Serena's humanity is apparent now

Once upon a time, King Drupada ruled over the land of Panchala. Drupada was wise and just, his subjects were happy and loyal.

However, King Drupada was not as strong as he was wise. He was drawn into war against the Kauravas of Hastinapura, and was comprehensively defeated. He was captured on the battlefield, bound in chains, and presented as a prisoner to Dronacharya, the victorious Kaurava commander. Drona showed mercy on Drupada and spared his life, but annexed half of Panchala.

Humiliated, Drupada swore revenge. He prayed to the gods for a valorous son who would defeat the Kauravas and kill Dronacharya, and performed the putra kameshti yagna. Lo and behold, from the sacred flames rose a perfect warrior, fully armed and ready for battle: Dhrishtadyumna. This fire-born warrior fulfilled his destiny. Dhrishtadyumna was commander-in-chief of the victorious Pandava army through the great eighteen-day war at Kurukshetra; he slew Dronacharya on the fifteenth day of battle.

Serena arguing with a chair umpire in the US Open finals. AP

Serena arguing with a chair umpire in the US Open finals. AP

Yet, as the eons passed, Dhrishtadyumna remained an uncelebrated character. Children are traditionally named after other Pandava heroes like Arjuna, Bheemasena, Krishna, Abhimanyu and Satyaki, even Yudhishtra, but not after Dhrishtadyumna. The defeated Kaurava commanders Bheeshma, Drona and Radheya are all arguably more revered than Dhrishtadyumna, the victorious Pandava commander.

I think this is because Dhrishtadyumna was never more than a warrior, he never became a hero. He was born complete. He therefore never went through the hero's journey. His character was not forged in the crucible of events, like, say, Bheeshma's vow of celibacy, Duryodhana's embrace of Radheya as a true kshatriya, Bheemasena's fury after that fateful game of dice, or Arjuna's reluctance to wage war on his grandfather. It was never obvious that Dhrishtadyumna fully felt the shame of his father's defeat, or of his sister Draupadi's humiliation. His character and destiny were a given, preordained by his progenitors. Therefore he remained a bit of a cynical automaton, more a Terminator-like android than a real hero worthy of adulation.

Dhrishtadyumna's spiritual descendants are modern sports "professionals", who are brought up from birth to fulfil a single, narrow aim. These modern-day Dhrishtadyumnas include a vast number of Soviet era athletes, mass manufactured by the communist machine to win Olympic medals. Tennis once had a surfeit of these bloodless, colourless, insufferably boring androids, especially between the Borg-McEnroe era and the Federer-Nadal era. Anyone want to watch Thomas Muster vs. Michael Stich?

When Serena Williams first came on the scene, I didn't warm to her, I didn't especially want to see her play. She seemed to be just another android, another avatar of Dhrishtadyumna. Serena was conceived by her parents, literally, to win the sweet prize money now on offer in tennis. The only self, the only personality, young Serena seemed to have was her parent’s warped ambition.

Over the years, however, Serena changed. She distanced herself from her pushy dad (he no longer attends Venus vs Serena matches holding a placard that reads "Welcome to the Williams' Show”). She became a shopping-addict, and went through therapy. She threatened to shove a tennis ball down a match official's throat. She learnt to look sweet and starry-eyed at press interviews. She kept improving her game. She glammed it up at the Oscars. Serena went through a freak injury — she stepped on broken glass in a German night club, and that developed into a life threatening pulmonary embolism, which stole a stole an entire year of Serena's prime. She went through a string of failed relationships with rap artists and sportsmen. She dished out boyfriend advice to Caroline Wozniacki: "I told her never look through the guy;s phone," Serena said. "That is the worst thing you can do. I told her most relationships end."

Basically, real life happened to Serena. Real life changed Serena, and in those changes authentic self was created. Serena's humanity is apparent now in a way that Dhrishtadyumna's never was, which is why watching Serena play today is so much more compelling than it ever was.


Updated Date: Sep 12, 2011 18:28 PM

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