Readers Write In #241: When Lord Krishna and Woody Allen met on my account!

Posted on August 11, 2020

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(by G Waugh)

Arjuna, the warrior felt deeply uncomfortable about taking on his rivals, the Gauravas who were his siblings after all. He was much worried about fighting is own Guru Dronacharya who treated him like a son. It was a deep dilemma for Arjuna. He simply couldn’t pick his bow and begin fighting the war he was supposed to.

You weren’t the one who volunteered to play dice with Duryodhan and Shakuni; you weren’t the one who lost the game; you weren’t the one who pulled the sari of Draupadi in the court at the time of her menstruation; you weren’t the one who was consulted about the future course of action at any point in time by your brother; you weren’t the one who was responsible for your fourteen-year exile. When Duryodhan refused to return your rightful kingdom after the exile, you weren’t empowered to do anything. He was the one who was responsible for bringing you into the battlefield and this war did not happen at all because of you. You are here not because you willed or you made a mistake. But; you have a duty to do here. You are bounden by your family to fight for the cause of your brother, to avenge the enemy on behalf of your wife. So don’t think too much about yourself. You are just a pawn in this game. Do what you have to do and think about nothing

This was what Krishna meant when he lectured his friend-pupil when the great warrior was stung by pangs of conscience and sympathy for his erstwhile relatives. In the context of the story, these are things which were very clear and apparent right from the first, but Krishna’s timely reminder of what happened before helped Arjuna to see reason and proceed with his duty.

But Krishna’s lecture to Arjuna brings more to the reader of the epic than his friend-pupil in question.

***

There is a famous line in Woody Allen’s 2005 film Match-Point

‘The man who said “I’d rather be lucky than good” saw deeply into life. People are afraid to face how great a part of life is dependent on luck. It’s scary to think so much is out of one’s control. There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.’

This quote could be seen as a logical extension of what Krishna tells Arjuna. There are a lot of things in one’s life that are beyond his control. Just like how the war was not certainly Arjuna’s making, various situations in our lives too are not dictated by our will.

A decade back there was a time when in spite of my best efforts I couldn’t score my best in most of my engineering papers. I used to spend more than a month for every paper, referring to foreign and local authors as may be necessary, frequently studying in depth certain topics which could add to my overall understanding of the subject, shun television watching for atleast a few days before the exam and sometimes study for the exam without sleeping at all.

But at the end, when the results came the figure of 36 was all I could reach in spite of these back-breaking efforts. And my parents were too worried about my performance all the time. At the end of the course when I had cleared close to fifty papers, in spite of so much dynamism that I brought into my preparation for the exams, the numbers hardly reflected my efforts and my accumulated knowledge in engineering.

When you belong to a middle class family in India and when the engineering course is the only route available to prosperity and future well-being, a mediocre performance in your field of study is often deemed ‘a shame’ by your relatives and neighbours. If you are not able to do well in engineering, you were often considered a burden to the planetary ball on which you were living. Needless to say, I was taking all those criticism to my heart and inflicting serious injuries upon myself.

In many ways, this led to a deep loss of self-esteem which later reflected in my performance as a software engineer at work as well. For close to half a decade, I was carrying all these baggage of inferiority with me all along and I was trying to find ways to improve my own competence in areas where it was found lacking. But even in the software industry, the same story continued. After a point, I began to realize something. I was the only one among my friends who was doing all the hard work, trying to catch up with them who simply came out with flying colors without much ado yet failing time and again to join their league. One of my friends one day asked me, ‘Why are you being so unkind to yourself? You strain yourself physically and mentally and when you fail, you chide yourself again and inflict even more harm to yourself. What’s the point? I can understand if you don’t work hard enough and blame yourself for your laziness. But you clearly are not so, you do more than whatever is required and I don’t understand why you are more worried about the results.’

So this is where something struck me. I was someone who used to do extremely well in English, Tamil and History in school. In matriculation exams, even if my overall percentage was 88, my marks in these subjects were above 90. In Plus Two Board Exams too, my marks in English and Tamil were close to a staggering 95. When I joined Engineering on account of societal compulsions, a field where proficiency in language is literally of no use, in spite of my best efforts I remained only in the average league. So what did all these points add up to? I wasn’t made to do Engineeringat all. My place rather belonged in the Arts or the Science and Humanities fold but I was condemned to live somewhere which simply wouldn’t accept me into its fold.

I should have realized this long back and should have discontinued and moved on to arts or some other course that would interest me. But my financial status wouldn’t have allowed me doing that. There was another reason as well. I got more than 90 percent overall in my Plus Two Board Exams and I lived in a society which made fun of people who chose Arts with such a good score in their schooling. So here was me cornered into a difficult situation. The only thing that I could have done is to study well what I was forced to- engineering. And the best way to do so could have been without overworking myself. I should have studied only to the extent that was mandated and sit and not care much about results. I should have told myself, ‘You are sitting here by mistake and even if you fail, it is not your fault. After all, you have done already what you had to do and if you are getting less marks, it is because your field of interest is somewhere else. There is certainly no need to confuse your marks with your self-esteem.’Simple.

So this is where I become the Arjuna. When India decided to liberalize its economy, it wasn’t me who decided that software industry shall be the field where future Indians must work. When MGR introduced a Single Window System for Engineering Colleges as to make them available to everyone, it was not me who mooted the proposal in his cabinet. When my father who learnt about these trends in economy and the job market, it wasn’t me who wrote the newspapers he read. So a lot of factors sat together to conspire my initiation into engineering and I literally had no role in deciding what was good for me. The best thing I could have done is to have given my bestwherever I was thrust into and left it to those unknown factors to decide whatever happened next.

This was precisely what Krishna told Arjuna in his famous lecture that came to be called Gita later.

***

There is only so much you can do. The rest is all luck’. This was Woody Allen.

And that so much is your duty. Don’t ever forget to do that and leave the rest to fate’. This was our Krishna.