Readers Write In #246: The dilemma of a twenty-first century father

Posted on August 17, 2020

5


(by G Waugh)

“Never steal a penny from the other. Never lie to anyone. Be truthful all the time. If you cheat or lie, there is someone from the skies who keeps watching you all the time. He will punish you the very next moment. Be wary!”

When I was some three or four years, I would have heard this many times from my parents and teachers. In fact, my early childhood was dictated heavily by this logic of ‘a superior force’ that oversees all our activities. I was a good and a disciplined child then, according to my family and surroundings but when I look back, had there been no fears of Divine retribution, there would have been little to choose between me and some of my ‘unruly’ classmates.

As time progressed, when I reached around ten years of age, some elders took the trouble to explain why I should never cheat or lie, basing their arguments on morality and logic or in other words, on the adverse impact such frivolous acts may have on myself and others involved. Their well-meaning advice was completely devoid of the Divine component.

But like many other ‘good’ children, I continued to believe in God and his powers to punish whenever he spotted me straying from the line.

***

As I grew up, in my early adolescence I was attracted to Marxism and narratives that taught me a lot about worldly injustices that were being consciously perpetrated by evil men over innocent others. I had the habit of skimming through political journals like the Frontline during my adolescence and the picture of the world painted in them was not rosy as I had initially assumed.

Politicians who had amassed fortunes from their public offices, goons notorious for rapes, abduction, murders were shown to be the ones who were gaining power and prestige through elections and other forms of maneuvering, by these magazines and other left-wing journals I had the habit of going through during weekends. These were the time when my confidence in the power of Divine retribution was significantly disturbed.

***

I studied in an engineering college that was touted to be among the top ten technical institutions in my state. The government had set limits on college fees but we were asked to pay almost double every year even if my seat was allocated under government quota. Students during class hours were subjected to relentless monitoring by ‘Floor supervisors’ who had been entrusted with the paramount duty of preventing conversations between opposite sexes. We were not allowed to bring cellphones to colleges. Long beards or even slightly thicker stubbles were prohibited and shirts with colorful designs were penalised. Some of my readers won’t believe the fact that many of our parents were just too proud of their children studying in a college as this, which they assumed, reined in adolescent tendencies to indiscipline and perversion with great success.

It was no secret that our college named after a religious deity was run by the relative of an influential state politician. In the third year of my studies, a famous magazine conducted a sting operation and exposed the system of compulsory donations that my college had imposed upon parents whose children could not obtain a seat through government quota. All of us had known right from the beginning that our college used to charge massively for allotting a seat under the ‘management’ quota since many of my friends too had paid large amounts for securing admissions. But we all expected that the sting operation would create some impact on the ways engineering colleges functioned in the state since all evidence was right under the nose of the government.

I finished my studies the very next year and I could see clearly that nothing had really happened to my college and in fact my juniors had been forced to pay even higher amounts in the subsequent years. The college was run in the name of a God and it was supposed to be a place where morality and righteousness are drilled into the minds of students. But the college, now almost a decade after I completed my degree is larger than ever it was and hosts regularly huge audio-launch functions for movies and even respectable dignitaries often participate in its annual convocation events.

I would sometimes wonder why God had not found time yet to punish these wrong-doers who do illegal business using His name. This might appear to be a puerile question to ask and in today’s circumstances when elected representatives whiling their time away in resorts and star-hotels to escape from being horse-traded is quiteusual, this might sound even sillier. But for the last ten years or so, this question has never left my mind. If you try to console me that the world is still a just and a humane place to live and that these crimes are just exceptions, all I could tell you is that it is you who is puerile and it is time you had your proper dose of history lessons.

***

In the middle portion of the last millennium, countries of Europe had the habit of crossing continents and landing up on the shores of less developed countries. American native tribes were subjected to a massive pogrom by European invaders that killed not less than five millions of innocent people as early as the 1500s.

The same story continued in various parts of Latin America and Africa where ‘civilizing missions’ in the name of God perpetrated and legitimized massive man-slaughter whose underlying intent was nothing less than forcible acquisition of natural resources that were not found in Europe. None of the criminal entrepreneurs who orchestrated carnages such as these were found to have met with Divine retribution at any point in their lives. As Eduardo Galeano points out in his book Open Veins of Latin America, almost all of the industrial glory and sophistication of the European races were in fact, built over mountains and mountains of corpses belonging to Latin American and African tribes.

Even in the last century, dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot who killed millions of innocent people willingly or otherwise did not during their lifetimes even once get punished by the all-knowing Supervisor. If you say Hitler shot himself and hence met with a deservingly terrible fate, by your own logic the balance between his massive crimes and the magnitude of the instant, short-lived punishment he faced doesn’t look like it was ordained by the Divine.

