Learnings from the lecture by Gurcharan Das.
Gurcharan Das is a seasoned speaker and has his own mesmerizing way of speaking. It was midway during his spell (spiel?) - no, actually a lecture at the IIM Bangalore auditorium on his latest book “The Difficulty of being Good” he did just that – left me and many more folks spell-bound! In his own words he had studied the Mahabharata for a period of more than six years to draw lessons from it with an eye on capitalism. He speaks of the many conditions of being human for example that of envy, revenge, the want for status that can muddle up worldly affairs.
To start off, speaking on envy he dwelled upon Duryodhana’s envy of the fact that he could not accept someone else’s coronation – this ultimately leads to the war of Kurukshetra . Sometimes we have this tendency to writhe in envy at others’success although he/she may rightfully have achieved it and that can be the root cause for a lot of evil in society. The way he explained it was quite intriguing even saying that envy is the sin of socialism (just as greed is the sin of capitalism). The envy and the resulting resentment can blind us and make us reach monstrous proportions. In the 1930s the Jews were the most prosperous with control of over 70% of the economy in Germany and that is why Hitler was able to whip up envy among the Germans and this led to the aftermath of the extermination of Jews.
Then he went on to the need for status and cited Karna, when he is humiliated as the Sutputra - the illegitimate child, and not given the Kshatriya (warrior) title all througout. The humiliation is even more for Karna when Draupadi taunts him that way. At Draupadi’s swayamvar – choosing the husband ceremony, he is able to lift the bow and succeed in every ritual and yet Draupadi refuses to marry him calling him a Sutputra. Throughout the rest of the epic the undercurrent of sexual desire for Draupadi eats into Karna and it is apparently he who had asked Dushashana to initiate the stripping of Draupadi. The plight of dalits and OBCs was a very relevant point brought in here. This need to rise from being nobody to being a somebody – ie social status is some thing we all crave. Every person has this need for social status and as he spoke on this by this point Gurcharan Das had captivated the crowd as the whole auditorium sat in rapt silence.
On revenge he talked of the Ashwathama (Drona’s son) burning down an army of sleeping soldiers, Das even cited his open letter to Narendra Modi stating sometimes revenge’s counter is forgiveness – he suggested to Modi that he should appeal to the Muslims to forgive him and automatically the Muslims will ask for forgiveness for Godhra, but this never happened. He talks of forgiveness to replace revenge although I dont fully agree here, as justice is not to be denied that’s why you have the ‘outsourced’ revenge (law and judiciary).
Although he terms Mahabharata as morally ambiguous he makes an important statement saying that it gives the individual reading it, in his view, some leeway and autonomy of thought and decisions in a morally challenging situation unlike Islamic or Catholic-Judaic texts which sermonize and set the commandments and edicts. That way Ramayana is more of the perfect and righteous text to be followed in his view and gives a more positive feel yet is very unrealistic!
He states that reading Mahabharata has made him morally aware. In one description he is talking of compassion, when Yudishthira goes to heaven a dog follows him – however Lord Indra does not allow the dog to enter heaven, reacting to this Yudhisthira says a person who has come for refuge should never be refused and he actually himself does not enter heaven to be with the dog – perhaps an extreme form of compassion yet a parable which drives home the point.
In the end he talked of the unevenness of resources, wealth etc or disparity as the major issue in the world and to reduce this we need some form of restraint and not go into excesses in the throes of capitalism.
Am sure this book will be a good read.