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About Amit Varma

Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.




Bastiat Prize 2007 Winner

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13 October, 2007

The Tiger and the Gorge

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha writes in The Rise of India:

There is a fascinating story in one of the classical Hindu texts that throws light on key existential dilemmas. A man is running hard to escape a hungry tiger. He tumbles in panic and rolls off a precipice. He is falling to what promises to be a certain death in the gorge below, when he just manages to clutch at a small tree that is growing on the rock face. He hangs there for dear life. The choice is a bleak one. Above him is a hungry tiger and below him is a deep gorge. There is death on both sides. Just then, the dangling man’s eyes fall upon an abandoned beehive that is a few feet above the tree that he is frantically hanging on to. There is honey dripping from the beehive. The man shuts his eyes and puts his tongue out to catch the sweet honey. It is his moment of fleeting bliss!

Now what does one make of this wonderful parable of existential dilemma? There are two possible explanations. The first is that humans are a contemptible lot. Here is this man facing a certain death and, even then, all he can think of is petty gratification of his senses. The story purportedly shows what trivial levels men can sink to in the face of important challenges. The other explanation is that the human condition is hopeless anyway. We are caught between the tiger and the gorge. It is the drops of honey that make our lives worth living. We maintain our humanity by aspiring to enjoy the little sensory pleasures.

I favour the second analysis, though I worry that the first one is correct and I am merely rationalizing. And I often look ridiculous to myself, head extended, mouth open, waiting for honey to fall. Why not just let go?

Posted by Amit Varma in Arts and entertainment | Excerpts | India | Small thoughts

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