As the rupee plummets and an FB post advises a self-imposed national bandh on using petrol for just one week to put the economy back (somebody’s got a plan?), it’s hard not to think of people in our tradition who had it all. They had wealth enough for the next seven generations and they walked away from it.
In our present state of insecurity about the future, such people make no sense. Here we are with not enough to go around or to secure us some security and our religion and culture both say, “Look who shrugged and walked away.”
There must be a reason why hoary Indian tradition remembers these ‘daan veer’, keeping in mind that Indian tradition is so old that we’re still tying rakhis just because Shachi tied one on Indra in myth. Is it that symbols of courage never go out of fashion?
It’s even more interesting that the west calls such people ‘philanthropists’ (‘those who love humanity’, from Greek). We should remember here that ancient Greeks like Aeschylus, Socrates and Aristotle who were responsible for this jargon were not rich like Siddhartha, Harishchandra, Rama, Vishwantara and Karna, who were proper princes, historical or legendary, with nice homes, gold, chariots and real estate.
Unlike those ‘bhooka-nanga’ Greeks who hung around doing ‘adda’ in Athens or egging Alexander on to conquer the east and treat the Persians “as beasts or plants” (what price, ‘philanthropy’?), our longago princes walked the talk. They led princely lives and actually had huge wealth and property that they gave up, gave away, let go of without a murmur, whatever.
That could be why Indian tradition doesn’t dress up the raw reality of their deeds with fancy phrases. ‘Daan veer’ is what it is, mental courage that translated into action as material courage.
I wonder if we can get some practical perspective from the legacy of both the ‘daan veer’ and the ‘Greek-ke-aulad’ in our lives today. As all know, the west laid in money for thirty generations by grabbing, swindling, looting, killing and breaking promises, all solidly backed by religion and culture (the present Archbishop of Canterbury, a former oil executive, recently found justification for the Church of England investing in companies engaged in porn and gambling).
Our strange culture still worships rich and powerful men who gave it away to go barefoot. Between these extremes lies modern India: does anybody have on-the-ground ideas for saving the rupee?