Bhagavadgita as conceived by ‘Khattar’ Uncle

Hari Mohan Jha

Khattar Uncle saw Bhagavadgita in my hand and said, “You seem to read the Gita these days, my son? If you do, I must keep off from you.”
Surprised, I said, “Why, Uncle?”
“Look, young man. Initially, Arjuna was all love and affection. ‘These are my brothers, these are my uncles and he is our grandfather. How do I fight against these persons?’ he thought and hesitated. After drinking the savam (nectar) of the Gita, he rained arrows at his old grandfather, making a sieve of his chest. That’s why if a problem stares at you, turn indifferent, like Arjuna, and think – ‘the soul cannot be destroyed by the arrows or weapons, or fire cannot set it ablaze,’ and believing that ‘since Uncle’s soul cannot be destructed by any weapon, why not hit him with a long axe’ and then if your aunt cries, console her by saying, ‘….’
“And you say, ‘Aunt! Uncle’s body has been transformed. He has acquired a new body. So it’s time you felt happy and celebrated the naming ceremony.’
“And if the younger lot in the village followed the Gita, it would become difficult to say how many uncles would be killed and how many aunts would be rendered widows. That’s why I must keep away from you. If you are indeed fond of reading, read ‘Gita Govindam’ instead. Don’t fancy reading the Gita.”
“Uncle, it’s said that the Gita advocates non violence and renunciation. Isn’t that true?”
“Arey! What I know is this. If after the Gita discourse, Arjuna had thrown off the Gandivam and wore saffron clothes, removed the sheath and picked up kamandal, left Kurukshetra for Varahakshetra, then I would have agreed that the Gita preaches non violence and renunciation. But instead of this, Arjuna, like the Matsya Yantra, began to chop off the heads of relatives and friends.
“Arey, these days, people are out with spears and lances for no reason at all. And if they hear the Gita, then every village would turn into Kurukshetra. That’s why I fold my hands and say don’t read the Gita when you are young and hot-blooded.”
“Uncle, but the preacher of the Gita thought differently, didn’t he?”
Uncle was irritated. “How do I know the other view? Was the preacher not there in the chariot as the charioteer? If he wanted to preach non violence, why didn’t he divert the chariot from the battlefield? And why didn’t he say – ‘Arjuna, after my revelation to you that the body is ephemeral and that the world is worthless, why hanker after Hastinapur? It would one day become a part of the rubble. Why do you allow blood to flow? The worldly pleasures are despicable. Don’t covet the kingdom. Does it behove you to shoot arrows at your old grandfather and the revered Drona for the sake of the kingdom? What if you don’t fight this war? The world would merely laugh at you that you ran off the battlefield despite being a Kshatriya. That’s all, isn’t it? But a man of wisdom shall not be affected by praise or scorn. Just leave this dispute. Come away with me to the Himalayas.’ He didn’t say any of these. Instead, he coaxed him to fight. Yet, you think the Gita preaches non violence and renunciation. Huh, what sense? And, what knowledge?”
“Uncle! Many important people are seeking to establish peace in the world through the Gita. But you, on the contrary, see only a message of war in it. Why this dichotomy?”
Uncle smiled and said, “Have you heard our epic ‘Alha’? Those who recite it would make the listeners’ adrenalin rise rapidly and stoke passions and proclaim, ‘Finally, whatever god has destined would happen. One day everybody has to depart.’ Roused by these exhortations, many in the past sacrificed their lives. In the Gita too I hear the same message.
‘The bodies in which the soul resided surely have to die some day but the soul never perishes. It’s indestructible. So, Arjuna, fight.’
“I don’t like the logic that since death is inevitable, die today.”
“Uncle, what God said is that the soul never dies,” I said.
“If the soul has no death, why is a murderer sentenced to death by hanging? And, Srikrishna lectures to Arjuna like this-
‘The wise mourn not for those who are alive and they mourn not for those who die.’
“But where did such realisation disappear when Abhimanyu was killed?
‘There is no birth or death for the soul. It was there some time and wasn’t there at some other time. It doesn’t change. It’s permanent. It always exists in its own form. Death is for the body, not for the soul.’
