The black Bamboo

The black Bamboo

Partha Desikan

The pilgrim had picked me up from a cluster of black bamboos in Kamarupa. He had been using me as a walking stick for miles upon miles. All the way up to this place on the bank of this lovely river Yamuna with its rather dark looking waters. Now he suddenly flings me among the bamboos in a cluster here.


We (the pilgrim and I, that is) had come South at first till we were very nearly at the place where the Brahmaputra prepares to join the sea. We had changed direction and moved westwards to the Ganga and had a boatman ferry us to its southern shore. Then we had kept walking all the way westwards. We had crossed the holy city of Prayaga where the Yamuna joins the Ganga.


The pilgrim had told me that both the Yamuna and the Ganga had reached Prayaga by flowing southwards from their Himalayan sources. From Prayaga he had decided to keep close to the west bank of the Yamuna and here we are at Vrindavana. The agreeable fragrance of the sacred tulasi growing in thick bushes among lush grass seems to soothe him.


He and I see some cows grazing leisurely in the meadows. We notice too some cowherd boys watching them with care. The cows appear happy, as do the boys.


‘I feel fully revived’ the pilgrim exclaims. ‘I do not need your support anymore. Kanha has given me strength!’ Saying that, he walks away


These bamboos are not like me. They are a yellowish off white in colour and appear majestic and tall. Some who are perhaps younger still have some green tinge. They are all united though in giving me a welcome smile. They say they are happy that I have been able to dig into some soft soil as I landed and am standing vertical. I know I must look rather strange to them with my ebony black hue and height just about that of a human being.


‘You are as good as planted here with us’ they say. ‘You will revive presently and feel quite good before Kanha arrives.’


That is the second time today that I hear about Kanha. The pilgrim must have known a lot about him, but he somehow did not talk about him till he made that brief mention about Kanha having given him strength. He has gone away now, but I can certainly find out about Kanha from my new hosts.

God! What stories they tell me! What comes out clearly out of all of them is that Kanha, who is also called Krishna, Shyama and many other names, is indeed God come down on earth. The cowherd people do not know it. They dearly love him and even worry about him all the time. They consider his exploits miracles beyond their understanding.


There is visible joy among the grazing cows suddenly as they look up and turn their heads in the direction of Gokul. Krishna and his brother Balarama have joined the other boys, who forget the cows and rush to them.


Kanha says that he wants to select a length of bamboo for a flute. Some of his friends who already play the flute point to our cluster. All of them walk towards us. As they near us, all the youngsters except Kanha and Balarama stop suddenly with fear in their eyes and shout to their natural leader with their fingers pointing to me.


‘That short bamboo is black’, one cries. ‘It was not there this morning. How can it appear here suddenly?’ asks another. ‘It is a demon, dear Kanha, save us from him!’ pleads another.


Kanha smiles, raises his voice slightly to reassure them and tells them to stop shouting. He says, ‘Look at me, am I not dark, unlike all of you? Did Yashoda Mata throw me out because I was not like her?’


‘A demon is one, not because of how he looks, but because of his evil doings. A thing or person having a different colour or appearance from normal is part of the way Nature works. It does not make them better or worse.’


‘This bamboo does not make any movements which I consider evil. And the cluster of off-white bamboos seem content to have it in their midst. I am going to take it as a good sign. I like its colour which will match my own colour. It can give me a straight arm-length. I shall fashion my flute with it and call it Murali. Do you all like the name?’


I am overjoyed that I will become Kanha’s own flute. My bamboo friends nod wisely.


‘It never occurred to us to consider you different from us, just because you had a colour different from ours. When will human beings learn this simple lesson on their own?’

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4 Replies to “The black Bamboo”

  1. Like our Puranic stories, an easy, seemingly childlike yet thought provoking read that also exemplifies an observation vis the Buddha which says in effect that He spoke to many people simultaneously in their own language. Interesting too, is that which can be understood as your concession to the 21st century with the bamboos’ observations on ‘difference’, could also be read as the use of an existent story to make a certain point. There are so many take aways – each of us will initially pick that which resonates with him/herself. Some will latch on to maybe even appreciate other angles, others will miss these altogether. A profound lesson in Hinduism. Thank you, Partha.

  2. What a profound, while appreciative analysis, dear Deshika. Thank you. You have created a nice opening for other serious readers to express their impressions too for my/our benefit.
    A significant observation by you is about the latching on of the ‘difference laden’ present on to the Krishna era as of didactic value.

  3. 1. White bamboos would have been different in Kamarupa. Black bamboos in Vrindavana. Many of us don’t get it at all.
    2. Bamboos themselves don’t differentiate between themselves as black and white. But others find this differences. Those others not only find the differences, but also create the fear factor.
    3. If I switch it, those who find such differences are ‘others’. There are many ‘others’ among the sanatana dharma who identify these differences and create fear factor amongst everyone.
    4. If one has that ‘Kanna’, the eye, the ‘observer’ in them, they know to ignore these fear-spreading, hate-propagating ‘others’, determining people at ‘arms length’ totally niSpakS.

    Well, this is what I see in this story. Everyone sees different things based on what they want to see.

    Thanks partha for this thoughtful story.


  4. Thank you, Balajee.
    How right you are that it is possible for the same narration to appear to have different shades of meaning, if not different meanings altogether. It is an enjoyable experience indeed for the narrator to get more than fourteen for seven added to seven.
    Your readings are very logically made.
    That you liked the story makes me happy. Thank you. Your beautiful poem of a decade ago tells us emphatically that you have always known that shades of meaning are always created along with any narration.

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