This is an old story that exists in many cultures in slightly varying forms. And, despite its folksy nature, it still holds lessons for today – be it in interpersonal conduct or international relations.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a little coastal village. Three sides faced the sea, and the only way out to the big town was through a forest. In the woods lived a great many animals, and most were hunted by the villagers – sometimes for food, other times for sport, yet others out of fear. Most of the residents of the forest stayed away from the village. However, the King of Snakes had no option. His wife had just laid eggs, and he needed to stay and guard his family. The villagers found him, and fearing his poison, began attacking him. The King of Snakes was a fierce fighter and strategist. He began taking the war back to the village. A few excruciating deaths by snake bite later, the villagers found their exit out of the village blocked. The few who tried to go out were prevented by the Nagaraj. Amidst this chaos, arrived a seer, with his disciples – by boat. The villagers received the Guru with due respect, and made his stay in the village comfortable. The sage, pleased with the villagers, asks them if he can do anything for them. The villagers complain about the snake. The Guru tells them he will take care of it. When he approaches the home of the Nagaraj, the King of Snakes senses the great teacher and accepts him as a Guru. The seer asks the snake to leave the villagers be and not bite them. The snake agrees. The teacher leaves telling the villagers that they had nothing to fear anymore. The villagers revert to their original terrorizing behaviour – attacking the Nagaraj, destroying some eggs, harming the wife. But, the Nagaraj and his family stick to their vow of not harming the villagers. A few months later, the sage is passing by again.. He comes across the bruised and battered Nagaraj family. He asks them what the matter is. Mrs Nagaraj pours her heart out. The King of Snakes looks stoically on, and tells the Guru: “I stood by my word, and as promised to you ‘we did not bite them’.” The Guru smiled sagely and said, “But, I didn’t tell you not to hiss.”
It would be advisable for the government and policy makers in India, who seek peace with Pakistan, at all costs to read the story and internalise its teachings. A hint: The story is neither about villainous villagers nor about talking snakes, nor is it about all-knowing seers who provide life altering solutions. Instead, it is about projecting a vibe. A vibe which says, attack and it will cost you. Attack and you will pay the price. The story is not about attacking, not in the least. It is also not about desiring peace so much that you get bruised and battered in the bargain. The learning from the story is simple — signal the fact that you are ready to attack to defend your turf, and willing to do grievous harm to keep yourself and those you have sworn to protect safe.
Peace with Pakistan is desirable. But like any relationship, this one too cannot be built on lies. More importantly, peace cannot be built on a foundation of resentment. It has to be built on mutual respect and understanding. Nostalgia about shared history that one province in India shared with one province in Pakistan is not good enough for the rest of India to pay the price. Breaking of peace, going back on one’s word, killing soldiers, mutilating their bodies all have their origins at a single point — the last three Indian governments have wanted peace at all costs. Both Mr Vajpayee and Dr Singh – both of whom have sought peace — have had to signal the end of talks and willingness to walk away from the dream of “Peace in our Times” to get Pakistan to back down. Unfortunately, to achieve peace you have to show that you are ready for war.
There is a via media between the calls for war put forth by belligerent war mongers who want to raise viewership by raising tempers, and ‘let’s hug a neighbour today’ view put forward by peaceniks who live in neither country. That via media is signalling your intent to let the peace process die, if attacked – either by uniformed men or non-state actors using Pakistan as a base. Enough, really, is enough.
Harini Calamur is a media entrepreneur, writer, blogger, teacher, and the main slave to an imperious hound. She blogs at calamur.org/gargi and @calamur on Twitter