“If this was true, why did he have to resort to such deception in order to take revenge on Jayadratha? Then –
‘The sage who is unaffected by sorrow, who has no craving for desires and who is bereft of affection, fear and anger is a person of equanimity.’
“I know you are still too young to understand all these things but why did he forget this?”
I said, “Uncle! This sloka is famous, isn’t it?-
‘The Upanishads are the cows. Krishna, the cowherd milks them. The milk is the nectar of the Gita. Arjuna, who was brave, drank this milk.’”
Uncle laughed and said, “Yes, Arjuna was innocent like the calf. That’s why Krishna prevailed upon him to wage the war, didn’t he? In a way, the Gita was meant to fool Arjuna. Srikrishna was keen on the engagement. He patted Arjuna’s back. And as the war progressed, he watched it in amusement. Krishna’s blue colour enveloped Arjuna so much that the whole race was set afire.”
“Uncle, Arjuna fought the war disinterestedly and not with an eye on the kingdom.”
Uncle said sarcastically, “True. That’s why he has transferred Hastinapur kingdom to you, hasn’t he? Arey, if he was disinterested, would he have got coronated stained with the blood of hundreds of his cousins? O! Delhi! The fort is red until today because of the blood shed there!”
“Uncle! You’re great. You have digressed, haven’t you?’
Uncle was not the one to let things go. He continued, “Look. Krishna was keen on the war. Arjuna had no mind of his own. So, Krishna went on telling whatever came to his mind. ‘Body is ephemeral. So fight. Soul has no death. Therefore, fight. You’re a Kshatriya. So fight. If you don’t fight, you’ll be blamed. So, fight.’”
Uncle smiled and resumed. “Krishna preaches Arjuna that for a Kshatriya, it’s better to die in the battlefield than to run away from it. But he couldn’t fight Jarasandha and ran off to Dwaraka. That’s why even now he’s known as ‘ranchod’. Advising others is a scholarly activity! And, did Arjuna have the sense to stand up to him? No. He heard him intently. When even after hearing everything, Arjuna failed to understand, Krishna showed him his ghoulish self implying, ‘If you don’t understand my words, understand at least after this.’
“I recall once your aunt wished to have a dip in the Ganga waters at Kashi. A child of five years of age, who was with her then, was hell bent on going with her. I tried to dissuade him a lot saying, ‘Don’t go. The current in the river is strong; that children will get carried away by the stream; that there are crocodiles in the water and they will catch you.’ When he didn’t relent for long, I put on the mask of the demon in Ramaleela and scared him off. The moment he saw that he became sensible. I don’t see much difference between that child and Arjuna.”
“Uncle! There’s so much jnana yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga (knowledge, devotion, action) in the Gita. Is that not so?”
“The aim of all yogas is this. Fight the war. Kill the Kauravas. In order to prepare Arjuna for the war, Krishna wove a huge web of nishkama karma (action without expecting any reward) and anasakta yoga (act disinterestedly). Once Arjuna’s mind was caught in that web, Krishna made him dance to his tune. But a sensible person would not fail to notice Krishna’s trickery.”
“But I can’t understand why Krishna, the God, had to fool Arjuna?”
“Are you alone in saying this? Not at all. Even the renowned scholars failed to understand this. But I do clearly understand this. Krishna says –
‘Arjuna! If you die, you will go to heaven. If you win, you’ll enjoy princely comforts. Either way, it’s beneficial to you. Therefore, with determination, wage the war.’”
Uncle smiled and said, “Arjuna had not studied logic. That’s why he got caught in the net of the two paths. If it were me, I would have asked, ‘Hey! Ocean of kindness! Beside these two, there could be a third consequence also. If Arjuna was caught and imprisoned, then what? Neither heaven nor kingdom. Wouldn’t it mean that he would have been finished off?’ But Arjuna could only see the straight path. What if the god had encountered a logician? I would have asked, ‘My Lord. When all the desires are futile, why do you allow the chariot to roll?’
“Uncle, you have fetish for questioning the logic of everything, don’t you?”
“Why not? This is the chief occupation in our country, isn’t it? Who else has such subtle sense to both condemn and support the same thing?”
Cracking the nuts, Uncle said, “Look at what Krishna said at one place-
‘Whoever endures pleasure and pain alike, treats mud, stone or gold alike, likes and dislikes alike, is a brave person.’
