All my life, I have heard the advice – “you are known by the company you keep.” It is a standard advice given by parents to their children that they should always make “good” friends. Good being defined as intelligent, studious, courteous, polite, knowledgeable etc.
And I had always wondered why it is important to have good friends. As if in answer to this question, about 35 year ago I came across a story in Chandamama –a children’s magazine, which went something like this…
Once upon a time, long ago, Sage Narad went to meet Lord Vishnu to understand the importance of good company. “O Lord, everyone says that you should always make good friends and be in the company of good people. Please tell me what are the benefits of a good company?
Lord Vishnu smiled and said, “O learned one, if you would like to know the answer to this excellent question of yours, please go down to the earth. Go to the dandak forest. There you will find a banyan tree in the centre of this forest. Under that banyan tree, you’ll find a newborn cockroach. Go and ask the baby cockroach this question. I am sure you will be able to get an answer.”
Sage Narad though a little surprised, did what he was advised. He went to the dandak forest, and found the baby cockroach under the banyan tree. On finding the new born cockroach, he asked the insect, “O cockroach, I am Narad. I would like to know what the benefit of good company is. How does it help a person to have good friends and live in the company of good people?” The baby cockroach opened its eyes, looked at Narad and died!
Sage Narad was totally taken aback by this sudden turn of events and rushed back to Vaikunth Dham (Lord Vishnu’s abode) and narrated the sequence of events to Lord Vishnu. “O great Lord, I did as you asked me to do, but I have not got an answer to my query. The baby cockroach instead of answering my question actually died and did not reply to me. So I am still perplexed and would like to know what is so great about good company. At least give me an answer now.”
Lord Vishnu smiled and said, “Narad I would suggest that you go back to earth. Find your way to house of a Brahmin called Devdutt in the Vijaynagar Kingdom. In his house a cow has just given birth to a calf. Go and ask your question to this new born calf. I am certain that you will get your answer.”
Narad could not disobey Lord Vishnu and therefore did as he was told. He went to Vijaynagar and found Brahmin Devdutt’s house. He was heartily welcomed by the humble Brahmin and shown the calf. Sage Narad asked the calf, “O holy calf, can you please tell me what the benefits of good company are. Everyone says that you must always have good friends and keep the company of good people. Why?”
The baby calf opened his eyes, looked at Sage Narad, smiled and died!!
Narad was petrified. He was certain that he will be held guilty of the highest sin – killing of a cow. He ran back to see Lord Vishnu as fast as he could. Reaching Lord Vishnu’s home, Narad complained, “O lord, you have put me in such trouble. I asked the baby calf to tell me the benefits of good company and instead of answering me, it died. Now I will be called a cow murderer. Please save me.”
Lord Vishnu was his usual self – smiling and calm. He said, “O great sage, just relax. No one is going to blame you for the death of the calf. I also see that you have still not received the answer to your question regarding the benefits of good company. I would suggest that you go back to Vijaynagar. Only, this time you should go and meet the king in his palace. The king has been blessed with a baby boy. Go and meet the new born prince with your question and I am certain that this time you will get your answer.”
Narad was not inclined to do Lord Vishnu’s bidding but he was eager to get answer to his question and therefore grudgingly he went back to Vijaynagar and met the king in his palace. When the king came to know that the great sage Narad wanted to see the baby prince, he was delighted. Narad was taken to the new born prince. Narad blessed the prince and asked him, “O prince, I have been trying to understand the benefits of good company. So can you please tell me how does one benefit if you have good friends and keep the company of good people.”
The new born prince opened his eyes, looked up at Sage Narad, smiled and replied:
”O most learned of Sages, good company and friendship of good people is one of the greatest boons that you can have. Some days back, I had had the great fortune of being in your company for a few moments when you met me in the dandak forest under the banyan tree. I was then a new born cockroach. The benefit of those few seconds of good company of yours was so great that in my next birth I was born as a calf at Brahmin Devdutt’s house. Again I had the great fortune of being in your company for a few moments only, when you came to see me and now you can see that the benefit of those few second’s company of yours has given me the privilege to be born in this birth as a prince and the future king of the mighty Vijaynagar kingdom. Surely you will agree with me that being in the company of good people is a great boon.”
Sage Narad was satisfied and he went back to Lord Vishnu to thank him for having provided him an invaluable insight into the everyday saying – you are known by the company you keep.
Lord Vishnu said, “Narad, good company and friendship of good people is what everyone must strive for. When you keep glass beads amongst gold, people take them to be diamonds. That is how powerful good company is.
I would like to know what do you think about the old wisdom of keeping good company. Please let me have your views on the comments panel below. Also if you liked the story, do share it with friends, family both in the real and the virtual world!