As the second son of Mr. Moushoom Chatterjee, Bhima was, by birth, exempt from most responsibilities towards the family. As manjala bhaiya (middle brother), his duties were restricted to taking care of himself – getting a good education, marrying a respectable lady, and enjoying the family fortune – the fortune that his father had earned by hard work and unyielding perseverance. Like several well-born men of his times, Bhima was free to enjoy music, literature, art, good food, and all pleasures derived from appreciating the finer things in life. It was his birth-right to live an unburdened life of leisure.
But life had so much more in store for him. It started with his school days.
Bhima was blessed with a brilliant mind and was always on top of his class. He appeared to do this almost effortlessly. His teachers liked him and his classmates adored him. He was an engaging speaker and an attentive listener. These traits helped him win the heart of almost anyone he interacted with.
Every morning, he walked with his old brother Raja to school. The two boys, dressed in matching uniforms, carrying similar canvas satchels, with lunches lovingly packed in steel boxes by their mother, Sharda, looked like peas in a pod.
However, this illusion of likeness was broken when they entered the school building.
Raja had failed to pass the annual exam once again. As a result, despite being the older brother, both he and Bhima went to the same grade. During class, Bhima’s sharp intellect and good manners won the teachers over. Bhima delivered his assignments timely and accurately, whereas Raja’s seemed hastily and carelessly put together. The glaring differences between the two brothers was seen by all and remarked on by many.
“Why can’t you be more like your brother, Raja?”
Raja was appalled at the thought of having to follow the example of his younger brother. In time, Raja became aware that he did not have the same gifted intellect as his brother. He could neither process numbers nor master languages as well as Bhima, no matter how hard he tried. This revelation plagued him. Raja’s self-confidence withered with each passing day. Raja was good-natured too but had none of this brother’s charisma. So Bhima outshone him on the social front too.
One day, Mr. Chatterjee found Raja in a state of anguish. He prodded Raja to find out what it was that plagued his firstborn. Raja told his father how the teachers were so enthralled by Bhima, that they had no time for Raja. Consequently, Raja confessed that he did not stand a chance to pass the grade this year too.
Mr. Chatterjee looked sadly at his first-born and tried, in vain, to hide his disappointment. He could see he had no choice but to rescue his waaris. If the future malik (master) of the Chatterjee empire lacked confidence, it did not bode well for the family fortune.
His compassion for Bhima, was overshadowed by his acute desire to support his older son and by extension the needs of the family business. Mr. Chatterjee stopped by the school principal’s office one day on his way to the factory. Mr. Chatterjee requested him to move Bhima to the grade below his brother’s. Further, in no subtle tones, Mr. Chatterjee conveyed that the donation for the school’s science laboratory would not materialize if Raja failed any classes going forward.
When he walked out of Sharda Vidya Mandir that day, Mr. Chatterjee did not know that he had irrevocably changed the lives of both his sons. To Raja, life now meant that he was always to stay ahead, whether or not he possessed the necessary talent or skill. He, being the bade
bhaiya (big brother), had to be better than his siblings.
To Bhima, the message was more damaging. He believed that his personal goals were always secondary to the greater good of the family. Just like the instructions of his teachers at school, Bhima took this lesson from his father to heart. Bhima would live his whole life this way – putting the family first and negating his personal aspirations in the process. In the coming years, the demands of the family grew bigger and asked more and more of Bhima.