This is a story without a beginning or an end. The story does not even relate to events that one can see. And yet, in some sense, there is a beginning and there is an end. There are events, too, surrounding a man. But the story is neither about the events nor about the man. It revolves around the battle the man fights in the depths of his soul.
It begins with a question: What is sin? Let us assume that a man makes his living and sustains his family by stealing; in plain words, he is a thief. He initiates his son to his doctrine and then trains him in his profession. With his passion, motivation and dedication, the boy excels in three things: love for his dad, obedience and theft. Now here is the question: Is the boy a sinner? If so, what is his share of the sin? Who is at fault? One may blame the father, but he is not the origin; he is only a link connecting his son to the countless events that preceded him.
The same questions may apply to a man who is meritorious, virtuous and holy. What is his share of the merit? What is his share of the virtue? What is his share of the holiness? Does he possess it by acquisition or inheritance? Where is the origin of sin and piety? What is the source of good and evil?
I have learnt that a man has free will. He is endowed with abilities to pursue knowledge and wisdom, distinguish between right and wrong, and be righteous by doing right things. He is, in the words of William Henley’s “Invictus,” the master of his fate and the captain of his soul.
This sounds good, except that it appears to be flawed. When there is a competition, say a sprint, the referees on the ground make sure of three things. Firstly, they segregate the athletes by age, physical abilities and sex. For example, a child does not have to compete with the adults or a disabled person does not have to run against able-bodied men. Secondly, there is a predetermined starting point, finish line and track that applies to everyone. It would be unfair to have tracks of different lengths and with different hurdles on for each athlete. Thirdly, the sprint starts with a whistle–that is, nobody starts earlier than another. Now, do similar rules apply when it comes to judging men, rich and poor, dull and sharp, honest and dishonest, kind and brutal, good and evil, holy and unholy? Yes, I have read and heard that all men are equal. But does it imply that all men are endowed with equal abilities, qualities, traits, opportunities, physique, environment or even consciousness and free will? Do they all start at the same point? Do they all start at the same time?
While I am contemplating this philosophical problem, I am distracted by a more pressing issue. I have recently taken up an overseas job with a good salary – a change for someone coming from a family of modest means. Baba is a retired schoolteacher. Boroda looks after the family farm and manages his family, his wife and two sons. Dulal, my younger brother, did not make it beyond high school. Baba helped him with his pension fund to start his business. The business had a bad start and never got off the ground. The more money Dulal invested, the more he lost. And, to make things worse, he spent generously on himself and his friends.
I had a serious talk with Dulal before I left home. I told him that I was prepared to help if he would get serious about the business and cut his coat according to the cloth. He kept saying, “Yes, yes, from now on things will change.”
Nishat and I have a bitter fight when I get my first pay cheque. She says, “You must look after your brother, but please, for heaven’s sake, don’t spoil him by offering so much. The end result won’t be good.”
A year later when we visit home, I find that Nishat was right. Dulal’s business is making a loss and his debt has soared. And, as usual, to make things worse, he is leading a luxurious life. He is having lots of parties, eating in posh restaurants with friends and driving a nice car.
I pass an agonising month. I do not know what to do, how to fix Dulal or how to solve his problem. He comes to see me, asking for more money or else, he tells me, he will be doomed for life. As usual, I have another round of serious talks and, as usual, he says, “Yes, yes, I’m sorry, but this time things will change.”
I return to my job wounded, bleeding. But I am determined to save Dulal, get him on track, help him stand on his own two feet. I continue funding him, hoping that this time he will get things right. To divert my mind from my restlessness, I return to my philosophical contemplation. With the hard reality in hand, I put the old question into a new frame.
Dulal and I are born of the same parents and have been raised under the same roof. We ate the same food, went to the same school and received the same guidance. And yet we are so different in our habits, instincts and, above all, traits. I may have dedication, motivation and perseverance, but why does Dulal lack all these? Are we not equal, endowed with equal abilities?
The year rolls by and it is time to visit home again. Nothing has changed. Dulal is Dulal; he has gone wild. Now he has added glamour to his life. His debt has soared to new heights and, to make things worse, he has got himself involved in the company of depraved friends.
My wounds bleed again and my heart reignites with a burning pain adding to my anguish and resentment. I realise that I have reached a dead end and seek to understand the nature of the problem. As far back as my memory goes, I have always been disciplined and sensible. I am still the same today. Dulal has always been unruly and extravagant. Why do I then expect him to change now? Did we have free will to choose the way we were born? Did we possess identical active genes at birth? I begin to doubt it all. The common precepts of equality and free will appear to be flawed.
As is my long-time habit, I wake up at dawn, have a shower and then sit in the veranda with something to read. As the day brightens, the chirping birds rejoice in the open sky. The cool morning breeze refreshes my body, calms my mind and soothes my soul. The sun begins to plate the Earth with its golden rays, bringing hope for the new day.
Today I pick one of my old notebooks to read. It is like looking at old photos and reminiscing down the memory lane. I turn the pages and then come to a sudden halt, awestruck. I reread the passage and reread it again:
Paradoxical though it may seem: There is a path to walk on, there is walking being done, but there is no traveller. There are deeds being done, but there is no doer. (The Buddha)
I have read this passage before, many times, but today, lo and behold, it strikes me with a flashing light. I come to realise that whatever happens on this Earth and the rest of the universe are in the hands of a Supreme Power, call it God, Bhagwan or Lord. The creation is nothing but His pawns – merely the means of His work. He decides, plans and knows the past, the present and the future. His will prevails over everything including every atom and every life.
So, I should not blame Dulal for his life runs its course according to the plan. And, like rest of the creation, he simply submits to the grand scheme beyond anybody’s clue.
The flashing light wakes me up from my nightmare and frees me from my torments and heals my wounds: no more bleeding, no more anguish, no more pain. In the tide of emotion, I embrace Dulal in my thoughts.
Tohon is an emerging fiction writer.