I am sorry that I was not in touch with you for an inexcusably long time. There is no justification for my being presumptuous and taking you for granted though I can feebly defend myself saying that when the public and semester exams were on, my views letter would have dropped in like an uninvited guest. I do hope that nothing would come in the way hereafter to break the continuity of it. It is not just a vain wish, for my optimism springs from an intense feeling that I have infinite responsibility to this community, and so I just can’t afford to be the proverbial Nero amidst the engulfing flames.
The other day I was leafing through an old issue of ‘Readers Digest’ and this joke caught my attention. A curious child once asked her mother. ‘Mom, how was I born?’ The visibly embarrassed mother turned to her husband for help but he turned away helpless. The intense look of the child was too insistent to evade an answer. The lady answered tactfully, ‘You see my darling. A stork dropped you at my side on a moonlit night’. Without batting an eyelid, the little girl shot her next question. “How then was my brother born?” .The mother who by this time had regained her poise was more self-assured. ‘Oh your brother! We found him in a basket under a yew tree’. Hardly did the mother’s smile last a second, pat the came the child’s third question. ‘How come mom, there hasn’t been even one normal delivery in our family?’
Jokes apart, one wonders whether this is the beginning of life or simply the beginning of the end of all that is living in one. Here I wish to identify two things which are inseparably intertwined in our lives. Myth and lies. Though these two terms are interchangeably used and treated as synonyms, there is, at deeper levels, a great difference. I shall deal with myth at length later, but first a few words about lies. Lies are positively evil. They are the opposite of Truth just as night is the opposite of day. They have been created with the avowed aim of subverting truth.
The very reason for their existence, raison detre, is to destroy truth. Racism, casteism and religious fundamentalism are all lies. Stuart Sim in his book Empires of Belief has this to say: “In the current world we are confronted by an array of what can be called empires of beliefs. These empires – dominant organisations or groups led by the powerful that exercise dominion over ordinary people – are investing an immense amount of time and effort in trying to dictate how we should think, and behave”. It is based on the dogma that those who do not conform have no right to live. But life never imposes any such restrictions on any one and the very blessing of life is the freedom conferred upon every individual to follow any belief including the belief that belief is not essential to life. Lies are therefore anti-truth and anti-life.
Lies are recognisable, identifiable and unmistakable. No one can fail to see through the evil intentions of the unscrupulous political parties when they clamour for reservation for the down trodden. In their heart of hearts they fondly wish that the down trodden remained downtrodden forever thereby providing them the political leverage and the vote bank. It is height of hypocrisy to say that there is no creamy layer among the backward classes. Let us face the truth. If the fifty and odd years of reservation had not yielded any result among the backward classes, would the politicians then accept the logic that reservation cannot really uplift the downtrodden and therefore the system cannot be continued? Conversely, would they consider tapering the quota system to include only those among the backward classes who deserve to be given special concessions, since the rest of them benefiting from reservation have already moved up the social ladder and integrated themselves into the so called forward and the advanced sections of the society ?
What is really worrying is that lies are now becoming institutionalised and legitimatised. Sadly, mankind is slowly getting used to the idea of being tolerant to lies, which are clothed in dignified phrases and grandiloquent style. A suicide bomb attack on unsuspecting civilians is called a holy war, and hate propaganda is described as the voice of aspirations of the people. Enormous amount of money is being spent upon research work to establish the historical and scientific basis for lies. And I must tell you that lies are not confined only to racism, casteism and religious fanaticism. They are fostered everywhere; in families, society, educational institutions, business establishments, hospitals and in governments, to name a few. But one knows at least deep down within oneself, that lies are lies and a diplomatic silence in the face of this evil does not mean an unconditional acceptance of them. The crusade against this evil is still on, though it is restricted to a small group of fearless people.
Myth, on the contrary, is a funny thing, a mongrel, a hybrid of half truths and untruths just like the mythological beast that has human head, bird’s wings, and lion’s body. Basically shapeless, myth can assume any shape at any time and render itself acceptable to anyone. Let me give you an example. A circle is divisible into two half circles, but to state that any two half circles irrespective of their radii can be joined to form a circle is to advocate a myth. Another aspect of myth is that it endears itself to everyone as it is seemingly harmless. I don’t think any human being who lived before Copernicus was greatly distressed by the prevalent notion that the earth was flat and at the centre of other celestial bodies. (That a majority of human beings continued to hold the same views for very many centuries in the post-Copernicus-and-Galileo world is a different matter altogether.)
