Eye of the Sky


I wrote this article for my college magazine –

The story is thousands of years old, old enough for its veracity to be speculated.

Yudhishtira, thought to be dead in the lac house fire, returns to the capital city of Hastinapur, after having won the hand of Draupadi, the princess of Panchal. Dritharashtra, the king of Hastinapur and his council of ministers are now in a quandary as to who should be the crown prince of Hastinapur, Yudhishtira or Duryodhana.

Yudhishtira was the eldest son of Pandu, the former king of Hastinapur. Pandu had died in an unfortunate forest expedition and so the kingdom of Hastinapur is now being ruled in the name of Pandu by his blind brother, Dritharashtra. Duryodhana, the eldest son of Dritharashtra also has ambitions of becoming the crown prince and is strongly backed by his father, Dritharashtra. But the king’s council of ministers and the public sentiment were in favour of Yudhishtira as the prince of Hastinapur.

Bhishma, the commander of the armies of Hastinapur and the grandsire of both Duryodhana and Yudhishtira wanted a solution wherein neither of their interests is compromised. Also no one wanted to start a civil war, which was a possibility if one was offered the crown and other was denied. Hence they resorted to divide the kingdom. Hastinapur went to Duryodhana and Indhraprastha was ruled by Yudhishtira. But the partitioning was hardly a solution to the differences that lay between the brothers. The matter was resolved years later in the bloody battle at Kurukshetra in which almost all the kingdoms of Bharat got involved.

Later, after the victory at Kurukshetra and his coronation, Yudhishtira comes to seek counsel from the old and wise Bhishma, who now lay on a bed of arrows. Bhishma had taken care of the administration of Hastinapur for close to three generations. He now instructs Yudhishtira on matters concerning kingship, economics, and politics and maintaining peace in society. This is documented in the Shanti Parva and the Anushasana Parva of the Mahabharata. During this discourse Bhishma discusses the possible reasons for the carnage caused by the war and tells how they, instead of resolving the issues between the two brothers, tried to get around it and partitioned the kingdom. The problem was not eliminated. It remained, and with the passage of time only got more knotty and resulted in a war of much larger proportions.

***

In the year 1947 The British, exhausted from the world war and compelled by the continuous efforts of India’s freedom fighters, decided to cede to the Indian demand for freedom. In the 1930s and 1940s as the freedom movement became more vigorous the chasm between the Muslim and the Hindu leaders got deeper and wider. Both feared the domination of the other in the soon-to-be-free India. Here again no one wanted to start a civil war, which was a possibility if one of the groups were to become more dominant in the government. Hence they partitioned the country into India and Pakistan.

To this day the issues between these two nations stand unresolved. The decision which was taken to prevent the loss of many lives is consuming many lives to this day. I hope that unlike the ancient city of Hastinapur the issues between these two nations get resolved without causing any further bloodshed. Probably similar circumstances hold true regarding the issues between North Korea and South Korea or those between East Germany and West Germany, until it was merged into one nation, Germany. Both these countries were partitioned as a result of the tensions between the US and the Soviet Bloc after the end of World War II. (*Funny how partitioning a nation never seems to solve any problem.)

***

By saying all this I am not trying to pass judgement on a decision taken decades ago. It is improper to point out mistakes which can be seen only with the benefit of hindsight and not at the time the decision was made. The decision which was taken by brilliant statesmen, with profound vision, was in all probability the best decision in those circumstances.

The point I want to drive home is regarding the limited and perhaps wrongful perception of mythology and in some aspects, history held by people. Time and energy is wasted in determining the truthfulness of the story, or in trying to put a probable date to the events described in the story, or trying to ascertain the true author of the story and various other such trivia. Stress should rather be laid on appreciating and learning from the literature.

Even cartoons and folktales are often mocked and scoffed at by some who find the magic involved in the stories very irrelevant to a practical world and relegate it to the status of ‘children’s tales’. Magic aside, it is the intricate plots, maturity of the storyline and the depth of the characters that impress me about these stories, be it history, cartoons, mythology or any other folk tale.

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