Going Home on Horseback

Front Note by Sachi Sri Kantha

The fifth story in the Guru Paramarta series describes how the Guru received a gifted horse and set out on his journey. A contemporary analogy to this fifth story of Fr.Beschi in Colombo was the latest attempts of President Chandrika and her henchmen [both, non-military and military types] to install a functional new government, following the April 2nd general election. Though more than two months have passed, she still hasn’t come up with the adequate number of ‘heads’ to ascertain a working majority in the parliament. She had lost the Speaker’s election; she flip-flops on re-booting the peace talks with LTTE; and for the first time in history, one Sri Lankan rupee had depreciated to the equivalent of one American penny. 

The line in the story stating “Blockhead went to a village in the neighborhood and purchased belly band, girths and a martingale” for the limping gifted horse provides a spitting parallel to the foreign minister Kadirgamar [whom I identified in the front note to the First story, as the Blockhead, posted April 7] paying his visit to India to receive 'blessings' on behalf of his employer.    

Now to the original Fifth Story of Guru Paramarta from Fr.Beschi. It continues from the end of the fourth story, where the Guru Paramarta and his five disciples were following the passerby to receive the gift of a lame horse from the latter. The lame horse in the story may well stand as an allegory to the pyrrhic election gains of SLFP-JVP alliance in the 2004 election. I have made marginal revision in spelling, repetitive phrases and obsolete words to the 1822 text of Benjamin Babington.

Guru Paramarta’s Fifth Story: Of going home on horse-back

That passerby carried them away in the manner already mentioned to the village where he lived, which was in the neighbourhood. He was not a rich man; he was indeed poor, but he was charitable; so he spread before them a repast, in which there was no lack of ghee, or milk or curd, and gave them betel leaf and nut and tobacco, and whatever else was requisite in abundance.

On the following morning, he sent for the horse which was grazing in his fields, and setting it before the Guru presented it to him as a gift. The horse, besides being aged, was blind of an eye, shorn of an ear, lame in one of his fore legs, and limping in one of the hind legs; so that it was a conveyance suitable to the woeful form of the Guru. Although such his plight, they were all greatly delighted that they had got a horse, and that it had been obtained gratis. Gathering around, they lavished on it their caressses, this one patted it, that one laid hold of a leg and twisted it, one seized the tail and pulled it, another wiped its eyes, while another fed it by stuffing grass into its mouth.

After this, on searching for the horse’s trappings, he who had made them a present of the horse gave them an old saddle which was torn. However, as it wanted the hind-strap (crupper) which passes under the tail, they procured some paalai kodi [Asclepias volubilis creeper]stalks and tied them on; so likewise, as there was no rein to the bridle, they substituted twisted hay bands. After they had given themselves much trouble to obtain a belly band and girths, not being able to procure them, Blockhead went to a village in the neighbourhood, and purchased both these and a martingale.

When all the trappings had been thus obtained, the unlucky days were passed over, and at a fortunate moment, according to the astrological signs, all the village having come forth in company with them, shouting out and cheering, they placed the Guru on horseback at the head of the procession. Then, one of the five disciples laying hold of the bridle pulled forward. One placed near the tail, hooted, and drove the beast on. Two of them at the two sides, keeping hold of the Guru’s legs, supported him; while another in front, acting as herald, cried, ‘Take ye care, take ye care, look out, look out’, and thus they went along.

After they had traveled merrily along for a considerable distance, the toll collector belonging to the highway came running to stop them and demanded five coins for the horse. To this they replied, by crying out, ‘What? Toll for a horse ridden by a Guru! Has this anything to do with commerce? This horse was given by a person out of charity, who perceived that owing to Guru’s decrepid age he was unable to walk; what toll is needed? This is an injustice.’ As the toll collector stood his ground, even when it was high noon, seeing no other alternative, the disciples paid the five coins. The Guru too, reflecting that if he had been without the horse, this vexation would not have been occasioned, was in great tribulation.

They went to refresh themselves in a nearby lodge, and to a good listener whom he found there, the Guru himself began making big complaint. ‘I never’ said he, ‘mounted a horse from the day that I was born. Now today, on the occasion of my riding it for the first time, this is the injustice which I came to experience. Shall the money which they thus wickedly get, like thieves who unlawfully take possession of the road, do them any good? Shall not the money, which they receive while my stomach burns, become a fire to them? The patient listener replied, ‘This, Sir, is the temper of the times. In these days, money is the Guru, money is the deity; we have heard it in the proverb that ‘Even a corpse opens its mouth, when it hears money’ [in Tamil, Panam enraal Pinamum Vai Thirakkum. Panam = money; Pinam = corpse.] Nowadays, Sir, there is no other care or love but money.’ The Guru answered, ‘In these times there are some, who if they see money, though it be in the dung, will not scruple to lick it out.’ Said the listener, ‘Is there any doubt on this? And even in this situation, Sir, it doesn’t stink to them. Listen to an evidence of this.

"A certain king [foot note in the original: This is the well known story of Vespasian and Titus, which the author has artfully introduced in illustration of his theme.], from a desire of money, after he had imposed upon his kingdom all sorts of unexisting taxes, levied a tax also on urine. This, even his own son could not endure; he remonstrated to his father, saying that it was shameful to demand such a stinking tax. The king, however, dismissed his son without making a reply. After the lapse of many days, and the money had been collected for the tax which had been imposed, the king, sending for his son, desired him to smell that money. ‘Does it stink?’ he demanded. The son, not thinking of any ulterior meaning, said it smelt fine; upon which the king replied, ‘This is the very money from the urine tax."

The listener then added, ‘Do you hear me? It is enough, if the money but comes. Its no matter, Sir, how it comes.’ After they passed the day in much conversation, in the evening the Guru again mounted the horse and traveled. Once reaching a hamlet, they halted. They did not tether the horse, but turned him out to feed at night. The following morning, when they went to seek him for their journey, the horse was not to be found. On performing a house search, they found that a guy had detained the horse and tied it in his enclosure. When Guru and his crew requested the release of their horse, he replied, ‘The whole 12 hours of the night, the horse has been feeding on my grain, by which as I have suffered much injury, I will positively not let him go.’ The village chief also wished to settle the issue amicably, but the detainer of the horse would agree to give him up, only on condition that the damage caused by horse be compensated. After discussion, the Guru and his crew agreed to offer four coins; which the detainer received, and gave up the horse.

As for the Guru, being greatly distressed, ‘Why I have this horse?’ said he, ‘How many expenses, how many sorrows, how many insults have been incurred in consequence to having this animal? All this, my friends, is ill fitting my dignity.’ Thus, he resolved firmly to walk. Upon this, both Guru’s disciples and the village folk cried, ‘Fie, fie, this ill beseems you; besides, you are unable to walk on foot.’ Then, a certain Valluvan [foot note in the original: identified as member of a low caste – functioning as the priests of lowly caste paraiyar of old days.] hearing the discussion said, ‘You need not grieve Sir. Undoubtedly all these calamities have come upon you, from the sin possessed by the horse. If, once for all, you incur an expense and offer me five coins, I’ll cast out and remove that sin.’ Reflecting that, ‘if one fears expense, business cannot be done’, the Guru and his crew consented to give money and told the Valluvan to cast out the sin.

Then the Valluvan, in order to deceive them, performed several ceremonies, plucked some green leaves, sprinkled them over the horse and screamed, ‘Moona! Moona! Ah! oh!’. And having performed circumgyrations round him, he moved three times to the right, and after patting and stroking the horse from its tail to head, seized a single ear lobe. ‘In this ear’, said he, ‘all the sin is lodged. It was in order to cast out such a sin as this, that the other ear lobe was heretofore chopped off. Now, if we cut off this also, the sin of the present day will be suppressed and stayed.’ Saying this, having sharpened a chopper, they cut off the ear lobe, and in a trice bore it to a distance, in order that the sin does not attach to anyone. They then dug a deep pit, buried the lame horse’s ear lobe and covering it with sand, placed a mark there and moved. The following morning they departed, and after having suffered much trouble, they arrived at their retreat.

[Source: Benjamin Babington – The Adventures of the Gooroo Paramartan – A Tale in the Tamul Language, accompanied by a translation and vocabulary together with an analysis of the first story, 1999 reprint of the 1822 original published in London, by J.M.Richardson, pp.80-87.]


Posted June 18, 2004