A poetess, a king, and a message for us all: Shebaba by Renuka Narayanan
In our ancient literature are reminders that we are better all around when we are kinder to one another.
In these lawless days of atrocities all over the land, the return of the protesting Tamil farmers to Delhi has a touching angle of goodness to it. In an apolitical humanitarian gesture, the Sikhs of the historic Bangla Sahib Gurdwara in Delhi are reportedly giving these farmers a share of the langar, including rice, which shows such consideration and delicacy of feeling.
Soaring past the usual sticking points of region, religion and language, they are feeding the stranger as Sikhs are known to do worldwide. It’s a high standard of behaviour. It brings to mind the exemplary conduct upheld by people of all communities in Chennai when the city went underwater two Decembers ago.
In tribute to high standards of behaviour across India, here are two stories from a distant shore. They were originally written as poems in ancient Tamil and are still told out south. They vivified my childhood, and when I lapse into the irritation caused by urban stress, I remember such stories and feel ashamed; and resolve to be better.
‘Paari and the Jasmine’ is an old favourite. King Paari ruled the lush, green kingdom of Parambu. Valour and talent were celebrated in his land and generosity was valued as the greatest virtue. Love and appreciation of the good earth and its gifts were a life code.
Though a tough soldier, Paari was also a sensitive person. He loved poetry and music. Singers and poets were drawn to him, including the feisty old lady Avvai, who wandered all over the land scolding backsliding kings (scholars wonder if ‘Avvai’ was in fact a consolidation of three ancient women poets; whatever be the case, her poems are still recited 2,000 years later).
One day, Paari was out in his horse-drawn chariot when he saw a lovely jasmine creeper lying on the ground. Someone had obviously cut down the tree that had supported it and left the creeper to its fate (my granny said it was a poetic teaching story about abandoned human beings and animals). Paari was upset to see the creeper lying in the dust. “This is not right,” he thought.
There was no sure way that he could uproot the creeper or bring another tree to it. So Paari detached his chariot, draped the creeper on it and went away.
Another time, when Avvai dropped by, Paari happened to be busy with administrative meetings. Avvai waited a few days but grew impatient and announced her departure. Paari begged her to stay but she was adamant. So he gave her a big, heavy bag of valuables and took leave.
Grumbling in irritation, Avvai walked off into the jungle beyond the city. Suddenly, a masked bandit galloped up, smoothly snatched the bag and rode off. Shocked, Avvai rushed back to Paari to warn him about the lawless state of his kingdom. But the ‘bandit’ turned out to have been Paari himself, who knew this was a sure way to make her come back.
It’s heartening that the notions we seem to have once cherished are not entirely extinct.
(The views expressed are personal)