Hanuman is the most endearing character in the Ramayan. As a child when we were introduced to the various characters of the epic, it is this character that specially excited my imagination by its range of daredevil deeds say jumping across the ocean or flying with an uprooted hillock in hand. I do not remember if I had read then a passion for righteousness or a sign of imperative expediency in the unflinching loyalty of Hanuman to Ram. Maybe I had not thought it any different from other interesting stories I listened to like that of Sindbad the sailor or Sikandar the conqueror.
But now when I feel I should be logical in what I think or write, I cannot be so undiscerning. If I ask myself to list out ten ideas that flash through my mind when I think of this great epic character, I honestly fail to fill in the list. Let me try once again as I key in my words: Hanuman means heroism, courage, blind allegiance, mace (gada), kneeling on one knee with the other raised towards the sky, tearing one's own chest, talking like humans, standing upright more like human than like a primate, a tail in fire…I don't think the list is yet complete. It's like trying to remember the details of a calendar art or the soap opera that entertained the country for a little over two years at a stretch.
When the epic was on the air, a little girl once came to me with a question that bothered her all through.
'Uncle, why is it that the characters like Hanuman and Angad are shown with tails and the female characters of the monkey world aren't?'
This question brought a funny feeling in me. I mused over the matter, 'How can we think of Hanuman without a tail? If we do that at all, how does the director of the epic drama make Hanuman set fire in Ravana's golden Lanka?'
Then I replied the question. 'Look at me, my little friend, I've a moustache, haven't I?'
'Yes, you've a big black moustache and that's what I can see. But that cannot be the answer, Uncle,' she had quipped.
'Hold it for a second and I'm coming to that. Look at your Auntie and tell me if she has any moustache,' I asked.
'Moustache? How can Aunty wear a moustache?' she responded rhetorically.
'So, it's only a natural difference between a male and a female whether we talk of a moustache or a tail. Is that clear to you?' I gave a self-satisfied smirk. My little friend seemed to have understood my explanation, as she did not have to laugh now.
Jokes apart let me ask myself a question that bothers me now: What was the motivation of Hanuman to be so committed to Ram? If Laxman was with him, it was for the fact that he was Ram's brother and even today we find brothers so very faithful. Sita was the wife and a wife giving company to her husband in the days of hardship is also understandable. But what about Hanuman?
People with their minds heavily preconditioned would tell that Hanuman was a devotee and a selfless devotee at that. So what's the big point of confusion?
But there is a little difficulty in accepting this explanation so easily. It is so very otherworldly and esoteric, like explaining this birth as a result of actions of the previous. Here one does not see both cause and the effect; what is presented is to be explained in terms of what is missing. There has to be something in the present, at least something banal and apparent to motivate the instant action. Sugreev offered himself to fight Ravana because there was an agreement to that effect and the first part of the agreement (killing of Bali) was already over. So the episode was understandable in terms of quid pro quo.
But what about Hanuman? Let me go a little trivial here in what I say: since animals by nature are faithful, say a dog for instance, Hanuman acted as per his animal proclivity. But let me not forget it; he was a talking monkey, not the ordinary one we see in our backyard day in day out!
Hanuman was a mere soldier in the army of monkeys and all soldiers have one motivation when they kill the enemy--it is not heroism but an ordinary step of survival. 'If I don't kill the soldier from the enemy standing before me, he will kill me'--it is as simple as that. So Hanuman could have behaved like an ordinary soldier in the army of Sugreev. Then why did he go to the extraordinary extents to help Ram? Didn't he go alone inside the enemy's camp? Was it not like recklessly exposing to danger?
Now let me try to explain the motivation. Hanuman was an ambitious soldier with terrific abilities. He knew what he was capable of. But Sugreev was not a good leader and he could neither know of the ability of a talented follower nor sense the fire of ambition burning in him. Had he known that he could have won the war against Bali without having to seek the help of Ram the mendicant. So on the one hand there was somebody among the followers willing to do extra and be recognised and on the other a totally mediocre leader who was blissfully unaware of the resource he was commanding. Naturally there was a kind of readiness in Hanuman to try something different. Then came Ram. He was a true leader. He knew what secures allegiance: it is not what you pay at present but what you promise to pay in future. A leader dreams for his followers. 'Come, Hanuman come. I'll take you somewhere nobody had ever ventured. Together we will fight and win. We will annex a land of honey and gold and you will be remembered in the future as the conqueror of conquerors, the hero of heroes….'
I don't know if this explains my doubt. Maybe in future I'll have to revise these findings. There is nothing apologetic about it for the Ramayan is such an epic; it invites one to read it again and again.
A. N. Nanda