Between the mindless, heartless incidents this week came the news that the Princie diamond of Baroda/Golconda sold for US$40 million. It makes you think of the fabled Syamantaka Mani in the Vishnu Purana and Srimad Bhagavatam. Its name means 'Destroyer of Danger' and there is a view that it was not a sapphire but a ruby that the Sun gave away in donation to Prince Satrajit. Contrary to its name, the Syamantaka Mani led to death and misery in human hands. Which makes you think, doesn't it, of the Name, and that it is not God's fault but man's that things contrary to human purpose are done in the name of religion?
Also making news this week was the Jnanpith Award to 86-year-old Dr Ravuri Bharadwaja and I found the award committee's statement deeply affecting: "Bharadwaja passed through all sorts of vicissitudes of life but continued his service to Telugu literature with perseverance.
He is a poet, a playwright, a novelist of distinction and a popular science writer. Bharadwaja's greatest attribute is his flair for storytelling. His works proved that a writer has a social awareness and his work a human purpose,"
The story of Dr Bharadwaja persevering despite his difficulties was a counter-commentary to the bad news.
The recognition awarded to Dr Bharadwaja made me think of another Telugu writer, Madurantakam Rajaram, whose powerful short story (in Katha translation) has stayed with me for years as a talisman.
It is the tale of a 'Budabukkala', a traditional wandering Andhra healer-soothsayer who begins his predictions with the words, 'Speak, Mother. Speak, Mother of the World.' (Amba Paluku, Jagadamba, Paluku).
Our Budabukkala goes to a rich zamindar's house for a donation despite being warned of his cruelty. The zamindar sets a fierce dog on the soothsayer, which tears at his clothes as he scrambles up a tree to save himself. The dog keeps him treed until a passing servant leads it away.
However, when he comes down trembling and finds his budabukka (damaru), the Budabukkala feels restored: let all else be taken away but not that. He casts a handful of ash towards the zamindar's palace. As he begins rattling his drum, an intuitive prophesy slips out of his mouth about those who contravene their human duties..
The Budabukkalas were declared a 'backward' community in 1993, since TV and migration has taken away their purpose in rural lives. Does it not seem as though their message was heard again this week in the Jnanpith statement?
- Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture