Parents and Wards
Satyavati was uniquely blessed. Hers was the first conjugal relationship on an inter-caste basis. She was a fisherwoman, and smacked of fish. A matsyagandhi.
But her olfactory disadvantage was more than offset by her visual charm. So much so Parasaran, who had made an art of self-denying celibacy, was fired by a carnal urge at her very first look.
As the guileless ferry woman was taking him across the turbulent river of passion, our venerable monk lost all his self-possession. To make her agreeable, he lavished all his power of penance so get her out of her obnoxious ambience. Satyavati and Parasaran had a good time in her country boat, yielding an extraordinary son. The son was dark and uncouth, but redoubtable not only as a progenitor but an editor-raconteur of stories of war and peace. Krishnadwaipayana Vyasa was a useful son to Satyavati.
The ugly compiler of scriptures left her in his teens, probably in search of his elusive father, but not without assuring her that she could depend on him to find a solution to any newly emerging crisis. Such a crisis engulfed her long years later when she had two more surviving sons from an inter-caste matrimony. This time round, her suitor was a fun-loving king, obsessively seeking out mates, not a phlegmatic sanyasi given to matters mundane only occasionally.
The two sons who inherited the Kuru throne were ill or impotent. They eventually croaked. Mom Satyavati sent for her peripatetic eldest son whom she wanted to sire the issues of her daughters-in-law. Vyasa, ugly genius for all seasons, turned up to father his siblings’ kids. The rest is history as is what happened before. Monks were no self-abnegating monks, emperors could trade their power for a game with a ravishing girl, caste shackles were not necessarily restrictive when it came to marital alliances, mothers could deploy an omniscient son to beget children in her other sons’ widows. The last assignment, siring kids in Vyasa’s siblings’ widows, was a rare role in which any mother could cast her son.
Another mother, Olympias, was Alexander’s guardian in every sense of the term, guarding him against conspiracies even by his father, Philip, of Macedonia. But she was playing no unusual role. Mothers and fathers have always been solicitous about their wards’ wellbeing. From ancient Greece to modern mohallas, parents have taken it upon themselves to build and repair the relations of their sons and daughters whenever there was a prospect of rupture.
Not equally frequent was the intervention of sons and daughters when their parents were locked in conjugal combat. Yes, there was Puru’s illustrious performance, offering his youth to his father, Yayati, who wanted to have more good time himself, trading his old age with his youngest son. There was Rama of Ayodhya who gave up his right to kingship to redeem his father’s vow given in an unguarded moment.
There were unrecorded chronicles as well when children set out to mend their parents’ endangered relations in a perfect reversal of roles. Yes, as against fathers and mothers correcting their children’s relations, quite a normal way of brokering peace at home, there were also glorious, though fewer, episodes of filial mission when children set out to correct the conjugal course of their parents. Satyavati and Olympias had indeed unusual roles to play vis-a-vis their wards but even more unusual would be filial intervention in times of discord.
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