Here’s one my favorite stories from the Ramayana scripture, now available as a popular comic series in India (I’m not making this up).
The Divine Rama needed to cross from India to Sri Lanka to rescue his wife, Sita, from top bad guy, Ravana, so Rama’s devotees were helping him to build a bridge.
Hanuman, Rama’s chief devotee, who strangely enough was a giant monkey, (there’s some really weird stuff in this story. Like Rama being blue! Better get used to it) was using his great strength to throw huge boulders into the ocean. This was pretty effective and the bridge project was moving along nicely.
Then one small squirrel devotee turned up and volunteered to help but, for all his enthusiasm, the best he could manage was to throw some tiny pebbles into the water. The big monkey started making fun of the squirrel.
“Look mate,” he said. “You may be cute as a button, but it’s going to take a million years to get to Sri Lanka at that rate. You’re lucky I’m around. Otherwise the bosses wife, Sita, would be toast.”
“Wow!” said the squirrel. “A talking monkey. Cool!”
Actually I made that last bit up. It’s not in the original scripture. But I think it makes more sense this way. I mean don’t you find it strange how in some stories animals suddenly start talking and no-one even remarks on it?
Anyhow, the squirrel was not too happy about being made fun of by the monkey so it complained to the squirrel union.
So when Rama himself rocks up to check on progress the squirrel hands him a letter from his union, complaining about discrimination against squirrels.
Then Rama gives this big politically correct speech about how the squirrel’s effort was just as valuable as the big monkey’s because he was doing his best and he was just as sincere, and what did people expect, he’s just a squirrel?
Squirrels have been quoting this speech ever since, and everyone is heartily sick of hearing about it. Which explains why, in India today, people don’t often listen to squirrels.
Interpreting the Ramayana Correctly
A friend of mine wrote a cute ‘pro-squirrel’ song inspired by this story (the original, not my deeper version), protesting discrimination against squirrels. Which is nice, except for one small problem:
What if everyone has been misinterpreting the inner meaning of this story for the last 5000 years?
Let us consider the true significance of the Ramayana squirrel story
Think about it rationally. The gap between Sri Lanka and India is pretty big: at least two inches on my Google map. If the bridge building contract had been awarded to the squirrels, today Rama would still be waiting anxiously on the beach, and poor Sita would indeed be ‘toast’. The big monkey was right, and Rama knew it.
But Rama also knew that he couldn’t afford a dispute with the unions right in the middle of a major construction project. And anyway, he had to keep up his reputation as the ultimate nice guy because he was a God, and what kind of God is not kind to squirrels?