“At another place, he says this-
‘The world will remember your infamy forever. For an honourable person, infamy is more painful than death.’
“Once, he teaches anasakta karma like this-
‘Get ready for the war presuming that pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat are one and the same. Then, sin will not attach to you.’
“Then he entices him with victory –
‘So Arjuna. Get up. Earn fame. Conquer the enemies and enjoy the bountiful kingdom.’’
“Now you tell me. If pleasure, pain, victory, defeat, fame and infamy are all equal, why should god entice one with victory and fame?”
I kept mum. Uncle said, “Arey! I ask you this thing. God says –
‘God pervades in every heart and because of his maya he makes people act like puppets.’
“If this was true, where was the need to create so much commotion? He could have straightway hurled the disc. The matter would have been settled. What was his wish before Arjuna’s? Why did he say, ‘Do as you wish?’ If that was his intention, he should have stood by his word. Instead, why did he say this? –
‘Leave all dharma to me and surrender to me. You will be rid of all sins.’
“Arey! These are the words of pandas and missionaries. Does it behove a god to talk like this? If this is what he finally meant to say, where was the need for seven hundred slokas? In one sloka he could have simply said this –
‘O! Arjuna I command you to wage the war.’”
“Uncle, to the extent I know the Gita speaks of nishkarsha, nishkama karma, action without any expectations.”
“Arey! That’s what I can’t understand. How can a work which is wished and done be nishkama? Whatever is done and whoever it is, it’s done with some expectation. Right? The desire to renounce all desires also is a desire, isn’t it? Nishkama karma is a contradiction in terms.”
“Uncle, who am I to question your logic? But a renunciate will have no desire, would he?”
Uncle smiled a little and said, “Child, I haven’t come across a single jeevanmukta, one who has attained liberation from the present life, until now. If I found one, I would have beaten him with a stick and would have measured his equanimity. Arey! These are all good for nothing words.”
I asked solemnly, “Do you mean to say that God preached the Gita only in order to drive Arjuna to fight the war?”
Uncle laughed loudly. He put a pinch of nut powder in the mouth and said, “Arey! In which world are you living? These are all the creation of the poets. The poet needs some subject to demonstrate his poetic skills. One wrote ‘Ramagita’ with Rama as the protagonist; another ‘Sivagita’ with Siva and yet another ‘Gopigita’ with gopikas. Likewise, someone wrote Bhagavadgita to demonstrate his knowledge in the backdrop of the Kurukshetra battle. Answer this: Who had the time to say, or hear a discourse of eighteen chapters in the backdrop of such a mighty battle? Was the large army doing pranayama in tratika pose during that period? Were Sanjaya’s eyes fitted with television? The poet needed some excuse to display his knowledge of Sankhya yoga or Vedanta. That is manifested in the Gita.”
“Is it your view that the Gita is of no use?”
Uncle smiled and said, “Why not? It helps promotion of family planning. That’s the use.”
“In what way?”
“Listen to this message of the Gita –
‘You have the authority only to perform your duty. Never on the result.’
“This embodies the mantra of prevention of birth.”
I was utterly surprised and said, “How, uncle?”
“Just go on doing your work. Don’t expect a reward. Is that not the message? Here the meaning of reward has to be construed as ‘children’. How can I be more explicit with you? After all, I’m your uncle.”
“Uncle! Every word of yours is laced with humour. The Gita preaches action without expectation of any reward, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, son. If this precept is implemented, there can never be a revolution in the country. What use is a ball of jaggery to the oxen of the oil mill? If this knowledge is internalised by the labourers, why would there be a strike in the factories? But right now the maxim of the Gita is followed in the reverse.
‘You have a right only on the fruit; none on the action.’
“To obstruct this nishkarsha bhoga argument, the country needs karma as also its result at the same time to take the country forward. Such gita would be produced not in the Kurukshetra but in the krushikshetra. Because of that Gita Kuru dynasty came to an end. Because of this gita, another kuru (work ethic) mantra will rise. Then only our national song ‘sujalam, safalam, sasyashyamalam’ would have any meaning.
“The future generations will ask this –
‘In the pious land of Bharat, what was the occupation of our ancestors?’”

(English translation from Hindi by Mr. K. Chandrahas)