Dr. Devdutt Patnaik, in his immensely readable “Handbook of Hindu Mythology” says that Hindus have one God. But they “also have 330 million gods: male gods, female gods, personal gods, family gods, household gods, village gods, gods of space and time, gods for specific castes and particular professions, gods who reside in trees, in animals, in minerals, in geometrical patterns and in man-made objects. Then there are a whole host of demons. But no Devil.”
Among the 330 million gods whose names must be available in some vast encyclopedia, there is but no god listed for lost causes. The Christians have their own saint among the original apostles who had the misfortune of having the same name as the betrayer of Jesus. St. Jude, or Judas Jacobi, was the brother of James, and along with Simon preached the gospel in Mesopotamia, where the two were eventually martyred. St. Jude has quite a following in the Christian world and “ranks third among the apostles as a pilgrimage saint.” He replaced Judas Iscariot among the apostles, but he was overshadowed by the more iconic Peter, John, and James and his cult developed only in the twentieth century. Also known as Jude the Hidden, he represents a life of little distinction; a life unfulfilled; a cause unachieved.
Don Quixote, the Knight of the Sour Countenance, is one of those un-heroic characters from classical literature whose life is a series of lost causes. From the time he sets out on his first sally and later in the company of his neighbouring peasant, Sancho Panza, who agrees to serve as his squire, and to whom he promises mountains of wealth as also the governorship of an island that he would conquer during his adventures; his life is one disaster after another. However ridiculous the adventures of Don Quixote might appear to the reader, yet the motives of the Knight are of the noblest kind. His fight is against perceived injustice and non-chivalry. He repeatedly proclaims his credo: “I am the valiant Don Quixote de la Mancha, un-doer of wrongs and torts;” “The duty of my office is to correct injustice and fly to the help of the needy.” It is another matter that the people he tries to help only end up mocking and beating him up. The poor and the miserable that Don Quixote tries to aid do not want to be saved by him. Perhaps, as Salman Rushdie says in his introduction to the classic, here is a commentary that an “unjust society perverts all its members, the mighty and the weak, the high and the lowly.” From the very beginning of the novel, it is obvious that the Knight is embarking on a series of lost causes, and the conclusion can be clearly foreseen. Still Cervantes gives him the redemption of a Christian confession and the hero of his epic dies after having received all the sacraments.
Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure too appears to be cast in the same mould as St. Jude. A mediocre country boy, Jude Fawley has the ambition to make something of his life and proceeds to try and give himself a university education. But all he meets is one failure after another. His whole life is a succession of setbacks that lead to bitter disappointments. Drifting from job to job he gets poorer and poorer. His family too is lost in death and betrayal. His wretchedness pursues him from birth and Hardy’s personal lack of faith gives Jude an unredeemed, unlamented and an obscure death.
“The Eternal Charioteer,” by Parthina Gahilote, in an article published by the Outlook on September 26, 2011, succinctly encapsulates the career of this “compulsive charioteer” who has time and again put self above everything else. Unlike the Spanish Don, L. K. Advani has sallied forth on a number of yatras, using makeshift vehicles as his substitutes for the valiant steed Rocinante, fighting against windmills, which to his ‘disordered judgment’ appear as the evil giants, promising to deliver a Ram temple in Ayodhya; Bharat Surakhsha from Dwarka to Delhi; Janadesh from Mysore to Bhopal; and raising Jan Chetna from Sitab Diara in Bihar. Championing one lost cause after another, this sarathi is unable to come to terms with the fact that when you ride the chariot as a driver, your job is to control the horses and ensure that the chariot doesn’t get stuck. Like Krishna, you do not shoot the arrows but manoeuvre the vehicle to safeguard the warrior on board. Lal Krishna not only wants to be Krishna but also Arjuna, and in this ambitious pursuit he is willing to jeopardize the outcome of the Mahabharata.
At his venerable age, instead of becoming the sage patriarch, Advani has gone into a blue funk at the nomination of Modi for the Bhartiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate. His sulking demeanour and the decision not to attend the press conference in which Modi’s name was announced by the party President, confirms that he remains the champion of lost causes. As Edward Said writes; “A lost cause is associated in the mind and in practice with a hopeless cause: that is something you support or believe in that can no longer be believed in except as something without hope of achievement. The time for conviction and belief has passed; the cause no longer seems to contain any validity or promise, although it may once have possessed both.”
The time for L. K. Advani’s cause has certainly passed and there is no validity or promise in his continuing sulk. Perhaps we can now add to the 330 million gods in our pantheon and nominate him as the Hindu god of lost causes. It is a lot better than becoming the first Devil of Hindu mythology!
Image Source: Artwork By Author