How does one imagine the new, or is it a vision that comes to a mind that is neither projecting itself nor meekly following another? Is there an intent that we are born with? These were questions that came up often during the Mahabharata Immersion. So it came as no surprise to us when the last group came up with an innovative possibility. They were exploring arjuna, and started the process with a very new idea: kunti goes to karNa and tells him of his birth, begs his forgiveness and seeks his generosity, “spare my children, your brothers” she asks. In our exploration, karNA says “I will first have a conversation with arjuna and draupadi”
What did it take for kunti to finally own up her abandoned son? Did she think of him ever? What is he intention? Is it to stop the war or secure victory for the sons she has always owned up? None of these questions could be explored or answered. The actors who attempted to step over the threshold of the known were quickly pulled back to the unresolved and unbearable hurts of the past. karNa seeks a restoration not of his status but of self that has called out in despair for some one to affirm it and honour it. The child of soorya has remained in the shadows for all his life. No compensation can suffice. His pain is unbearable now that he knows who he is. karNa is unable to let a new conversation begin. arjuna tries to envision a new possibility, but karNa is deaf to it, and soon recriminations and counter recriminations fly unhindered! “I have to let go all my cherished ideas about myself, my world view as much as you have to step outside of your refuge” arjuna begins. draupadi adds her bit, “I too must look at you without the hate I have held for you” she adds. But the air is soon poisoned by the demands for the impossible, a turn back of the years, a drawing out of the pain of discrimination and denial.
The group was completely stunned as were the actors. The deeply buried hurts and years of repressed yearning to be seen and affirmed and appreciated came bursting forth. The ‘old’ was insistent in its demand that its residues must be attended to, the unresolved must be acknowledged and the disowned must be embraced. One of the protagonists who works with the problem of trafficking and prostitution shared his context, how incredibly difficult it is to help the women scared by years of abuse to let go of the old identity. Neither her family nor the community will really create a new space, nor can she look at herself without her own judgement (internalized from society no doubt). The trishanku swargam of the kota with its own unique culture of celebrations and compensations seemed a better world. karNa finally preferred the love of duryOdhana to the possibility of an ending of the war and the beginning of a new life as the eldest pAndava!
As India tries to come to grips with its greatest affliction namely discrimination based on birth, can we look at this insight. The dalit who has been wounded by stigma has to be acknowledged and embraced as a human being with grace and dignity. Reservations and conversions to another religion do not wipe away her tears, they do not alter the psyche and make it whole. The ‘failure’ of the last group to find a new conversation was a huge eye opener for us.
So we come to karNa! The group chose to examine karNa through the encounter he has with his father soorya and the subsequent encounter with indra disguised as a poor brahmana. Being owned up by the father is a shock. It offers an opportunity to karNa to step out of the constructs which he has created for himself: one of a sootaputra stigmatized and victimized for something beyond his control, and the other of being the epitome of generosity, the kodaivallal, and the third as duryOdhana’s friend, eternally grateful for the gift of angada desham. As the actors entered these characters and struggled within, all of us were deeply touched by the poignancy of the situation. karNa could not step out of the one self construct that was truly of his making, the generosity personified. He gives away his kavacha and kundala, he cannot say no to indra!
karNa is a favourite among us Indians. Late Prof. Pulin K Garg (IIM A) used to say that the central issue for understanding the Indian psyche is to understand the nature and dynamics of denial, discrimination and deprivation. karNa is the arch archetype of all three converging in one person. karNa has always known that he was worthy deep down in the recesses of his heart, but he was reminded of his unworthiness as a stigma of birth. The compensation he received from duryOdhana who made him the angada raja was after all a proxy identity that only reinforced the denial, discrimination and deprivation. The desperate struggle to come to terms with a fresh new possibility, of being affirmed at a very deep level, a secret that karNa held to himself was too scary. karNa held on to the one construct he had built, his bulwark of affirmation that he was worthy, one that he had acquired through his greatness of spirit. All the group reflections centered around these aspects.
How deeply each of us seek affirmation of our being, and how profound and secret are the wounds that we retain when this is not forth coming? And yet we know in our hearts the gifts we are born with. Perhaps the courage needed to affirm ourselves as we know we are and assert our being from that foundation is several times more than the effort required to hang on to compensations and proxy affirmations, how ever painful this effort may be.
My work revolves around helping individuals, groups and organizations discover their Dhamma, and become “the best they can be”. This aligns with my own personal saadhana. I have restated this question for my self as follows: “how can I be in touch with the well spring of my love for the world and my love for my self simultaneously”