Friday, December 16, 2011

The relativity theory of superiority

Everybody knows that Hanuman is very humble and always considered him only a daasa of Rama. But how humble was he? Can his humbleness be mistaken for weakness or lack of confidence?

Valmiki establishes the character of Hanuman in such a way that whatever action he took, that was possibly indeed the only best course of action. Throughout the course of sundara kanda, Hanuman makes numerous instant decisions that lead the story from one thrilling frame to another. The whole sundara kanda, frame-to-frame, is about how to take right decisions at the right time.

One such scene is when Hanuman takes departure from Sita. A simplistic retell of the story is just that Hanuman gets the cUDAmaNi from Sita and promises her that he will be back with Rama to free her. But in the details, Valmiki establishes a very deep analysis of human emotions in sorrow. Every dialog of which is something we can relate to easily in our lives.

In foreign lands, especially in remote towns, desis easily get excited by seeing one of their own. One may be from a remote village in South and another from Punjab. But in a foreign town of ten desis, language, religion and other barriers are forgotten and everyone instantly feels 'bhai-bhai'. After a long time, Sita has finally met someone who is acquainted with her husband. She naturally pleads Hanuman to stay secretly nearby for one more day, for it will console her to have someone nearby in the dreaded ashoka vana. Inspite of knowing Hanuman's exploits, she then carefully places a doubt whether Sugriva and his army of monkeys are capable of crossing the ocean and taking on the might of Ravana.

A very tricky question indeed. He has just crossed the ocean after a long journey, seen how huge, glorious yet intimidating Lanka is. He knows Rama is superior, he believes in his own strength, but he does not know the full strength of Ravana and his company yet. There is no indication he had given thought about how other monkeys can cross the ocean. Hanuman cannot say something like 'Yeah ma'm, we will try our best'. He has to completely reassure Sita of the capabilities.

The sequence of arguments he puts forth is very logical. He first mentions the leader, Sugriva is completely committed to the cause (of freeing her). Then he mentions the number of monkeys in his army (thousands of crores of monkeys). That sheer number should give confidence to Sita. Then he mentions their overall qualities - power, perseverance and loyalty to Sugriva. He finally puts forward a statement thats unbelievably astonishing, that silences any doubt of not only Sita, but even the reader.

मत् विशिष्टाः च तुल्याः च सन्ति तत्र वनौसः ।
मत्तः प्रत्यवरः कश्चिन् न अस्ति सुग्रीव संनिधौ ||

mat vishiShTaaH ca tulyaaH ca santi tatra vanausaH |
mattaH pratyavaraH kashcin na asti sugrIva saMnidhau ||

अहम् तावत् इह प्राप्तः किम् पुनः ते महाबलाः ।
न हि प्रकृष्टाः प्रेष्यन्ते प्रेष्यन्ते हि इतरे जनाः ॥

aham taavat iha praaptaH kim punaH te mahaabalaaH |
na hi prakRuShTaaH preShyante preShyante hi itare janaaH ||

All other monkeys are either equal to me or above me in valor. There is no one inferior to me in Sugriva's army. If I could come here in one leap, what to say about others? Superiors are not sent for errands, only the inferiors are, isn't it?

Hanuman was hand picked for this task by none other than the great Jambavan, further entrusted personally by Rama, purely on the basis of his most superior ablities. Yet Hanuman turns it around completely the other way, quoting that only inferior people are sent for errands, which for a moment makes perfect sense to console Sita. He does not say he is the most inferior - that would have shown lack of confidence. He says there is no one else inferior than him. He is humble, yet there is absolutely no lack of confidence.

Simply put, there is no other statement that would have quelled the doubt of Sita, than how Hanuman put it.
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