Utho Parth, Gandiv sambhalo. Arise Partha, string your bow. Or should that have been, Chalo Parth, lota leke vapas jao? (Pick up your waterpot and return). Despite our unshakeable adoration of Sri Krishna, the morality of this central issue in the Bhagavad Gita continues to torment us as it has tormented those before us. For even deeper than Arjuna’s issue of having to fight and kill his own clansmen, is the question: what is ‘clan’?
S is my brother’s netpal. He’s Pakistani, Muslim and supercool. He and my brother began by throwing cyber dungballs at each other but now have this whole virtual lovelife (no, they’re not gay!) and can’t seem to stop mailing each other. I’ve been privileged to see some of their correspondence and sometimes I think, God, how childish and at other times I reach for a tissue to blot my tears with. S is young, adventurous and blessedly for him, a travel writer. He’s been all over his country and has interesting things to say on genetic predispositions and local cultures, all that sort of thing, that my brother and I, mad about people’s histories and cultures, can’t get enough of.
Recently S mailed my brother this personal information. He lost seven members of his family before he was born, including his grandfather and two aunts, to a Partition mob in Jalandhar. It seems he was in touch recently with the man whose father led the mob. They actually talked and S hopes to meet him, if he ever gets a visa to India, that is. Imagine not getting a visa, rued S, when the Kasabs of the world, unfortunately, are going to get to India anyway.
My brother seems so smitten with this guy that he’s asked him to come and stay, told him which favourite hangouts he wants to take S to and thrown in a touristy offer of the Tambrahm vegetarian food they eat in his house. Mind, my brother, an atheist and a raging carnivore, eats everything that walks or crawls, only drawing the line at ‘swims’.
Further, I am enchanted to tell you that this austere, rookha-sookha cuisine is cooked by a sweet, cheerful person called Mahmooda – rasam, rice, that my believing-Hindu but no caste-fast father absolutely has to have. So guess what S replied to this? “I’m quite a vegetarian,” he wrote, “the old Hindu blood, you know, though I cheat sometimes.” (Not that all Hindus are vegetarian, of course, far from it).
We’ve been talking about S’s incredible (to us) family story though we all know that Partition’s ten million is the biggest displacement in human history. It took us inevitably to the Gita. Was Arjuna right, or Sri Krishna? Sri Krishna is Divine. So how can He be wrong? But, argues our human logic despite all the commentaries, it is wrong to kill your clansmen. Moreover, Duryodhana was the eldest son of the eldest son. The Kurus followed the laws of primogeniture (of the first-born being the rightful heir). So shouldn’t Arjuna have prevailed upon that feeble Yudhishtira to say no to war?
In today’s terror-torn, broke, scared and insecure world, the question comes back to haunt us. Who was right, Arjuna or Sri Krishna? Should we fight, should we not? How can we fight against all the good Pakistanis? But others in there hate us and want to keep hurting us; we must stop them.
There are many views on this, but I think both were right. Arjuna knew he had to fight Duryodhana, Karna and those who harmed his family. What broke his heart was to fight the Bhishmas and Dronas. We absolutely want to destroy our enemies. But how can we bear to fight people like S who are mindclan beyond Punjabi, man ke apne?