Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Rainbow - seven riveting short stories | The Legend of Zalim Khan by Khush Agrawal.

Rainbow is called Meghdhanush, Ramdhanu or Indra-dhanuSha in Sanskrit. It symbolizes hope. Sunlight is white light that is composed of all the colours of the visible spectrum. A rainbow is proof. We can't see the colours of sunlight except when atmospheric conditions bend the light rays and create a rainbow. One can also use a prism to demonstrate this. Light appears colourless or white. White is also the colour of fresh snow. White light contains light of all frequencies. In that sense, white is a combination of all colours. Thus the sum of all the colours of light adds up to white.

My Rainbow - seven riveting short stories are thought provoking and engaging stories; they also have a Panchatantra and Hitopadesha flavour to them. Khush Agrawal, Isha Setia, Dhritika Dhawan, Harshavardhini Pareek, Aditya Agarwal, Isha Rautela and Shivangi Singh - take a bow! Congratulations to each colour in this interesting rainbow.

The youngest of these writers is not even a teenager and the oldest perhaps just a tad older than 15. And yet their confidence, patience, discipline, enthusiasm, literary skills, perspective, depth of understanding, ability to channelise and structure their thoughts and weave various aspects together, is remarkable. They have engaged with literature, the art of reading and writing... and emerged immeasurably enriched. One can say they have taken a draught from or rather a (proverbial) dip in a perennial knowledge stream. Nicola Tesla, the extraordinary scientist and inventor, who specialized in the field of electricity and is father of electricity, as we know it today, said, "My brain is only a receiver. In the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists." Steve Jobs spent much time on the banks of the Ganga - seeking inspiration. (And this perhaps conclusively proves that a certain fruit and the Supreme Druid are not incompatible after all). These budding writers are sitting on the ghat of a vast unfathomable reservoir of timeless wisdom, knowledge, inspiration and consciousness. Let's give them our well-wishes.

Quill Club Writers is a publishing house with a difference; they are not only making an effort to instill the art of storytelling among schoolchildren, they are also helping schoolchildren become published authors of mainstream fiction. Journalist and the author of Prey by the Ganges, Hemant Kumar, publisher at the Quill Club Writers, is mentoring (nurturing) these remarkably gifted writers - seven students of DPS Jaipur, who have delved into their imagination and thoughts to weave a beautiful fabric of words; this anthology marks his publishing debut. He has helped these budding writers to unfurl their first-ever rainbow of insightful stories. This is perhaps a pioneering endeavour, at least in India. I tip my hat to you, sir.

Creating a reading culture: reading the literature (including short stories and folktales), poetry, classics etc in any language that one may be proficient in, is helpful. It is the very antithesis of intellectual regimentation, straitjacketing, learning by rote, specious discourse and so on... that contribute towards intellectual decline and stagnation, narrow or unifocal/blinkered world-view (~ the proverbial "dreary desert sand of dead habit"). "The fish in the water is silent, the animals on the earth is noisy, the bird in the air is singing. But man has in him the silence of the sea, the noise of the earth and the music of the air." – Rabindranath Tagore.

