. Even in the final moments of life at the Himalayas, when everybody sticks to the rule of “keep moving”, Bhima displays his loyalty and love for Draupadi by choosing to be with her.

As the TV serials always portrayed ideal brotherly love and devotion, I sometimes wondered if it’s too good to be true. The book smartly touches upon the Bhima’s perspective on his equally great brothers. Bhima was the second eldest of the Pandavas. However, most of the story sees him confined as a man in shadows of his brothers – Yudhishthira and Arjun. He recollects several incidents where he played the pivotal role however, the other brother got all the credit. For instance, when Guru Drona summons Pandavas to defeat and capture Drupada, Bhima single handedly hold Drupada’s bodyguards while Arjun captures Drupada. However, that goes unnoticed in the halo created around the great archerer Arjun. Since Bhima had vowed to finish all Kauravas, he considers this as his main goal during the battle of Mahabharat, going after them one by one, killing them all. But does the world credit him for being the destroyer of Kauravas? It is always Arjun who is the hero – handsome, smart, ambitious, and someone who likes to possess the latest and the best – be it weapons or women! While he is forever on the lookout for the next best thing, Bhima with the heart of gold plays the best friend to Draupadi.

When Pandavas left for the Swayamvara, their mother was aware what her sons were upto. So, when Arjun joyously yelled out to her to come and see what he had won, wasn’t it smart of her to pretend having thought of it as Bhiksha and asking the sons to share?

Yudhishthira has always been portrayed as the face of Dharma – honest and unbiased. However, listen to Bhima’s story and you will encounter several incidents where he was diplomatic and avoided controversies.

Bhima was not just a loving husband and a devoted son and brother. He was a doting father too and one gets emotional reading the chapter on Ghatotkacha. Although we’ve read these stories over and over again, the book brings a very different modern flavour to the whole story. Ghatotkacha and Abhimanyu here talk like modern day cool dude kids and don’t mind pulling their father’s leg!

The book is full of other interesting incidents beautifully narrated. Bhima is a curious and observant person and his encounters with Devas and are fun to read. The author adds his own element of technology and logic to the magical powers of Devas. For instance, we all know about Bhramastras, the divine weapons earned by pleasing Gods and that they couldn’t be used on humans. But the way the book explains the Bhramastra technology refined for use on earth makes you smile and appreciate the creativity. The new generation doesn’t believe in miracles but logic and the author is aware of this. Hence, the logic and frequent reference to technology are well positioned to entice young readers.

Some important lessons of life conveyed beautifully through short instances in the book –

  • Never take people at face value. And never underestimate an opponent just because he looks weak.
  • There is no shame in trying and failing. What is unfortunate is when people either don’t try something out of fear of failure, or deliberately don’t put in their best effort so that they can later console themselves that it never mattered to them
  • The most amazing thing in the world is that everybody dies one day, but everybody acts as if he will live forever.
  • Gita’s message by Shri Krishna summarised in a paragraph.

What I loved about the book
  • The author successfully overcame the big challenge of bringing novelty to a story everyone remembers by heart. All versions we have seen and read so far are indeed interpretations of the basic story by several authors. But read this book and it seems so in sync with the modern times – be it the language or logic.
  • I was very impressed with the introduction of science and technology elements with reference to Devas. While there are often discussions on how advanced that era was, references to Devas’ technology and mechanics of heaven also make the book instant hit with the younger lot.
  • Mahabharat is a long story and it isn’t easy picking the main incidents and weaving a story within 290 odd pages. The story within story style makes the book a very interesting read.
  • All the fight sequences and techniques are so elaborately explained that I could visualize them. Wonder if the author is trained in some martial arts!

What could have been better
  • Mythology and sex sells. However, combining the two can be a little tough at time. I picked up the book with great enthusiasm. However, for the first few chapters the unnecessary references to Bhima’s sexual encounters and the thoughts in the mind of a man got me doubtful as to where the story was headed. For instance, Bhima and Hidimba making love next to the body of Hidimb was surprising. When Yudhishthira explains Pandu’s death to Bhima, he says, “Father is dead. His heart suddenly stopped while he was frolicking with Mother Madri”. Its only after a few chapters that one gets introduced to other aspects in the mind of Bhima and that’s when the story really picks up pace.
  • Some facts have been unnecessarily tweaked. Although the author has clarified this in the endnote, the reader begins to wonder whether to treat the story as sheer fiction inspired on Mahabharata or Bhima’s perspective on the story. For instance, I failed to understand why Hidimba is shown to have died protecting a child from a wild boar.

My rating

I recommend this book for its innovative approach to the epic story. The portrayal of Bhima as the man in shadows to the destroyer of Kauravas had me impressed.

This review is for Writers Melon.


  1. Epic review. I love how you always go into little details :)

  2. The details are captivating, i hardly each such in-depth coverage.

  3. Just now read the review. Good one indeed. I had a small clarification though, regarding this statement- "The book tries to capture an aspect of Mahabharat that no one has attempted to touch upon before – Mahabharat from Bhima’s perspective." Actually there is prior work done with the same theme. It is a Malayalam novel named 'Randamoozham' authored by M.T.Vasudevan Nair.

    Randamoozham (English: Second Turn) is a 1984 Malayalam novel by Indian author M. T. Vasudevan Nair, widely credited as his masterpiece. The work won the Vayalar Award, given for the best literary work in Malayalam, in 1985. It also won the Muttathu Varkey Award in 1994. The novel has been translated to multiple languages. It was translated into English as Second Turn in 1997. Another English translation by Gita Krishnankutty published in 2013 is titled Bhima: Lone Warrior.

    The novel is a retelling of the Indian epic Mahabharata from the perspective of Bhima, the second Pandava. The story deviates from the traditional Mahabharata story as it avoids the divine elements of the ancient epic and re-represent the characters and events realistically. One of the reasons critics cite for the novel's cult following is its revisionism, that was a first time in Malayalam literature.


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