“You have control over only your karma: never on its fruits. So because of [concern over] the fruits of your karma, never shirk from it.”
This is most probably the most quoted, used, misused, praised and maligned verse from the Bhagavad Gita, where Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna on the Karma-yoga. It has been praised as the epitome of virtue to do your duty regardless of the consequences: it has been severely criticised as the upper caste Hindu spiritual drug to force a person to follow his caste duties without contemplation. Both views have their merits: but what they ignore is that, spirituality aside, this is what keeps most of us sane – having very little control over where we are placed as a cog in this huge machine of the universe, the best thing is to bite the bullet and press ahead, and do the best you can.
Hemingway’s old fisherman, Santiago, would not have known the Gita. But he echoes its philosophy when he says:
Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing that I was born for.
Being born as a fisherman, his karma is to fish – it does not matter whether he manages to land anything. Everyday he keeps on returning to the sea, because
My big fish must be somewhere.
This slim book is Hemingway’s testament to the eternal struggle of man against nature, a dance of life and death, enacted by Santiago and the marlin against the backdrop of the sea and the sky. Even while intent on killing one another, the contest is one of love as well as antagonism.
“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”
You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?
There is nothing personal in it, no pleasure or pain – just the inevitability of karma. And it does not matter whether one wins or loses, whether one has the catch to show for one’s victory – for the act of fishing is what is important, for a man who was born to be a fisherman.
Up the road, in his shack, the old man was sleeping again. He was still sleeping on his face and the boy was sitting by him watching him. The old man was dreaming about the lions.
Something attempted, something done, has earned a night’s repose. Tomorrow is always another day.
One of the real gems of world literature.