Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Aesop's Foibles # 1 The Turtle and the Hare

This is the inside story of Aesop’s popular fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise plods on slowly but never missing a forward step while the hare supremely confident does a lot of meandering knowing full well that there is no way he could lose.

The tortoise moves on through life with his face almost touching ground but resolutely moving forward oblivious of everything that goes on around him. He is engrossed with the idea of finishing the race. There was a vague idea of competition in his mind for he knew that he could never be a winner against the hare but he is determined to make something out of his life in his own way. It is this idea of finishing the race that he had put mind and soul behind. He had not thought of anything else. His head was bowed and close to the ground so as not to be distracted by extraneous delights along the way.

The hare, on the other hand, was similarly half aware that he was in competition with the tortoise. He felt the absurdity of the notion of being in a race with a creature biologically inferior to him when it comes to a foot race. He was a regular gadabout who flitted from one diversion to another, never for a moment thinking that there was this totoise who put up a challenge against him to reach a goal towards a certain distance. He was happy traipsing around flower paths and revisiting favorite haunts and all the while enjoying himself. He would at times be very safely ahead of the tortoise and at times back track a few miles and be sorely behind. But this did not matter to him knowing full well that there really was no contest.

At the end of the fable the tortoise wins because the hare, only at the last moment, became reminded of the race and made a token effort but was too late in catching up. The tortoise had crossed the finish line when the hare decided to make a game of it. But no matter, the hare did not care whether he lost or won. Losing some and winning some was how life was. The losses make the wins seem more glorious and exceedingly worthwhile.

What was the prize for winning the race? The tortoise must have found satisfaction that he won because he was unerring albeit slow on his progress. His friends would have patted him on the back for leading a straight and narrow life without any risks, progressing through life slow by slow. He didn’t mind feeling the heat of the pavement on his face and his mouth lined with dried up dust. All this sacrifice for a race that he believes has to be won.

The loser, the long eared, one finished last but he had a great time stopping at every little joy made available to him along the way. He was one big happy loser in a race that his heart was not set on winning.

I am not taking away the feeling of satisfaction that the tortoise must have had for beating the hare in the race. It must have been of utmost import to him to have won against natural odds. He is happy at a conquest no matter how trivial.

To each his own.

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