Eat Your Food — Or Else the Witch Eats You!

Onkar BordeDecember 5, 2022Dreams and DesiresInterfaith Connections

Artwork by Malaika Hassan, age 16

I still remember the way my grandma narrated the stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, some of the most popular mythological legends, when we used to sleep on the roof on hot summer nights.

There was something about the stories which excited my soul, or maybe my grandma was just so skilled in her narration of these legends!

These ancient stories usually began with a king. Some bad guys might trouble the good king and try to destabilize the administration. The villains torture the good people. Finally, the story usually introduces a savior, who fights the nasty guys. In the end, the good king typically wins the war because of his altruistic deeds.

These stories were awesome and always helped whenever I did not feel like sleeping. The stories also indirectly motivated me to be a good boy, like Rama of the Ramayana, a prince who had sacrificed his kingdom and spent 14 years in exile just to fulfill his father’s request. He was honest, polite, and obedient. The stories reflected what an ideal human is like: honest, polite, positive, and kind, a human whose presence makes everyone feel comfortable. They also created a mindset that helped me to differentiate the good from the bad.

These stories revolved around notions of good and evil. They spoke of karma, consequences, and god. I remember the way I was told about the evil child-eater witch who used to kidnap the children who did not finish their dinner or listen to their parents! And the story of King Harishchandra, an honest and virtuous king who was known for his good deeds and whose tales are still present in our English books! King Harishchandra had sacrificed his kingdom, his family, and his only son just to provide the sage Vishwamitra with compensation (dakshina) for disturbing his meditation.

This was a pretty complicated concept for a fifth grader like me back then.

That was when I was a child. Now, since I have started to interpret and learn the meaning of life, I am able to better understand why we were told such stories. It was all for one sole purpose: to nurture us, and to develop a sense of disgust when we thought of doing something bad. The stories seemed to create a barrier that prohibited me from getting into bad things. Every story reflected how evil people suffer in the end, and the mere thought of those tortures ensures I do not follow the unholy path of negativity and rage. These stories helped to encourage good manners. They infused honesty, confidence, bravery, positivity and many more qualities in me.

History lessons are boring indeed, but when we combine them with a good storyline, our perspective suddenly changes! The historic events now look like volumes of a story and begin to feel interesting. The reason behind this is the way one communicates with others.

Stories can be described as a medium of engaging communication, where good beliefs and good manners are transferred from the mind of the narrator to the mind of the listener. The stories remain longer in our minds than a boring philosophical lecture on life. For me, stories are an essential way of learning life lessons. They give me a literal idea of what exactly good and bad are and what happens when I make certain choices. The skill to distinguish between potentially harmful and safe things can be hard to understand. I think stories have helped me to master it.

These ancient mythological legends have also helped me to understand the state of true peace and satisfaction, such as that which King Rantideva received when he donated his own meal to a hungry person, or like what the sage Dadhichi felt after sacrificing his own body to provide the gods with bones to make an immortal weapon to win the war.

Apart from gaining extraordinary and exquisite wisdom through stories, I have felt a wave of creativity flow through me. I have now started to perceive my environment in a very different way. The images of the blind woodcutter who suffered due to cutting down trees flash before me when I try to pluck a leaf off a plant, just for some fun. The stories of the Panchatantra have improved my life as well. These are engrossing stories related to nature and animals. These fables have taught me some great values and morals, which would have been pretty hard to learn on my own without any painful lessons.

Stories are magical indeed! Ancient tales and stories have been a great torch that have guided me and given this unshaped clay of my life the shape of a well-built pot, which stores values and life lessons to be passed on further. The tales of the heroes of the past have influenced me to mimic them and behave like a hero, honest, full of confidence, and ready to sacrifice anything. The stories have taught me how to resist evil and hail good deeds. Passed from generation to generation in my community, they have helped us all to live a stable and peaceful life, one which has a concrete purpose with well-known potential harms.

Desires: they can be considered a deadly factor of destruction that consume every bit of happiness out of a human being. But when one is able to dig in and explore beneath the surface, we find that desires and urges are one of the major life forces which are able to give direction and provide what we call an aim to one's life!

Just like a goldsmith turns a heap of gold into a beautiful ornament, the stories, experiences, and incidents I have witnessed have shaped my life and helped me to grow the desire to follow the path of honesty and to be a sterling human, whose presence is admired. I feel as if there are some important life lessons engraved somewhere inside these stories. These are then passed from generation to generation to maintain the equilibrium of our human minds and, ultimately, to provide enlightenment.

Onkar is a 15-year-old who likes playing football and enjoys singing. He is very interested in robotics, along with hacking and programming. He loves writing and sharing his experiences!