Introduction to the Kathāmṛta – Part 14 – Men and Women of the World

This article is part 14 of 18 in the series Introduction to the Kathāmṛta

“Lincoln who was the elected leader of America (1870) suffered because of the harsh words his wife spoke every minute, each day – it was as good as him dying. Her words churned his insides, but yet, he held on to his life. Lincoln’s wife troubled him just as one would torture one’s enemy. He tolerated it all, without speaking a word. Yet, we can say that she was a bit kinder than Tolstoy’s wife, who mercilessly humiliated her husband publicly – and quite often did so. Lincoln loved his wife a lot, but she could not even stand his presence – she was agitated whenever she saw his face and poked him (with her words). She had the feeling that she was the most beautiful woman and Lincoln had got to marry her due to the good fortunes of his previous lives – she is known to have said this often.

She often said that her husband was ugly to look at; one of his shoulders was higher than the other and his gait was not proper – she even ridiculed him that he did not know to walk properly.  She also pointed that Lincoln’s arms were very long, head was too small, ears log and his nose was crooked in shape.

Lincoln, who helped in freeing the African Americans of their bonded labour and slavery, ironically, was as good as a slave in his own house. His wife’s loud and broken voice could be heard over until the streets. Many incidents from his daily life were like open secrets – they were akin to an play, visible to the public to behold. Lincoln hardly spoke of his troubles. He put up with it all this like a speechless ox. His silence irritated his wife even more.

Once, the Lincoln couple was invited by a friend for a snack. The two set out to visit him. There were many other couples who had been
invited just like the two. They ate the snack and were having a jovial conversation as they savoured tea. When Lincoln criticised something that his wife said, she hit him hard on his face with the tea cup that was in her hand – without any forethought! Lincoln did not lose temper even at this moment. He cast a glance of sympathy upon her and let out a smile. A young lady who was seated by his side felt sorry for him and cleaned his face with her handkerchief.

Lincoln developed contempt for his wife since then and his behaviour towards her changed. He led the rest of his life as far away from her as possible.

Even after torturing her husband without understanding him for twenty-five years, she did become good at heart” Viśva-karnāṭaka, 11-3-1951

When such is the state of the American President what can be said about the common folk? Just as the Kannada poet Lakṣmīśa says, if a torturous woman happens to be your wife, it is as good as climbing on to a tree full of thorns! Once married, can you ever do away with your wife? If a second one enters, will the first one let her live in peace? Moreover, if your first wife is divorced, will she let you live in peace? Will there be any happiness left for you? A wound should get healed and the dried skin should fall off on its own - the more you try to pluck it, the more pain it causes. What do you do with wounds that never heal? Just live with them and die along with them. One must be blessed to have no wounds in life and only a few are blessed to be so.

A woman supposedly killed her husband by not feeding him for a long time – she then sacrificed three roosters at his grave. The grave ‘drank’ the blood from two roosters and could not take in the blood from the third. As she saw the blood streaming away from the grave, she cried out loud – “Alas! My dear husband does not like my offering of a rooster!” – I remember having read a story of this sort. To put it in other words – it is like torturing a person as long as he is alive and shedding large amounts of tears after his death. Garlanding the photo of the dead husband and says – ‘I never prepare anything less than four sweets for the death anniversary of my husband!”

