Monday, August 13, 2018

Moral of the story

As a kid, the words I used to dread were, 'So, tell me, what is the moral of the story?' Invariably, whatever I understood from the story turned out to be absolutely wrong and would end up with a long dreary lecture...when the adult telling the story is in a good mood, that is. When in a bad mood...well those were the 'Spare the rod and spoil the child' days, so I guess I do not need to say more.

So, yes, I did like to listen to stories but the thought of that question lurking around quite spoiled the joy, let me tell you. I mean it is all nice hearing about animals talking and all but, when all you were intending is to get entertained, it is really irritating to be expected to have learnt something from the doings of ants and parrots and lice and bedbugs. Quite makes you yearn for the physics lessons where, at least, it was clear whether you knew the answer or not (You know, like 'What is Boyle's law?' and you are sure that you cannot recognize it if it was served to you on a platter). I have a sneaking suspicion that most kids get driven away from reading fiction because they have not been able to get over the trauma of being asked for the moral of the story.

Like that tale about the ant and the grasshopper. Where the poor grasshopper comes starving in winter to the ant asking for some food and the ant asks it why it did not store food in summer. The grasshopper, being musically inclined, was so lost in singing that it had not found time for storing food. So the ant says, 'Now go and dance then'.

And up pops that damn question. My first try was 'Ants are cruel. I should stamp them when I see them'. Nope, that did not cut the mustard. My next attempt was 'Ants do not like singing. They prefer dancing.' That look on my dad's face, it somehow did not seem like appreciation, more like an interest in playing the drums on me. By now, thoroughly vexed and wondering why I ever was interested in listening to stories, I tried, "Singing is bad." And then the drums really started. So, that the moral of THIS story was 'There is a time for work and a time for play' was, shall we say, drummed into me.

So, yes, the net result was I developed a serious antipathy to ants. And grasshoppers too for if only the dratted things had stored food, there would never have been that story and I would have not known how the drum felt when it was used in a performance.

Came adulthood and I thought adults would always know the right morals of the stories. Surprise! Surprise! The only difference was that they did not run the risk of physical punishment that I ran. Otherwise...

Like, there was this tale from the Puranas about Tulsi. Her husband is a demon who is the scourge of the gods but cannot be killed as long as Tulsi is chaste. So, while he is at war with Shiva, with Shiva's trident attacking him in vain, Vishnu takes his form and seduces Tulsi. Thereupon Shiva kills the demon - Shankachud. Coming to know of the deceit practiced on her, Tulsi curses Vishnu to turn to stone. He takes the curse on himself and THAT is why the Shaligram stones are considered Vishnu.

Now, apparently, the Purana expected people to understand that to thus breach the chastity of a woman, for whatever reason, had to be punished even if it were done by Vishnu. (AND if that is the intent, I'd give the Nobel in literature to someone who can manage a story which communicates that 'moral' WITHOUT Vishnu seducing a woman in such a manner). That, though, is not how it works. A lady came around screaming that Hindu gods were always anti-woman. And, I am sure, there would be men claiming, "Why are you blaming me? Even Vishnu did it." as though it was meant as a precedent. (Strangely, though, they never get told the second half '...and was punished, and so will you be')

Essentially, if asked the moral of ANY story, almost invariably people get it wrong. Just like kids. People will understand only what they want to understand. They call it 'confirmation bias' or some such learned thing, I believe, which essentially breaks down to saying that they will first form a belief and then understand facts/incidents/stories in a manner that supports their belief. (If only I COULD use these terms...THEN I'd be considered wise, erudite and all sorts of things that make people go 'Awww", instead of the 'Yetch' that I normally get.)

If only I had known that as a kid...then I could have said, "Even you do not get the moral of the story right, so why pick on me?"

Not that it would have helped much. They would have only said, "Do as I say, do not do as I do" and continued with the drumming.

AND the moral of THIS story is...

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