Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Life of Truth

There are few things as exciting as the search for Truth. More specifically, the search for the true understanding of Right and Wrong.

As a child, the early Truth is axiomatic – everything is black or white, with little or no shades of grey. The classrooms, the parental advice, the abridged classical literature, the comics – everything makes the distinction easy and crystal clear. To lie is wrong. To harm is unacceptable. To be selfish is improper. To disrespect elders is a no-no. To steal is unthinkable. To embrace violence is inhuman. To cheat is immoral. To generalize and make distinctions based on gender, color, religion, caste, community (and all the other myriad boundaries – societal and cultural – that the human world has conceived) is base. The definitions are indisputable – a legacy of a thousand generations of experiments with Truth.

All, at this point, is well.

Or, is it?

The child’s mind is trusting, a sponge hungry for knowledge. She does not judge, nor complain. She seldom questions, and feeds on what is told as voraciously and as eagerly as she seeks her mother’s breast. It is all, nutrition.

The problem begins when she starts to read. Worse still, interpret. She reads about the heroism of Rana Pratap in Amar Chitra Katha, and is at odds to reconcile the heroic glory with the lesson about abhorring violence. She finds her parent fibbing an excuse on the telephone to avoid attending a party, and cannot understand how she should react. After all, ‘to lie’ is wrong. But, to accept this is to accept that her parent is committing a wrong. How, then, can she respect her parent? And, is not “not respecting one’s elder” wrong? She is caught in a vice. Will she now commit a wrong as the resultant domino effect of another’s (her parent’s, in this case), or will she renounce part of her Truth?

And, thus, the child is introduced to the concept of grey. She hears about context. She learns that rights can be suspended. She sees that rights can be prioritized, that they can have hierarchies. The world of absolutes that she had gotten used to, the world that was so safe because it was so certain, develops a fatal chink.

In a way, the child’s dilemma is not very different from that of Arjuna at the battle of Kurukshetra (in the epic, Mahabharata) who falters, faced with the prospect of firing on his elders, his teacher, his relatives. Unlike Arjuna, though, the child seldom has a Krishna to show him a way.

Perhaps, however, that is just as good. For, it leaves the child to find out for herself. That first instance of contradiction triggers a lifelong pursuit of the understanding of Truth. It gives her the reason to live.

In time, she will experiment with Truth, define – and progressively refine – her hierarchy of rights and wrongs. She will come to terms with comparisons and conceits. She will learn to blunt her senses and intellect. She will flirt with context and relativity. She will discover herself through others’ eyes, and be introduced to new contradictions and understanding of herself. She will discover the limitations of her Truth, and develop a taste for what lies beyond. She will learn about boundaries, and experience the thrill of crossing them. She will be drawn to comfort, and consolation. She will court leniency.

In time, her senses and her intellect will cease to fight back. She will become rounded, and comfortable, and contextual, and relative, and right. And ‘her Truth’ will transform into ‘Her truth’. In time, thus, she will become another ‘brick in the wall’.

It is just a matter of time.

Life is about postponing that eventuality. Or, embracing it.

I forget. Which?

* * *

2 comments:

Enduring the Babbles of Life said...

To-the-point, concise, apt and very engaging - these are the words that come to mind. Observations nicely entwined with the history. Love the way you put down thoughts in a ‘matter-of-fact’ way. My two pice:

Have a different take on the following two lines, but then that's the writer's prerogative :)

In time, her senses and her intellect will cease to fight back.

In time, thus, she will become another ‘brick in the wall’.

- because her intellect fights back, that she has 'her truth', and because she has 'her truth', she cannot be a 'brick in the wall'! Touché'

Anonymous said...

Difficult words. Become really lazy.
Nilanjan