Of the seasons, I am Spring,” says Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. And as India recovers its breath from the thrill of the Oscars, let’s keep the good mood going with the last breath of spring. The theme of honouring poverty while wishing to escape it is an old one and Slumdog Millionaire is the fresh gloss on this theme. But when Holi comes, as it does this year on March 10, slumdogs and thoroughbreds mingle. To help things along, there’s our traditional ‘get-high milkshake’ aka bhang ki thandaai. And since we’re now so international, a stylish addition to the menu may be ‘Bhang Gateau’.
After a dose of those, you might feel blissed out enough to listen to a story or two. The true, tight moral behind them, not the schmaltz we imbibed at Granny’s knee or in those undeniably fabulous bound volumes of AKC (Amar Chitra Katha, what did you think?).
The most eye-popping one of course, is the truly scary tale of Sudama. He wanted to stay poor and proud, but his missus didn’t let him. So was Sri Krishna really, really his friend to make him so obscenely rich? Well, the secret verdict over the millennia has been stern but just. Sudama deserved to suffer. He deserved to suffer because he bought into the nice little emotional blackmail drama that his wife had scripted. “Please go to Him, dear husband,” she bleated, “and take this little bundle of riceflakes, you told me Krishna loved riceflakes for breakfast at gurukul, so I borrowed some from the neighbour. Of course we don’t have any at home, how can we, when you don’t earn anything? Oh, you’re a true scholar, dear husband.”
To be scrupulously fair, it’s tough on a woman to see her kids naked and starving and be in the wrong century for women, which means she can’t dump the kids on Sudama mumbling incantations in a corner and rush out to find a job that pays. So Sudama goes off to splendid Dwaraka, gets to enter the royal palace where Krishna is king and is hugged by his best pal from school.
What happens next? Krishna, who isn’t God for nothing (whom did Sudama and Mrs Sudama think they were fooling?) feeds and waters Sudama till he’s ready to burst. And then he snatches at the riceflakes because they’ve been partying three days now and Sudama is chickening out from meeting his fate (he’s not a scholar for nothing either, he knows you gotta pay for everything, it’s called karma theory). Krishna eats not one, but two handfuls. He’s going to eat a third one, too, to completely crush Sudama but Queen Rukmini aka Goddess Mahalakshmi grabs Krishna’s wrist to stop him: she knows Sudama is a doomed duck if any more goodies land on his head.
Do you call it friendship, to freak someone out so badly with more than he can handle? But if you point out this nasty truth, people are likely to turn around and snap, “Wassamatter? You got a bad case of sour grapes? ‘Course Sudama wanted the money and it was pretty cool of Krishna to hand it over like that.”
Ah, well. Gotta do your duty and tell’em like it is. When the gods wish to punish you, they answer your prayers.