Category Archives: human existence

Meek’s inheritance

It is said that God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Gospel of Matthew 5:5, New Testament).

In a simplistic though fairly prevalent view, the world is often seen to be naturally dominated by those species, groups that are more intelligent and resourceful, powerful, especially ones who are conscious about their dominant status and are ruthless in perpetuating the same. The directions and the dynamics of the world affairs are assumed to be decided by the duel between the extraordinary and the powerful adversaries who, though, share their vaunted ambitions to dominate these proceedings. The meek, by definition, do not figure in these power equations. They are too ordinary, small in stature and low in the scale of their ambitions. Like the grass falling in the path traversed by the horses carrying the marauding armies or under the jackboots of their equally intrepid enemies, many among the meek will be trampled, charred and decimated. But like the grass they will survive being multitudinous, even grow from the ashes, from the unlikely shelter under the boulder and cover the slopes and the ridges, plateaus and the valleys, soak the sun and the rain and continue to thrive long after the gory and destructive competition has stopped. In that sense, the meek may have a greater chance of escaping complete and systematic erasure which their more powerful and assertive brethren are likely to suffer, and therefore have, as a class, a better prospect of survival (though individuals may be mauled) and might inherit the earth after all, however scorched it is rendered by the big players, and grow life out of the waste land.

Apart from the facile imagery conjured up by the biblical quote this seems to have an empirical authenticity for many. Especially those that are religiously inclined implicitly believe in the core idea by mixing it up with the familiar good and evil conundrum. In a more modern context of pacifist activism (like Gandhism or in Tolstoyan thought), this might have been a good slogan to be used as a strategic tool for ‘political’ mobilisation through faith (ultimate triumph of the good, even if weak, over the powerful evil). It is possible that behind this there has been an astute appreciation of the cultural predisposition of a particular milieu, making a virtue of one’s weakness and deriving a political programme out of it.

Empirical evidence (for instance, from the stories upon stories of underdevelopment in the Indian subcontinent) suggests, however, that often what the meek and the docile (and they also mostly happen to be from the subaltern classes) eventually manage to inherit are the losses, the shards of shattered grandiose dreams of a better life and attainment spun and propagated by powerful rulers (including the ‘potential’ rulers) and those, under their command, who try to give a realistic shape to these aspirations. Being weak and not having the ambition and an independent initiative, they latch on to the bandwagon of ‘progress’ to move out of the morass of backwardness because of their implicit trust and touching faith in those who take upon themselves the ‘onerous’ task of driving the chariot. And many a time when the consequences of the historically wrong choices made by the latter become apparent the meek more often than not lack the wherewithal and the reserves to withstand any negative fall out over long periods or get away from them.

Whether or not the meek would ever inherit the earth is hard to tell, their suffering the consequences of the cumulative depredations on the earth and its immediate environment leaving a veritable Waste Land, is guaranteed. The insatiable consumption of the physical resources (the pattern of which is invariably skewed towards the strong and the resourceful !) is likely to make our planet more and more inhospitable for those left living. And not just the physical world, what about the tattered moral fabric, which the human kind would like to wrap around its soul in its advanced state of degeneration? So that the meek could be persuaded over the next millennium (if we do last till then !) that our primeval urges and our capacity for mean deeds, perpetrating utter cruelty and injustice are well under control and not about to display a characteristic runaway behaviour defeating all the civilisational attempts to tame them. One is reminded of the memorable line in a song from a popular Hindi film from the 1950s, Pyaasa (‘the thirst’), where a failed, destituted poet (on suddenly being discovered to be a commercially exploitable prospect and offered a potential celebrity turn in return) expresses his subaltern angst and disgust about the futility of this windfall gain:

‘Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye, Toh Kya Hai?’
(Even if this world were to be bestowed on me, what of it?)

[Note: This is a modified and extended version of a post published in another blog of mine elsewhere]

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Peace and the precipice

It is perhaps not an uncommon experience to suddenly feel thankful for the way things seem to be shaping up for you at the moment. Or the way the life is treating you, to put it another way. For the believer it may be relatively easy to feel consistent with a certain sense of symmetry that one has always hoped to achieve by joining the right dots and tracing the curve remaining, hopefully, close to the optimal. For the more religiously inclined, good Karma of following an impeccably laid up enlightened pathway across the garden is perhaps indicated. A clever agnostic will, probably, be disinclined to interrogate his good fortune!

It is but natural to look for, be happy with an apparently extended sunny interlude and quietly pray (not always clear to whom) that the reprieve continues. I am reminded of a song composed by Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet, that expressed a similar earnest wish with touching audacity of hope (I shall offer an imperfect translation of only the first line) : /Let my days spool over in equal serenity and content/. Whereupon it may become easy to let the mind escape like a bird the skeletal cage into the clouds taking shapes and colors we never thought the tyranny of logic or physics would let us perceive. This could also be one of those fleeting sequences of clairvoyant moments when our body as though it is a well tuned integral part of a majestic symphony orchestra that is universe, seems to sense an enormous fugue rising out of the ocean, dancing down the slopes of mountains, enveloping the parched environment in droplets of rain, leaves, dirt, sweat, flavors of leavened bread, fondness and hope.

Until time like an assassin waylays one into a remorseless dark hole that absorbs all light and lets nothing out. No matter how one looks at it there is an existential fragility about all of us, agnostic and believer alike, our awareness clouded sometimes explicitly and assailed with hints of rains on other occasions. In sickness and separation, debility and death we only face the masks of a faceless, senseless, self-organized and stochastically configured adversary. There is nothing particularly good or bad about it, or right or wrong. Even to call it adversarial or think of it as a benign presence are meant as a set of coloring book exercises the clever among us had invented eons ago to channel the fear, bafflement and feeling of being a derelict in time and space into some manageable ordering and sense, alternately feeling beholden and being cast away.

Are human beings capable of being simultaneously aware of the precipice and the beauty and the peace in whatever lay beyond? Can they face up with equanimity to the spatially or temporally spaced opposites not only in the physical, material world but even as members of a complex human society they have helped to devise and evolve? Who among us would not open his heart to the warmth emanating from hearts of other fellow beings in an apparently unending serenade of goodness and hope only to be persuaded later, equally convincingly, about hearts turning into stone, beautiful and the humane metamorphosed into savage? Haven’t we rained down bombs and missiles from massive machines scorching the skies on the streets and homes and hospitals and granaries in a city or town marked red on a perceived axis of evil, unerringly projected on a screen blanched out of emotion by the no-nonsense generals for the benefit of the wise leaders of men ensconced comfortably in another city or town in a distant continent, where thanksgiving is in progress or loudspeakers are plaintively calling out over the dust and the din of the bazaars to the faithful for the quotidian prayers for goodness, peace and hope to prevail?