Even if we agree that Bhai Bala was not present with Baba Nanak all the time, writing by him to the contrary may just be his simple way of cutting the long story short of giving details of where he went back to his village for a while to attend to this thing or that and where he rejoined while he knew he had made up for this missing by asking Bhai Mardana about the happenings in his absence in all detail and incorporating them in his writings. He was not an academician to delve greatly on secondary niceties over his primary work which was to write about Nanak's journeys. He knew it was not about him but first about Nanak and then about the future generations and both these considerations may not have allowed him to write more about himself. We hair-splitting modern-day intellectuals should not expect of an innocent villager to write as we write our Ph.D theses. His aim was to convey the content of his writings which he did and which has stood the test of time. I don't think a lie could have so mesmerised an entire people for about 500 years.
Anyway, now we come to one of the most important points raised by one Professor Surjit Hans against Bhai Bala in later's supposed effort to denigrate Guru Nanak. Writes he, according to sikhiwiki writer:
The first clue to grasping the true character of the Bala Janamsakhi is the fact that the persons related most closely to Guru Nanak are presented in uncomplimentary light. His father, Kalu, for instance, is a cruel man; he is greedy and ill spoken; he blames Mardana for spoiling his son; and Guru Nanak is rather chary of meeting him. Guru Nanak’s wife regrets marrying him, she is hot-tempered and full of anger. His mother-in-law is quarrelsome and hardhearted. His father-in-law curses his fate to have a son-in-law like Guru Nanak. The Guru’s constant companion, Mardana, is pleased with counterfeit coins and cast off clothes; he is all the time hungry.
I am afraid if the above facts are really written by Bhai Bala nothing more needs to be read by me about the authenticity of his character and specially about his having seen it all with his own eyes. Because as I will explain below the above are the most natural things to happen to the one whom Ek Oankar (One, God) has chosen to cause a quantum jump or paradigm shift in an existing spirituo-social setup rather than merely revise it. And only the one who had really seen all the above with his own eyes could have dared to write it as it is, for others bowing to the later popularity of Baba Nanak would have tried to create an artificially goody-goody family setup around him which would actually have been the later product of the paradigm shift brought about by him. When in his name fathers and wives will rather be ready to sacrifice their all including children.
There is a certain concept of "punctuated equilibrium" in evolution, thanks to paleontologists Niles Eldredgee and Stephen Jay Gould which in simple means that whether in species or in religio-cultural-social set ups there are long periods of gradual change which with passage of time rather tends to take them to an uneasy equilibrium which then is suddenly broken or punctured to usher them into qualitatively new ones.
All the above members of Nanak's family were in the above said uneasy equilibrium vis-a-vis Nanak as a part of the then prevailing social set up of valuing only outer riches, perhaps awaiting paradigm shift much like the photo at right above which incidently is also titled "awaiting paradigm shift." It is this rather decaying spirituo-social set up which Bhai Gurdas meant from "dhund (fog)," when he wrote in his Vars: Satgur Nanak pargatya miti dhund jag chaanan hoya, jionkar suraj niklia tare chhupe andher ploya (Nanak's appeared and lo! the fog is gone just as stars and darkness are gone on the rising of sun).
When every son around is trying his best to educate himself so as to be able to expand his father's business which father will not be frustrated given the prevailing social set up as above if his son doesn't want to listen to even the alphabet? His father might have looked a little prepared in terms of evolution if Nanak was to represent a continuous gradual change from him, but certainly not if he was to represent a rather total break up, a paradigm shift.
When everybody around is discussing with their wives how to give the best of education to their children, how to safeguard their future by amassing as much wealth as possible, how to construct the best of houses in the village for them, which wife would not be full of anger and regret marrying a man who did not seem to be even slightly concerned with them, not to talk of seeming ever eager to leave them for some un-understandable dream lands?
Which mother-in-law or father-in-law, given again the prevailing social set up of giving value to the rather established and powerful relationships would not become hardhearted and curse their fate if their son-in-law, on the other hand, didn't seem to show any relationship with their daughter duly married to him? These are the hard sacrifices which have to be given by all those involved from any side in the shifting of a paradigm.
And such type of frustrating set ups would also have provided a perfect ground for the chosen hero of liberation to show the way to it by example as I explained earlier. These would have been, in other words, the perfect set ups to cause Nanak to fight for every inch of his battle of liberation as it would never have been an easy liberation for Nanak against his supposedly cruel and illspoken father, Kalu,** and it would certainly have been accomplished only thanks to the excessive Life Force Baba Nanak would have been bestowed with by the Lord. Sometimes it is rather Nature's way to put more hurdles before a life force to further strengthen it and thus help it succeed in its designated mission. As Neitzsche said "That which does not kill me strengthens me," certainly all the above hurdles would have rather strenghthened Baba Nanak in one way or the other.
As for Mardana's pleasing with counterfeit coins or used clothes or always being hungry to eat we must remember that Mardana was like a child to father Nanak, may be a spiritual child but still a child, and was doing just what any child would be doing while going with his father in a bazaar or on a journey. What is so degarding about it? Why can't we rather enjoy the perfect innocence of this relationship thanks to Bhai Bala telling us?
The above explained hard setup around Nanak rather gave him an opportunity to show an other facet of his spiritual achievement by example: that the ultimate divine heights can also be achieved by one irrespective of the initial outer circumstances of course if the grace of the One is with him? Isn't it so gracious for the One or Ek Oankar to show us through the example of Baba Nanak that if a Buddha could achieve the highest divinity by being born in the house of a king who was ready to bow to his every wish, the same could also be achieved by a person born to an apparently ordinary family who were to rather obstruct him at every inch of his way to liberation?
A 1804 AD coin showing Baba Nanak accompanied by Bhai Bala and Mardana.
Middle from L to R:
a. Quantum jump from one enrgy state to an other, from n=1 to n=2 to n=3 with 'nothing' inbetween.
b. Paradigm shifts at a much larger historical scale.
Bottom from L to R:
a. Above, gradual change, below, sudden change with punctuated equilibrium.
b. In an uneasy status quo state awaiting paradigm shift.
**I don't think the writer has rightly translated Bala's words here. Greedy Kalu may be given the prevailing social set up of valuing only the rich; and even illspoken more perhaps out of frustration of his only son's apparently irresponsible behaviour, but I don't think he would be cruel. All Bala may have meant may be that he was what in Punjabi is called "sakhat (hard task master)."
My own father was very "sakhat", would not allow us any rest after coming back from school miles away and would expect us to join the paid labour in the fields immediately and even outdo them in whatever work we were engaged in at the time, would often say "karo ya mao, mera tan eh motto hai (do or die, this is my motto)," and sometimes even hurled a few abuses at us which in retrospect I can understand as the outburst of the frozen anger of generations of deprivations and insecurities inherited by him, yet as regards cruelty I have never seen a person more soft-hearted in my whole life. When I bought my first motorcycle and later car, he would forbid me from blowing their horn in our village lest it should hurt the sentiment of those who do not have them. There is an even more interesting story regarding his softheartedness which his younger sister (our Bhua Ji) would often tell us. "Don't mind his outer scolding, he is very soft from inside," she would begin. "So much so that once I happened to pick a louce in his hair, he would not alow me to kill it and would rather expect me to replace it in his hair, saying it will go away on its own some day." Yet, like Nanak, we too would be chary of meeting him, for, for whatever reason, our minds would seem to go numb in his presence. Still in many circumstances such fathers rather prove to be the best bets.