I have to pass through the kindergarten of my school as I walk from the parking lot to the office where I have to punch the attendance. The innocence that sparkles through the smiles of the kids and their other expressions such as bafflement are good things to start the day with.
As I passed by those charming expressions this morning a thought occurred to me: why is innocence one of the inevitable prices to be paid for growing up? The children naturally lose those innocent expressions as they grow up. The smiles become warped and may even disappear altogether. Human society smothers the smiles of children. Innocence has to give way to deviousness.
Couldn’t it be better? I wondered as I climbed up the staircase and walked towards my staffroom. Why didn’t the process of evolution add more benevolent genes to the species? Why did evil become so predominant in human nature?
Well, I know that these questions have no answers unless we accept the answers given by religions. I don’t find religious answers satisfying; I find them quite silly, in fact. That’s why I was amused when a student of mine from the senior secondary section walked into the staffroom and offered me a book to read. “You must read it, sir,” she insisted. “For my sake,” it became a request.
It’s a book written by a man who converted from Islam to Christianity and is now a religious preacher as well as teacher in a Catholic seminary. The blurb told me as much. I smiled at the student and she seemed to have understood the meaning of that smile. “I pray for you everyday,” she said. She had told me a few days back that she wished to see me as a “good, religious person.” A smile was my response to it.
I really didn’t know how to respond this time. I’m extremely clumsy when it comes to dealing with people outside my professional area. “I’m not a bad man,” I managed to say while retaining the smile. “I know,” she said. “But do read it.”
I had started reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. I carried on with it as soon as I finished the normal duties and got a period free. Henry Cavendish came alive in Bryson’s inimitable description.
An admirer landed in front of Cavendish’s house one day. As soon as the scientist opened the front door, the admirer started praising him from the bottom of his heart. Cavendish listened as if each praise was a whiplash on his breast. When he couldn’t take it anymore, he ran out and walked away from his own gate. Cavendish never liked people. He was extremely shy and avoided human society altogether. Even his housekeeper had to communicate with him through writing. But his scientific pursuits used to take him to the weekly soirees led by Sir Joseph Banks. Other participants were advised to leave Cavendish alone. If you really had something worthwhile to discuss, you could go somewhere near him (not too close) and utter your message. If it was scientifically sensible enough to arouse Cavendish’s interest, he would mumble something in response. Otherwise, you’d better leave.
Cavendish was more shy than innocent, perhaps. But innocence is lack of experience. I borrow that concept from William Blake. Cavendish lacked experience in the normal human ways. So he was unable to deal with people. I don’t know him well enough to judge whether he was innocent or just shy. I know him only through Bryson. I liked to imagine him as very innocent simply because he lived without human society.
I have a human society. Thankfully it is a society of children most of whom are as innocent as children normally are. My student’s prayers for the redemption of my soul are part of that innocence. I cannot say no to such innocence. I cannot say yes either when it comes to the question of my soul. By and large, I avoid religious discussions with students. What happened today is just a coincidence, an innocent coincidence – the religious book and Henry Cavendish. The latter amused me more, though.