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From TLOSA: The Mole & the Mountain by Alok Pandey

Researching History the Mole-way
(An Allegorical Story)

A mole was dissatisfied with its own stature. He had heard of the bear and the elephant who were apparently like him but much larger and stronger. Living in his burrow he had also heard of strange lands, of the mountains and seas, and experienced a mixed emotion of fright and wonder, doubt and faith. All this created an increasing restlessness in him, for he had to find out whether the stories were true or not. At times, he felt accursed for having read about these strange lands and their creatures that he nor anyone else in the mole-world had ever seen, because they were always so busy digging for dead earthworms and eating their remnants.

One day, however, he decided to step out of his burrow and find out for himself if the stories of the mountains and the seas, the elephants and the bears, were true. To assist him in his historical research he took with him a few useful instruments, — the best ones in the mole world, — a probe that could pierce 10” deeper than what mole feet could manage in one go, a lens that could magnify a mole tooth three times its size, and a measuring tape that was the longest available tape in the mole-world and could measure twenty times a mole-length from snout to tail. Equipped with these very best instruments ‘molely’ possible, he confidently stepped out of the mole-world and headed towards the land of the mountains of which he had heard and read. A thought crossed the mole-mind as he moved onwards, “I will measure the mountain and probe its depths and write a most authentic book on it.” He even fantasized great adulation of his unprecedented research; for in all the books he had read he had not found any clear references to the size of the mountain or its depth. Most authors seemed to have been deeply moved by the sight of the mountain; some even had climbed it but never came back to report. “Fools”, thought the mole, “if only they had measured and told us the size, it would have been so much easier and better for other moles to understand the mountain.

As he approached the great mountain, he felt the air grow cool and refreshing. But the mole did not know of anything that could exactly quantify the change, so he took it as an illusion of the senses. He moved on and unknowingly started to climb a rock at the foot of the mountain slope. But soon he realised that his feet were slipping and there was nothing he could hold or grasp. He thought, “This must be the mountain,” and rejoiced deep inside at the prospect of measuring it. But how was he to climb it? As the mole sat wondering, he saw a little monkey playing around. Understanding the mole’s difficulty, the latter offered to help him climb the rock. “No, thank you,” came the curt reply from the proud mole, who considered himself to be the best in the mole kingdom. So he tried to climb and fell back, and tried again and fell, and tried and fell again and again. Tired and exasperated, he wondered what to do next. Just then he saw a group of mountain climbers passing by. Instantly a ‘moley’ idea flashed in his mole-mind, “Maybe I could just jump on one of their bags!” The next moment he was sitting on the bag of a climber, who reached the top of the rock in a few steps. For them, this was not even the beginning. They were seekers of the snow-covered summits decked with mist and cloud and full of beauty and danger. The mole, who knew nothing about it, jumped down as soon as they had climbed the rock.

The climbers moved on. For a moment the mole wondered where were they going, but his mole vision could not see much beyond its little arc. Anyway, it did not concern him. He had now seen the top and it wasn’t really as big and huge or as magnificent as he had heard. “Well, people exaggerate”, he said to himself, and taking his probe and measuring rod went about studying in great detail the base of the mountain. He even dug a few inches in the soil around the rock and discovered a few strands of hair of some strange creature which had died there long ago. He also dug out a few worms and saw a swarm of ants around it. He carefully collected all these, photographed and preserved them, happy at each find that he felt was revealing the secret of the mountain. After all, he thought, the mountain was like any other place, full of worms and ants. And yes, the rock perhaps, was a little different, but still, it could be climbed and measured. He wondered why people had not written about the worms and ants, for these could be easily verified by any mole. They had spoken of the snow-summits, waterfalls and rare flowers, and the only common thing mentioned was the rock.

After staying a few weeks around that small rock and collecting more data from the rocky soil, the mole finally decided to return to the mole-world. He was loaded with enough material to earn him fame and rewards for a lifetime. He planned to write a remarkable book about the minutest details of the mountain, — the ants, the worms, the hair of the dead creature, — things that nobody had found or written about. Excited and a little exhausted, he slept off at the foot of the mountain and slipped into a dream world in which he saw a number of rats and bandicoots, moles and lizards, gather around him to listen to his description of the elusive mountain with rapt attention. His book was already being acclaimed as the first authentic and objective book on the subject. A dream dialogue ensued in which he was proudly displaying his book, “The Many Sides of a Mountain”.

“So what is the mountain like Mr. PH” (as he was popularly known, — a short form of “painstaking historian”, though some heretic moles had nicknamed him as “petrified historian”, since he could only dig for scraps in the buried past)? What is the mountain like, sir?”

“Well, very much like any other place,” beamed PH and, with a sly smile, asked, “Does that surprise you?”

“Well, yes, perhaps, maybe not,” someone answered, a little confused.

And another, “It makes us feel closer to the mountain, it is more manageable now, and maybe someday one of us would be able to climb it. How much was its height, sir?”

“Well about twenty feet, top to bottom, a few inches more perhaps,” declared confidently the historian.

“Oh, we can climb that with a little assistance and practice,” one observed.

