Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Mahabharata and The Godfather

With this one post I may end up offending both the Mahabharata and The Godfather fans.

Let us start with The Godfather, one of the best Hollywood movies and loved by many with the same passion as Sholay is by Indians. In The Godfather there is a scene when Sollozzo, a mafia boss, wants Don Vito Corleone's political and police connections to extend to his proposed drugs business. The Don refuses, saying it is "a little dangerous." Sollozzo offers to have the Tattaglias guarantee the Don's security, at which point Sonny Coreleone, the Don's hot-headed son interjects. The Don shuts him with a cold stare. The meeting ends and Sollozzo leaves, after which the Don addresses his son [emphasis mine]:

"Don Corleone: What's the matter with you? I think your brain is going soft with all that comedy you are playing with that young girl. Never tell anyone outside the Family what you are thinking again. Go on. " [The Godfather (1972) - Quotes - IMDb]
Later on in the movie, when Michael is running the family, he goes down to Las Vegas, and after a talk with Moe Green, he turns around to his brother Freddy and says, "Fredo, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever." (The Godfather (1972) - Quotes - IMDb)

OK, so the lesson from both these scenes is that you keep disagreements within the family private and not let others get to know these. You do not wash your family's dirty laundry in public.

What does it have to do with the Mahabharata?

It is the Adi Parva, Arjuna has won the archery contest at Droupadi's svayamvar, and when Yudhishtira and Bheema asked Kunti to "[S]ee what alms we have got," [1.182] Kunti asked them to "[S]hare it together." [1.182] Now, it was quite silly for the two brothers to have been so flippant about the matter at hand, and sure enough, Kunti could have rectified matters after delivering a stern tongue-lashing that Yudhishtira and Bheema deserved. She acknowledged that a fine line would need to be tread so that "those instructions of mine don't become a lie" [1.182] on the one hand and "the Panchala king's daughter not be touched by adharma" on the other. Even as Yudhishtira spoke, all the five Pandavas "looked at the illustrious Krishna who was standing there. They looked at each other and sat down, her image in their hearts." [1.182] Fearing a conflict among the brothers on her account, Yudhishtira then decided, "This fortunate Droupadi will be a wife to all of us."

When questioned by Drupada, Yudhishtira says, "O king! Droupadi will be the queen to all of us. ... This is what has already been ordered by my mother." [1.187] True and wise - Yudhishtira rightly does not launch into a hand-wringing dirge on the finer points that had preceded and followed their mother's decision.

Later on, when an exultant Vidura tells Dhritarashtra that "the Kurus are prospering from good fortune," the blind king takes it to be news of Duryodhana's success at Droupadi's svayamvara. However, when Vidura corrects him that it was actually Arjuna who had won, Dhritarashtra responds with the noblest of sentiments, "Pandu's sons are dearer to me than they were to Pandu's." Vidura's reply in turn - "[M]ay this intelligence of yours last for a hundred years" - leaves the reader wondering if he uttered them in genuine hope or subtle sarcasm. When Vidura leaves, an aghast Duryodhana reproaches his father, "Do you take the prosperity of your rivals to be that of your own?" [1.192] It is then that Dhritarashtra says, "I myself have the worries that you do. But I do not wish to reveal my attitude to Vidura. Therefore, I particularly praised their qualities, so that Vidura does not know my true wishes, even through a gesture." [1.193] Dhritarashtra knew better than to reveal his partiality towards his son, or to criticize his nephews, his rivals, in front of an outsider. Even if that outsider were his half-brother.

You never tell anyone outside the family what you are thinking - not if you are an Italian mafiosi, not if you are a royal Kuru.

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Source: Vol.1 of the unabridged translation of the Mahabharata, by Bibek Debroy (my reviews: Vol.1Vol.2Vol. 3Vol. 4Vol.5 (12), Vol. 6 (123), Vol 7; quotes from the Adi Parva)

© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.