1. The Legend of Zalim Khan (by Khush Agrawal): "Poot kapoot toh kyon dhan sanchay; Poot sapoot toh kyon dhan sanchay" ~ is the underlying message. Education is important. It brings culture. Health is wealth. But above all, it is important to be a good human being. Parents should, therefore, endeavour to prepare their children for the road, not prepare the road for their children. In other words: it is necessary to empower students to handle different life situations and become good citizens. Also, that sAmya or śamaḥ (inclusiveness, integration, cohesion, calmness, tranquility), mayitree (camaraderie) and aikya (unity, harmony) was necessary for collective pragati (progress, prosperity). The way forward was (thus) that of shantih (peace, co-existence). Creating a vibrant, progressive and prosperous society is about re-building people; man-making and character building education (individual and shared values, camaraderie, collaboration, cogitation, clear-headedness, foresight, common sense, scientific temper, contentment, work ethic etc). A critical thinking process (that overrides inanities and platitudes, utopian discoures leading to utopian solutions, redundant/moribund/specious discourses, archaic thought processes or cynical gestures) help to overcome selfish, short-sighted thinking (crab mentality) and kupa-mandup syndrome (a frog in a well imagines the little well to be the whole world). That is how the wheel of evolution moves on and the ideas and dreams of one nation are bequeathed to the next. It is also necessary to understand and possess a willingness to work hard. "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime." This old Chinese proverb could not be truer. It is a simple concept. Hard work is the key to success. If only luck is to be considered, everyone will just wait till his or her luck shines up. Unfortunately, hard work sometimes seems to be a dying art form. We often hear "Work smart, not hard" or some similar cliché, as if hard work is some form of hard labour only bestowed on the underprivileged or the less fortunate. The truth is, there is great value in hard work. It teaches life lessons. It teaches perseverance, persistence, and determination. It teaches enthusiasm, resourcefulness/ingenuity and resilience (courage of the mind, dhirah). There is great satisfaction in hard work; it brings a sense of accomplishment and pride that cannot be replaced by anything else. There is hard work behind the technological strides the world has made. People like the Wright brothers and Henry Ford invented modern means of transportation, it is the result of their hard-work and great efforts. Taking the initiative or being enterprising helps turn great ideas into action. The Bhagavad Gita talks about reviving dharma (dharmic principles ~ dharma-samsthapanarthaya) and also advises against succumbing to inaction (indifference, inertia, torpor, apathy, intellectual ennui, quick-fix or ad hoc fixes, etc). BG 2.47: || karmaNi eva adhikaaraste maa phaleshu kadaachana, maa karma phala hetuH bhuH maa sanghaH astu akarmaNi || ~ Imbibe the spirit of steadfast karm-yog; embrace toil (whether intellectual or physical) to the best of your ability. Overcome your limitations. Concentrate on your convergences. Do not highlight your divergences. Shun lethargy. Overcome inertia. Be positive. Never lose hope.

Dharma is not morality or idealism; humanity (and by extension, society) is not quite the epitome of righteousness. Never is. That is a utopian concept. This world is a human world; humans are not perfect. Therefore, to expect humanity (human society) to be full of idealism or propriety or utopian ideals is futile. It is important to understand the collective strengths and shortcomings, instead. Utopian discourses will only lead to rhetoric, not tangible, sustainable solutions. The purpose, goals and objectives are important. Raaj-dharma does not mean utopian idealism; it means: the duties and responsibilities of a ruler/sovereign/leader. A problem-solver or change-maker (Vaidyanatha or the Supreme Druid/Dhanvantari) solves real problems, not imaginary ones... by understanding the genesis, and emerging with sustainable, longer term and organic solutions, not quick-fix or ad hoc fixes (that is what 'quacks' would do). Dharma is responsibility, duty, foresight, forethought, common sense, clarity of thought and purpose, the ability to take a broader/holistic view, the ability to comprehend, take cognisance and prioritize. It is also a 'way of life' based on noble (sattvic) values and principles, shared civilisational values and ideals (including shared knowledge, know-how, literature, history, folktales, music, festivities, etc). This helps to forge affinity and cohesion... and sustain the cherished/treasured societal/civilisational values. Our enlightened ancestors, the inheritors, representatives and expositors of India's age-old heritage (civilisational values and ideals), developed a unique world-view blending material prosperity with spirituality and a scientific temper (knowledge, innovation and creativity). Spirituality (not to be misconstrued for ritualism, etc) and contentment constituted the core of the accepted (cherished, treasured) value system. Collaboration also provides a national sense of direction, of collective achievement; it helps build character and mettle, otherwise a glorious past is no guarantee for a great future. 

This story attempts to bring out the value of education, collaboration (working together to achieve shared goals), good health and hard-work... through a posthumous lesson from a (long deceased) dreaded bandit, Zalim Khan, to his uncaring and laggard sons, Azam, Mohammad and Abdul. Azam, the eldest, sharp and quick-witted like his father, has no interest in reading or writing. The youngest, Mohammad, though strong and well-built, was plain and dull, and stammered badly. The middle son, Abdul, a strikingly handsome young man, was blind (Dhritarashtra analogy or Kanha?) The three strapping boys on the cusp of adulthood bicker and squabble endlessly, a burden on their aging, tired and despairing mother Fasiha, a kind and brave woman who had worked hard to bring them up alone, after Zalim Khan succumbed to an injury sustained during his days of banditry, and one he thought had healed. Mohammad was the only one who went to school, and as a result could read and write. But Azam and Abdul hated him for that.

