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Arabian Nights, Ananda Mimamsa and Happiness

I know an executive whose income runs into several lakhs per month and yet rarely have I seen him smiling.

In contrast, one of the happiest faces I have seen is that of my milkman Ketan. It may be peak winter, as it is now, or it may be raining torrentially as it was a couple of months ago – but he invariably greets me with a cheery good morning as he comes to deliver milk packets every day without fail. In the rainy season he wears a rain coat and goes from house to house to deliver the milk, stopping his bicycle in front of each house and getting down to walk to the front door. His clothes will be drenched in spite of the raincoat and inside the clothes, his body will be drenched. In winter, he would be shivering inside the old windcheater he wears. But that does not reduce his smile or the cheerfulness in his voice.

I made a social visit to a doctor sometime last year. We were friends, sort of. He is on the staff of a large hospital as a fulltime senior doctor, and saw patients at h…

The Moth and the Candle: A Sufi Fable

“One night the moths gathered together, tormented by the desire to unite themselves with the candle. All of them said: ‘We must find one who can give us some news of that for which we seek so earnestly.’

“One of the moths went to a candle afar off and saw within the light of a candle. He came back and told the others what he had seen, and began to describe the candle as intelligently as he was able to do. But the wise moth, who was chief of their assembly, observed: ‘He has no real information to give us of the candle.’

“Another moth visited the candle. He passed close to the light and drew near to it. With his wings, he touched the flames of that which he desired; the heat of the candle drove him back and he was vanquished. He also returned, and revealed something of the mystery, in explaining a little of what union with the candle meant, but the wise moth said to him: ‘Thine explanation is of no more real worth than that of thy comrade.’

“A third moth rose up, intoxicated with love, t…

Nalayani: the Past Life of Draupadi

[Translated from the original Sanskrit]

[The Kumbhakonam Edition of the Mahabharata gives us several details that are not available in the KM Ganguli translation of the epic or in the Gita Press edition. The following is one such instance. I believe there is no other English translation of this available at the moment. The passage below constitutes Chapter 212 and 213 of the Adi Parva of the epic in the Kumbhakonam Edition, 1906. In the narrative sequence, these chapters come after Arjuna has won Draupadi, and immediately before all the five Pandava brothers wed her.]

Vyasa Said: Oh king, do not grieve over your daughter becoming wife to all five Pandavas. Her mother had earlier prayed that Draupadi should become the wife of five men. Yaja and Upayaja, constantly engaged in dharma, made it possible through their tapas that she should have five husbands and that is how Draupadi was attained by the five Pandavas as their wife.

It is now time for your whole family to celebrate. For in …

Need: Where Do We Draw the Lakshman Rekha

Following a class presentation by students in a course in Leadership Excellence that I teach at XLRI School of Business and Human Resources, we were discussing some aspects of the presentation in my previous class when a student raised a very significant question: When do we say enough when it comes to needs? Where do we draw the line? In other words, when does need become greed? Is there a Lakshman Rekha to needs within which we are safe and happy, crossing which we suffer?

There is a story by Leo Tolstoy that comes to mind when I think of this question. It is a beautiful story – one which James Joyce described in a letter to his daughter as the most beautiful story ever written by man. Joyce must have been in a particularly impressionable mood when he read the story and wrote that line, but the story is without a doubt powerful.

The story is about a farmer called Pahom. He was a small farmer in a Russian village, unhappy about his lot. When he heard that a lady who lived close to h…

Shakuntala: Flaming Indian Womanhood

Vyasabharata 2

Shakuntala stands for all that is beautiful in Indian womanhood. She would risk her honour as a woman for the love of a man, and yet she would not take one harsh word that goes against her dignity from that man. She has the softness of the softest flower and yet she is as fierce as fire itself. She is strength that knows how to bend. She is the courage to trust. She is silence that knows how to be eloquent when the need arises.

In the Mahabharata her story is told by Vaishampayana in response to a question by King Janamejaya about his remote ancestors.

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When we first meet Shakuntala in the epic, she is the gracious ashram hostess who receives the honoured visitor Dushyanta who has just entered Sage Kanva’s ashram. The king was on a hunting trip and had reached the banks of the Malini where numerous ashrams were situated. The most famous among them was that of Sage Kanva and it was to pay his respects to Kanva that Dushyanta had gone to the ashram.

Dushyanta is surpris…

A King’s Lust and the Birth of Vyasa’s Mother

Vyasabharata 1

naaraayaNam namaskRtya naram caiva narottamam
deviim sarasvatiim vyaasam tato jayam udiirayet

A verse in the first chapter of the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata speaks of three ancient traditions of reading the epic: one beginning at the beginning of the text as it exists today with the prayer narayanam namaskritya, another beginning with the Astika Parva and a third one, beginning with the story of King Uparichara Vasu, Vyasa’s grandfather.

When we begin at the beginning of the text as it exists today, we begin with how Ugrashrava Sauti, son of Lomaharshana, narrated the epic to the ascetics present at Shaunaka’s twelve-year long sacrifice at Naimisharanya. And when we begin with Astika Parva, we begin twelve chapters later, with the story of the ascetic Jaratkaru and the birth of Astika who stops the snake sacrifice of King Janamejaya at Hastinapura.

But when we begin with the story of Uparichara Vasu, we begin at the sixtieth chapter of the Adi Parva of the epic text as i…