Saturday, July 30, 2011

Who really cares for you? the bonds of affection - bandhuH

We all seek friendship, companionship, company, support system. That is what humans are - social animals. Many words of wisdom abound on the importance of having a genuine friend circle, social status, useful connections. Warnings against keeping false friends or making company of people with bad habits or ill intentions are seen everywhere.

In this little gem of a shloka by chANakya चाणक्य, which has been liberally quoted by many, including hitopadesha हितोपदेशः , we see a compass, a guiding principle, a measuring stick if you will, of who is a good 'relative', bandhu बन्धु, one is bound to us with affection and concern.

As we saw in an earlier post, there are many criteria of considering someone a father, a father-figure. Not just by birth, but a giver of daughter, food, life, fearlessness, knowledge etc are all considered as father-like.

Similarly, relatives or people 'connected' to you, bound to you with affection are not just those by blood relation. Usually it is the other way around. But, just like for father, let us see the attributes of a 'relative'. That is what bandhuH बन्धुः and bAndhavaH बान्धवः means. Or in other words, a kinsman, relative is not just by blood, but by their support to and concern for us.



Ature vyasane prApte, durbhikShe shatru-sa~NkaTe |
rAja-dwAre shmashAne cha yas_tiShThati sa bAndhavaH ||

आतुरे व्यसने प्राप्ते, दुर्भिक्षे शत्रुसंकटे ।
राजद्वारे श्मशाने च यस्तिष्ठति स बान्धवः ॥


āture vyasane prāpte, durbhikṣe śatrusaṅkaṭe ।
rājadvāre śmaśāne ca yastiṣṭhati sa bāndhavaḥ ॥

In sickness, misfortune, famine, danger from enemy,
royal appearance, and mortality one who stands by [you] is [really] a relative.



In times of disease or sickness (aature)
When we are sick with mental concerns or physical disease, who helps us? Do they make fun of us, make excuses to not help, avoid us? Call us names behind our back? Or do they help us to the extent of even taking time off from work to see our immediate needs are met? Are they at least understanding of us? Do they have patience for our troubles? This is first sign of someone you can call a relative, someone you can rely upon. Someone you can have on the speed dial!

In times of troubles (vyasane prApte)
Then there are times of trouble, not necessarily of sickness, but other kinds of disaster or misfortune. Like the day when our socks don't match or there is a run in the stockings! Jokes apart, it could be a financial crisis, accident, losing a job, robbery anything. It could be when you run out of salt and dash to the neighbor for a spoonful of salt for cooking the dinner. Or when you miss the last connecting flight and don't have a hotel reservation for the night! I am sure, you can think of much better examples from your own life. We all have our favorites.

In times of famine (durbhikShe)
Famine may seem such a thing of the past today in urban settings when grocery stores and WalMarts are open round the clock. Where does one see a famine anymore? Well, as recent as 1943 there was one of the biggest famine of recorded history, the Bengal famine, caused in a big way by the imperial Britain! The death toll from that famine was more than that of the two World Wars and Partition of India combined! And there is one going on right now (July 2011) in Eastern Africa. For history of famine see Wiki link for famine. In the pre-industrial era famine was not that uncommon, since food could not be transported so easily.

But when there is scarcity of food, one who shares his food, helps you survive the hard times is a bandhu. If money can help, then by lending or giving money, or if money can't buy then by giving actual food. There was a time when people used to store a year's worth of grain (rice or wheat). Today they store a month's worth bought in van-loads from Sam's club and stored in mega refrigerators. In case of famine or acute shortage in the market, one may dip in the reserves and help a friend.

In times of enemy danger/national disaster
There are at least two versions of the shloka. One by chANakya चाणक्य says enemy-danger, the others quoted use rAShTra-viplave (national disaster, state of emergency) राष्ट्र-विप्लवे .

So we have seen mental anxiety or physical sickness, affliction; crisis times; and shortage of resources and food. Enemy danger can be from an individual physical assault on the street to attack from enemy elements of the society or country. A terrorist attack or a war (proxy or not) would be considered as national disaster. Or a tsunami, earthquake or nuclear reactor disaster in Japan. And we have seen how the Japanese people helped each other, in stark contrast of Hurricane Katarina!

In India of chANakya चाणक्य, the times were of many external attacks. Alexander was coming from Greece. He may have been the first but certainly not the last. The traditional notion of keeping the war and battle away from civilians was also being challenged with foreign norms of 'Everything is fair in war' coming in. Causing civil unrest was becoming acceptable strategy to put extra pressure on the enemy. This maybe a reason why we find mention of this as an exceptable practice by chANakya his monumental work artha-shAstra अर्थशास्त्र. People have called chANakya shrewd and merciless in his political tactics. I think, having seen the new waves of indiscriminate war tactics, he had to harden his stand. His hard stands are only towards enemy of the state - internal criminals, cheaters and tax-evaders or external invaders.

In times of royal summon
There were times when people had to approach the king or were summoned by him. Today's equivalent would be a court summon, government directive or when one wants to approach the government for some cause, help etc. Very much like the era of kings, even today it helps to know people in the great bureaucratic machinery.There is even a Sanskrit maxim to the effect that even the weak can stop the strong when they [the weak] are protected by the king, as in case of border officer.

If the court of the law or the king has summoned you, who stands by you? To give a character witness, or use his connections to protect you? Today many people don't even want to get in 'police hassle' and would avoid it, forget about coming to help you. In such difficult times, one who stands by you, supporting you, is indeed your kinsman!

In times of death
There is no dearth of friends in good times! If you are in India, advertisements of Kingfisher alcohol claim to bring in good times, with many to share it. But who is there for us in bad times? As bad as death. Who stands by us in the cremation ground when there is a death in the family? Or even when the ceremony is for our own departure?

When someone is standing by us, supporting us in sickness or disaster or shortage of resources or attack from enemies, court summons or in times of death, that person is indeed worthy to be called a kinsman, a relative, related by concern if not blood.


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And now the language aspects -

Ature = आतुरे = in sickness
AturaH = sickness, affliction, one who is anxious.
-e ending makes it in [the event of] sickness

vyasane prApte = व्यसने प्राप्ते = in [times of] getting misfortune
vyasana = misfortune. bad habits.
prApta = gotten
prApte -e ending makes it 'in' misfortune

durbhikShe = दुर्भिक्षे = in famine

shatru-sa~NkaTe = शत्रुसंकटे = in times of danger from enemies
shatru = enemy
sa~Nkata = danger, crisis
hanumAn is called sa~NkaTa-mochana - one who frees from danger and troubles.

rAja-dwAre = राजद्वारे = at the royal gates
rAja = royal, when used as in compounded words, like rAja-mahala (royal palace) rAjapatha (royal road, highway)
dwAra = door, gate.
here it means when one has to appear before the court, king.

shmashAne = श्मशाने = in the cemetery, cremation ground.

cha = च = and

yas_tiShThati = यस्तिष्ठति = yaH tiShThati = who stands [by]
yaH = [one] who
tiShThati = stands [by you]

sa = स = saH = he
the visarga disappeared due to sandhi rules

bAndhavaH = बान्धवः = literally one tied, bound due to attachment and affection. a kinsman, relative

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(c) shashikant joshi । शशिकांत जोशी । ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः ।
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