Tuesday, May 27, 2008


I happened to attend Durga Pooja celebrations organized by a Bengali community in California. There were some cultural programs in Bengali organized by people in the community; music, dance, drama among other things.

One of the events was the skit enacted by children based on stories from The Panchatantra. While everyone commended the performance and complimented the lady who directed the skit, there was some disappointment (expressed by the woman herself) about the presence of an element of death in almost every Panchatantra story.

“Here in the US, all story books meant for children steer clear of blood and death”, observed a woman. “In Panchatantra, every story has death. The crab dies, the fishes die and so do many others”.

The remark trailed off….. the conversation proceeded to other things…
But my mind dwelled upon that observation about Panchatantra.

While the stand of the west seems sensible and thoughtful at the first glance…. it does not at the second. Attribute it to my excessive patronizing of India, especially the India of the ancient times….
So, were those sages (and people) who taught Panchatantra to children not very thoughtful? Is the Panchatantra flawed?

I refuse to believe; not because I find some wrong in the idea of the west, but simply because I believe that the Panchatantra cannot be wrong.
I refuse to accept even for a moment that ancient Indian wisdom could be flawed. Again… you may call it over patronizing….but anything that took birth in India during the ancient times is above and beyond verification…(for me)

In the west, people exhibit a feeling of strong resentment to death, decaying, mortality and aging, which is evident from the million dollar industry of anti aging cosmetics. This rejection of death is the reason why people suffer stress, anxiety, fear and insecurity especially during middle age and later. There is much effort and exertion in futility towards remaining young forever and adamant refusal to growing old.

We Indians on the other hand age so very gracefully and naturally. People turn to philosophy and spiritualism as they grow older and retreat from indulgence. They spend their time reading the scriptures, playing with grand children, going on pilgrimages and so on.

This disposition of readiness towards death that we Indians demonstrate stems from an acceptance of our own mortality that is woven into the fabric of our socio cultural life.

The Bhagawadgeetha that says “The body is mortal, but the soul is eternal”, the theories of Karma and reincarnation are all there for us to fall back upon…
These were not calculated entries made into our curriculum after we crossed a certain age but these were infused into our consciousness since our childhood.

An Indian’s attitude towards death is one of acceptance. His reaction is one of welcoming. Of the 103 verses in Gitanjali, more than 12 verses express Tagore’s sentiment towards death. Acceptance, readiness and willingness!

I know that the day will come when my sight of this earth shall be lost, and life will take its leave in silence, drawing the last curtain over my eyes.
Yet stars will watch at night, and morning rise as before, and hours heave like sea waves casting up pleasures and pains.
When I think of this end of my moments, the barrier of the moments breaks and I see by the light of death thy world with its careless treasures. Rare is its lowliest seat, rare is its meanest of lives.
Things that I longed for in vain and things that I got - let them pass. Let me but truly possess the things that I ever spurned and overlooked.


I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery like a bud in the forest at midnight!
When in the morning I looked upon the light I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world, that the inscrutable without name and form had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother.
Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me. And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away, in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.

So profound! One reading of these verses can put all anxiety to rest. Where else would you find it other than in India?

Having understood that death is a reality of life and the best way to deal with it is to accept it, I believe it is not at all necessary to guard children from the knowledge of death.
Aren’t lessons meant to last a lifetime imparted during childhood?…mother tongue, good behaviour, character… why not death then?

In fact what better time than childhood to disclose the most bitter truth of life when the resistance is least?

So does that mean everyone should be exposed to every reality of life?
What about sex? It’s a reality of life. Should children be exposed to sex then?
I believe they should not be… nature takes care of timely education…

How successful has the west been in protecting their children from exposure to sex?:-) That’s not a smile, that a snigger… that’s a sardonic smile…

Certainly the Panchatantra shields children from what they truly need to be shielded from!!!


Niva said...

living grows on a person, and with the realization that.. that is it, we are going to be gone, fading into the wind, leaving our loved ones here, our children, grandchildren, friends ...that's when it becomes hard to come to terms with death. And i would say it's in the basic human psyche and not something with east or west .., that's something intrinsic in the human evolution i guess. Though acceptance can serve to comfort us with "Death" as the law of nature, jus like "Birth" is... I guess it's something that every human will have a bitter anger towards... Interesting Post.

Sowmya said...

Accepting death as an eventuality makes living comfortable. And I believe there is a difference in the attitude towards death that people in the east and west have. I have researched this. Trust me :)