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Monday, June 13, 2011

The Difficulty of Being Good

We all have been through this. We have been good at least sometime in our lives. We have forgiven and forgotten, eschewed greed, patiently waited in the Gurgaon e-way toll queue, and, let the more eager to take the elevator while we waited for the next car. It has not been easy whenever we have chosen to be good. We have scaled the post-dharma high ground only to see the sheen wear off like the paint from the fridge door handle until unwittingly we dissolved among the ordinary, minus the dharma. However, it would take us just one lovely September morning to return to the path of dharma as it happened to a dear friend of mine.

September used to be a glorious month in late 1980’s, like October is now a days. Crisp air, clear skies and greenery all around would gladden the heart and render it conducive to dharma at large, including falling in love.

On one such morning, with his heart and mind attuned to dharma, my friend was waiting his turn in the Akbar MEA elevator lobby silently singing to himself. When the car arrived, people around him rushed in leaving a space for just one more medium weight candidate. But, they were three and he the rightful candidate. However, with his dharma gushing inside, he proffered the place to the other two folks. Finally, after an embarrassing half a minute, one MEA babu accepted the offer, leaving behind only the two of them.

Until now, he had not carefully looked at his companion in waiting and now when he did, he was flattered by the sheer sophistication, poise and polish of the lady in an elegantly adorned sari. She had the translucent visage of the kind you see through the tinted glass of expensive cars. His body simply wafted away in her perfume and his virtual self stood frozen glued to the cold marble floor. Perhaps she sensed his metamorphosis and broke his spell.
“That was very nice of you. Nowadays we don’t see such gestures very often.”
“Not really, Ma’am, It wasn’t a big deal, really”
“I can see you are being modest. Where do you work?”
“Okay! That’s great.”
“And you?”
“MEA, in protocol”
“That’s kind of cool. Are you an IFS?”
“I never thought there were pretty IFS officers.”
“You bet. Exceptions always exist!”

A winsome smile escaped her even though he had lost everything with nothing left for her to win. She looked even prettier with that playful glint in her eyes.
“I am on the 7th floor, 707. Come along some time. We’ll sit and chat”
“Now, now, don’t make it difficult. Just gatecrash whenever!”
“Okay, I will. Are you sure they will let me in?”
“That should not be a problem. Just call me before you come, I will leave instructions at the lobby”
“Thanks very much, that is very nice of you.”
“Not at all! We are friends now, aren't we?”
“Yeah, sure, we are.”

Just then the elevators arrived with a clunk and it was goodbye time.

For the next few days, the rewards of Dharma kept him out of the stratosphere, somewhere near the smooth rims of the holes in the ozone layer. He was positively ionized. Anyone with a negative charge (deviated from Dharma) who came in his vicinity was neutralized; his or her difficulty of being good cured. This went on as long as the lady IFS and he cavorted over Nirula’s ice creams; met over coffee in AWHO complex and discussed Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism in Hotel Hans’ coffee shop overlooking Barakhamba Road. She was thoroughly emancipated and her disarming ways always made him feel small in comparison. But, it was magic being with her and the relationship flourished on the ever growing common ground. It was magic like a lazy afternoon on the seaside. Unspoken words stuck in the leaden air between them. Time stood still until they commanded it to move again.

This went on for about six months. Folks at C-DOT were flabbergasted by my friend’s ease of being good and felt jealous. He forgave and forgot; let people jump the queue and proffered the last place in the waiting elevator car to others. He could hear the ionic chatter in the ozone layer all day. He was virtualized.

If I remember well, it was about 5 PM on 16th May and very hot outside on the balcony of room 928. My friend and I were wistfully looking at the Safdarjung airport to Qutub Minar panorama when he got a call from the C-DOT reception. There was a packet for him delivered from Akbar reception. It was a signed copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the message:

We have a lifetime to wait for love. Thanks for being what you are! Perhaps we will meet again sometime, somewhere near an elevator. Until then, it is goodbye!

He descended to the earth like the space shuttle in re-entry, the atmosphere searing his body and soul. He was dumbfounded, weak-kneed and so damn helpless. It was over. His wages of dharma were paid for. The May heat of this godforsaken city singed his shriveled soul. Angry and helpless, He felt like setting fire to Akbar Bhavan, taking with it everything between room #707 and the rooftop. He wanted to be bad. His dharma was compromised.

What good is dharma if it does not yield eternal dividends? It just brings pain. It raises our expectations of others that will never be met just because they are unable to overcome the difficulty of being good. It’s like coming out of the temple after prayers and expecting everyone to be good, as good as we are feeling at that moment.

Back home, whenever my father comes back from his daily visit to the Gurudwara, he is overflowing with dharma. If you are found to be good, he will drown you in the deluge of his love and blessings. And, if you are not, better look for the nearest exit! Whenever my daughter cleans up her study table and book cabinet, she her brother, who is older, for being so shabby. He just failed to live up to her post-dharma moral high ground. Worst, in her disappointment of being among the lesser mortals, she would relinquish her own dharma. Likewise, I often curse the fellow commuters who disappoint me by crossing the stop line. I make sure that I also experience their difficulty of being good!

Is it in receiving the dividends of dharma that we can sustain its quest?

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