The Mediator by Vivina Murthy

My grandfather was a good man, a great man. I was told that he was good and great; he could make a tiger and a goat drink from the same beach. My father told me this story frequently and he would go into raptures as he spoke. He said that I should also revel in the glory of our ancestors in the same manner.

I thought about it for a while. The Tiger has four legs. The goat also has four legs. The tiger’s blood is red and the goat’s blood also is red. The tiger breathes air and so also the goat. The tiger drinks water. And the goat drinks water too.

As long as I continued to draw similarities between the two animals, I was mesmerized even as my father hoped. I was enthralled with the thought that my grandfather and my family lived by the ideal, peaceful co-existence, which was essential for the peace and happiness of the entire world.

Then I gained my vision. Goat is food for the tiger and leaves are goat’s food. People run away at the sight of tiger. But if they see a goat, they go after her. I started noticing the differences on these lines. After that, I could not go into raptures for the things my father was rapturous ab I could not help asking myself how is it a great accomplishment—making the goat and the tiger drink water at the same beach? How is it possible? At one auspicious moment, I asked my father, “Nanna garu! Nanna garu! Thatha garu was a great man, right?”

“Yes.”

“He could make the tiger and the goat drink at the same beach, yes?”

“Yes.”

“How did that happen? And, why is it a great accomplishment?”

My father laughed. It was not the kind of laugh one would laugh at the other party’s ignorance. It was more like the laugh one laughs when one is happy that the other person is willing to learn.

Then he started explaining to me in detail.

Ramudu was a poor man. One day, he went to the king.

“Who’re you?” the king asked him.

“I am Ramudu.”

“Who’re you? You belong to what religion? And what caste?”

“I’m a poor man. I need a basket. I need ropes and such. Also shovels and tools, and animals.”

“Who’re you? Why do you need all these things?”

“I am a poor farmer called Ramudu. We need all these things for tilling this vast land, for farming and for feeding our families.”

“Ask Tavitayya, the basket-weaver, for a basket.”

“I did.”

“Ask Brahmayya, the rope-weaver, for ropes.”

“I did that too.”

“What did they say?”

“Oh, Mighty King, the provider for all people! They replied that I must ask you, who show work for all.”

The king was impressed with the farmer’s humility. He was pleased to note that people of all vocations would bow to his power.

The king made a note of the farmer’s needs and told him, “Farmer, farmer, I’ll have the wells dug, trees planted, wayside lodgings built; I’ll have the roads laid and castles erected; I’ll protect you from the robbers, kill the cruel animals. And, you, in return, must pay my share of the harvest. You must pay taxes.”

Ramudu nodded in assent.

Days went by and then several years.

Forests became townships.

Kings turned into stones at heart.

Farmers’ lives became desolate.

“You, farmers, farmers!”

“Yes, Rajah, Rajah!”

“New rulers have arrived. You must pay tariff.”

“Rajah, our grandfathers and their grandfathers told us that you must have the wells dug, trees planted, roads laid, wayside lodging built; you must protect us from the robbers and control the cruel animals. That’s what your grandfathers and their grandfathers did, we were told. You put an end to that tradition and you built more mansions for yourself, have more queens than any other king. You are using all these castles and the army to protect yourself. You are not taking care of people like Tavitayya, Tathayya, Brahmayya and Gopanna. You are not consulting with farmers like Ramudu. All the taxes we’ve paid are used up for your luxuries. Under the circumstances, we cannot pay the additional tariff imposed by your white rulers.”

“Oh, farmer, farmer! You are a little man and yet talking big. Foreign rulers have arrived. They measured the land, laid the boundaries, counted the birds and the beasts. They have determined the amount of taxes you’re obliged to pay—they raised the amount, lowered it and then finalized it. They said you had rented the land from me for the purpose of farming. They came up with the markers and defined the terminology. You must not tell me what I should do. You must not defy my order. That being the case, you must pay the tariff.”

Some people listened to him without argument. A few listened to him after they were beaten. And a few others listened to him only after they were beaten black and blue. At the end, they all broke up and disappeared.

Then, your great-great-grandfather gathered them all, shouted and yelled at them.

He said, “My grandfather’s grandfather stated that naa vishnuh prthvipathih.[1] Your grandfathers and great-grandfathers, all of them, had agreed, yes, yes.”

“So we heard.”

“Since the king is Lord Vishnu according to that statement, the king is obliged to attend to the needs of all his people, take care of them, and make sure they all are fed.”

“That’s what we thought.”