Myth, you see, does not get in the way of your day to day activities or throw a spanner in your work. Unlike lies, myth is not the sworn enemy of truth always. It does not busy itself with subverting truth. It simply fails to acknowledge its existence. Myth is blind in both eyes, hard of hearing and has no sense of smell. It can only speak its beliefs without being able to react. And it is this for this very reason that myth is more dangerous than lies and we have to be wary of it.
Myth is everywhere, in every sphere of activity, partly injected and partly accepted willingly. Myth gains easy access to every one, because it does not advocate any programme with hidden motives. The school student who has spent enormous time and energy preparing for his exams is told hours before the exam that he ought to perform certain rituals like writing 100 times the name of a deity. Well, the student does it with reverence though it is open to him to doubt that his performance would become significantly less, if he chose not to observe that ritual. But he does not. That’s how myth asserts itself. We all know that education is intellectual upliftment, but who would try demolishing the myth that exam rank is the index of your intellectual attainment. See how well the myth makers have created in you a phobia and an obsession with marks, all at the expense of your natural curiosity to know, to experiment and to explore. If you try talking to your class mates and lectures about things such as disinterested curiosity and personal exploration of truth, you run the risk of being ridiculed, considered an eccentric and a failure. If you try it at home you will probably get a black eye. Myth is the collective lunacy of the society.
Returning to our main story, it never occurred to the mother that the child was only just curious to know certain empirical facts about her birth. But the inhibitions about sex and childbirth so deeply ingrained in the adult prompted her to fall back upon a myth.
As Bertrand Russell observes, ‘one of the firmest beliefs of parents, law-givers and teachers in many nursery schools is that children should be preserved from all contact with crude fact and should have everything presented to them in a pretty-pretty, fanciful form. Historical characters are portrayed as wholly virtuous unless they are recognised villains’. Teachers and educationists hold that it is not good for children to know the weaknesses of the great historical characters and the bad side of historical causes. But what they fail to understand is that ‘children enjoy fancy when it is pure, that is to say, when it makes no pretence to reality, but they distinguish sharply between fancy and fact’.
In adult life too myth plays havoc with an individual’s career and marriage. Does your job offer you the scope for the growth and fulfilment of your abilities or simply leave you with a vague sense of monetary success? How did the factor called money assume such a central position as to edge out all other constituents of employment? More often than not, we shall discover that our career decisions have been influenced by the social myth that we work more to the satisfaction of the society than our own. When it comes to marriage, there is an implicit acceptance of whatever is prescribed as good, no matter who says it. The planets that are a billion kilometres away from the earth can confer happiness and wealth or spell doom and disaster unless you make the right choice of your partners. And how many of us have the pluck to turn sceptical about such predictions, and to insist that it is a saner and more sensible thing to know the blood group and the rH factor of our partner?
The list is endless and it would be profitable to focus on the harm that myths can do to an individual. First of all it alienates us from reality. Once you lose contact with reality there is no way of getting to know the truth of things. (Here myth whispers into your ears that it is not good to know the truth of things.) Secondly, it restricts your range of thinking in the sense you can take only a fish eye view of things and not a bird’s eye view. Thirdly, it creates a morbid, unhealthy fear in you that sticks like a tattoo. Once fear grips your mind, it leads to cerebral paralysis (metaphorically of course). The Kerala High Court had until recently a room numbered 12-A instead of 13 and the Supreme Court had to wield its clout to set it right. Fourthly, it imposes a nameless, indefinable burden on you that you are duty-bound to impress others at the expense of your inner freedom and peace. Finally, it hardens and sometimes deadens your finer sensitivities and sensibilities and makes you incapable of forming a living and true relationship with those around you. It is a kind of calcification of your inner eye, which registers only the light that you are accustomed to. In the zoology lab, you can see lizards, frogs and other animals kept in formalin. Myth has turned mankind into such zoo specimens; life-like but lifeless.
Your English Sir
Original Post: Dated Saturday, the 28 of April 2007