Random Thoughts

St Antony Pray for Us!

It is a truth tested by experience that sons dissipate
what their fathers gained in the sweat of their brow

These are not the words of a contemporary commentator on the fluctuating father-son relations as exemplified by senior Congress leader A K Antony and Anil Antony who has gone in search of new political pastures. The son is now an activist of the Hindu-oriented Bharatiya Janata Party which the father is sworn to fight till his last breath. Reacting to Anil’s somersault, Antony moaned: “I am deeply hurt.”

The opening quote on the historical course and scope of father-son bonds is from Niccalao Manucci, an Italian writer who worked for a scholarly Mughal prince whom his brother killed for power. Driven by compulsions of power, the killer emperor had dumped his dad in a dungeon overlooking the Yamuna and his wife’s grandiose mausoleum.   

Niccolao Manucci, who worked under Jahangir's grandson, Dara Shikoh, began his discussion of Jahangir by saying: "It is a truth tested by experience that sons dissipate what their fathers gained in the sweat of their brow." Niccalao made this observation  while discussing his benefactor’s grandfather, Jehangir.

If Mughal tradition is broadly accepted as Indian tradition, disaffection between Antony and Anil is quite understandable. There was perhaps only one emperor, dynasty founder Babur, who happily yielded power to his son, even risking his life. Babur traded his robust health with Humayun, who had fallen terminally sick. Such transfer of health or ailment was possible in ancient Bharatavarsha where Prince Puru took over his father Yayati’s senility.  The aging emperor wanted to have some more good time. There were other illustrious, self-effacing sons like Rama of modern Faizabad who not only abdicated his inheritance but went into a long spell of self-exile.

Akbar was, like Antony, a good father. But the Muslim emperor who propounded his own religion of dharma was not always on good terms with his fun-loving son Jehangir. The son had the father’s close consultant, Abul Fazal, murdered.  In a military encounter between the Mughal force and Jehangir’s seditious troops, the latter lost. For the prince to be made the broadminded emperor’s heir, influential women in the harem had to exert pressure on Akbar. To make the transition swift and smooth, it was said, Jehangir had arranged to poison his father. Subsequent inquiries acquitted the son who reigned for two decades and more, leaving the administration to his factotums, himself wallowing in dance, drama, drinks and drugs. 

Saint Atnony of Padua, after whom A K Antony is named, was a man of peace and amity. He was an effective orator and his homilies were lapped up by his devoted followers. True to his cult of convergence and consensus, Antony of Chethala tried to steer clear of confrontation, just as his patron saint of Padua devoted more time to study and meditation than to priestcraft and attendant pettifoggery. Anthony of Padua was canonized soon after his death. So obvious was his mission which really required not many miracles. St Antony, pray for us!

We have not yet heard in detail from Anil Antony why he thinks he is right in deciding to work for the vanguard of Hindutva and his father is wrong in suffering the association with a party tied to the pulverized pillars of an ancient party. The mullahs and the pundits of his new party will use him, his very presence, that is, to embarrass his party. Anil Antony may not garner significant electoral advantage on his own but Congressmen will find themselves ridiculously ham-handed while inventing an eloquent repartee to their familiar diatribes. An important activity in elections is to inspire an ambience of victory. Nothing wins like victory.

Where is the harm if the father and the son take opposite positions? Why should not a son strike a new note in political affiliations, deviating from the path prepared by the father? There are fathers and fathers, just as there are sons and sons. Prahlada was an impossible son who would give no quarter to his father Hiranyakasipu. The son was a preceptor of immanence; the father saw nothing divine, nothing other than himself, inside or around him. That the tempestuous relations between the father and the son had a gory end for the father is, right now, beside the point. Prahlada’s discord with Hiranyakasipu should be seen in that perspective, not as a symbolic equalism of episodes and characters.

Indian tradition of relations and power struggles can be viewed in various angles. Prahlada’s grandson showed the way by abdicating authority  to redeem his word and honour. Though there is no national version of the story, Mahabali’s surrender of power and acceptance of self-exile should serve as a foil to the unvarying tales of treachery and vulgarized father-son relations. Mahabali kept his royal word even when it meant his total dispossession of power. Balamani Amma saw in that gesture a glimpse of divinity stepping on the head.

A blind king’s concern for his son was what brought on us a fratricidal war, annihilating everything on earth, victors and the vanquished, barring a dozen desolate persons. Uninfluenced by that collective memory of carnage, we have, at different stages, worked overtime to fortify the claims and interests of our sons. Like the beleaguered god, we exclaim “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Contemporary history is full of illustrations for that infectious dictum. Antony cannot be faulted for it. Anil Antony ploughing a different furrow must be seen in that light. In fact he will invite much less opprobrium when his son joins another party than when and if he is propped up in his own party.

The Greek ways are comprehensively grotesque, father and son falling for the same woman in a fit of amorous outrage. The son first kills the father. And then he weds a woman who was his mother. There could probably be no more egregious account of human conduct than this story of Oedipus killing his father, Laius, and wedding his mother, Jacosta, and begetting a child in her. Oedipus does it all in ignorance. It is a gruesome story of relations going haywire, being stultified, reducing the character to a tragic hero in a distorted setting of relations.

Oedipus had a sharp limp. From his childhood he had it. That was his mark of identity, a limping leg. In fact oedipus literally means a swollen leg. His relations were so too. Let us check if our legs are swollen!


More by :  K Govindan Kutty

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