“Now, for our kings and us, the foreign ruler is an outsider. He is a ruler of several countries; he is extremely knowledgeable in several policies. For that very reason, he wishes to share his knowledge and power tactics with you. The bridges he is building belong to you; the railway tracks he has laid down are for your sake; the machines he is bringing are yours to keep, and the education you are receiving, thanks to him, is yours. He will show the path for those who behave, and find jobs as well. That’s why you all must cooperate with him; follow the rules he has laid for you. You must accept our kings as his representatives. You all must pay all the taxes imposed by him, dutifully.”

People did not make a sound; they did not assent to his proposal.

“You people, who’ve been battered and mangled until now, listen. This king is not a king anymore but your servant,” he said.

The people were elated at the thought that their king has become a servant.

The other kings were depressed at the notion that a king was called a servant.

Then your great-great-grandfather turned to the group of kings.

“Kings, oh, kings.”

“Yes?”

“You, who’ve been enjoying luxuries all along, would you become servants just because somebody said so? You have the power and we have the brains. As we join the two forces, we’ll win the public applause. The white rulers are sure to shower us with compliments!”

With that argument, the tiger bowed down and the goat also bowed down.

“That’s how your great-great-grandfather mediated and made the tiger and the goat drink from the same beach.

In this manner, things kept moving smoothly for a while.

One day, a businessman had a dream. He saw the goddess, Motherland, in his dream. Her bosom was trembling. She beat her chest with her fists as she spoke, “My babies! My riches!”

“Oh, Mother, what happened?”

“My children have become slaves. A foreigner robs me of my riches. Whatever happened to your education? What has become of your brains? Evidently the kings have fallen asleep but whatever happened to your prudence? Wake up, save me, my child!”

All the businessmen gathered and whispered to each other.

They all were troubled.

They raised a commotion.

“Our wealth is slipping away, Tavitayya, Tathayya, Gopayya! They are not allowing us to arrange our own adoptions, not allowing us to farm our own land, weave our own thread, nor let us eat our own food. They’re not letting us cherish our own cultural values.”

“Sir, we did not lose our ropes.”

“We did not lose our baskets.”

“No, we did not lose our shovels, tools, nor we lost our animals. No, no, no.”

“We sustained no loss.”

So saying, people did not listen to the businessmen.

They did not see the deplorable state of affairs the country is in.

They did not feel the smell of a dying flame.

Then the native rulers went into deliberations.

“We need a mediator.”

“We need a middleman who could treat them and us impartially.”

Then they sent for your grandfather.

“Oh, Mediator! Oh, impartial man! Commentator of all Vedas! Get up, Come on, Sir, come.”

“What, Rulers! What do you want me for?”

“We need your compassionate eye.”

“We need your sweet word.”

“What’s it? Rulers, Why do you need such things now?”

“The Goddess Motherland appeared in our dreams. She stood in front of us with stifled voice. She was upset because the kings were not focused on her welfare. You need to bring them together with your kind looks and sweet words. You must scare the white rulers and drive them away from the country. For that reason, you will have to wake up urgently; you’ve to save us.”

“I will, New Ruler sir.”

Then your grandfather rubbed on the old makeup on the new ideas; masked the old ideas with new makeup; put on sugary smiles and sansyasi robes; and, walked into the midst of the people. He felt their pulse. The people responded to his presentation.

Before the people picked up sticks and stones, the foreign rulers sent for the native rulers. “We’ve got a new kind of tigers emerging in the country now. They are cooking up a scheme against your power and our businesses. They’re rounding up the people.”

“You’re the rulers of many countries. You have been protecting our extravagant ways. What’s going to happen to our lifestyle now?”

“We’ll offer a share in our government. We’ll arrange a competition between your group and their group. We’ll support you and you support us in turn.”

“Oh, Your Highness! So be it!”

That’s how the government had been allocated. The native rulers met with your grandfather again. They begged him to show a feasible solution for them.

Then your grandfather met with the kings.

“People like Tavitayya, the basket-maker, and Tathayya, the rope-maker, are obsolete now. All the values that helped you to exercise your power over them are also gone. Hundreds of craftsmen like Tavitayya and thousands of workers like Tathayya are being rounded up in one place. They’re preventing the items produced by Tavitayya and Tathayya from reaching farmers like Ramudu. They’re also preventing the farmers’ goods from reaching the craftsmen. They are creating the circumstances in which both the craftsmen and the farmers become dependent on these middlemen. They’re also inventing new ways to keep the people under their control. You can stay alive only if you join hands with the native rulers. You will grow only if you understand the new ways. You will win only if you drive away the foreign rulers.”

