lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, March 30, 2008

You'll always be my baby

That does it, I thought. When your very own toyboy's eyes glaze over as you hold forth about something, it is time to blog about it and get it off the chest than bend ears.

To be frank, I talked to Chenthil about it and he sounded amused, in a 'Missus Em and her foibles' kind of way. I talked to another friend who called from London, and I could sense her falling asleep as I spoke. I raved at friends who visited me in the nursing home and they escaped citing visiting hours. I tried explaining why I was upset to my sister, who said she stood a better chance of understanding what some lady called Saroj Khan was teaching on the telly. It turned out to be Bollywood dancing. The lord and master said I'd get over it, and suggested I read some nice book to lift my mood. Then my toyboy's eyes glazed over.

There is no help for it but I have to inflict this on my readers. You are warned.

I'd been waiting for lo these many years to read some of the works by a favourite author that have been consistently out of print. These included a couple of novels, some plays of uneven length and some skits.

Now, my family knows about my obsession about this author, so my brother-in-law brought me a copy of the plays that he managed to acquire when he came to visit me in the nursing home. It wasn't his fault. In fact, he did stellar service towards keeping my mind off the pain of surgery because I was in an 'ancient Indian ancestry (12)'* fury over the plays.

Let's pass over the details, I don't want to froth at the mouth again. The plays would send people to sleep before the first scene ended, unless they were seething like me. I am only going to restrict myself to mourning sloppy usage from an author I always admired for 'le mot juste'.

bala, balaka, balika refer to children. balakrishna is baby or child Krishna. balakarna would be child Karna. Boys and girls below sixteen years of age could be referred to as bala, but that is a stretch.

Just think about this. Kunti had a child by the god Surya and abandoned him to a river (memories of Moses and the bulrushes, Huckleberry Finn and all). Then she got married, had more children, got widowed, and went to Hastinapura to bring up her sons and her co-wife's. Okay?

The author wrote a play with two imaginary scenes that decide Karna's loyalties early on. In one scene, Kunti recognises Karna walking down the street, invites him to her palace, gushes over him, and Arjuna comes in and acts all haughty and rude. In the next, Karna runs an errand for Duryodhana; the prince and his brother decide he is worthy of being in their retinue and befriend him. Bah! But still, the author is entitled to his imagination.

My grouse is with something else though. In the initial description of the scene and settings, the author says Kunti is talking to balakarna. After gnashing my teeth and raving about it, I sat and did a heroic thing. I did numbers; counting on fingers and toes, and asking the Resident Mathematician to check them later (the numbers, that is, not my fingers and toes). I wanted to arrive at a sensible figure, the reasonable number of years before Kunti could have met the infant she consigned to a river, and the difference of years between Karna and the Kunti's other children.

Kunti begat Karna by the god Surya, a boon she didn't want. Now the epics and Puranas, classics all talk of sadyogarbha and say she bore her son immediately. Sadly, sadyogarbha only means she conceived right away. Tryst and travail happening immediately after is fond imagining of people who refuse to think. Even if you assume that by some miracle she came to term immediately after her dalliance with Surya, she still had to go through childbirth; very likely, she had to go through the entire pregnancy too.

(A minor digression, do think twice before you use the word travail whether in singular or plural next time. Originally, it meant the concluding stage of pregnancy, from the beginning of contractions till childbirth. The secondary meaning is use of physical and mental energy, and hard work.)

Kunti couldn't have got back from consigning her infant to the river and traipsed off to marry Pandu in a swayamvara right away. There must have been a year or two at the least between the two events.

Then she went to Hastinapura to be queen. But journeys those days were long and arduous. There might have been carts drawn by oxen, but queens travelled in litters and much time was spent making and breaking camp. There were seasons to consider and rivers in flood and more.

Assume three years of marriage, happy or not, before she acquired a co-wife, Madri. Now Madri was as much a princess, if not more so than Kunti, so assume three years of being a co-wife that Madri got used to, too.