“Yes, or with a little intelligence and cunning,” the historian added, remembering how he had jumped upon a passer-by’s backpack.

“So what is all this fuss about? I mean, these climbers speak of some enormous figure, a seemingly impossible task for us moles!” questioned another one.

“Oh, the climbers always exaggerate. Having been to the mountain and studied it closely, I know that much of what they say comes from their imagination. In fact, the mountain is one huge rock and nothing more. All this talk of greenery and caves and exquisite flowers and rare animals and snow tops where the sun-rays dance in golden hues, is romantic poetry,” replied the historian mole sarcastically.

“I see,” a young mole pondered, “and what about the pure and pristine streams and waterfalls?”

The mole answered with an air of solemnity and impartiality: “Well, I searched and dug deep and went around the mountain several times, but found no evidence of any streams or even of water nearby. I cannot say that what the other writers claim is delusive and unreal, but one thing is certain, it cannot be objectively verified.”

“And what about the healing herbs with strange magical powers to cure?” a curious child mole asked feeling a little dampened by the mole’s account.

The historian mole laughed hideously and, stamping out the joy and wonder from the child mole’s eyes, answered wryly: “I do not know of any such thing. All I found were some ants and worms and few strands of hair of a dead creature,” and he showed him proudly the exhibits that he had brought in his bag.

Unknown to the mole, while he slept and dreamt of his future glory and fame, a group of climbers returned from the summit. One of them took a careless step and crushed the mole under his foot, burying it in the sand. When he realised what he had done, he cast a sympathetic glance at the dead mole and cautioned himself to be more careful with his steps. And as he and his comrades proceeded on their way down, they sang of what they had seen and felt on their journey to the summit. They described “the glory of the mountain tops, snow-clad, bare, austere, free; the pristine streams and springs whose water soothed and rejuvenated; the magical herbs that healed and the rare gems that were hidden in its depths; the blinding blizzards and the snow leopards; the clear lakes and untouched forests and pine groves; and, atop all these, majestic Shiva with the moon to his left and the sun to his right, illumining the summits, which no eyes can describe and no vision behold.”

As they sang and went past, the wind ran with them and the hearts of the trees and creatures were filled with quiet wonder and joy. The mole lay dead by the wayside, the pages of his book fluttering on his side.

Alok Pandey
(November 2008)


Posted By Raman Reddy at 11/13/2009 05:54:00 PM

Posted by General Editor at 11/13/2009 05:54:00 PM

2 comments:

  1. bhavana said:

    I read this the day it was posted, i think, and at the time didn’t reply. But the reply keeps on singing in my head, so here it is. I was startled to find the returnees descending from the heights of the mountain trampling the ignorant mole to death. Unless the storyteller goes on to deconstruct Death in the story, this is rather a harsh and unhopeful sentence. I think the storyteller (who has the option, after all) should write in the possibility of redemption… despite our Teacher’s teachings, i guess we’re still far from the time when
    “… the demons wept with joy
    Foreseeing the end of their long dreadful task
    And the defeat for which they hoped in vain
    And glad release from their self-chosen doom
    And return into the One from whom they came.”
    —Sri Aurobindo, Savitri

    Reply

  2. Alok Pandey replies:

    The stepping over the mole of some returnees from the mountain is not done in a cruel way. It happens, with a careless step and the passer by looks back and feels sympathetic and cautions himself to be more careful next time.

    Quoted below is the context:

    Unknown to the mole, while he slept and dreamt of his future glory and fame, a group of climbers returned from the summit. One of them took a careless step and crushed the mole under his foot, burying it in the sand. When he realised what he had done, he cast a sympathetic glance at the dead mole and cautioned himself to be more careful with his steps.’

    As to the conversion of the demon in the beautiful lines from Savitri, that is an inner process, not the survival on the physical plane with all our egoistic propensities. If you like, one may say that allegorically, the ego-self, that is to say the littleness depicted in the persona of the mole, must die to itself for the effective conversion to take place, the weeping of the demons with this joy typifies this change, …the end of their long dreadful task.

    Yes, in this story the smallness does not change in the lifetime of the mole. He is not new born in his lifetime but of course he can always be reborn anew and have a fresh chance to change. To show that it changed one may have to write a part two of the mole-story, the mole being reborn as a mountaneer perhaps. But that is to stretch the allegory too far. The story has a limited scope. It is about the stupidity of the little human intellect that thinks itself the judge of all things high and beautiful and takes this position that whatever escapes it does not exist. Such an attitude leads to its ruin eventually since with all its might it is far too small before the forces that govern life and destiny.

    The story is not about the demons but about the little mind and its blindness described thus in Savitri:

    Mind keeps the soul prisoner…..
    …And perish from the earth where he was king
    Bk I C IV p.53

    It is the perishing of the little mind under its weight of stupidity and not the conversion of an asura that is depicted here.

    The story is clearly an allegory. Just as the mole is not a mole but the tendency of the physical mind so also the human beings are not human beings but representatives of an ascending consciousness or, if we like, beings of a cosmic order with vaster movements.

    Source: http://www.thelivesofsriaurobindo.com/2009/11/mole-and-mountain.html

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