74.KARNA AND THE GRANDSIRE
WHEN he learnt that Bhishma lay wounded and dying, Karna hurried to the place and fell at his feet and said: "Eldest of the race. Radha's son, who, through no fault of his, incurred your great displeasure, humbly prostrates himself before you." When after humble salutation Karna stood up, the grandsire, greatly moved, tenderly placed his hand on Karna's head and blessed him. "You are not Radha's son, young man," he said in loving tones: "You are Kuntidevi's own first born. Narada, who knows all the secrets of the world, himself revealed this to me. Son of Surya, truly I entertained no dislike for you. But I was grieved to see your increasing hatred of the Pandavas although they gave you no cause for it. I know and admire your valor and your open handedness. And I know also that you belong to the class of Phalguna and Krishna in prowess. It is proper that you befriend the Pandavas. Therein lies the right path for you who are their brother. With the closing of my part in this war, may the chapter of your enmity also close. This is my wish, Karna." Karna listened respectfully and replied: "Grandsire I know I am Kunti's son, and not charioteer born. But I have eaten Duryodhana's salt and must be true to him, to be true to my own lineage. It is impossible for me to go over to the Pandavas now. You must permit me to repay with my life, if it so be the debt I owe to Duryodhana for his love and trust. I have erred greatly in word and deed. You must forgive me for it all and give me your blessings." The great acharya, who knew all the laws of right conduct and what Karna said, replied: "Do reflect for a while and then do as you wish, for that is the right way." Even when Bhishma was mortally wounded and lay dying, the battle did not cease. Discarding the grandsire's words of wisdom, the Kauravas resumed the battle. Deprived of Bhishma's leadership, the Kaurava forces felt like sheep without a shepherd when Bhishma no longer led them. Indeed, even as Bhishma fell wounded, the men shouted: "O Karna, you are the one left to lead and protect us." The Kaurava warriors felt that, if but Karna would agree to take up the command, victory was certain. During the first ten days when Bhishma led the forces, the son of Surya kept away from the battle.