The Gospel of Grandpa [part eleven]
Ram visits Grandpa and the children again to look at the reasons why people, even those brought up in the scientific tradition, still respond to the deeper vibration of myth. Ram Ramakrishnan, our favourite astrological researcher, has been producing a remarkable series of astrological analyses of the nature of things. This ongoing series is seen through the eyes of two young Indian children, Munni and Chotu.
Often curiosity leads us to situations that we later rue. But every circumstance has something to tell us and teach us, even if momentarily uncomfortable. The children went through one such the other day, when they decided to accompany grandpa to a religious discourse by a person who was grandpa's childhood friend.
The man was no doubt good at oratory. He was speaking about the Sun's life story, about the Sun's two wives and many offspring. Though the children enjoyed the little anecdotes that the man laced his narration with, the subject as a whole and the ideas appeared quite absurd. They couldn't get away in the middle of the discourse, for grandpa had forbidden them to do so, as that would be tantamount to humiliating the speaker. So it was two glum faces and two pairs of listless legs that followed grandpa back home at the end of the address. Grandpa thought it better to speak to the children after they had overcome this mood, which did not last long. Even before they had reached their neighbourhood, two excited voices could be heard all the way down the street pestering grandpa with questions. Why do people build up stories around such things as the Sun, Moon and stars and give them human characteristics, when we know from science that these are not true at all? Why do grownup people who have had science education come and listen to these lectures? What is the use of such knowledge today, particularly when they appear so incorrect?
Grandpa looked at the children for a while and wondered whether he should reprimand them for asking such questions. Despite his open thinking, he himself had been brought up in a traditional environment where even letting such thoughts into the mind was an unpardonable crime. He had certainly come out of that shell, but old associations do not get completely erased. They linger lifelong in some corner of the brain and surface occasionally under certain circumstances. However, their innocent faces made him decide that he would try and answer them with equal openness. He said he will start with the last question first.
He said questions like why something exists – may it be a physical entity or a thought process, are unfathomable. Such questions lead to the enquiry: why do we and the world around exist. No one has been able to provide a convincing answer to this, even though it has been asked ever since man has been in existence. Religion conveniently says it is the will of god, without being able to reasonably define who or what god is and the logic behind his will. But grandpa believed that all that existed did so for a purpose. Astrology provided the wherewithal to link all things in existence and pin-point their occurrence. The question of how life works is perhaps answerable, but why it does so may be something beyond human thought.
The answer to the second question was an extension of the first. People accept something only if they find it comfortable. The fact that so many people came willingly to listen to the discourse showed that they felt comfortable with it. Every person has his or her own peculiar way of attempting to enquire and understand the reason and purpose of existence. This pursuit is universal. Going to a religious discourse is just one of them. Maybe they understand some deep hidden meaning in it that we don't.
Grandpa was much more confident in trying to answer the first question. He said that the narratives themselves were not bereft of all meaning. For instance, the Sun is said to ride in chariot drawn by seven horses. One line of thought associates this expression with the fact that sunlight is composed of seven distinct colours. Yet another line of thought assumes that the above mentioned hymn was composed when humans dwelt in the arctic circle, where there were seven months of sunshine. So it is just a manner of expression that was in vogue at the time that these stories were composed. If one were to thoughtfully and seriously analyse these stories, one could find a lot of science and math in them. If some people like science expressed in flowery words and as intriguing stories, then why not? So be it!
After answering the children thus, grandpa was glad that he did so rather than reprimanding them. The children then asked grandpa whether he could express the astrological characteristics of the celestials that he worked with for assessing charts in the form of a short story. This was something that grandpa enjoyed and so he readily started.
Long ago there lived a benevolent king who ruled a vast country in all justness. He had a beautiful wife who, though not unkind, was given to haughtiness and imperious behaviour – which was not found to be out of place given her royal status. The king had many able ministers to look after the affairs of the kingdom. Though each of the ministers were allocated jurisdiction over specific subjects of state, there were many overlapping areas of activities that always led to a tussle between them, given their different perspectives of life, the priorities of the state and the compulsions of their own respective jurisdictions.
The defence of the state was the responsibility of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He was courageous, valiant, and wedded to morality. The sword was his answer to any problem. The minister of the Treasury was a rotund and jovial man. He was very learned too. Next to the king, his allegiance was to money. There always used to be disagreements between the minister of treasury and the commander-in-chief, when it came to the question of the means of expanding the influence of the kingdom. While the latter advocated violent action and subjugation of adversaries, the former, who abhorred violence, preferred the use of knowledge and money power for imperial expansion. The minister of the Treasury had the tacit support of the queen in this matter, as she too was very knowledgeable in the affairs of the state.
Then there was this trouble-shooting minister. He had a very sharp intellect and easily made friends with everyone. None could match him at logic and he could charm anyone into agreeing to a point of view that was entirely contrary to one's avowed beliefs. The queen, however, could see through his craftiness and he was a bit wary of her. One couldn't miss the vivacious and high profile lady minister of arts and culture: very knowledgeable, but given to extravagance. Her working relationship too with the other ministers was entirely need-based.
The minister of justice was a very foreboding person. But behind this ominous appearance was an unimpeachable commitment and faithfulness to the rule of law. Nothing would escape his notice, however small and none could expect any favours of any kind from him. Finally there were this lady minister of Labour always involved in political intrigues and the fiery but emaciated minister for Salvational pursuits.
Innumerable were the cross-currents that punctuated the dealings between the ministers and the royal couple – classifiable under many categories. These led to decisions that were agreeable to some at certain times and to others at other times. Though their perceptions were at variance on many matters, the collective allegiance of the ministers to the King, the Queen and their country was complete and total. The King too ensured that every decision was a collective one. As with all beings, the King and his retinue had their individual bio-rhythmic cycles that saw them at their argumentative best on certain days and in their sulking worst on others. This had its effects on the nature and quality of inputs that they individually provided in taking the collective decisions and the consequence of those decisions.
And so did the King and the Queen manage their kingdom from ever before to ever after.
The sound of clapping brought out grandma and other members of the family to see what the commotion was. They saw the children doing a jig around their grandpa.