Zalim Khan, tall and built like a bull (thick neck, broad bulging shoulders and hands that were forged in steel), was a ruthless and cunning bandit, hailing from a remote village in Rajasthan. He roamed the countryside, robbing people and stashing away the loot. He was no Robin Hood. He rode a horse and carried a huge double-barrel shotgun with ammunition belts that criss-crossed his burly chest. He also had a foot-long dagger tucked into his waistband and a long, thick, carved leather scabbard, lashed to the horse's saddle. Inside it, sat a heavy steel sword. Its polished blade flared like sunlight whenever Zalim Khan drew it out. There were stories about how he had plunged the blade into scheming rivals and petrified victims, and then wiped the blood off calmly, before replacing the weapon into its sheath.

One day he went to a place far from Rajasthan, in the plains of central India. There he married, worked hard, made a modest living, built a small house and sired three sons. Before he breathed his last, however, he told Fasiha all about his life as a bandit, and about the legend of his treasure. Many years later, while wasting time at a fair in a nearby village, Abdul and Mohammad came upon a bent, old man (Manthara analogy?) who told the riveted duo about Abdul's striking resemblance to Zalim Khan. He also told them about their father's life as a feared bandit, and about his fabled treasure. The boys went home immediately and berated their mother for not having told them about their father and his treasure, and for living like paupers. The idea that their father was a dacoit, and one with a formidable reputation, had fired their imagination. They longed for a life where they could just laze about and make merry. Though disheartened, Fasiha was wise. She understood human character, especially that of her children. Appearing to give in to their tantrums, she handed each one of them a scrap of paper (given to her by the now-deceased Zalim Khan). The three boys left home quietly and under some pretext or the other; each happy and determined to find his bandit father's hidden loot. Fasiha waited, although it hurt her to think that her sons were so selfish and untrusting. ... The boys went in different directions. (Fasiha, though, had taken care not to let Abdul stray too far from the village). One long year passed. The boys (individually) expended considerable effort, but found nothing. Tired, they missed the comfort of home. One day Azam and Mohammed bumped into each other, discovered each had been given a scrap of paper, and headed home. Abdul had returned long ago. The year had not brought them any closer to finding the treasure, but it had bred a sense of camaraderie (sAmya, mayitree and aikya) among the brothers, and for that, Fasiha was grateful to Allah. When they urged their mother to make it easier for them by explaining it all and putting everything in context, she calmly advised them to learn to trust and work together (sAmya, mayitree and aikya). All three heeded her advice and compared notes, while Fasiha observed with satisfaction the growing sense of camaraderie between them. She marveled at the wisdom of her departed husband, wondering what he had foreseen years before it were to happen.

The three scraps of paper contained three clues. The one in possession of Mohammed said: 'In Udaipur, find the blue beard.' Azam's clue was: 'Ask the blue beard of Bohrawadi, how many pigeons does Ameena Bai have - eleven or twelve?' Abdul's clue was: 'Ask the locksmith the one key question - what honest lock did your first honest key open?' On Azam's suggestion they put their papers together, and after reading the clues, found a clear set of instructions. To visit Udaipur, and in Udaipur, go to Bohrawadi, in Bohrawadi, find the Blue Beard. Once they have met the Blue Beard, to ask him or her about Ameena Bai and her dozen or so pigeons. When they meet Ameena Bai, she will tell them about the locksmith and his lock and key. ... The three boys decide to go to Udaipur. When Fasiha heard their plans, her heart began to beat with renewed hope. Mohammed and Azam not only carried their bags, they also took turns to hold Abdul's hand. Abdul could not help but think how much easier it was for him to travel with his brothers. He had a strange feeling of joy.

They located Bohrawadi. And with some effort - by visiting all the barbershops there (after all, who would know a man with blue hair better than a barber?) - they chanced upon an old barber, Salim, who nervously told them about the Blue Beard of Bohrawadi. Nearly 80, Hakim Imtiaaz Ul Haq - the supposed Blue Beard of Bohrawadi - was actually not a Blue Beard. He had fiery red beard. On a cold wintry evening, almost 20 years ago, he received word that Zalim Khan was hiding inside Salim's shop and asking for the man with the red beard. In a rush of panic, and wanting to hide his give-away beard, and not finding a razor at home to shave it off, he had run to the dyer next door. It was pitch dark. Thinking he'd dye his beard black (Black beard?) with his neighbour's paint, the dye he laid his hands on was bright blue! [shyAmaH or kRiShNa means black - kaalah, all-absorbing. Black does not reflect light. In the case of black, all the colours making up white (sveta) light are absorbed which makes that object appear black. Pitch dark (shyamah, kaalah, krishna, ghanshyam) and bright blue. NIla. Shyam (dark blue). Ghanshyam (black). Time is Kaalah in Sanskrit. BG 10.33: || aham evākṣayaḥ kālo || ~ "I am also inexhaustible time".]

