The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Sep 22, 2008

Sins of the Sons

At one time, I was a sadist, a violent torturer, a venomous murderer. Somewhere along the way I became a gentle soul, sniffling at the least sound of a child's distress or an animal's pain-filled moan. I do not remember when this radical transformation occurred. Perhaps one day a Betazoid rewired my empathic pathways? I do not remember.

One day, Vicky and Deepa called out excitedly to me. A little bird had fallen out of its nest and was being cradled in Deepa's hands. It cheeped weakly and desperately. Its mother was nowhere to be seen. Deepa said she would feed it, but it was too little to be fed worms, and Deepa didn't want to touch a worm anyway. We pondered what to do. Our neighbour, Ki, who kept pigeons in his loft, shook his head. "It will die," he said, "Now that you've touched it, its mother will cast it away. You can't feed it. There's nothing you can do."

Deepa, a strapping girl of about my age, refused to believe him. She held the bird gently in her hand. Suddenly it skipped out and landed heavily on the pavement. It tried to get away, propelling its tiny body in fits and starts. I thought this was a good opportunity to see if it would jump over my hand and attempted to block its way. Unfortunately, my hand hit the bird. Its body crumpled under the blow. Deepa pushed me away, screaming, "What are you doing?" I tried to explain that I hadn't wanted to hurt it, that I had only wanted to see what it would do when faced with an obstacle, but she would not listen to me; she lifted the bird in her palms again, and screamed and screamed at me. Vicky kicked me twice. I slunk off, sniffling. A while later, the bird was dead and Deepa was in tears, and she wouldn't talk to me for days after.

I was about six years old then.

During those days, I used to come home from school and swat flies onto the dinner table. If we kept the kitchen window open, one or two of them would fly in to investigate, and would pay for their curiosity with a sudden, unexpected blow from a swatter. As they lay dazed on the table, I would observe them keenly. I learned that they recovered quickly from the attack, and if they lay on their backs, then it was no effort to right themselves and take off. Having established their powers of recuperation, I would then proceed to rip off one wing and examine the results. This time, the flies had more difficulty in getting back on their feet, and they'd then spin around aimlessly, their one remaining wing buzzing hard, unable to achieve takeoff. I would pull out the other wing, and the flies would propel themselves madly about the table until I scooped them onto a piece of paper and chucked them out of the window and my mind.

Another time, bored with the wingless creatures, I decided instead to investigate how heavy a weight they could bear before collapsing under the strain. I would place a small sheet of paper on top of a fly and watch it move the paper around as it sought to get away. I would then add odds and ends - petals, little Lego blocks, a sticky piece of candy, candle wax - until the fly was unable to move.

A couple of days of this and Amma could not bear it any longer.

"Let me tell you a story," she said. This was so singular an event that I ran to the shower, bathed, slicked my hair to the side, and came back to sit down at her feet, cross-legged, mouth open.

"There was," she said, "a young boy called Markandeya. He grew up in a hermitage among holy people but that didn't stop him from sticking needles into little insects and leaving them to die."

Here, she gave me a meaningful look. I gulped.

"When Markandeya grew older, he stopped torturing little creatures, and became a rishi. He prayed and prayed. He meditated. One day, as he sat in his hut, meditating as usual, a platoon of soldiers came upon him. They were chasing after thieves who had stolen jewels from the king, and had been last seen sneaking into Markandeya's village."

"'Hey fellow!' said the sergeant, 'Have you seen thieves sneak by?'

"Markandeya was deep in his meditation and he didn't hear the soldier's query. The sergeant asked him again, prodded him, shouted, to no avail. So the soldiers dragged him off to the king, who, vexed at Markandeya's continued silence despite dogged questioning, ordered him to be thrown in a dungeon and impaled on a poker."

"The agony of the impalement brought Markandeya out of his trance. Because of his immense yogic powers, he didn't die. The king, terrified, begged his forgiveness. Markandeya ignored him, recognising that the king was not at fault. Instead, he went straight to Yama and demanded to know why he had had to suffer this torture."

"Yama smiled mysteriously and said, 'It is in punishment for your own cruel deeds in childhood. You tortured small creatures; you pierced their little bodies with sharp objects, and caused them immense agony.'"

"Markandeya was incensed. 'Where is the justice in this?' he shouted. 'You punish me in adulthood for deeds done in the innocence of childhood? I curse you to be born a mortal.'"

Amma then got up and went away.

I wasn't sure what the moral of the story was. I'm not entirely certain what it is even now. But I pondered over it and decided that I didn't want to hurt little creatures anymore. I wasn't sure if flies could really feel pain, but I didn't want to end up being skewered when I grew up. A purely pragmatic and selfish decision to desist from insecticide, you'll agree. Empathy was far from my mind those days.

Of course, it turns out that the demonic child in Amma's story wasn't really Markandeya. That was some other sagely dude. The fellow she had in mind was Mandavya. And Yama, cursed by him, was reborn as Vidura, the wise man of the Mahabharata.


Mridul Narayanan said...

is it not normal in everyone's life. A childhood of cruelty and a saintly adulthood ?
I remember doing similar things to Thumbi and butterflies.
Maybe the Markandeya's story is and the burning hell would be what made me change my way...

Fëanor said...

Well, I can safely say my sister never hurt a soul. So not sure about it being normal in everyone's life...Some never grow out of it and become CEOs of Enron and Lehman.

Chou said...

And you thought calling yourself the 'Saint' would absolve you of your sins!!!

Fëanor said...

Yes, Chou. Was I so wrong?

Gurusharan said...

I think we all go through these sadist pangs. I remember tying the cats of our landlady (in Bucharest) by their necks and swiveling them around! They naturally started avoiding my very shadow. But I like the gentle, subtle way that aunty got to curb your habit. Any other mom would have simply shouted and left it at that. You must thank mom for becoming a Saint.

Post a Comment