Dear Vishrut and Anushrut,
I forget the name of a short story by W.Somerset Maugham that I read long ago-perhaps you will read it some day. But I still remember the story and in particular one sentence from it. This is spoken by a chap, brought up strictly to tell right from wrong, who has to go out to the colonies as the British called the countries they ruled in Asia and Africa.
Well, he has been told not to mix with an uncle there who has become “bad”. Our pal finds that this uncle does cut corners and cheat but also that he his kind, generous and helpful to people especially the poor. So our pal grows to like this uncle.
When people back home say angrily to him that he has forgotten the difference between good and bad, he replies “No, the difference is clear in my mind. What I don’t know is the difference between good people and bad people. Is this Uncle a good man who does bad things or a bad man who does good things?”
Do you think he is stupid not to know? I somehow feel that he is very intelligent to realise this confusion.
You must have heard or read the Mahabharata stories. Was Duryodhana bad? Surely, he did very bad things: cheat at dice, trouble Draupadi and all that.
But he did some wonderful things too. He befriended Karna when others, including Arjuna, made fun of him because he was low born. Duryodhana was brave in battle and in facing the results of his doings. In fact, you must someday read his last words, as he lies dying, spoken to Krishna who is left speechless.
And the Pandavas, were they good? Did they do right by Draupadi? Did they not lie to Drona about his son’s death just to win the war? Did Krishna not help them to cheat? But the Pandavas and Krishna did wonderfully good things as well.
So you see, it is not always easy to tell a good person from a bad person. It may be just a bit easier to tell good things from bad things, but there could be two ways about this too. Was it right to cheat to defeat a bad person? Oops, how do we know that they were bad? Is it good to lie to help someone?
I am fascinated that so long ago, in ancient times, whoever wrote the great epic understood this truth about there being no absolutes of good or bad.
The brilliance of the epic is in the interesting people it creates, who are sometimes heroes and sometimes villains. Humankind is so lively that to divide it just into good and bad seems plain silly.
Centuries later, the blind English poet Milton, said, “There is nothing good or bad except the thinking that makes it so.” I don’t believe this meant that you could just think good to be bad or bad to be good. More, that everyone has to think and decide for himself or herself about what is right, and take responsibility rather than blame someone or something else.
So, when you hear that Dussehra means good winning over bad, think a bit about good and bad, and about people who, in life as in stories, act out different parts at different times.
In a great work of thought called Katha Upanishad, the God of Death, Yama, explains to Nachiketa, a kid like you, that God or truth reaches everyone in the way they choose.
There was this crazily funny movie called ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’. I’m not sure about good and bad, but it does seem that to be sternly sure about them would be ugly indeed.
But as Kipling says, that is another story…
With lots of love