In a small village school, the teacher was teaching the story of Rama. Almost all the children were dozing. This occurrence was not unusual at the recitation of the Ramayana; even grownups nap at such times. The story has been told and retold so many times it has lost its significance; the novelty is gone.
The teacher recited mechanically, not even glancing at the open book before him, and even an outsider could have seen that he was dozing too. He knew it by heart and was narrating the episodes like a parrot. He was not at all aware of what he was saying. One who has memorized something never knows the meaning of what he is saying.
Suddenly there was a sensation in the class: the inspector had come in. The pupils became attentive, and the teacher became alert as well. The teacher continued the lesson.
The inspector said, ”I am happy to see you are teaching the Ramayana. I will ask the children something about Rama.” Assuming that children easily remember tales of broken things or of battles, he asked a simple question: ”Tell me, children, who broke the bow of Shankara?”
One boy raised his hand, stood up and said, ”Excuse me, sir. I didn’t break it. I was away for fifteen days. And I don’t know who broke it either. I want to clear this up right now, because whenever anything happens in this school I am the first to be blamed for it.”
This hit the inspector like a bolt from the blue. He turned to the teacher, who was about to lift his cane, and heard the teacher say, ”This rascal is surely the culprit. He is the worst one of all.” He roared at the boy, ”If you didn’t do it then why did you get up and say that you didn’t do it?” He said to the inspector, ”Do not be misled by this boy’s sweet talk!”
The inspector thought it better not to say anything, so he simply turned and left the class. But he was furious, and went straight to the headmaster’s office to narrate the incident in full. He demanded to know what the headmaster intended to do about it.
The headmaster urged the inspector not to pursue the matter any further. He explained that it was a precarious thing these days to say anything to the students. ”No matter who might have broken it,” he said, ”let the matter drop. There has only been peace in the school for the last two months. Before that, the students broke and burned much furniture. It is better to keep still. Saying anything to them these days will only invite grave trouble. There could be a strike, a dharna, a fast unto death at any time!”
The inspector was flabbergasted; he was completely stunned. He went to the chairman of the school committee and told him all about what had happened – that the Ramayana was being taught in a class, that a boy had said he hadn’t broken Shankara’s bow, that the teacher had said that the boy must be the culprit, that the headmaster had begged that the matter be dropped no matter who was responsible, saying that it was unwise to pursue this, that there was constant fear of a strike, etcetera, etcetera. The inspector asked the chairman for his view.
The chairman said he felt the headmaster had been wise in his policy. ”Furthermore,” he added, ”don’t bother about the culprit. No matter who broke the bow, the committee will get it repaired. It is better to get it repaired than to dig into the cause.”
The inspector, who had been totally disgusted by the situation, related his experience to me. I told him there was nothing basically new in his tale. It is a common human weakness to boast of things about which we know nothing at all.
Nobody remembered the part in Ramayana about the breaking of Shankara’s bow. Wouldn’t it have been better for them to have asked, ”Which Shankara?” But nobody was prepared to acknowledge his own ignorance. No man is that bold. This has been the biggest pitfall in the history of mankind. This weakness has proved suicidal. We act as if we know everything and confuse our lives as a result. All our answers to all our problems are like those given by the boy, by the teacher, by the headmaster and by the chairman. Attempting to answer without understanding the question makes a man a fool. This is sheer self-deception.
In addition to this, there is the attitude of indifference. The indifferent man would ask, ”Now, really, is all hell going to break loose if we don’t know who broke Shankara’s bow?”
In contrast to the problems of this silly tale, there are more profound enigmas in life, and on their proper solution depends whether life can be decent or not, whether life can be harmonious or not, whether our present direction is the right one for progress or not, and so on. We think we know the answers, but the consequences show how inaccurate our perception of life really is. The life of each one of us shows that we do not know anything about life at all. Otherwise, how come there is so much despair, so much misery, so much anxiety?