The Yudhishthir Predicament

Yudhishthir answering Yaksha's questions

Over the last couple of years, I’ve increasingly found myself relating to this intriguing character from the Mahabharata, the eldest (legitimate) son of King Pandu and Kunti, and the rightful heir to the Hastinapur throne.

I say intriguing because although he was the king and eldest son, the epitome of virtue, benevolence and tolerance, Yudhishthir comes third in terms of popularity after Arjun and Bheem. He earned their adoration and respect, and will always be revered as Dharmaraj but the guy was honest to a fault! So much that it even irritated his brothers at times.

The name Yudhishthir means ‘the one who is stready in war’ and this is not just with reference to the Kurukshetra war. Yudhishthir fought a war within himself, or in other words faced the infamous Shakespearean ‘To be or not to be’ question, at every step of his life – to aspire to become future king of Hastinapur or not; to return to Hastinapur after the lakshagraha incident or not; to marry Draupadi or not; to play the game of dice or not; and finally, to wage a war or not.

Come to think of it, the alternatives to each of these decisions were indeed the easy way out. Imagine if he’d decided to usurp Dhritarashtra immediately after Varnavat? End of story? Or what if he’d refused to play the game of dice? At that point in time, these were simpler choices and yet, Yudhishthir took the path of higher consciousness.

It’s a similar situation I’ve found myself in multiple times in the recent past: Do I play the game of office politics or not? Should I quit a toxic work environment or hang in there for the money? Do I accept a mediocre job given the desperate pandemic situation or wait? More recently, should I hold one accountable for breach of contract or let it go and move on?

In the Star Plus version of the Mahabharat, Shakuni keeps saying, “Jo dharm ki raah par chalte hain unke saath bohut adharm kiya jaa sakta hai (one who walks the path of righteousness, can be easily persecuted.” I’m beginning to believe the man. Every time I’m faced with an ethical conflict or what I call as the Yudhishthir predicament, I let out a long groan of no, not again!

Like I said, picking the vengeful, cunning option or awakening the gadadhari Bheem in me has always seemed like the straightforward, instinctive thing to do. I mean, learning the nuances of office politics does seem effortless compared to say, learning Data Analytics.

For the major part of last week I was contemplating taking legal action against a client. Then, after a couple of conversations with loved ones and weekend indulgences, I opted to let go after taking one last, sincere shot at negotiations. It’ll allow me to sleep peacefully I am told again and again. Going by that logic, I argue, those who choose the road of unrighteousness don’t sleep too well. Then again, it’s Kaliyug so I’m not sure about that anymore. The Dhuryodhans of the world seem to be doing okay and in fact, getting a kick out of doing what they do.

Nevertheless, having survived for 40+ years on this planet – half of that as a professional – it seems I’ve settled into the Yudhishthir way of life. I do catch myself cautioning others to be smarter, not trust people blindly, watch out for the politicians in office and either steer clear or learn to beat them at their own game. But it’s evident to me now that the Yudhishthir predicament is a challenge in itself. Whenever one arrives at such a crossroad, it’s goddamn hard to take the moral high ground.

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