Zalim Khan found him stranded in his funny bright blue beard. Though amused, the grievously injured bandit asked the hakim to attend to his bleeding stomach. He had taken half-a-dozen bullets on his arms and legs and one in his stomach. The hakim could remove all the others, but the one in the stomach was embedded deep inside, and he was no surgeon. The muscular wounds began healing in a few days but the lead in his belly damaged his liver. It was taking him down. To survive, Zalim Khan either needed a well-equipped hospital or he needed Ameena Bai - a special woman with a heart of gold (bhaskara, derived from the Sanskrit bhas [light] and kara [making]: hence, "making light, shining, the sun"), gifted with the ability to suck out poison from a person's body. [Vaidyanatha and the "Neelkanth" imagery?] Ameena Bai lived in Barmer and communicated through a lovely white messenger pigeon. She suffered from arthritis and contacted the hakim for medicines (whenever the pain got worse). Her house had fluttering, hovering pigeons of all hues. There the boys were accosted by a frail, withering old woman with thick glasses and bunched up hair (jata?) She noticed Abdul's striking resemblance with Zalim Khan, with a mixture of surprise, recognition and disbelief (reminiscent of Scar and Kovu, Scar's adoptive son and the deuteragonist of 'The Lion King II'). After a while she began telling them about Zalim Khan coming to her a dying man, with a bullet or shrapnel buried deep inside his body, it was spreading poison through his veins. She didn't quite know whether to be scared of him (given his reputation) or empathise with him (given his condition). But looking at him lying in a crumpled heap in a corner, and clearly dying, she decided to help him. Though it was an excruciatingly slow and frustrating process, Zalim Khan did recover. But little did Ameena know, that in the process of drawing the poison from his blood, she had also (in a manner of speaking) cleansed his soul of the need to commit crime. It was as if she had drawn out the demon that lived in his body. No one ever heard of any stories about Zalim Khan again. His reign of terror stopped all too suddenly. Ameena sensed in her heart that he had reformed. [This, in a figurative sense, could describe 'triumph of good over evil', Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya - dispelling of the tamas (allegoric 'fog') of negativism residing in the dark depths of the hearts and minds of humans, and the emergence of a new dawn. BG 10.33: || dhātāhaḿ viśvato-mukhaḥ || ~ "and of creators (support/dhātā) I am Brahmā" (implying harbinger/creator/initiator of a new dawn). | Zalim Khan also reminds us of the notorious brigand Ratnakara. Due to Devi SarasvatI's blessings, he overcame his prarabda (negative) karma and became the revered Maharshi Valmiki. The Sanskrit sita simply means white - signifying inner perfection (Self-realisation), purity of the mind - absence of selfish concerns and narrow perspective. Possessor of true/eternal/non-transient knowledge. In other words: One who is truly enlightened. Devi SarasvatI is attired in pristine white garments, and seated on a Pure White Lotus.]

