The Whispering Past

What is man’s quest and where is he journeying? The mind falls silent and the moment comes alive. The story of mankind’s march through millennia is circled in the present minute. As long as human life is tied to the nation, community, language and the like, the whispers of the ages will speak in a vocabulary that is unique to the ear and region of the listener.

Today we celebrated Vijayadashami – the victorious tenth day when Rama, after worshiping the Goddess for nine days, vanquished Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. The vitality with which each character in the Ramayana moves to the naked rhythms of life is striking. The weighty sorrows and obvious rage of Sita, the compassionate and often curious virtues of Rama, the heroism and comedy of Hanuman, the guilt and grief of Bharata – these are so real to my human experience that the very act of listening to the story makes me feel like I am living it in that very moment.

The growing distractions of today, replete with their own complexities, hadn’t yet kicked in when I was growing up. Mine was perhaps the last generation that placed its head at the lap of the grandmother, and received the great epics of our land – the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. When I look back at it now, I can see that this tradition of storytelling, conveyed with a love and reverence that is its own, crafted and sustained the cultural mind of my community through the ages. Indeed, the great literatures of the past have a potent influence on an individual’s sense of self and a region’s character; these speak to us even more than the living heroes and tyrants that have pockmarked our history.

To see this wondrous tradition of storytelling be assaulted by politics, whether by the left or the right, is quite a sorry affair. There are those who, not having apprehended the complexities and variety of the Vedic culture, dismiss it totally based on a few obvious ills that flow from it (casteism et al). And there are others who equate traditions with sacrament and place stories like the Ramayana on a pedestal from where they are received with unquestioning and uncritical regard. Both these tendencies deny the rich harvest our traditions have to offer, for one is either concerned with glorifying or condemning the subject rather than listening to it and learning from its contents.

When I went through the festive motions of today, a victorious Rama flashed before my mind’s eye. A Rama who was free from the noisy justifications or condemnations that surround his name and story. A Rama who was ready for a conversation and eager to be understood.

That virgin minute transcended regionalism and achieved an astounding oneness with the human phenomenon.

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