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September 01, 2017 Friday 10:56:12 AM IST

Modern Day Ekalavyas

Guest Column

It was a Saturday morning a few days ago. As usual, I woke up at 3.00, had a run of the daily routine and sat down to work with a flask of black coffee. My day had begun.


I’d started working on a column and was so wrapped up in it when I heard a sound behind me. It was barely audible. But I knew it was Adwaid, my 10-year-old grandson. I did not look up. It was around 5.00 by then. He just waited there for a few seconds; took the flask from my side table and went out. I knew he would pour himself a glass of black coffee, add three spoonfuls of sugar and come back.


He was back in 10 minutes. He then asked me.


“Finished your work?”




He waited for a few seconds and asked.


Appooppa, is Poonthanam your friend? The poet…“Krishna, Krishna Mukunda…”


I was stunned. Was this my grandson asking me this question? A CBSE student, a friend of all computer characters and games! His mother wants him to be a doctor; father would love to see him make it big in IT. I want him to be IAS officer.


Adwaid loves to paint. He is fond of his guitar and is pretty good at football. But where in this scheme of things does Poonthanam fit?


Poonthanam is a 16th century Malayalam poet remembered even now for his Njanappana, a poem written as a devotional prayer to Lord Krishna. Written in simple Malayalam, the Njanappana was Poonthanam’s magnum opus and is an important work of Bhakti literature from Kerala and is revered for its poetic merit and intensity of




I narrated the story of Poonthanam. Adwaid did not seem to be too interested in the story. He had Njanappana in his Malayalam text and had to learn it compulsorily in class V. He loved the poem and its author.


A sudden idea struck me.


“Would you like to listen to a recital of Njanappana”? I asked him.


“Yes,” he said.


“It’s on YouTube,” I said.


YouTube was his territory. He only asked me for the spelling. Suddenly P. Leela’s black and white profile and the captivating audio was on. He was totally immersed in it. When it was over he said: “Good poem, great meaning.” He played it again. But this time, just after a few minutes he stood up and went into a sort of rhythm … eyes, hands, legs moving together.


“Stop, Appooppa. I am going to shoot. I’ll make a film of this poem.”


I was again stunned.




Appooppa, this song is good for film, dance and music, Very good. I’m going to make it.”


“You? Film? What do you know about filming?”


“Don’t worry. You need not worry about money. I will not ask you. My friend has a camera and many apps to learn. I will do it.”


“Appooppa, I will call you for its inauguration. You can light the lamp, speak and bless me.”


This is the generation of the 21st century. Intelligent, talented and dedicated. They use all modern facilities and coolly avoid us. They are not for confrontations or fights. They have their family, a family of friends. They know

no barriers of caste, religion, sex, wealth or language. I find most of the teenaged and twenty-plus are highly talented and worldly-wise. But they are searching for their spot in hundreds of new areas unfolding with relentless urges from their new religion -- Consumerism. Here, the system changes. The need for personal guidance from teachers or parents is not important for them. They have very little time for books or newspapers or even television. They are not interested in politics. But they are focused. They are ready to work 12-15 hours a day on something they want. They innovate. They are free in their minds.


Smart Education is not new to India, The Mahabharatha story of Ekalavya, the tribal youth is well known. Ekalavya was hurt when he was rejected by Dronacharya, one of the best teachers in archery because of Ekalavya’s low social status. Ekalavya didn’t give up on his resolute will to master his talent and aim. He once hid himself in the forest while Drona was teaching the Kaurava and Pandava brothers. After they left, Ekalavya collected the mud on which his Guru had walked, as a symbolic gesture of wanting to follow in his footsteps. Later he went into the forest and made a statue of Drona under a big old tree. He began a disciplined programme of self-study over many years. Eventually, Ekalavya became an archer of exceptional prowess, greater than Drona’s best pupil, Arjuna. He accepted the statue as his guru and practised in front of it every single day. One day when Drona and his students were going out into the forest, Arjuna saw a dog that was unable to bark due to an amazing construction of arrows in and all around his mouth. This construction was harmless to the dog, but prevented the dog from barking. Drona was amazed, but also distressed as he had promised Arjuna that he would make him the greatest archer in the world. Drona and his students investigated and came upon Ekalavya. Upon seeing Drona, Ekalavya came and bowed to him.


Drona asked Ekalavya where he had learnt archery from.


Ekalavya replied “under you, Guruji,” and showed Drona the statue while explaining what he had done. Drona then reminded Ekalavya that to truly be his pupil, Ekalavya would have to pay gurudakshina, homage in kind to

the teacher. Ekalavya offered to do anything for Drona. Drona then asked Ekalavya for the thumb on his right hand. Hesitant at first, Ekalavya asked for Drona to confirm the command. Drona harshly did so. Happy and smiling, Ekalavya cut off the thumb and presented it to the teacher, a teacher who had never communicated with his student!


Is there something prophetic about the story?


Will a smart world, still ruled by Dronacharyas, outsmart smart education? Or the opposite? Will the driverless car race from the smarts govern us?

We have very little options from our new religion -- Consumerism.

K . L. Mohana Varma

Kochi-based novelist, short story writer and columnist.
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