Like question like answer

jkirk jkirk at MICRON.NET
Mon Dec 10 21:55:43 UTC 2001

Neat story--thank you. Joanna K
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dominik Wujastyk" <ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK>
Sent: Monday, December 10, 2001 8:46 AM
Subject: Like question like answer

I've been tidying my office and I came across a little translation I
made in the mid-1970s, from a small book of Sanskrit prahasanas in the
British Library (then, British Museum Library).  I have no details of
the book, or anything else regarding this piece.  These "jokes" imbued
in me a lasting sense of the different mentalité of the pre-modern
Sanskrit world.

Here is the translation:


"Like question like answer"

(A guru is seated on the teacher's chair with several pupils around.)

Guru:   Are all the pupils here?

First:  Yes, all here.

Guru:   In that case, start reciting ".ti.d dvayasaj..."

        (The students contract their noses and brows) [grimace]

Second: Sir! We have headaches today from yelling the sutras.

Third:  It's true, sir. We cannot concentrate on repeating
        sutras any more.

Fourth: We would all like to hear a story now.

Another: Yes, yes; we want to hear a story.

Guru:   (smiling) You want to hear a story?

First:  Yes! We want to hear a story.

Guru:   Very well. In that case I will tell a story to delight your
        minds.  But which one of you will be the listener?

Second: Sir! We will all be listeners.

Guru:   That's true; however in this story the chief listener has
        to go "hum hum".

    (they all laugh)

Third:  Well, among us Murari Bhai is best at his lessons. He can
        be the chief listener.

    (everyone agrees)

Guru:   Right, Murari, come here in front of me. Now, I'll start the
        story. Listen carefully.

All:    We are!

Guru:   Once there was a certain village called Soloka in Marusthali (in
        the country of Maravada). And many lunatics (worshippers of
        ghosts and spirits) used to live there. But they were all quite
        illiterate. One day they all went to the house of a certain
        sacrificer in order to get the worship. And one person, even
        though he was wise, went with them. Are you following?

All:    Yes, we are following.

Guru:   In this way, as they were going to the sacrificer's house, the
        middle of the day came and they got very hungry. They looked
        everywhere for something to eat, but could find nothing. Neither
        food nor fruit. They were all falling about with hunger.

All:    (Laughing.)

Guru:   Then, by working together, their gaze fell on a cornfield. A
        forest fire had burned that cornfield, and for that reason some
        crows had been burnt in the field as well. So all those loonies
        broke the necks of those crows and started to eat them.

All:    (disgusted) What! They started to eat the crows? Ugh!

Fifth:  They were big demons!

Guru:   Seeing this, the wise one said, "Hey phooey, you villains, what
        are you doing? First of all one should not eat meat anyway, but
        especially not in the form of crows! How could you do this

Murari: Hum. Then what did they say?

Guru:   Listen. They answered the wise man,
        "Hey Mr. Wise man. Why are you criticizing us? After all, crows
        are edible when they are written."
        The wise man said, "written where?"
        They answered "in an alphabet".
        "What do you mean?"
"Well, when the alphabet is written it goes, `ka, kha, ga, gha,
"na'.  And the `ka' stands for `crows [kaaka]', the `kha' for
`are edible [khaadya]', `ga [gala]' stands for throat', and
`gha [ghana]' for `lots'. Lastly, `"na' is for having bent it
like the letter `"na'.

All:    They laugh again and again.

Sixth:  The meaning was very crafty.

Second: We never recited this meaning!

Guru:   Are you listening? The wise man then thought to himself,
        "These are fools". Just as they made up as reason for me, so I will
        make up a reason to give to them as well.
        When he had decided this, the wise man said "Hey, you loonies.
        Do you only know the letters ka kha ga gha in the alphabet or do
        you know the rest too?
        They answered, "we know the rest too!".
Then the wise man said, "listen: the next bit of the alphabet
is written , `ta, tha da, dha, na'. `Ta and tha' stand for
"however [tathaapi]", `da and dha [dagdha]' stand for "burnt
ones", and `na' here means `are not to be eaten' so after the
meaning `crows are edible', it goes on to say, `not, however,
when burnt'!"

     (they all laugh)

First:  Like question like answer.

Second: The wise man was very clever.

Guru:   Then, hearing what the wise man said, all the loonies stopped
        eating the crows, so the story ended, and they all went home.

One:    Sir! What is the moral of the story?

Guru:   The moral is; he who understands in one way can be understood in
        the very same way. If someone understands like that, then a wise
        man can understand him the same way.

        Now, get along. We shall have to recite the lesson some other time.

    (They all bow with peaceful minds and go.)

Tr. DW ca. 1974/5

Senior Research Fellow (from January 2002)
Wellcome Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL.

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