Mythologist | Author | Speaker | Illustrator

November 15, 2010

First published November 14, 2010

 in Speaking Tree

Holier Than Thou

Published in Speaking Tree on 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!

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