Some of them listened.

A few said they’d think about it and get back to him.

Others said they’d meet separately for deliberations.

Thus your grandfather brought the new and the old tigers to a common ground. The foreign rulers left without feeling slightest pain.

After that, your grandfather lectured to the public, “They maybe tigers but they are also the watchdogs of your wealth. They’ll develop scientific knowledge for you; build bridges and several new varieties of temples. They’ll show you ways to make a living, teach you methods of devotion, and offer you redemption.”

“But they’re not giving us freedom,” one person from the crowd shouted.

A destructive element of the society, your grandfather called him. He also said to others that whipping him is patriotism. He gathered all the tigers and told them, “You’re all equal to me. However, I’m dividing you, the tigers, into two groups for the sake of convenience. I’ll give a whip to one group and sacks to the other group. Neither of you should step into the other’s area. Each of you may compete with each other within your own group. Your whips must serve to grow their sacks; and, with the help of their sacks, your whips must flourish. You all must play along with a spirit of mutual cooperation between the two groups. You may create laws accordingly. You may compete with each other as much as you please, but never let go of the man who had brought you all together under one umbrella. I’ll receive the credit due to me only if you all abide by these rules; then only my plan works. The phrase that all are created equal will live forever as the divine truth.”

Thus the tigers, wearing several varieties of masks, jumped on the people for their food while pretending to be fighting among themselves for all the appearances.

After a few days, Tathayya, Tavitayya, Brahmayya and Gopayya met and felt their thinning abdomens. They could hear their intestines groaning. They wondered how long they could live under the circumstances. They all had the same thought, the same goal. They jumped to the streets, up in arms, with their chests braced up and waistbands tightened.

Then I got the word from the rulers.

“What’s this chaos?” they asked me.

“What’s this crazy nuisance?”

“What’s this uproar about? What’s this violence for?”

I laughed. I walked up to the people, “Tavitayya, Tathayya, don’t kill, with just one blow, the goose that lays golden eggs. You poor people do have your problem, which is not having enough to eat; and the rich people have their problem, which is not having enough to spend; it is the same as yours. We’ll provide you with a voice to express your problems. Let’s discuss the issues and arrive at a solution.”

The people listened and shouted jindabad.

The rulers asked me what was that all about? They asked me if I were slipping into the equality principle the rebels were fixated on.

I stroked their backs and gave them my advice: Throw them a morsel each time they raised their voices; make it into a law; double the number of people who would shout in your behalf; you scream the equality principle louder than the rebels; put your arm on the shoulders of those who bowed to you; and eliminate those who refused to listen to you.

The Rulers listened.

Thus we brought all the workers to one place; redirected the attention of the tigers, who were getting the service, to negotiation; and we shaped the negotiation the basic principle for survival!

Whenever the tigers frowned, we pointed the goats to them. On the other hand, whenever the goats attacked us, we showed them the tigers. In our minds, they all were equal; we wanted them all to be happy; that’s the reason we forced the tigers and the goats to drink from the same beach.

Nanna garu elucidated all this to me on one auspicious moment. He coached the brahma mantra¸ sarvam brahma mayam,[2] to me repeatedly.

I however could not imbibe the spirit of that brahma mantra.

I did not see justice in it. My heart did not cooperate and let me live by that principle. I could not enjoy the role of a mediator.

I walked into the midst of the people and explained the injustice to them.

I moved forward with the belief that I can lead any group and with a determination that I can set things right.

I hoped that, with my entrance into the field, Tavitayya, Tathayya and Gopayya would walk towards light. I thought they’d stand behind me; would take my advice and fight for justice.

They eyed each other and whispered to each other; and outlined a plan in a language that is understandable only to them. They all looked at me pitifully and said, “Our pain is different! Our stories are different! Our clothes are different and our actions are different. We’ll train our own leaders! We’ll share the outcome whether it is sweet nectar or poison. We have no need for your leadership.”

So saying, the people moved forward. I could not catch up with their speed or direction. Yet I kept walking, stumbling, falling and getting up, in a desperate attempt to mingle with them, and feeling happy that I could find some room behind them, even if it were a small spot, at the least.

That was the beginning of the end of the middle man. I’m glad it’s started with me.

***

Translated by Nidadavolu Malathi and published on thulika.net, September 2003)

(The Telugu original “Samavarti” was published in Jyoti Deepavali issue, 1981; and included in the anthology, disa, published by Kavisri pustakalu, 2002. –Malathi.)

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[1] King is the Lord Vishnu.

[2] The brahma pervades all.

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