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Arindam recounts a lesser known folklore and wonders, be it India or elsewhere, if men changed at all.

This is a lesser known folklore that I had heard as a child. I feel that we might relate to it even today – be it in India or elsewhere.

Strange, indeed, are the ways of men.

In a small village of India, lived a hard working and honest dhobi (washerman), Buddhu (meaning, simpleton). And like all washermen, he had a donkey, Dhani (rich). It helped him carry loads of clothes, unwashed and washed, to the river, on the outskirts of the village. Buddhu was fond of Dhani. He had, over the years, developed a deep bond with Dhani.

For Buddhu, Dhani was more than a friend. He shared his burden and was an economic necessity too. A few years later, the winter was severe. Dhani, old now, could not bear it. He died.

Buddhu was grief-stricken. He decided that he would perform Dhani’s Shradh (last rites for mortals). On his way back, with shaven head, dressed in mourning clothes, he met his kin. They asked, “Who passed away?” Buddhu said, “Dhani is dead. He was dearest to me. Please come home for the Mahabhoj (ceremonial lunch to mark the end of mourning).”

All his kith and kin were there with him. They shared his grief and had shaved their heads as a mark of respect to Dhani.

Soon the entire village was mourning. All men had shaved their heads for Dhani. From village to village and then to towns, men were sad. In solidarity, each and everyone had shaved their heads.

The news reached the palace guards. They shaved their heads. Lesser palace officials too did the same. One morning, when the king came to his court, he found the atmosphere sad and somber. His entire cabinet had shaved their heads off. The king, in a hushed tone, asked the prime minister, “Why has everyone shaved their heads? Who has died?”

The learned minister, replied sadly, “O Good King! There is national mourning. All men in our kingdom have shaved their heads for a noble soul, Dhani. You must declare national mourning for three days and dismiss today’s proceedings, after the condolence meet.”

The good king did likewise. How could he not be share the grief of his subjects!

He called the royal barber and shaved his rich, curly, shoulder length hair. When he returned, the queen, curious asked why he had shaved his head. The king told her about the death of a noble soul, Dhani, for whom the entire nation was mourning.

His queen asked, “Who is Dhani? What more do you know about him? We too must prepare to mourn for him, fast and eat fruits once a day.”

The king had no idea who Dhani was. The queen had a faint smile. He summoned his prime minister, who too did not know. The minister called the finance minister, who called the cook. The cook called the gardener, who, in turn called the guards.

The king was furious. He had made an ass of himself and was enraged. Men in the palace were very angry.

The king set up an enquiry commission, headed by the prime minister. The women folk had hearty laugh. All men had been fooled. No one knew who Dhani was!

Now, the reverse process began. In six months, the honest Dhobi, Buddhu, was nabbed. He was brought before the king.

He pleaded innocence and explained why he mourned for his donkey, Dhani. But, it was a huge embarrassment to one and all. The court listened to him for days. They found that he had hidden substantial information. Buddhu was put to death.

He (un)knowingly had caused shame to one and all. The king and all his subjects had been ‘tricked’ into a national mourning.

Let’s pause and ponder before we laugh at the king and all other men in his kingdom. Haven’t we ever done something similar? Haven’t we made a fool of ourselves and followed the herd?

The unstoppable victories of Donald Trump in the primaries are no different. His hate speech and fanaticism has strong appeal to many. A certain section of Americans blame the immigrants, Mexican,
Chinese, Indians et al, for taking away their jobs.

Hope they are not making an ass of themselves and acting like the men of a shaved nation!

Pix from net


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  1. Joyce Yarrow 3 years ago

    Hmmmm. Great folktale bringing humor along with wisdom. And Trump is definitely a good example of dangerous mass hypnosis in US. Any parallel in India come to mind? ?

  2. Joyce Yarrow 3 years ago

    Seems our two democracies are both in a heap of trouble.

    • Arindam Roy 3 years ago

      Democracy, like marriage, is a failed institution. But, we are saddled with both for want of better alternatives. In India, we had Raj Narain (who helped bring about a verdict against Indira Gandhi in the Allahabad High Court). Now, we have Laloo Yadav. In the US, it’s Trump. A bunch of jokers that keep the electorate circus vibrant and alive, despite huge contradictions. Thanks, Joyce.

  3. Joyce Yarrow 3 years ago

    Thanks for your reply, Arindam. I loved this story – it seems that no matter how hard we try to stay informed – whether it be in our relationships or the body politic – we inevitably end up with a shaven head from time to time 🙂

  4. Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee 3 years ago

    Democracy is the rule of the fools…. mobocracy is more dangerous. But this is what ‘cracy’ ? Autorcacy by a foolish king? loved the satirical flavour of the story presented by Arindam Roy.

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