betse

Changing for better or worse

Modern Mythmaking, World Mythology 7 Comments

Published in Devlok, Sunday Midday, Nov. 28, 2010

When I was a child, I remember waiting at the phatak to cross the railway line. There used to be long traffic jams because of it. Then came plans to build a flyover over it. I was told this will put an end to all problems once and for all. So the flyover was built over the railway line and there were no more traffic jams. At least not there. Now there were traffic jams at the signal after the phatak. Since then, I have seen several flyovers being built, each one promising to solve our traffic problems and each one only shifting the problem to another location. Hope and momentary joy is replaced by despair.

We forget to take into account that all our solutions are based for current realities but current realities are constantly changing. Our solutions are not future proof. But can solutions ever be future proof. Can we truly ever be certain of the future?

In Greek metaphysics, there are two principles. One is called the Thanatos principle and the other is called the Eros principle. Thanatos means the death-principle while Eros means the life-principle. We are governed by death-principle or the life-principle. When we believe that the next flyover is going to make life only worse (by destroying heritage buildings, by destroying mangrove forests, by destroying familiar slums) then we are stricken by Thanatos. We believing that doom is near. However, when we believe that the next flyover is going to make life better then we are under the influence of Eros. We believe that life is getting better.

Who speaks the truth? Is it Eros or is it Thanatos? Thanatos is the grim reaper. He kills and destroys every day. So if we look at him, we are convinced that the world is coming to an end. Eros is the cherubic archer, striking people with love, desire and inspiration. He is constantly turning us one, giving us hope. If we look at him, life is always getting better. Thanatos is looking at life as half empty while Eros is looking at life half full. Thanatos always frowns. Eros always grins. Are we frowners or smilers?

Greeks believed there was only one life. And so life was seen as either Tragedy or Comedy. Thanatos sponsored Tragedy, Eros sponsored Comedy. Tragedy was about looking at the flyovers and feeling helpless that we have no say in the matter. Comedy is looking at the flyovers and realizing with delight how foolish man is to believe this will really change anything. Thanatos makes us the victim. Eros makes us the hero.

Since Indians believed in rebirth, they modified the Greek ideas a bit. Indian thought says two things. Firstly, Thanatos and Eros are points of view and not reality. Every human being will look at the same situation differently. Secondly, all things are temporary and so we will move cyclically from Thanatos to Eros, from being victim to hero, and then back again. It will happen again and again and there is no stopping it. Scams will come and go, corrupt politicians will come and go, idealists will come and go, and life will move on. Thus Thanatos and Eros are delusions, maya, delusions we cannot live without.

  • A L MOHAN

    Excellently analysed. wE INDIANS hope for the best and at the same time prepare ourselves for the worst.we are DICHOTOMIC as always.

  • Meetali

    Dear sir,
    Fantastic approach…quite interesting and something to think over seriously…and very knowledgable

  • Very interesting !!

  • srinivas

    Dear Devdutt Ji,
    I’m very curious to know the meaning of the picture beside your name. I mean the Circle with 2 squares and the dot at the center of the circle??

  • D Balasubramaniam

    A fantastic way to look at the infrastructure boom that India is witnessing. We complain of traffic when there is a “phatak” kind of situation and we complain when the flyover is under construction. The patience we had in the past to see the transition from the “phatak” to the “pul” is fast diminishing and we need the flyovers and metros to be placed over night on the streets!(“pul” – flyover as typically referred to in the east, where I grew up)

  • Sumedha

    Maya keeps us busy, it also supports/teaches us in our struggles & purposes. It’s that part of the universe we need to be AWARE OF & ACCEPT. But for Maya there would be no Universe, there would be no ‘us’ & ‘them’. There would be no learning. 3 Cheers for MAYA- the Teacher!

  • bhawana

    Tragedy was about looking at the flyovers and feeling helpless that we have no say in the matter. Comedy is looking at the flyovers and realizing with delight how foolish man is to believe this will really change anything. — My question is how is this kind of comedy isn’t really funny or happy, it too sounds very obviously aimless and tragic