I am truly blessed. I am surrounded by people who ask me the most remarkable questions. So much so that I consider myself the quicksand of human substance.
Recently, my mother asked me, “Tell me E, why on earth do you want to hold on to your traditional practices at the cost of a common life?”
A well-read friend of mine asked me, “Tell me E, what on earth is the point of talking about great books and not about the ones that are recently published?”
Someone near asked me, “Tell me E, what are you going to do with all the honesty in the world? What use is honesty?”
Another friend of mine asked me, “Tell me E, what use is it to fight for truth at the cost of relationships and security?”
Each one of them stumped me and left me smiling. There are a million reasons and justifications for doing the wrong, only one reason for doing the right, and that is rightness itself. Let me start with books (I hold them dearest save food).
Reading is a favour done only to oneself. I owe no author anything. I do not owe any publisher anything. Can you then explain to me why there are tonnes of reviews about horrible books? Why should I write about books that I will not read and do not advise anyone to read? Because the editor asks me to? It is like eating all the crap doled out at various street corners (though some street food can beat all those nose-in-the-clouds chefs). So, if I had to talk to someone about reading and what book to take along for the trip, why on earth would I spend an hour on Swati Kaushal? Just because she had the time and energy and tenacity to write a couple of books (oh! please don’t read them)? Undoubtedly, readers would like to know whether a recent book is good or not. I understand that need too, but wouldn’t it suffice to have a column listing all the books one should avoid (then comes the question – how does one decide that?)? I believe that it is enough to discuss and talk about the great books as that will lead to a more cultured society, but then what about perspective? Gaining perspective cannot be a redeeming factor of any tome. Hence, the call for rightness.
A book is worth reading if it is right. To read a book because it is popular and gets you into inner/upper circles is rather sad. To accommodate books because they are “bold” or “hard-hitting” or “angry” is ridiculous as long as they are not right (e.g. White Tiger). If a book is not beautiful, if it doesn’t invoke in you feelings and passions, if it doesn’t amaze you with the language employed, if it doesn’t tell a tale that you enjoy reading, if it doesn’t make you return to it (after any number of years), if it doesn’t make you feel satisfied in gifting it to someone you care about, then that is not a book one needs to discuss.
I recently had a wonderful conversation with the proprietor of an amazing bookstore in Chennai. I was talking to her about good books and we went on into the evening tossing titles and authors at each other. She told me that every year she would read Pride and Prejudice only to find something new in it. She was surprised that someone of my age (but I thought I was ancient!) read the kind of books that I do. But she was also sad that I had a stand against books published recently (though I don’t have such a stand). She was trying to convince me that the White Tiger is not a bad book. She used the same words to describe it. She admonished me for being so hard on that book. I asked her one simple question: “Ma’am, would you read this book again?” She realised what I was heading for and smiled; “No”. I find it rude to say “Touche’ ” to a fine lady. One does not have the time to read all the good books that have been written. Why waste time on the ones that need to be shunned? Why give up rightness for popular correctness?
The question of my traditional practices and/or my religious beliefs have annoyed/amazed many people around me. I am in the midst of a heated (at least from one side) debate about religiosity and Hindutva. I do not even wish to recognise the Hindutva that some people in India claim today. That was never Hindutva originally. The Hindutva that was true and right existed before journalism and the media re-defined it to what it is now. To give up one’s beliefs is quite a simple and easy job to do. It is like giving up faith in human decency. One can easily do so, but why? Every individual is entitled to observe whatever brings him peace and calm. Buddha went off into the woods and that brought him peace and calm (not to mention fame). Should one reprimand him for that? Chaitanya was completely absorbed in Krishna. Would it make sense to call him a fanatic and chide him for that? Would it make sense to employ rational arguments to prove him wrong? Does it make any sense telling him that the world existed even before Krishna was born and hence He is not the Supreme Godhead!? More importantly, why should he care about what you believe in? The privilege to have a path to peace is not restricted to Buddha and Chaitanya. Every human being has a right to it and in observing that there is rightness. Those who find it convenient to drop this path are basically disrespecting the soul’s urge. If a path is not a soul’s urge but has only been imposed on one, then it might be fair to drop it, but if in not dropping my soul’s urge I am losing out on a “common” life, then so be it. It is a choice between rightness and convenience.
Honesty is something similar. I care about honesty and dislike times when I have to employ lies in order to establish rightness. Unlike Krishna, I do not justify those instances. They are wrong. Period. I have lied in my younger days in order to escape punishment too but I am not ashamed of those days. Then ignorance largely ruled my being. There is only one reason to be honest, because that is the Truth, that is rightness. There are myriad reasons to lie and all of them convincingly more convenient. There is no use of honesty beyond the establishment of an environment where people can live with genuine respect and faith in each other. If that is not important, then people can continue living as they do now. I care about that. To me an environment is right when there is honesty in every action and gesture, when the need to protect the petty self is not more vital than the protection of rightness, when people regard each other with trust and faith, when people can eat a morsel of food without the feeling of being cheated, when a person’s words mean what he actually wants to say (how horrid it is when having to deal with people who say one thing to your face but mean something entirely different and go on to do something totally different from either of them), when the cycle of life feels right and calming. Honesty is vital for this to come into existence.
I find this sort of an environment in rural areas. Over the recent trip I had enjoyed (more of it later) I got to meet some extremely honest people. It felt so movingly right and simple to bare oneself to them and speak one’s mind. More than the photos I shot, more than the purchases I made, more than the sights I saw, more than anything I was filled with my interaction with such people. A simple gesture from a guide who after having taken us around accepts only the amount he had requested for (without mumbling about the increase in prices and how another tenner would be appreciated), the honesty of people along the river, the honesty of some people I met while crossing a bridge over the Ganga, the honesty of the waiter at a restaurant in Sarnath and many more touched me. I met others with whom I could speak effortlessly. When I was asked to buy a Thanka painting, I was at ease to give him the real reason as to why I would not buy. I did meet some knaves too, but that is simply inevitable!
Fighting for truth is nothing more than the organic reaction to a violation of rightness. Some people find it convenient not to raise one’s voice if the violation doesn’t affect them. Some people (including myself) avoid fighting for everything (honestly, I am not interested in gay rights and the like. I respect them, but have no interest in fighting for them as a class). That is not because there is a greater or better right but because it is simply impossible to commit oneself to every single issue on earth. So I pick some. Relationships that are in trouble due to my defending truth are relationships best not had. It is like befriending a snake; you never know when it will feel threatened and strike you. Of course, I mean a poisonous snake! So be it with sources of security. The more one shuns facing wrongness the more one is going to be pushed into a corner till one reaches a point where one has nowhere to run.
There is no banausic purpose for any of these choices. There is nothing to gain from these. There is no accolade that will await the follower. There is no greatness that one can aspire for. There is no profitable reason why one should do all of the above. The questions asked are not invalid or inappropriate. They only reveal that rightness will always be questioned. Rightness will always be dropped for ease of living and better gains. Rightness will always be denied a place in the midst of human beings because rightness doesn’t protect one from the bitter winters nor bring food to the plate, doesn’t make one popular nor loved. Rightness is a demand for living life separated from society. Rightness is a call to live life in oneself.
All the questions above have only one answer. Silence.