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Saturday, March 10, 2018

"What can one do when the time is not right?" - Maha Bharatha Series 66

There is a story about friends, foes, trust and time (kaalam) in Book 12, Section 139. In this story, a bird takes care of its own baby and a prince, with love and affection. But, the prince picks up the baby bird one day and squeezes it to death. The mother bird pokes the eyes of the prince in vengeance. The bird justifies itself by saying: “a sinful act done deliberately leads to loss of merit (punya). But they who avenge themselves of an injury never lose their merit”.

The king (father of the prince) understands the bird’s anger and thinks that the birds action was justified. He is ready to forgive and asks the bird to stay but the bird refuses. The bird’s reason is that even if the king forgives, his future generation may carry the anger and try to take revenge. This is an extremely important observation. Several conflicts around the world are based on ancestral enmity.

The ensuing conversations are full of life’s observations.

For example, the bird says that a trust that is broken is like a broken pot. It cannot be the same pot again, even if repaired. This is what my mother used to say about husband and wife getting back together after divorce.

The other observation is that once an animosity arises it smolders and can never be quenched. Therefore, like smoldering fire, it can erupt at any time.

The bird lists five causes of hostility. They are women (like between Sisupala and Krishna), land (like between Kaurava and Pandava), harsh words (such as between Drona and Drupada), natural incompatibility as happens with snake and a mongoose or between cat and mouse and finally injury, as in this episode where the prince killed the chick and the bird blinded the prince. The bird says that as a policy, one should not place confidence on others, particularly on an injured party.

In this world, the father and the mother are the only reliable friends. It is interesting that the spouse is not in this small list. “The wife is merely a vessel for drawing the seeds”. This is an exact quote as a further evidence of what I have written about the view men had of women in those days. (see my blog on Seeds and Fields). Our ancestors must have thought that everything needed to make a baby came from men and the woman was needed only to provide a womb for the baby to grow. They probably did not know that the woman produced the ovum.

In trying to persuade the bird that she is forgiven, the king says that Time is responsible for everything that happens and therefore no one can feel responsible. This is a common theme in the Indian psyche. “What can one do when the time is not right?” is a common statement. The other version is that whatever happened was destined to happen. This argument is also used several times in Maha Bharatha to explain events. Even the mistreatment of Draupadi is explained using this lame argument by the great Bhishma. Another related theme is that whatever happened was due to past karma. In my view, this attitude also pervades the collective Indian psyche.

The quotes on time, fate and karma from the ancient texts are used extensively in daily life. But, no one to my reading has made any mention of the following observations of the wise bird during this conversation.

When the king says that it is all the effects of Time (the implication is that Kala or Time is a god), the bird asks several pointed questions. “If everything happens under the influence of time and no one can do anything against it, why is it that relatives and friends seek revenge? Why did the gods and asuras fight? Why do physicians treat the sick? What is the use of performing religious acts to acquire merit?”

The bird also says that destiny and effort depend on each other. She thinks that one should not blame time and fate for everything but should act and do the proper thing using knowledge, courage, intelligence, strength and patience. These five are one’s natural friends and should be the primary sources of support. The secondary sources of support are home, wealth, land, wife and friends.

The bird goes on to say that “Life is dear to all creatures. All creatures seek happiness and suffer grief from misery. Misery arises from several sources such as loss of wealth, association with anything disagreeable, separation from friends and fear of death, matters related to women, death of one’s child and other natural causes. Only he who has suffered misery can understand the misery of others”.

Other comments include those of the king who says that one cannot get anything done if one does not trust anyone. Such a person will live in fear all the time.

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

Another deep post.

I find the comments of the bird very wise. Perhaps it was a wise old owl !

You are absolutely right in your comment that several conflicts in the world are due to ancestral enmity.

I am intrigued by the bird's observation that revenge will not diminish punya. A lot of our scriptures do prescribe revenge and argue it is dharma. I somehow feel that this is an explanation of convenience.

Finally I find it interesting that patience is elevated to the status of a natural friend along with other seemingly more important qualities.