With the passage of time, the magnitude of crimes and injustices did not look like abating at all. When Greece in the early 2010s was pushed into a debt crisis by the private international banks that control the ECB, the European Parliament and EU, a massive relief package was announced to revive the economy by the powerful creditor nations. In return for the package, the Greek government was made to cut pensions off, freeze bank deposits of customers and reduce governmental spending of education and healthcare. The already impoverished Greek citizen was made to bite the bullet while a lion’s share of the relief package was pocketed by the international banks that were actually responsible for the crisis at the first place. If you do not believe me, I would like to recommend to you the books written by the former Finance Minister of Greece Yanis Varfouakis.

If you still aren’t convinced how unjust our world has really become, consider the recent crisis faced by millions of migrant workers left jobless on account of the Covid Pandemic. These migrant labourers were brought from distant villages by private construction companies to work for less than half of the minimum living wage set by the government. They have worked for more than a decade here, building almost all of our glittering urban infrastructure such as roads, malls, IT parks and even the fabulous Metro Rail that our Chennai is so proud of today. These labourers while building the many urban wonders of the city were never allowed access to proper housing or sanitation and if one could find time to examine their pathetic living conditions, all feelings of pride that we associate with our home-city will vanish instantly.

But that is not the end of their story. From sources who are associated with this trade, I gather that these labourers would have created a value for their employer that is close to at least ten times the wages they have been receiving all these years. During these few months where they couldn’t be gainfully employed for no fault of theirs, how many big employers did really care to provide them with at least food and other basic essentials for which they could even be billed in the future once the lockdown restrictions are lifted? Or if the employers too were crushed under the pressures of an imminent economic slowdown and hence not willing to take care of them, would paying for a ticket for them to return to their villages cause such an unsustainable burden on their finances?

These employers were the ones who a few months ago met the government, gave memoranda to prevent the migrants from going home, forced the state to remove all labour protection legislations and tried to impose 12-hour workdays all over the country. If doing business in India is such an expensive and risky affair and all your profits vanish within just few months of inactivity, how come millions of millions of rupees have accumulated on offshore accounts located in tax-havens like Panama and the islands of British Virginia? Why hasn’t God taken any step to bring all these money to where they rightfully belong at least during difficult times such as these?

***

Gods in my opinion have never really punished sinners and I don’t see such an eventuality in the near future as well. The bad guys have always been the winners, they have inherited this planet right from the beginnings of our civilization and those who were unable to, were often blamed for their lack of hardwork and intelligence. But this is not the place for me to elaborate my attraction towards atheism, for I am no atheist after all.

I still on account of various personal reasons deeply believe in the presence of God and I visit Sabarimala and Tirupati every year with my usual circle. I know cannot explain the logic behind my belief in God to anyone but myself and make them buy it. A lot of good events in my life, I still firmly believe have happened only due to the grace of the Almighty. If you think by taking contrarian positions on the question of God in the very same essay, I am weakening my own arguments against Him, you might be right. I am not the only one in the world who is wrestling with these conflicting ideas and I don’t even feel shameful about it. Even legendary film-makers like Ingmar Bergman and Martin Scorsese have had confusions resembling my own. But don’t worry I won’t conclude the essay with so much ambivalence.

There are two things I want to make clear about my relationship with God before I proceed further. One, ever since I reached adulthood, there is very little relation between my moral uprightness and my belief in the omnipresent Supervisor. If I am honest and empathetic to everyone around me without ever trying to exploit them for my own benefit, it is not wholly due to my beliefs in God. I often place myself in their shoes and try to simulate how I would feel if I were them. This is not something to be proud about as one may think, but a very basic tenet that every social animal must follow to deserve a place in his society.

Two, I have read enough Dawkins and Marx in my life and yet I cannot call myself a complete atheist why because there is only one grouse I have against Him – His complete ‘Silence’ against the wrong-doers and the ruthlessly evil scum of the society whose luxuries and earthly glory only keep increasing with every wrong deed they do.

***

Last week at my house, my three year-old son was playing with a girl of the same age in the hall under my supervision. I saw he hit her for no reason and the girl started crying instantly. He was alarmed and he too started crying to protect himself from me. I asked him,

‘Dei Why are you crying?’

‘She hit me for no reason’

I was surprised at how quickly he lied. I was about to tell him,

‘If you lie to me, God will punish you instantly’

But I checked myself. No, I know God doesn’t punish liars and evil-doers. I could have tried to reason him out that what he did was wrong and that it might impact the other person involved adversely. But will he understand? Won’t it take nearly a couple more years for him to see what is wrong with his actions? I was flustered. But I was also growing impatient. I am not used to settling disputes between children since I always thought that I had some other better work to do. So I was forced to take the easy, usual route and told him what I was told when I was his age.

‘If you lie to me, God will punish you instantly’

To stop him from lying, all I had done was to lie myself. To hell with fatherhood!!