Then Pandu went conquering on behalf of his brother. Armies might march faster than bridal processions, but they still need provisioning, and provisions and baggage trains travel slow. Also, conquering isn't quite like walking down to the corner shop and buying groceries. It takes years.

Assume five years, or let's be generous and assume three years of conquering. Then Pandu came back and distributed the plundered wealth, Dhritarashtra performed sacrifices, and there was much rejoicing all round before Pandu got the hunting bug.

Even if we assume that the first animal Pandu shot at was the ill-omened deer, and he was cursed right away, there must have been a year before he retired to be an ascetic in the foothills of the Himalayas with his wives. He would have needed that much time to inform his family, take permission, and formally renounce the world.

He spent some years being an ascetic before he got to thinking about dying without heirs. It couldn't have happened overnight. Assume two years.

Even if Pandu convinced Kunti to beget children through niyoga quickly enough, and she bore three sons before the jealous co-wife wanted children too, so there was one more birth, this time of twins…clockwork though it could have been, it still must have taken some four years. More likely some six or seven years.

Some years passed while the children are described in the Sanskrit version of Mahabharata, and the Telugu version I am more familiar with, as flourishing and growing rapidly. They must have been older than toddlers, when Pandu tried to bed Madri and died.

Lamentations, debate with Madri about who should accompany Pandu on the funeral pyre, the cremation, going to Hastinapura with the children, all these take time. More lamentations and more funeral rites by Pandu's brother and nephews; it would all take time, too.

They would have to have been settled into a routine in the city before Kunti could have spotted Karna on the streets of Hastinapura, recognised him and invited him in.

Now tell me if the adjective bala was le mot juste.


Post Script: Tivi, please don't argue that these were semi-divine births and took no time at all. That still would lessen only four years from my estimate.



Blogger anantha said...

The whole miracle birth thing is so overrated. I think the ladies were pretty naive and the people who wrote of these "miracle births" probably were amnesiacs who lost track of the intervening months due to a blow to the head, possibly caused by the same men who were responsible for these "miracle births" :D

So I am pretty sure it was amnesia or all that "herbs" that were being smoked.

10:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I notice you refrained from mentioning Sripada by name, but back on form ranting at least, Lali. Now write a total fun piece about anagrams or something.

10:45 pm  
Blogger M S said...

What if people those days lived for around 200 years?
Might be Thirty-two years of age was referred to as bala then. :)

Le mot est juste alors?

11:53 pm  
Blogger Rimi said...

Of course, people are supposed to have lived longer, but there is that well-supported theory that the period now called years was somewhat shorter than the 365 we are used to.

And Lalita Mukhejea, I'm moste miffed. Did I not dutifully AND enthusiastically listen to this putticoolar rant and contribute to it and co-scoff at the shan't-think proclivities of people?

I shall now go to a corner and sulk.

12:30 am  
Blogger Rimi said...

Oh, and while le mot juste is not obscure, 'You'll always be my baby' is so much better for this post. Pass on my thanks to K, won't you? * grin *

12:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always a baby ? : )

And here I was assuming that ....


I call everybody who serves me food or drink in bench-by-the-roadside places balak. As in balak zara chai laana, balak ek aur beer lana ; )

Is more of an indicator of avuncular social status than mere age difference.

I would assume a lady would call somebody beta or balak more as indicator of being a generation above rather than meaning he was a mere stripling.

Just as some people claim you're still a babe to them : )

10:26 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Anantha- Since you agreed that miracle births are overrated, I am going to spare you the rant about these tales being recited and passed on and later written down by men, and how that might explain the glossing over trivia like pregnancy and labour. You are a sweetie pie.

Ash- And I notice that you have been and gone and taken the author's name. Bravo! I will rant and fume in anagrams too, so there!

M.S.- People might have lived longer, but even if we take Rimi's theory of shorter years into account, years passing are years passing. If you want to call a thirty-year-old bala, he must be the village idiot tripping on the 'herbs' Anantha mentioned.

Rimi- Darling, were the only one who listened. The rest fled. I will have to join you in the corner in a Dennis the Menace chair at this rate.