On being asked how many pigeons she had, eleven (the 11 Rudras?) or twelve (the 12 Adityas?), Ameena Bai told the boys about her most trusted and beloved homing pigeon, a white wonder that she fondly called Kabootar. She used him only for long haul flights, especially to Hakim sahib's place. The morning that Zalim Khan knocked on her door, Kabootar also returned from Udaipur, carrying her medicines and bearing the news that the bandit was on his way. Rather man and bird arrived at almost the same time. [Udai - does Udaipur derive its name from the rising sun, a new dawn? The goddess of the rising sun, more accurately the Sun's light, which is the life force of all things, and which is seen as an aspect of Sri Hayagriva or Hayaśirṣa - the horse-headed Vishnu?] However, as Kabootar descended into her backyard, an evil hunter shot him down. He fluttered and faltered but loyal as he was, he didn't give up and covered the last few feet even as the hunter's arrow tore through his beating heart. To Ameena Bai, it seemed as if death was hovering over Zalim Khan, Kabootar had absorbed its wrath. She interpreted it as a message from Allah, and knew Zalim Khan would live. [This has some parallels with Puru taking on Yayati's old age, thereby giving him (in a manner of speaking) a fresh lease of life, and Babar praying to Allah to exchange his life for Humayun's. And, in some way, even that of Rudra-Siva as "Byomkesh", absorbing the allegoric tide (force and intensity) of the 'Ganga'... for the good of humankind - to allow it to transform and evolve (to replenish, to rejuvenate).] As for Kabootar, she could never bear to replace him. And so, she now had 11 birds. ~ BG 10.21: || adityanam aham visnur jyotisam ravir amsuman maricir marutam asmi naksatranam aham sasi || "Of the 12 Adityas I am Visnu, of lights I am the radiant sun, of the 7 Maruts (wind gods of the Rig Veda) I am Marici, and among the stars I am the moon." [Of the 12 Adityas, Vishnu is the principal. 'Of lights I am the radiant sun' is a reference to the Summer Solstice, it therefore (allegorically) implies 'harbinger/creator/initiator of a new dawn' and personification, manifestation or embodiment of the effulgent Sun-god (Surya-dev/Savitr). BG 10.33: || dhātāhaḿ viśvato-mukhaḥ || ~ "and of creators (dhātā/support) I am Brahmā (implying harbinger/creator/initiator of a new dawn)." BG 10.34: || mṛtyuḥ sarva-haraś cāham udbhavaś ca bhaviṣyatām || ~ "I am all-consuming time, and I am the generating principle/cause/energy of all that is yet to be." (Alternatively: "I am all-consuming time, and I am too the birth of all that shall come into being.") BG 10.35: || gāyatrī chandasām aham || ~ "I am Gayatri mantra among the Vedic mantras. The auspicious Gayatri Mantra, also known as Savitr Mantra - a 24-syllable hymn from the Rig Veda, is one of the most auspicious and oldest of mantras, and is also considered one of the most universal and greatest of  mantras. Devi SarasvatI is Savitri, the goddess of dawn who dispels the 'fog' of ignorance and confusion and lights the diya or lamp of Eternal Knowledge (Para Vidya). Devi SarasvatI, the Goddess of Learning, is also the deity of Gayatri, the fountain of fine arts and science, and the symbol of supreme Vedantic knowledge| Marici: Marici is one of the Saptarishi (the seven enlightened personages). In Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Marici is a deva or bodhisattva associated with light and the sun. Marici has also sometimes been included as one of the Twelve Heavenly Generals associated with Bhaiṣajyaguru, the Buddha of Medicine. Her depiction, whether on an open lotus, or as a multi-armed woman standing or sitting on the back of a boar, or when she is shown riding a chariot pulled by seven boars or sows, is reminiscent of Devi Varahi and/or the Varaha-avatar - the great one-tusked boar - believed to be the Supreme form of Sri Vishnu.] BG 10.23: || rudrāṇāṁ śaṅkaraś cāsmi vitteśo yakṣa-rakṣasām vasūnāṁ pāvakaś cāsmi meruḥ śikhariṇām aham || ~ "Of all the Rudras I am Sankara [Rudra-Śiva], of the Yakshas and Rakshasas [small-sized beings, the Lilliputians of Gulliver's Travels?] I am the Lord of wealth [Kubera], of the Vasus I am fire [Agni], and of mountains I am Meru." [There are 11 Rudras, of whom Rudra-Siva (Sankara) is preeminent. Vasus: there are eight elemental gods (called "Aṣṭa-vasu", 'Eight Vasus') representing aspects of nature. Prithvi (earth), Agni (fire), Vayu (wind, air), Antariksha (space), Aditya (luminous/radiance, usually used for the Sun-god/Savitr), Dyaus (sky), Chandramas (moon) and Nakstrani (stars, could also be Constellations/Lunar Mansions) - according to the Brhad-Aranyaka Upanishad. Dhara (earth), Anala (fire), Anila (wind), Aha ('pervading'; possibly meaning apa - 'water'), Pratyusha (pre-dawn or light), Prabhasa (glorious dawn), Soma (moon) and Dhruva (Pole Star or the Guiding Star) - as per the Mahabharata. 'Of mountains I am Meru' can also be indicative of the gentle and complete 'awakening' or 'rousing' of the latent spiritual energy - kundalini - that lies dormant in the sacrum bone (a large, triangular bone) at the base of the spine (Meru-danda). Upon 'awakening', kundalini rises in a sensation akin to a slithering reptile, up the spinal column (Meru-danda) - also represented by the (allegoric) Mt Meru in the samudra-manthan or kshira-sagar manthan story. When kundalini is fully 'roused' or 'awakened', it (in a manner of speaking) causes enlightenment of the brain cells. In other words: enflaming the Kundalini 'Fire' 'expand' the mind or 'ignite' the brain cells.]

