Monday, March 28, 2011

Lie to me O Vibhishana

Recently I have started to watch an interesting TV serial called Lie to Me by Fox network. (yeah, I hear you, how ironic!). Its about a detective agency, Lightman Group, led by Dr. Carl Lightman, finding truth via applied psychology predominantly studying facial expressions. The facial expressions, or microexpressions to be precise, of protoganists are butted with the help of similar expressions exhibited by celebrities and politicians, which are pretty convincing at times, not to mention the good humor. The script is really sharp as well as the apt references to the celebrities and politicians capturing the moment of rubbing their noses or twitching their ears. Obviously there are espisodes with unnecessary elements that feels like "filling up" the one-hour episode, but most of the time the script manages to keep one's attention.

"A demon kidnaps a Queen. The King and his army destroy him. If only Ramayana were that simple."

This is how Amar Chitra Katha advertises its illustrated story book Ramayana. What a lovely one-liner! Of course the book has to cut several corners to make the story simple and to confine in 60 pages, but the original Ramayana (in whatever form we have now, I am not getting into the debate of what was the original-original version by Valmiki) contains fascinating descriptions of human tendencies.

Growing up, no kid can be not awed by Hanuman's superhuman strength, bravery and exploits. Be it the ever-entrenched image of Hanuman carrying the mountain in the APT parcel trucks, leaping to Sun thinking of it as a mango, or setting Lanka to fire with his tail - his exploits form a fertile core of any child's imagination. But after a while, the "Santa Claus" reality sets in, and one starts to look beyond the superhuman strengths. Only now, a more powerful picture begins to emerge as one reads through the original slokas, oozing with juicy details - that of Hanuman's supreme intelligence. Time and again, even in the smallest of incidents, his intelligence sparkles like a diamond and uplifts the story to a new level.

One such relatively minor, but very important incident is the surrendering of vibhIShaNa to rAma. Various accounts simplify this incident so much that it appears like vibhIShaNa came and begged Rama and the latter just accepted him. ACK for eg, devotes 3 pictures for this incident. But in the original story, this incident runs upto 149 slokas, with various monkey counsellors offering different insights and advices to Rama. Rama listens patiently to everybody and makes his own decision, justified by his own dharma. Reminds me of the Hindi proverb, "suno sab ki karo man ki".

After all the monkeys give their opinions and tell Rama "do this, do that", finally speaks Hanuman and gives a brilliant analysis of vibhIShaNa. His thought process is so unobtrusive with striking clarity, it makes me wonder why this is story is not part of MBA courses. If I were a tenured MBA professor, I would ask the students to do a comparitive psycho-beneficial analysis of a merger with a rebel following a breakout in a familial company. Just kidding. No, I was serious.

But our main focus is the beauty of Sanskritam, so I'm going to present a few beautiful sloka-s. While the original sloka is provided, I have rewritten a few of them into prose format, to show that Ramayana, as they say, is indeed atIva saralaa and madhura manjulaa.

न वादान् न अपि संघर्षान् न आधिक्यान् न च कामतः ।
वक्ष्यामि वचनम् राजन् यथा अर्थम् राम गौरवात् ॥

हे राजन्, हे राम, न वादान् न अपि संघर्षान् न आधिक्यान् न च कामतः वचनम् वदामि । गौरवात् यथा अर्थम् (वचनम्) (अहम्) वक्ष्यामि ।
O king! O Rama! I am not talking for arguments sake, nor for competition, nor for superiority, nor out of passion but on account of importance of this matter.

अर्थ अनर्थ निमित्तम् हि यद् उक्तम् सचिवैस्तव ।
तत्र दोषम् प्रपश्यामि क्रिया न हि उपपद्यते ॥

तव सचिवै: यद् उक्तम् अर्थम् अनर्थ निमित्तम्, तत्र दोषम् पश्यामि । अत: न क्रिया उपपद्यते ॥
I am perceiving an error in what was advised by your counselors assigned to look into advantages and disadvantages. It is not possible to judge his character that way.

ऋते नियोगात् सामर्थ्यम् अवबोद्धुम् न शक्यते ।
सहसा विनियोगो हि दोषवान् प्रतिभाति मे ॥

नियोगात् ऋते सामर्थ्यम् अवबोद्धुम् न शक्यते, (परन्तु) सहसा विनियोग: दोषवान् इति मे प्रतिभाति ।
Without entrusting any work, it is not possible to understand his ability. Also one cannot entrust a work sooner to a stranger.

अशक्यः सहसा राजन् भावो वेत्तुम् परस्य वै ।
अन्तः स्वभावैर् गीतै: तै: नैपुण्यम् पश्यता भृशम् ॥
O king! Without possessing a high skill of reading his diversified tones, it is not possible to understand his intentions.

न त्वस्य ब्रुवतो जातु लक्ष्यते दुष्ट भावता ।
प्रसन्नम् वदनम् च अपि तस्मान् मे न अस्ति सम्शयः ॥
I am not seeing any bad intention at all in his talk. His face is bright. A deceitful person does not approach so fearlessly and confidently. His expression too is not bad. Hence, I have no doubt in him.

आकारः चाद्यमानो अपि न शक्यो विनिगूहितुम् ।
बलाद् हि विवृणोति एव भावम् अन्तर्गतम् नृणाम् ॥
It is not possible to hide the facial expressions, even if it is concealed. The internal intent of the person certainly gets revealed by itself.

One interesting word here is bhaavam. From the root bhU - being, bhAvam means "the state of being". Hanuman observes that it is not possible for one to hide one's own internalized state of being.

Thus Hanuman studies two important details - voice modulation and facial expression, which no other monkeys observe. He does not go by words of vibhIShaNa, but goes right into his heart. Finally he concludes his speech in style, second to none of modern software consultants:

"O Rama the best among the wise! I have told this to the best of my ability about vibhIShaNa. After hearing my words, you are indeed the final judge of the issue."

Hanuman's approach is very clinical - first he states the purpose of his own speech, points out the logical errors of others, digs vibhIShaNa's presence, throws in a few quotes, examines his real purpose (ie to become King of Lanka), studies his body language, presents the facts to his manager and finally allows him to make a decision!


Source materials have been taken from the website and the Gita Press edition of Valmiki Ramayana.


Sathya Srinivasan said...

Interesting post! I never realized that Ramayana contained so much richness and detail, often glossed by interpretations. No wonder it's an epic!

Hanuman's qualitative observations are interesting. It resonates the Tamil proverb 'agathin azhagu mugathil theriyum' or even to some extent Thiruvalluvar's 'epporul yaar yaar vaai ketpinum approul meipporul kaanbathu arivu'. Here the 'meipporul' could mean the 'true meaning' (mei = unmai) or 'body language meaning' (mei = body)!

The final disclaimer is excellent and truly deserved because he was making a qualitative statement and not a quantitative statement!

Very impressive to see this in a text that's thousands over years old and still be highly relevant.

Vasu Srinivasan said...


Yes, "agathin azhagu.." is a very apt description of science of body language.

Reference to "meipporul" as a body language is very remarkable, never thought of it before. Quite possible Tiruvalluvar meant it that way.

There are other incidents too where Hanuman exhibits superlative intelligence. For example, when he sees sItA from the tree, he goes into a very profound if-then-else analysis to decide before speaking to her. May be some other time to blog that.

Critic said...

wonderful Vasu. There are so manu things to learn from our great epics. Thanks for letting me know about these small yet wonderful things.