Hehhhhh- It is clear you didn't read the post carefully. I was bemoaning that the author, in describing the setting, said that 'Kunti is talking to balakarna, and was ranting about it.

I take umbrage at the word 'still' in your last sentence.

11:39 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:03 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not being an authority , I would maybe pin Kunti's first travail around the age of 13(?0. Remember in those days 13 was a ripe young age to get married and start on travails , dicsreet or otherwise . Maybe she had the swayamvara at 14 and we start from there .... so by the time she spots Karna she would be around , what ,45 ,46 ? And the maternal heart and voice would immediately call out "balakarna" despite the fact that the bala in question would be in his thirties ( by my reckoning , I hasten to add).
And if you are feeling indignant , look at how many Khokas and Babus there are around you .
As also children like Rimi ...

2:05 pm  
Blogger Sivaram Pothukuchi said...

The arithmetic of mahabharata and ramayana - not to talk of the geography, time and distance, seem to be quite different.

For one, in the beginning of Mahabharata, we have the birth of Veda Vyasa - Instant ! No travails here.

And then - Kurukshetra [ I quote ],
It has to be remembered that the Kaurava army consisted of 11 akshauhinis. An akshauhini was formed in the following ratio. 1 chariot : 1 elephant : 3 horse-mounted warriors : 5 infantry soldiers. One akshauhini therefore consisted of 21870 chariots; 21870 elephants; 65610 horse-mounted warriors and 109350 infantry. Multiply this number by 11 and you get the total strength of the Kaurava army. The Pandava army consisted of 7 akshauhinis.

Could any one place hold so much water for so many animals and men ?
How could Arjuna even locate a person in one day among so many lakhs ?

Look at ramayana - dasaratha is reputed to have ruled for over 50,000 years and going strong; he is heart-broken because Rama is going away for fourteen years ?

4:10 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Eve's lungs- You've missed the point too, I am afraid. My grouse was not about Kunti addressing Karna as bala, not at all. It was about the author, in describing the setting, using that adjective when it was clearly inappropriate.

And I don't think girls entering teens were sexually active in those days. They might get married off for political alliances, but active sex life only started after they attained their full growth and were sent off ceremonially to the husband's house.

As for children like Rimi, well, they make the world interesting, don't they?

Sivaram- You had to give me a headache first thing in the morning, eh? Citing big numbers and all.

But seriously, more than arithmetic, it is the geography that is frustrating. Who knows where exactly Hastinapura was, or Varanavata or Kampilya? Rivers change courses, and details in the epic are iffy. That is the reason why I gave up on writing my justification of Yudhistira's white lie. Geography, bah!

6:46 am  
Blogger Unknown said...

I did say I was not an authority on the subject, hence you may discount all I said about it . I bow to your superior knowledge .
As for children like Rimi ,I agree with you that they do make the world more interesting and I am very partial to the person under reference !

1:38 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Eves lungs- Hey, I didn't mean to offend. I am sorry.

So am I partial to the young person we are talking about. :-)Talk about living and learning, she educates me in unexpected ways.

4:24 pm  
Blogger dipali said...

I love the thought of your struggling with all the numbers to prove your point!
The author obviously didn't know he'd have to contend with you in the future:)

11:39 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Dipali- You cruel woman. It was such a major undertaking, I tell you, counting on fingers and toes and jotting down numbers, adding them up some four times before giving up and asking K.

4:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also said even if Kunti delivered Karna the natural way it would have been a premature birth thanks to the weight of the Kavacha kundalams - Same with Bheema too. I waited to post the comment till I was far enough away so you will not exert yourself to chase me. Ha

7:49 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Tivi- Hah, indeed. I said that Kunti probably consigned him to the river thinking he was deformed thanks to that natural armour and earrings. He must have made a repulsive infant, and all babies are startlingly strange at first glance, anyway. Not Bhima, though; his was a regular birth. It's a good thing you waited to post this comment, I'd have booked the ticket and escorted you to the airport and seen you checked in, ha.

10:16 pm  

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