*Charu Datta, son of a wealthy merchant in the city of Virapura, couldn’t believe his luck. He pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. Prince Tungabala had sent for him one fine day and, after a short interview, offered to make him a personal assistant. Charu Datta eagerly grabbed the rare opportunity. This was a sure path to wealth and influence. He must have done something really virtuous in his previous birth to get a gift like this without even trying, thought the young man.
Soon it was Navratri. The prince decided to perform Gauri pooja (in which a young virgin is worshipped as if she were Goddess Gauri) and asked Charu Datta to bring a different virgin every night of Navratri. He readily obliged. He guessed what the prince would do to the virgin behind the closed doors of the royal bedroom. So overcome by curiosity he peeped through the keyhole during the first night and the following nights. To his utter surprise, the prince did not touch the woman. He sat away from her, performed the pooja with his eyes closed, offered her expensive gifts and ornaments, and sent her away. The same story went on for eight nights. The only difference was that each night the gifts were more dazzling than the previous night’s.
Now a brilliant idea struck Charu Datta: "For the last night’s pooja, why don’t I present my own young bride, Lavanyavati? It’s an absolutely safe and easy way to get a lot of expensive gifts and ornaments. She is so young and pretty, the prince will never know that she is not a virgin."
That night also Charu Datta peeped through the keyhole. To his horror, this time the prince behaved differently. He slowly disrobed Lavanyavati and made love to her. Charu Datta felt trapped. He couldn’t do anything to stop it; he couldn’t dare tell the prince that this woman was his wife and not a virgin.
Let me now tell you the other side of the story, which poor Charu Datta had no idea about. While touring the city a few weeks before this event, Prince Tungabala had come across the exceedingly beautiful Lavanyavati and instantly overcome by desire for her. She also felt drawn to the handsome prince. But she checked herself because she was married. The Prince sent a woman to persuade Lavanyavati to come to him. But Lavanyavati refused; she said that she would not betray her husband and that she would go to the prince only if her husband sent her. The Prince didn’t know how to overcome such strong resistance and comply with such an impossible condition. That is when the messenger woman hatched this plan.
*Developed from a story in Book I of Hitopadesa. Translated by A.N.D. Haksar. Penguin Books.
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There are plenty of timeless lessons in persuasion in this story, which is at least a thousand years old. Particularly noteworthy are the role of framing and the role of unbridled instincts in deceptive persuasion. It also shows us how tough it is for us to detect a setup that nearly always precedes deceptive persuasion. I will give you my analysis in the next post in a few days. In the meanwhile I invite you to write in your analysis of persuasion in this story.