Translated by Shonaleeka Kaul
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
Hitopadesha, like the Panchtantra, advocates ‘good advice’. Its four sections- winning friends, losing friends, waging war and making peace- comprise candid verses on relationships and their paradoxical nature. Most often, animals and birds are the spokesperson yet some beautiful lines have humans as a part.
The first section elicits the importance of having brains and good friends through the stories of the tiger and the greedy traveler, the crow and the mouse and several other short narratives weaved together under the blanket of friends and foes. This section has interesting takes on friendship between a predator and prey, friendship with strangers, friendship with the ones who do not match in intelligence and wit. Some of the lines struck the right chord with me. The world wouldn’t believe a prostitute if she were to speak about dharma but the same world would blindly believe a sage who might have sinned. Such is the paradox! This section does offer some sound advice- never trust rivers in flow, women and relatives of the king, men with arms and animals with claws.
The second section, Losing Friends, includes some more shorter stories to explain the importance of losing friends when the mind and soul don’t align. Through the example of the lion king and his brother, these stories advocate the importance of drawing a line, not being very friendly when you are in the position of power and not allowing any chances to others to exploit your hard-earned wealth.
The third section and the last one are about waging wars and making peace. The former brings out the innocence of those who are just the harbinger of news and fall prey to the unpredictable temper of the kings/rulers. The latter elicits the wisdom that lies in making peace rather than succumbing to one’s destruction and eventual death.
Overall, Hitopadesha is intelligently written yet certain scenarios might not gel right with the readers like that of a devoted wife who doesn’t flinch at the thought of her husband selling her or donating her. Yet, some lessons are worth remembering, especially those about friends and foes! The interesting thing about this book is how the narrative is interspersed with short but simple verses. This makes reading faster.
An interesting book, afterall!
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