The boys quietly took their leave and filed out of Ameena Bai's house. Their lives seemed to be changing at each step of their momentous journey, each was lost in his thoughts. They were overwhelmed to meet people who recounted meeting their father with such fondness, even though they confessed to have been mortally afraid of him. They wondered about the man Zalim Khan must have been - one who could inspire both fear and respect in people. They also asked Ameena Bai about the locksmith. Despite her failing memory, she was quite certain that Zalim Khan's accomplice (Alauddin Khan) was a lock-picker, who said there wasn't a lock he could not pick. But that, before leaving Ameena's place Zalim Khan gave him some money, and asked him to leave Rajasthan and return to Gwalior. A lock-picker is just the other side of a locksmith, Ameena reasoned. The boys agreed. In Gwalior, they found Alauddin Khan, the lock maker, now in his seventies, healthy and happy. Once again, Abdul's face worked like magic. They asked the old man "What honest lock did your first honest key open?" Alauddin told them that after recovering from his injury, Zalim Khan left Rajasthan forever and came away with him. Here, he rested, recuperated, learned to be a mason and moved to Jabalpur. However, before he left, Alauddin made him a special chest. And so, the first honest lock and key he ever made were for Zalim Khan. It was his gift to him. He fitted that lock into the chest. The boys looked at each other, amazed. "Do you know what he did with it?" asked Abdul, unable to contain his excitement anymore. "With the chest, you mean? He said he would take it home." The boys took their leave. It was a long way back to Jabalpur. Alauddin's words hung in the air around them. "He took it home! Zalim Khan took the chest home," whispered Abdul. "And we have traveled half way around the country looking for his treasure."

Each of them sat up all night, thinking about all the events that had unfolded in the past weeks. They missed their mother, too. And yet, they walked home with heavy steps but light hearts. Fasiha was in the kitchen (Kunti analogy?) She heard them and called out to them. All three boys stood at the kitchen door, gazing inside. Right before their eyes, on the top shelf of the only almirah in the kitchen, sat an imperious looking carved metal chest, secured with a big brass lock. "How did you...?" Azam began to say, but his words got caught in his throat. "The moment you started working together, I knew," Fasiha said, smiling, her eyes filled to the brim with tears of joy. "You would never have found it anyway. I had it buried deep under the guava tree in the backyard soon after your father passed away." "And you dug it out in anticipation of this?" asked Azam, stepping closer to examine the chest. "It was time for it, this way or that. The old man at the village fair just hastened it, that's all. Even I don't know what's inside it. Go ahead, open it. The key is right there," she said. With a wildly thumping heart and under the collective gaze of Abdul and Mohammed, Azam unlocked the chest. But all it had inside was an oilskin bag with a weathered envelope wrapped in a muslin cloth. It contained a sheaf of papers. In silence, Azam handed the envelope to Mohammed... who opened it and with a deep breath, began reading a letter.

Zalim Khan spoke to his sons through that letter: he talked about the three notes he had left for each one of them. And about them (by now) having met the only people who taught him humanism, that they were the only ones who ever meant anything to him in the many years he spent before meeting their mother. That Fasiha is the most wonderful person he had ever known. Zalim Khan also talked about his life of banditry, about him paying for his sins. And that while Hakim sahib healed his body (the symptoms, wounds); Ameena Bai healed his soul (the cause). He talked about being ambushed in Udaipur, hiding in Bohrawadi, of never returning to his hideout (after he healed), and leaving all his loot behind; his coming to Jabalpur leaving his life of crime; that he left Gwalior empty-handed, and rebuilt his life with honest, hard work. He talked about his pledge (Bheeshma analogy?) to never go back to a life of banditry, ever. Not even in any other life. The once-dreaded bandit, Zalim Khan, posthumously advises his sons that a life of honest hard-work is what they must follow, that is the only way to live. 'Stay together, help each other, and above all, look after your mother. She is your salvation.' Zalim Khan, through his letter, also says that it was important for his sons to learn about him, his life and his mistakes, since only then will they be able to comprehend why their mother and him are so eager that they become fine young men (good human beings). And that there was no need for the treasure they looked for. Because: "Poot kapoot toh kyon dhan sanchay; Poot sapoot toh kyon dhan sanchay" ~ old Indian saying: why save for a wayward child - he or she will squander it away; and why save for a meritorious one.

