“That is the story I cannot tell you” was how I responded to my nieces and nephews who pulled on me to sit back down. I abruptly rose, leaving them to hang from a cliff to know what happened after the beautiful Sita had been kidnapped by the Demon.
“Please, uncle! Tell us the whole story of Ramayána, please!”
“Rámáyana,” I gently corrected the pronunciation. “It is very long. It is better you read it. I have already left out too much and too many details.”
I had taken a few moments of silence and a deep breath before I started animating what is called the greatest story ever told. It is certainly the greatest adventure ever told, and it is older than time itself. I had no problem to recount how the greatest and most handsome yogi who had ever lived acquired so much discipline that he gained the favor of the Gods, only to succumb to his ego and turn to Darkness, using the powers granted to him to wreak havoc on Earth and almost destroy the Heavens; how the most honest man who had ever lived came to this world would become the king of kings, whose impeccable alignment of thought, words and actions was so dedicated to good that he lost everything, including his beloved Sita, after having been banished to the jungle in exile.
But that is as far in to the story as I have ever been able to tell. The problem starts theretofore: I have never been able to get past the point after Sita is tricked and then kidnapped, taken to the citadel on the almost unreachable island of Lanka by the shape-changing Ravana, King of Demons, who could have anything he wanted in this Universe except for the love of Sita. I have never been able to tell more than that part in the story, because what follows is – for me – the greatest love story ever told, so powerful that I simply well up into slurping tears of joy and can no longer speak.
It is not the love story between Sita and Ram. It is the love that is found when the Universe conspires to send us a friend exactly in the moment when one thinks that all is lost, when even the one and only joy one has has been taken away, when what has been lost makes life not worth living. It is an undying, unshakeable, unwavering love like that of an animal once its trust has been gained.
People might abandon you but an animal never will.
After what had already been a spellbinding adventure, the Rāmāyana takes a curious twist that has never ceased to enchant me when the desolate and distressed Ram encounters a surprising monkey of startling prowess, who takes Ram to meet the Bear and Monkey kings in the land of Kishkinda, where an animal army is assembled to build a bridge and cross the water to the demon island of Lanka to rescue Sita and restore righteousness to this world.
There is not one Hindu who does not know the great name of that curious monkey who leaped across the water on a reconnaissance mission to the island to find Sita, who could become so small he could sneak past demons into the citadel or so large that he almost single-handedly and mischievously thrashed Ravana and all of Lanka to deliver the omen of Ravana’s defeat: Ram was much more than just a man on Earth and he was coming — he would see to it.
The world’s very first superhero was neither god nor man, which meant that Ravana had no power over him. I like to think that the great monkey-man-god would have loved to destroy the Demons himself, but he restrained himself, knowing he had a greater mission to deliver his beloved friend to fight the battle. I remember that, always, whenever I get very angry and know I have the power to destroy: I just might be the vehicle that will deliver the limit someone is seeking.
He was the hero who also leapt across to the other end of what had been the known world and – failing to encounter the magic herb on the sacred mountain of Himalaya – simply picked up the entire mountain to leap back to save Ram’s brother from death, because, as anyone who has ever had a true friend already knows:
A true friend will move mountains for you.
For some inexplicable reason, I can barely pronounce His name without crying, overwhelmed by emotion. It is bizarre and completely beyond my control. That is why I cannot tell this tale easily. And it might be for this reason that I have once again returned in a kind of pilgrimage back to His shrine on the hilltop where legend says He who was there when even the Lord needed a hand was born.
His name is Hanuman.
Om Tat Sat