“Asatoma sat gamayah, Tamasho ma jyotir gamayah, Mritur ma Amritam gamayah”
Let us go from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, from death towards the immortal
Most of us, if we grew up in India, are familiar with the story of the one lie uttered by Yudhishir, in the epic story of Mahabharata, which took him to hell for a few seconds. According to the legend, during the battle of Kurukshetra, his opponents were almost winning. To demoralize them, a rumor went up in the battle field that the son of the enemy commander was dead. Yudhisthir first refused to repeat the lie but agreed after killing an elephant by the same name. That way, the lie was not exactly a lie – since he added in a whisper “the elephant”. And since he had hitherto been always truthful, he was believed above all others. This lie saved the day for his army, but earned him a few moments in Hell after death.
As is the case in much of Hindu mythology, the moral of the story is ambiguous. In other religions, telling lies is sometimes explicitly forbidden. The ninth commandment of the bible forbids perjury which later Christians interpreted as an absolute interdiction to telling untruths. But numerous Christian parables illustrate the concept of moral dilemma and choice in which a small lie may be the lesser evil. In Islam too the gravity of the sin of lying depends on the effect of the lie.
The nature of the immortal soul is very much bound-up, in every philosophical tenet – religious or not, to notions of truth and purity. From pagan animists to atheist humanists, through the principle world religions, all make distinction between truth and falsehood. Every human is born with a moral and rational compass that enables him/her to distinguish between what is true and what is untrue, what is right and what is wrong, what is real and what is imaginary.
This compass seems to be going away in India today.
A whopping 99% of Indians identify themselves as belonging to one religion or the other, but the majority seem to have lost the moral compass that religions profess to confer. We tell small lies and we accept big ones. We believed that a pair of men who oversaw a massacre would shift their focus to development because they got a promotion, we believed that black-money will disappear if we suffer silently and stand in queues, we believed that the PM will keep his word in spite of having broken it may times before. Most of all we believed that it will not be us. That the next victim, the next target, the next scapegoat, will not be us.
There were sixteen of us. We worked and earned and lived. A hard life but not a wretched one. We laughed, we smiled, we were free. Statistically, some of us might have voted for him at elections. He said a better life will come – some of us believed him. We went home to vote. Home is just two days away on iron wheels. We went home, for festivals, to see parents and cousins, and we came back. Work was hard, very hard but we had each other and we earned. We had food and we could leave, if life became too hard.
Then, one day, life did become hard. The disease struck and work dried up. We tried to leave but were turned back. We went hungry, we starved, we were beaten for wanting to eat, for wanting to leave. He said Muslims spread the disease – some of us believed him. Those who still had phones, showed us tiny images on screen – of people getting beaten up. We were not Muslim; we were just hungry. We were starving. We were homesick. We wanted to go home and we wanted to take a train home.
Trains stopped. Busses stopped. We decided to walk home. Home is where the heart is. Our heart beat within us as we walked many kilometers, callouses forming on out feet. He told us he cares – some of us believed him. May be he cares but he just does not know about us? If he knew, he would care? Meanwhile he said trains will run, tickets will be free – some believed him. He said they will be 85% cheaper – some believed him. Some spent last resources to buy the precious tickets only to still be stuck and be beaten for asking to go. But we did not know of these people, we did not know that iron wheels were running again. We walked on sore feet, following the rails that had guided us home always, but for the first and last time on foot. Exhausted, we slept, never to wake again. Iron wheels that should have taken our beating hearts home, took our lives and then brought home the empty carcasses.
If only we had not believed him. If we had not believed that “sabke saath sabka vikas, sabka viswash” would mean development for us. In fact, it meant that everyone will work for the development of few, but all must trust and support this lopsided model. He says he cares, but for who? We, as women are to be ostensibly worshipped but kept in our places by sexual violence. We, as Muslims are to serve as the enemy to be mascaraed at will in order to shore up support. We, who dare to speak against him, are to be imprisoned, assassinated, silenced at all costs. We, as dalits are to give up our dreams of equality and serve. We, as tribals are to be robbed of our ancestral land and made destitute. And above all, we, as poor are to be dispensable, to labour if we can, to die if we must. In fact, we all, who are not obedient rich Brahmin men, we are all to be invisible, disposable and interchangeable.
We are to be told lies, to be kept in ignorance – ignorance of each other’s pain. But how will you keep us in ignorance of our own pain, our own deaths, Narendra? “Narendra” means godly king of men. Perhaps he believes he indeed is an absolute monarch with divine powers. Perhaps he himself believes in his own lies, in one gigantic lie. But in the heart of his hearts he knows that satyam-eva jayate, that truth prevails. That is why he orders more lies to be spread.
Anamika is a freelance journalist from Bangalore, currently living in Paris and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org