Old Tales Retold

As a kid, I enjoyed reading stories from the Indian lore. If I were to narrate the same stories to kids living in metropolitan cities today I doubt they will relate to these stories. These old tales need a retelling. So here goes… 

Shravan Kumar

On behest of his old and blind parents, Shravan Kumar attached two large straw baskets on a pole and carried his parents on a journey of pilgrimage.

Tell this story to your kids today and they tell you that the story is a psychological trap and you are just trying to insure your own future in a Machiavellian way!

In modern times, you need a new version of Shravan Kumar’s story. A story that appeals to today’s generation and gives them hope.

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Once upon a time, in the not so distant future, there lived Sophia, a kid who grew up unemployable. Artificially Intelligent machines had taken all the jobs she was capable of doing. So Sophia’s parents agreed to support her all her life. With her parents’ money, Sophia got married, had kids and this big, joint family lived happily ever after.

Bhasmasura

Another story I read as a kid was of Bhasmasura Praveen, a devotee of Shiva, who performed great penance and Shiva agreed to grant him a boon – anyone whose head Bhasmasura touched would immediately turn into ashes. Upon being granted the boon Bhasmasura tried putting his hand on Shiva so that he could annihilate Shiva and marry his consort, Parvati. To help Shiva out, Vishnu, disguised as beautiful Mohini, told Bhasmasura that she would marry him if he would follow her every step in a dance. While dancing Mohini mesmerised Bhasmasura and placed her hand on her head. Bhasmasura imitated, and immediately turned into ashes. The moral of the ‘Bhasmasuri Vardaan’ (Bhasmasura’s Boon) story is that if you have power, use it with discretion and self-control.

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Savvy Smith was a precocious teenager. He impressed his parents with good marks and great behaviour. So they agreed to grant him a boon. He asked for a smart-phone and his parents said, “Tathastu” (so be it). In no time, Savvy Smith discovered Whats App, Snap Chat, Facebook, and Vine. And then… sports became virtual, nature looked better on the screen without that irritating cold wind or sticky sweat, relationships were never so easy to make, or break, then remake, only to repeat the cycle, and Savvy Smith forever lost touch with the real world.

Karna

To learn the invocations for using the Brahmastra, the ultimate weapon, Karna had lied to his guru, Parshuram about his lineage. When Parshuram found out, he cursed Karna that as Karna had learnt the Brahmavidya (divine knowledge) through deceit, at the critical hour, he would forget it. Parshuram’s curse became Karna’s undoing. At the epic battle of Mahabharata, when Karna came face-to-face with his foe, Arjuna, he forgot the Brahmavidya and Arjuna defeated him.

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Markus Maximus had always focused on securing good marks in the exams. To do so he had mastered every trick in the book  – diligently practicing past year question papers, meticulously reproducing mugged up answers and litigiously retaliating if even one single question was ‘out-of-syllabus’. These best practices held him in good stead and made him teachers’ pet, school’s pride and even got him admission into a good college, and later still, a decent job. Few years passed. Markus Maximus found that promotions and salary hikes were hard to come by. His annual performance appraisals would always state, ‘lacks the creativity to come up with innovative solutions to challenges and problems’. He realised he should have made the effort to deeply understand the knowledge being imparted during those formative years. Alas!

Abhimanyu

When Abhimanyu was still in his mother’s womb, he would listen to stories, his uncle Krishna used to narrate to his mother, Subhadra (Krishna’s sister). Once Krishna was telling Subhadra about his war adventures and how to penetrate the Chakravyuh, a seven-tiered, spiral, defensive army formation. Half-way through the story, Subhadra fell asleep and Krishna stopped narrating. So Abhimanyu knew how to penetrate the seven-tiered formation but he didn’t know how to come out. During the great war of Mahabharata, the Kauravas formed the Chakravyuh and since Arjuna, who knew well how to penetrate this formation, was fighting elsewhere, brave Abhimanyu ventured forth. He managed to penetrate the formation but because his knowledge was half-baked he could not come out and died fighting.

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Ever since she was a little girl Lucky Lucy had always been enamoured with all that glitters. Then one day she won the ten million dollar jackpot! She was absolutely thrilled! She could now buy all that her heart desired – a convertible, diamond jewellery, dream cruise… A year passed. Things that gave her a thrill earlier no longer held the same charm. To get the equivalent high she now had to possess that bigger bungalow and that flashier car. Totally unaware, Lucky Lucy was stuck on the hedonic treadmill – she had to run faster and faster to get the same level of thrill. The society she grew up in had told her only half the story, omitting to tell her that she first needs to fix the inside so that whatever be the circumstances outside they don’t impinge on her ability to live a joyful life. Lucky Lucy had entered the Chakravyuh of life half-prepared.

The old tales still lure me and beyond retelling them in a modern context, I hope someday I am able to really experience the cosmic dance and truly understand the meaning of Shiva’s Tandava, much like physicist Frijit Capra, who wrote about this epiphany in his book The Tao of Physics.