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Shame and guilt on Sukhumvit

india Updated: Jan 08, 2011 21:55 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times
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How perfectly lovely to natter again with you, dear HT readers. I can tell you already that my biggest take-home from Thailand will be: patience. The Land of Smiles considers it very bad form to show frazzlement in public. We, my hootin’, hollerin’ compatriots, are afrequently frazzled specie. Isn’t that why Delhi is ‘road rage capital’?

Consider too that Bangkok is world-famous for spectacular traffic jams. I’ve read that people keep chamberpots (with lids) in their cars for emergencies. Somebody even delivered a baby in the car.

Some of Bangkok’s intersections can drive us curry-in-a-hurry souls up the vertical limit. I live near one such quasar, where Asoke Montri Road cuts Sukhumvit Road. Remember the mysterious Nasca Lines out in Peru that people say are a gigantic cosmic energy grid?

Sukhumvit-Asoke is yin to their yang, negative to their (putative) positive. And yet the Thais do not have road rage.

Why? I am tortured by this question. I know about the Buddha, etc. But how do the Thais bear it?

A Russian explained it to me just this Monday in a detective novel. (While we natter, I must tell you that the current love of my life is a fictitious 19th century Russian detective, ‘Erast Fandorin’. Come now, you’ll concede it’s a small step forward, if not quite a giant leap from Rishi Yajnavalkya and the boyz in the Vedic ‘hood).

Anyhow, Erast Fandorin’s creator is ‘Boris Akunin’ who is really Grigory Chkartishvili who “is compared to Gogol, Tolstoy and Arthur Conan Doyle.” He’s sold over 20 million Erast Fandorin books in Russia alone.

So why don’t Thais have road rage? Says our dashing Erast in The Leviathan (English translation by Andrew Bromfield, 2004): “Christian culture is based on a sense of guilt. The Japanese… motivation is different. In their society the moral restraints derive from a sense of shame…I can assure you that shame is a far more civilising influence than guilt.”

Now that’s splendid. Why a piffling 20 million? Comrade-Liberator Akunin should be adored by a billion-plus Indians, manifestly free souls unfettered by either shame or guilt. The Thais, like the Japanese, need him not. They are civilisationally enabled to wait 40 minutes at Sukhumvit-Asoke without a whimper.

What tortures me now is will my present shanti last when back home in the land of Om? Or will it be Erast, Erast, why hast thou forsaken me?

Renuka Naraynan writes on religion and culture: