Monday, August 1, 2011

All is fair in love and war. Really?

Amélie Poulain's friend poses the nice looking guy a series of questions revolving around proverbs.
"A rolling stone"
"Gathers no moss", he answers quickly.

"Out of sight"
"Out of mind"

After a few more proverbs, she declares that her dad used to say that someone who knew proverbs can't be all bad and she tells him where Amélie is.

Though I suppose the French might have their reasons for supposing so, I've never thought of being merely cognizant of proverbs as such a strong and desirable trait. Arguably what you probably believe in might offer a better incisive look at your personality.

There's been two of these especially that make me boil inside every time I think deeply enough about them. One of them is "Out of sight, out of mind" along with it's counterpart the more classy "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". Though I am not quite sure about the times or the circumstances in which these two idioms were born, I have a strong propensity to classify the latter as medieval and the former as one that accurately reflects our contemporary times and in case you are wondering am a sucker for the latter. It's sad that most of today's generation demand instant gratification at everything, at work, at career, at passions and even at love. Whatever happened to the slow moving medieval pace of Pride and Prejudice?
"Out of sight, out of mind" - I mean what is that? Does it mean we don't let each other get out of sight? for a month? a day? an hour? for a minute? What are we? needy dependent people who don't value freedom, solitude? What are we? parasites? It brings more fundamental questions out in the open. Anyone of you would have stayed away from your parents for a reasonable stretch of time. So is that it? You don't care anymore for them? If you do, then why two different yardsticks for your own personal relationships? Do you know what that makes you look like?

The other one that's been on my hit list for some time is the one that strives to remind us that "All is fair in love and war". Really? As simple as that? Yes?

In the holy war of the Mahabharata, the Pandavas resort to all sorts of trickery to win the war.
Arjuna, the embodiment of valour hides behind Sikhandi (who was originally born as a girl) when they attack Bhisma, that warrior who had a rather neat policy of not fighting women. So he simply stood by receiving Arjuna's arrows that cut through him slowly, while doing frankly nothing but trying to distinguish which of the arrows were Sikhandin's and which of them were Arjuna's!
Yudhishtira, the very embodiment of truth lies about Ashwattama's death to Drona (on Krishna's advice) making him lay down his arms when Dhristadyumna swoops down on him with a bloody sword!
Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas asks Karna to not kill his brothers. The great warrior promises to kill only Arjuna if at all so that she would still have 5 sons and during the war, he very clearly has chances to kill each of Bheema, Yudhishtira and Nakula, which he refrains from and spares them with mere taunts! (OK this part from Kunti wasn't exactly trickery, but you get how the odds are stacked against the Kauravas)
Krishna advises Arjuna never to get into a direct battle with Karna as long as Karna holds Indra's weapon as that could easily kill him. Karna is then later forced to use the same against Ghatotkacha (Bheema's Rakshasa son) on one fated day when the battle continues into the night when the Rakshashas apparently have greater power.
Krishna saves Arjuna by pressing the chariot in the nick of time during the direct battle with Karna!
Krishna clues in on Bheema to break Duryodhana's thighs against the established code of fighting in those days.

Iam sure there are a lot more instances I have missed out. The Pandavas finally realize at the end of the war that it was won not because of their valour or military prowess, but because Krishna was on their side. Every time they had a problem, it was Krishna himself, the embodiment of God who guides them on the path of trickery, which they follow religiously after the initial instinctive apprehensions.

On reading various versions of the Mahabharata, my first reaction was one of disgust. I mean clearly there were two sides here. One was in the right and one was in the wrong. Why couldn't the side in the right just win out rightly without having to resort to any sort of trickery? Didn't being the right side imply just that?

I've never understood that part of it until recently when I've come up with a much more plausible analysis, that's comforting and rather soothing once you understand it. What's right and what's wrong isn't exactly in black and white. It's more of shades in gray. It's still distinguishable, but it's quite difficult to figure out what exactly is the right thing to do in a given situation. It's no real wonder that more often than not people get this wrong, ... really wrong. One reason for it is the same impatience that makes them swear to "out of sight, out of mind". See the connection?

what I read from the Mahabharata is irrespective of how the war was won, it's important to know why the Pandavas won it. The Kauravas were practically invincible. Bhishma himself had a boon that he was the only one who could choose when he wanted to die. Drona could never be conquered (without a lie). Karna had Indra's weapon(though use and throw!) that could kill anyone. Yet the Pandavas won, because Krishna was on their side. Dharma was on their side. Here's where it gets interesting. You could see it as the Pandavas won because Krishna was on their side or you could see it as the Pandavas were on Krishna's right side... Krishna's right side, since he was the embodiment of everything there was also a dark side, ... hence those acts of trickery! Which leads us to...

All is fair in war only when you are on the fair side itself.

Love isn't exactly war, but there's a fair side to it and a unfair side to it. There's a compassionate side to it and a vengeful side to it and there's also plenty of shades of gray in between. We might want to see which end of the spectrum it is that we are standing on before we resort to say morally questionable acts. The art of deducing where we stand is often the trickiest part though and is the part that matters, the rest being fair/unfair are mere consequences and maybe, maybe in light of all this it's just worthwhile to reserve judgement until all the facts are presented.