Who will be there for us after death? After death, who knows what lays in store, what happens, what we would do? The writers of the purāṇas, have neither seen the post-death situation nor the other-world, if it exists, and then tapping into their experience, have written it. So while we are alive, the affection we show, our conscience, the good deeds we do, are what would result in utility both here and elsewhere. Having committed a murder, on the previous day of hanging, if one recites the Gīta the whole night what is the use of it? What is the use of reciting the Stotras? Hearing them, assuming four hands, what would the orphaned deity be able to give? Even being all-powerful, seems like god can give only the fruits of our own deeds. How can such a god be all-merciful? Like the breasts of the buck (male goat), what would be the use of such a god? Aren’t our deeds enough? That is at the very least noticeable and evident; in general, good deeds beget good, children drinking milk live, while children drinking poison die. Extending this to the past and future, due to the good deeds from our past we experience happiness, likewise the good deeds we do in the present will result in comfort in future. Bad deeds and their fruits are also described likewise. But in the present conundrum, trapped in a spider’s web, not able to escape, the more they try the more difficult it becomes, resulting in the insects becoming food for the spider, due to their fate. Whether God is merciful or not, fate is merciless and is evident by experience. While being born, while growing, while being helpless, incapable of doing anything, we get ourselves stuck in some unavoidable difficulty. Mother, father, wife, children, household stuff - all these come to us due to attachment. What follows is just agitation. Can we change our environment? Can stones and thorns become soft? Can we change the our nature or of others? Can the spots on the leopard be washed off? ಹೀನಸುಳಿ (ಮೈಮೇಲೆ ಇರುವ ಅಶುಭ ಸೂಚಕವಾದ ಕೂದಲಿನ ಸುಳಿ) ಬೋಳಿಸಿದರೆ ಹೋದೀತೇ? - Old habits die hard? Can the tigers and bears be transformed into cows and buffaloes? Only some species/fruits like mangoes and pomegranates, cast off their initial sourness and become sweet when they ripen. In other fruits like lemon and citron ripening may only change their colour but can’t change their taste from sour to sweet. Irrespective of whether they are young or adults, snakes and scorpions are venomous (teeth and tail respectively). Modern science of course tells that anything can be transformed to anything else; in principle everything is the same. So says Advaita-vedānta, but that is in terms of the Spirit; but in the material world neither the Vedānta nor science solves the problem. Here the stones and thorns are still abrasive and prickly; tigers and bears are still wild. By controlling one’s anger, by undergoing difficulties and developing fortitude, by continuous struggle, one becomes strong, climbs higher in the ladder of evolution----says the theory of evolution; This is somewhat similar to ‘Bhramara-kīṭa-nyāya'. For the Kīṭa to become the bee it has to undergo a lot of torment. Why has the creator imposed such a cruel rule? For troubled souls in this world consolations such as the following are the only solace. That by doing good deeds now, practicing non-violence and compassion, in future lives at least happiness would be obtained - this string of hope is the only support!

There is a Kannada proverb that says “A tiger doesn’t give a damn whether it is its own forest or others’ forest”. But even for such a tiger too, a notion of its family, others’ family, its own children, others’ children exists. So does it possess self-consciousness and conscience. But some women don’t even possess that; that's the reason Ṛg-veda says ‘na vai straiṇāni sakhyāni santi, sālāvṛkāṇāṃ hṛdayānyetā’ (X, 95-15), i.e. friendship means nothing to women; their hearts are like the hyena’s heart. Daṇḍī says, ‘kiṃ krūraṃ? strī-hṛdayaṃ!

Such people quarrel with their own children; they always keep grumbling, cursing, complaining and threaten to drown or poison themselves, and finally end up taking their own life and reach a ghastly end and attain infamy. [See the story of Guṇaśarma: ‘For the one who commits suicide, the pain in the next world is only worse!’]. It is futile to hope that they will become wiser as they age; for, the sourness of tamarind does not go away just because the tree becomes old. The opinion that modern education can change the nature of such people, is just an illusion. Scrubbing a stone only makes its upper part shiny! It does not soften it. The real outcome of education is refinement; which in turn develops conduct, softens the mind and makes a person melt to others’ sorrows in empathy; it should also make them content and happy in the times of plenty. However, today, the impression is that an educated woman is someone who is dazzling on the outside, enjoys unbridled freedom, and does not fit well with family life. Movies have shown such examples. However, even today, in our country, chaste housewives are widely held in high esteem.

 

To be continued...

This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Kathāmṛta by Raghavendra G S, Arjun Bharadwaj,  Srishan Thirumalai, and Hari Ravikumar.

The original Kannada version of Kathāmṛta is available for free online reading here. To read other works of Prof. Krishna Shastri, click here.

Author(s)

About:

Prof. A R Krishna Sastri was a journalist, scholar, polyglot, and a pioneer of the modern Kannada renaissance, who founded the literary journal Prabuddha Karnāṭaka. His Vacana-bhārata and Kathāmṛta are classics of Kannada literature while his Saṃskṛta-nāṭaka and Bankimacandra are of unrivalled scholarship.

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