My twopenceworth: Kabootar's heroics and loyalty bring to mind Maharana Pratap Singh's horse, Chetak. During the Battle of Haldighati (June 18, 1576), the famed warhorse Chetak fell... and has since been immortalized in the ballads of Rajasthan. Folklore has it that Chetak's coat had a blue tinge. Hence Rana Pratap is sometimes referred as the Rider of the Blue Horse in ballads. Chetak is said to have lost a leg in the battle of Haldighati. Maybe, he lost the use of one of his legs due to a grievous injury sustained in the battlefield. [The Jaipur Foot, also known as the Jaipur Leg, is designed in and named after Jaipur. The artificial foot was invented in 1968 in Jaipur by Master craftsman Pandit Ram Chandra Sharma under the guidance of orthopaedic surgeon Dr. P.K. Sethi, who brought it to the world's attention, and got the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1981. Dr. Sethi was then the head of the Department of Orthopedics at Sawai Man Singh Medical College in Jaipur. Ever the experimenter, Masterji (as Pandit Ram Chandra Sharma is widely known) created a foot made of vulcanised rubber hinged to a wooden limb; and the Jaipur foot was born. It has been continually innovated ever since with his active involvement. Its essence has however remained: ease and speed of fabrication, lightness in weight, low cost and suitability for working people in the developing world.] ... The exhausted and seriously wounded Chetak is said to have collapsed while trying to leap across a stream. [Sarasa means stream, pool, fountain or spring in Sanskrit; here, it could be a reference to Pushkara - meaning 'blue lotus'). The SarasvatI is an important river goddess in the Rig Veda. The Sanskrit name means, "having many pools". The lake-bird - the Sarus Crane (Sanskrit: Sarasa) - is much-venerated in our culture and is also associated with Maharshi Valmiki.] The Maharana erected a small monument for his horse at the place where Chetak fell. However, could 'horse' be an allusion to equine features? Who really was Chetak? 
On being asked, "Chacha, do you know a man with a blue beard?" the old barber, Salim, had admonished the boys. "Aren't you old enough not to believe in fairy stories. Now don't waste my time." However, Einstein said, 'If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.' Couldn't agree more.

Note: "Bluebeard" is a French literary folktale. It tells the story of a violent nobleman in the habit of murdering his wives and the attempts of one wife to avoid the fate of her predecessors. (Some parallels with Sheherazade, the heroine of 'The Thousand and One Nights', perhaps). "The White Dove", "Mister Fox" and "Fitcher's Bird" (Also called "Fowler's Fowl") is tales similar to "Bluebeard". | Bluebeard - a wealthy aristocrat, is feared and shunned because of his blue beard, which made him frightfully ugly. He has been married several times, but no one knows what became of his wives. The local girls therefore avoid him. One of his neighbours, a lady of quality, had two daughters who were perfect beauties. One day Bluebeard visited her and asked for the hand of one of her two daughters, leaving to her choice which of the two she would bestow on him. The girls are understandably terrified. Eventually he persuades the younger daughter into marrying him. After the ceremony, she goes to live with him in his château. Shortly thereafter, Bluebeard announces that he must leave the country for a while; he gives all the keys of the château to his new wife, telling her they open the doors to rooms that contain his treasures. He tells her to use the keys freely and enjoy herself whilst he is away. However, he also gives her the key to one small room beneath the castle, stressing to her that she must not enter this room under any circumstances. She promises to never enter the room. He then goes away and leaves the house in her hands. Immediately, she is overcome with the desire to see what the forbidden room holds; and, despite warnings from her visiting sister, Anne, the girl abandons her guests during a house party and takes the key to the room. Bluebeard's new wife immediately discovers the room's horrible secret: its floor is awash with blood and the murdered bodies of her husband's former wives hang from hooks on the walls. Horrified, she drops the key into the pool of blood. She flees the room, but the blood staining the key will not wash off. She reveals her murderous husband's secret to her sister Anne, and both plan to flee the castle the next day; but, Bluebeard returns home unexpectedly the next morning and, noticing the blood on the key, immediately knows his wife has broken her promise. In a blind rage, he threatens to behead her on the spot, but she implores him to give her a quarter of an hour to say her prayers. He consents, so she locks herself in the highest tower with Anne. While Bluebeard, sword in hand, tries to break down the door, the sisters wait for two horsemen - their two brothers (one a dragoon, the other a musketeer) - to arrive. As Bluebeard is about to deliver the fatal blow, the brothers break into the castle; and, as Bluebeard attempts to flee, they pursue and overtake him before he can get to the steps of the porch. Then they run their swords through his body leaving him dead. Bluebeard had no heirs; his wife inherits all of his fortune and all his estate. First, Bluebeard's dead wives are buried. Then she makes use of one part of her newly acquired wealth to marry her sister Anne to a young gentleman who had loved her a long while; another part to buy captains' commissions for her brothers, and the rest to marry a very worthy gentleman, who makes her forget her horrible encounter with Bluebeard.

