If the Ramayana can be condensed, … … …

By Kollengode S Venkataraman (Published in October 2007)

Powered by hand-held PDAs and instant txt msgng, ours is the era of sound bites that call for extrm brvt in communication. And thanks to the information overload triggered by the Internet, our attention span has shrunk to a scary state, which, twenty years ago, psychiatrists would have called an abnormal medical condition similar to ADD (attention deficit disorder). And we have become incapable of digesting abstract ideas unless they are aided by glitzy color-coded graphics.

Sometimes, even mundane information like weather info need color graphic props, a la USA Today; if it is on TV, we need animation for rain, snow falls, lightning, and — even hurricanes and slippery road condition!

And with incessant, thoughtless chattering on phones and over the airwaves, writing has become a burden for most. When is the last time you wrote a coherent paragraph outside work? Or for that matter, even inside work? No wonder, editors often ask first-time writers, much to the writers’ chagrin, to be coherent and tell their story with fewer words

Two years ago I was narrating this to my friend Bhanu Pandalai when she smilingly recited on the spot from memory a four-line shloka in classical Sanskrit condensing the story of the Ramayana. Remember, Valmiki wrote the Ramayana in 24,000 Sanskrit shlokas (verses), which Kamban in 10th century rendered in over 10,000 Tamil verses. Here is the four-line Ramayana from Bhanu’s recitation:

आदौ राम; तपोवनादि गमनं हत्वा मर्गं काञ्चनम्
वैदेहि हरणं जठयु मरणं सुग्रीव सम्वादनम्
वाली निग्रहणं समदर तरणं लङ्कापुरी मर्दनम्
पश्चात् रावण-कुम्भकर्ण हननं एतद्वि रामायणम्

Adou Rama tapovanadi gamanam; hatva mrgam kanchanam;
Vaidehi haranam; Jatayu maranam; Sugreeva samvadanam;
Vali nigrahanam; samudra taranam; Lankapuri mardanam;
Paschat Ravana-Kumbhakarna hananam; etadvi Ramayanam

First, Rama’s going into the forest-retreat; [then] the killing of the golden deer.
Stealing of Vaidehi (Sita); Jatayu’s death; dialogue with Sugreeva;
Vali’s destruction; crossing the ocean; destruction of Srilanka;
Then the killing of Ravana and Kumbhakarna. That is the Ramayana.

I was impressed by the brevity of the unknown poet who distilled the essence of the 24,000 verses of Valmiki’s Ramayana into a four lines—brief enough for a cryptic e-mail! By the way, are school children expected to commit any poems to memory these days?

Then, last April, a few of us including Harish Saluja (DUQ’s Music of India Fame) were in a local restaurant. As I narrated the story behind the abbreviated Ramayana that Bhanu recited from memory, Harish, an animated conversationalist, stretched out both his hands and quipped, “Arre, Venkat, this is nothing! I know an even more pithy and rustically humorous version of the Ramayana rendered in a very colloquial Hindi.” And he, too recited from memory on the spot:

रामभैय्ये इक रावण्णा
वा खत्री वा ब्रामण्णा
वा ने वा कि नार हरि
वा ने वा कि मोउत् करि

Ram bhaye ik Ravanna
va khatri va brahmanna;
va ne va ki naar hari;
va ne va ki maut kari.

One Rama, one Ravana; He, a kshatriya (warrior); he, a brahmana (brahmin);
His woman, steal he did. [And so] his demise, cause he did.

This author, his name and time too are not known, was not content with his extremely brief version of the Ramayana that was good enough for a txt msg. The poet continues taking a jab at Tulsidas, who wrote Ramacharitramanas in the Awadhi language:

बात कहो तो बात्तण्णा
तुलसि लिख् गये पोत्तण्णा

Baat kaho to batanna, Tulsi likh gaye potanna. or
That’s all there is to state. [But] a long epic did Tulsi write.

If Tulsidas Goswami himself can be edited into a few lines with some editorial jabs included, where are we? I for sure — maybe all of us — can be frugal with words in expressing our thoughts. With passing years, I realize, frugality in my wandering thoughts would be even better. END


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