The normal thing to do would have been to cordon off the section of the battlefield where Bheeshma lay on his bed of arrows. But since he had fallen on a spot right in the heart of Kurukshetra, this wasn’t feasible (try playing football with the centre circle completely out of bounds). Then someone suggested moving him elsewhere, but this too was problematic – the arrows were deeply embedded in the earth, and besides, all the talk about this particular patch of ground being Bheeshma’s “karma-bhoomi” would have made a shift awkward. One didn’t want sages buzzing about the place, yelling about protocol and generally disturbing the peace while the war was still on.
“Never mind, we’ll continue fighting around him,” said Drona, “just keep the elephants away.” So for the next eight days foot-soldiers tiptoed nimbly about the grandsire’s body even as they parried their enemies’ thrusts and blows. Unfortunately a couple of the servants hired to fan the pitamah and provide him with refreshments had their heads lopped off by stray arrows, but this was treated as collateral damage. The bigger problem was that as the war grew more intense, the facade of respect began to peel away. In the afternoons, when tiredness set in, soldiers developed the habit of resting their swords against the arrows sticking out of Bheeshma’s chest, and even taking a quick nap under his shadow. Some of the cheekier ones exchanged vulgar jokes – about how the old man had finally got laid at the age of 90 – within his earshot. “I’m no longer convinced that celibacy oath was worth it in the end,” the aged scion of the Kurus thought to himself as he sipped on some flavoured Ganga-jal, “but at least the service is good.”