Blackbeard: Edward Teach (also Edward Thatch) - a tall, broad-shouldered man with a very black beard that he wore very long - was a notorious 18th century English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of the American colonies. He became a renowned pirate, his nickname derived from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance. He wore knee-length boots and dark clothing, topped with a wide hat and sometimes a long coat of brightly coloured silk or velvet. In times of battle he is said to have worn a sling over his shoulders, with three brace of pistols, hanging in holsters like bandoliers, and stuck lighted matches under his hat - to frighten his enemies. He formed an alliance of pirates and blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. He could almost certainly read and write, and may have been born into a respectable, wealthy family. Teach may have arrived in the Caribbean in the last years of the 17th century, on a merchant vessel (possibly a slave ship). He was (perhaps) for some time a sailor operating from Jamaica on privateer ships during the War of the Spanish Succession, and is believed to have often distinguished himself for his uncommon boldness and personal courage. However, at what point during the war Teach joined the fighting is not known. On 22 November 1718, during a ferocious battle, a small force of sailors led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard killed Teach and several of his crew. A shrewd and calculating leader, Teach spurned the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews and is believed to have never harmed those he held captive. Teach's flag depicted a skeleton spearing a heart, while toasting the devil. Flying such a flag was designed to intimidate one's enemies. He was romanticised after his death and became the inspiration for a number of pirate-themed works of fiction across a range of genres.

Zalim Khan's story also brings to mind a Chirokee legend, Tale of Two wolves: One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two 'wolves' inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith." The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?..." The old Cherokee simply replied, "the one that you feed."

In the Cherokee world, the story ends this way:  The old Cherokee simply replied, "They both win."

... and the story goes on,

"You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities - tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking - that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognise what is in the best interest of all. You see son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission is life. A man who has peace inside has everything. A man who is pulled apart by the war inside him has nothing. How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both." [The Lion King II: Simba: "Scar couldn't let go of his hate, and in the end, it destroyed him." Kovu: "I've never heard the story of Scar that way. He truly was a killer." Simba: "Fire is a killer. Sometimes, what's left behind can grow better than the generation before...if given the chance."]

Here is The Wolves Within: An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story. I too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times." He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit." The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?" The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."

BG 10.4-5: || buddhir jñānam asammohaḥ kṣamā satyaṁ damaḥ śamaḥ sukhaṁ duḥkhaṁ bhavo 'bhāvo bhayaṁ cābhayam eva ca

ahiṁsā samatā tuṣṭis tapo dānaṁ yaśo 'yaśaḥ bhavanti bhāvā bhūtānāṁ matta eva pṛthag-vidhāḥ ||

"Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from delusion, forgiveness (magnanimity), truthfulness, self-control (control of the senses - from unnecessary sense enjoyment or sense gratification) and calmness (tranquility), pleasure and pain, birth (indicative of the outer shell or mortal coil, since as far as the soul is concerned there is neither birth nor death), death, fear (illusory energy), fearlessness (confidence, lack of illusory energy), nonviolence (that one should not do anything which will put others into misery or confusion; spiritual realization, spiritual happiness, Self-realisation), equanimity, satisfaction, austerity (non-extravagance and non-attachment to sense pleasures), charity, fame and infamy - all these various qualities of living beings are created by Me alone."

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