Holier Than Thou

Modern Mythmaking 7 Comments

Published in Speaking Tree,  September 2010.

I am dismayed when seemingly honest Indian cricketers claim that they have never heard of bookies approach the Indian cricket team. I mean, come on! Have we forgotten our match fixing scandals, or should I say alleged match fixing scandals?

So Pakistan is now in the dock. Three young and talented cricketers have been caught red handed by Scotland Yard, and rather than feel sorry for the tragic state of affairs in our neighboring state, we are going to town claiming we are clean and pure. I think rather than be pompous and self-righteous, we should ask ourselves: what drives young men to do such a thing? Yes, they are Pakistanis, and yes what they have done is a terrible thing, but they are human beings, sons of mothers, brothers of sisters. Are we demonizing them, de-humanizing them, in our desperate bid to feel good about ourselves? Are we losing our humanity?

This absence of humanity is often noticed in retellings of the Mahabharata. Storytellers often prejudge characters before they even start the narration. Even before the book is opened, we are told the Pandavas are the heroes and Kauravas are the villains. No one is therefore allowed to question the deeds of the Pandavas or empathize with the actions of the Kauravas. We transform them into 2-dimensional card board characters. We never want to know what makes some people heroic and some people villains. We are not interested in the etiology of villainy. We simply want to take sides, glorify one side and condemn the other.

But for a moment, let us step back and look at the characters of the great Indian epic. Let us look at the honest Yudhishtira, and ask ourselves, what made him gamble his kingdom, his brothers (first his step-brothers, and then his own brothers) and finally his wife. Is it just momentary madness? Or the release of bottled-up desires? Here is a man who never said a bad thing or a dishonest thing to anyone, a boy who lost his father at an early age, who lived with his widowed mother in the shadow of an insecure uncle and hundred cousins, a boy who did everything in his power to be nice to everyone so as not to risk his disputed inheritance. Was that his nature or his survival skill? We will never know. The epic throws this at us to wonder and speculate on the nature of people. Are we good, asks Vyasa, because that is our nature or because that is the strategic imperative?

Let us look at Duryodhana, a boy with a blind father who could not see him, a mother who refused to remove her blindfold even to look at him, a teacher who preferred the Pandavas and a grand uncle who preferred the Pandavas. Did he feel alone, insecure and did this fuel his envy and rage and cruelty? Was his hatred of the Pandavas simply his nature or a product of his upbringing? Once again, the epic throws us such thoughts so that we meditate on the human condition. When we so meditate, we become less harsh in our judgment of people.

Why did the Pakistani men do what they did? Could it be because they now live in a state where money is the only security and one has to fend for oneself because no one will fend for you, certainly not the government nor the army or the terrorists or the nationalists? Is it an act of greed, or an act of sheer desperation? We can beat our chests and claim we are honest people with integrity. And when we say that, remember the Pakistanis are pointing to the mess of the IPL and the Common Wealth Games. We can be Gamblers too!

  • purnachandrapattnaik



    Dear Mr.Devadutt,

    the sentence”Are we good, asks Vyasa, because that is our nature or because that is the strategic imperative?”is worth pondering over and an eye opener for most of us.

  • Though we like things to be in black and white, we actually live in a world full of “shades of greys”.

    However, there are some shades darker than others. Yes, Pakistanis are just as human as we are and yes, we too have our “moments of madness”.

    What separates us from them is our humanity and our desire to live in “relative peace” with our neighbors. Like the Pandavas and Kauravas, Indians and Pakistanis are different be we don’t want to snatch someone else’s inheritance, we only want what is ours by right. Pakistanis, on the other hand, have, from their very inception, wanted to snatch what belongs to others at any cost.

    Sadly, history bears this out in a hundred ways, and sadly, Mahabharat is an accurate mirror for what is happening between “us and them.”

    Yes, we should feel compassion, yes we should have a feeling of empathy, BUT, lets not get carried away like Yudhisthir who is willing to return the entire kingdom to Duryodhan on the last fight between him and Bhim.

    Let us be aware of who our friends and enemies are and get on with life with eyes wide open.

  • Deepak

    Really liked this article, Mr. Devadutt.

  • sanjay jhunjhunwala

    pl refer to para 3 – kindly explain why storytellers prejudge – and prejudge wrongly at that.
    Another example can be of Bali. He was performing a Yagna when Vaman came for alms. Bali was about to achieve his life’s mission, even when his guru forbade him against entertaining the Vaman – chose to follow his dharma by not refusing anyone who came to his door. On the other hand, we have Vaman, who simply decided to side with suras – blatantly disregarding the karmas of suras and that of Bali.
    Yet we have our religious scripts extolling Vaman as avatar – as God himself while denouncing Bali as Asura – and therefore evil.

  • Dear Devdutt ji,

    Regarding the conduct of Yudhishtira, We will have to judge him from the context and dharma applicable to his period. We might find so many mistakes in him if we view him through the microscope of 21st century society. Today we may say that gambling is a sin. But in the Dwaparyuga, probably it was required of them as a duty (dharma) and as an issue of prestige required of a Chatriya, a king and a prince. Otherwise this gambling took place in Raj durbar, in the very presence of the most respected elders and stalwarts of the day like Bheeshma and Dronacharya. They never said a word about the conduct of Yudhistira, because he was right according to the rules of the day. In Telugu, we call Yudhistira as Dharmaraju because he is the one who always followed Dharma. If he has done injustice to his kingdom, his brothers, his wife and others, he would not have been called Dharmaraju. Even today we have Nyaay and Dharma. Many a time we are compelled to feel that all Dharma is not Nyaay. I may be corrected if I am wrong.

    Secondly, the psychological concept of Sibling Rivalry will probably explain the hatred of Duryodhana against the Pandavas. There are innumerable instances where elder child has killed the just born own brother, because in his perception, he is his rival, who has usurped his position with his mother and father.

    Lastly coming to cricket, they all conform to “ Is hamaam men sab nangay hain ”. Only when one is caught stealing, he is a thief. Otherwise he is the most respected one in the society. All this happens only because we are turning fully materialistic, and the moral and spiritual values have been forgotten, and the fear of God in our hearts has vanished.