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The law, the prayerbook and civil society

Despite the week’s sensations, it’s probably ‘normal’ to secretly wonder if being ‘good’ is really worth it, writes Renuka Narayanan.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2013 22:18 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times

Despite the week’s sensations, it’s probably ‘normal’ to secretly wonder if being ‘good’ is really worth it. Though we strive assiduously to maintain a clean conscience and practice humility, desist from verbal and physical violence and make sure to pay our taxes and RWA fees, don’t do drugs, don’t elbow in at the gol-gappa counter and be nice to people, it may appear to be a futile endeavour and meanwhile the rude and the wicked are seen to flourish like the bay tree. So why bother being ‘good’?

Perhaps the biggest reason why many do bother is because we know in our gut that the ‘law of averages’ does get us. There are plenty of instances in our daily lives to affirm this and the news lets us know that it does, with sobering regularity. We may dress it up as Karma Theory or just Newton’s Third Law, but there it is.

This week we also have cultural New Year dotting the calendar red with its symbolic pop at refreshing worldviews. Since ‘zar, zan, zamin’ is the Pathan definition of what makes people do the terrible things they do, ‘Pigeon’ or ‘Kaftar’, Bibi Ayesha, comes to mind. Ten years ago, she was 55 and known as the terror of the Darisujan Valley in Baghlan province. This Afghan warlady was said to be particularly attached to her Lee-Enfield rifle, although it had long yielded place to the Kalashnikov as the weapon of choice in those parts. It was reported that she made sure to go on killing sprees escorted by a male relative in accordance with her religious custom, like how the ‘Chambal ka Daku’ is held to have prayed to Bhavani before galloping through the ravines to loot and shoot.

Such people are considered a menace to what is described as civil society and viewed as ‘abnormal’. Yet, clinically viewed, Kaftar and the others seemed to think they were being ‘normal’ in their particular circumstances.

Essentially, it looks like the law and the prayerbook would rather we were not ‘normal’ because though ‘bad’ is provenly ‘normal’ and ‘good’ is not, it’s the latter that’s held to work for the greatest well-being of the greatest number and so each of us is given the non-negotiable duty to contribute to that. With the law of averages adding muscle to this expectation, I guess we are given good reasons to be good.

— Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture

First Published: Apr 13, 2013 22:15 IST