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Jacques the Fatalist in Jaiaw

My first colleagues in Jaiaw - I'm there too!

Jacques is the eponymous character in Denis Diderot’s novel whose full title is Jacques the Fatalist and his Master. As the title indicates, Jacques is a fatalist who believes that whatever happens to us, good or evil, has been written up above on a great scroll that is unrolled bit by bit. Jaiaw is a small part of the hill town of Shillong, capital of Meghalaya. Jacques and Jaiaw have nothing in common except what I am forging here in this post.

Fatalism is quite a fatal thing. If everything is already written by some omniscient and omnipotent power that is sitting up there like a grand ringmaster of a circus being staged below here, then we have as much freedom as a beast in the circus ring. We’d be doing just what the master wants us to do, what he has trained us to do, and little more. But Jacques is not such a passive character who lets his destiny unfold bit by bit. He takes decisions. He is as independent as he possibly can be. He teaches his master many vital lessons of life. At one point, he tells his master that he, the valet, is the real master because the master is so dependent on him for too many things.

Diderot’s novel is full of such paradoxes. The master-valet relationship is inverted many a time. There are two men in the novel who are the best of friends but who will enter into duel after duel when they quarrel and wound each other. There is Father Hudson who is a Church reformer in public but is the novel’s most debauched character in private life.

People are paradoxical. Is it because certain things are in the DNA and those are beyond the individual’s control? I don’t know the answer. But my personal life seems to say yes to the question. And that’s where Jaiaw claims Jacques the Fatalist.

I worked in a school in Jaiaw for eight years. I started my teaching career there. It was a girls school and hence the job was easy as well as pleasant. I was a young man in his twenties, you see. Most of my colleagues were female too. They, being the Khasi tribal people of Shillong, were unpretentious and straightforward unlike most of the plainspeople I was familiar with. My students were all tribals too with a few exceptions. The job was easy and pleasant with such people around.

But Jaiaw as a place was quite the opposite. There was a constant and palpable tang of hostility in its air. The menfolk among the Khasis were not quite happy with outsiders especially in those days – the 1980s. The men, particularly the young ones, had a feeling that their jobs were being taken away by outsiders like me whom they contemptuously called ‘dkhar’. I could feel their hatred in their looks. They didn’t hesitate to call me ‘dkhar’ to my face whenever they got me alone on a street or a by lane. I was assaulted physically once on my way to school though not too violently.

Today, looking back at the eight years I spent in Jaiaw, I wonder what made me stick to that place. Fate? I could have abandoned that job and found another in some other place. There was something in my DNA that made me cling to Jaiaw like a barnacle clinging to its rock as if that was the only existence it could ever have. If only I had just left that rock!

My next job as a lecturer at St Edmund’s College of Shillong was worse. If Jaiaw gave me all the delights of the teaching career which could be a reason for my barnacle-like clinging, Edmund’s offered me absolutely nothing for becoming another barnacle for seven more years. My God! I wasted the most precious years of my life in a place which sends shivers down my spine now when I turn back like Lot’s wife.

Those shivers are what make me believe in Jacque’s fatalism. You can’t erase your experiences and the indelible marks left by them in your psyche. They shape your thinking more than anything else. All the philosophy you’ve learnt, all the self-help strategies you’ve stored up, and all the smiles your old age is able to gather with its sobriety, if not gracefulness, fail to mellow certain genes in the marrow of your bones. Those genes are your fate. You never had any choice about them. And they do control your life like a ringmaster to a great extent.

PS. I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z 

Previous Post: The Idiot

Tomorrow: Keeper of my brother



  1. Sometimes we do not have any control and sometimes we realize certain truths only when we turn back and analyze. It was great to know about your personal struggles and how those experiences helped shape your thoughts.

    1. I'm inclined to look at life as a series of blunders we commit unwittingly and the lessons we learn from them painfully.

  2. What powerful posts u write! Love reading them . Even after assault u stayed there :-o you are brave...and also shows ur love for the job! So the college job was not up to ur liking but u still stayed there? Nyway am sure it was a great learning for u

    Last para..these lines. ..Those genes are your fate. You never had any choice about them. And they do control your life like a ringmaster to a great extent., feel so true!!

    Dropping by from a to z

    1. I loved teaching. But what bothers me when I look back is why I thought that I wouldn't get a good teaching job in another place. Why it took me 15 years to shift to Delhi and get into one of the best schools there. That's fate. Inexplicable but dormant in the DNA. I'm using dna metaphorically, of course.

  3. I fight this battle everyday. I always feel those who are extremely popular/rich/famous, for instance are destined to be and we could try but if we are not destined, will remain where we are. Yet I try. And at the same time, realise the futility of it. This is a constant tug of war. I loved your post. There's so much I could talk about the decisions I took (or rather destiny made me take)....perhaps, some other day at another time. :)

    1. I'm trying to reach your blog. Why not give me the link?

  4. May be, that paradoxes makes the human life interesting (or frustrating). There is a wrestling between good and bad in the society. As long as good wins, society will be calm. Everyone of us are equally Gods and equally Lucifers. When Godness wins, we shines, When Lucifer wins, may be, we spread dark.

    I recall a Doctor character played by Nagesh in Tamil Movie 'apoorva ragangal' by Balachander. He will be the philosopher for the heroine. At the same time, he himself will be the worst drunkard in his personal life. Whenever he got caught, he will escape by saying, 'I'm Doctor's brother!'

    Another thought provoking article. Thank you sir.

    1. Paradoxes make life both interesting and frustrating. Perhaps, that's God's joke. The truth is I don't believe in God. So whose joke is the universe? Nobody's. Joke is the essence of the universe. My beloved philosopher Camus called it Absurd.

  5. Being at the center of hatred is such a dreadful thing and that too for 7 long years and 8 later on. Isn't is the raw courage that you posses? Isnt it your own quality rahter than something wired in genes or DNA? You are a brave heart for sure.
    Thanks Tomichan for visiting my blog inspite of the fact that it was difficult to find. Highly indebted. And I am sincerely sorry for the inconvenience it caused. I will look into the matter and change the details.

    1. I'm not quite sure about this, Anagha. Quite a lot of things are in our genes, I'm sure. Science will agree. And we can't change them. My inability to judge people rightly and to adapt myself to given situations is part of my genes, I'm convinced. I stay away from society now. I'm not brave. I lack social intelligence.

  6. Some decisions we made are dependant on our frame of mind then. While in retrospection it is based on our current state and so it takes a different perspective, correct ? Seems to have been an adventurous and somewhat dangerous tenure too at Jaiaw.

    Visiting from A to Z

    Jayashree writes

    1. Absolutely right. Hindsight creates new pasts.

      Jaiaw did give me a lot of life-threatening situations. Anti-outsider riots were common in Shillong and Jaiaw was the first place to be affected by the hate wave. I survived. I don't even consider that luck. That's my problem, perhaps. And that attitude is my luck, perhaps.

  7. I do believe in fate. If nothing else it's a consolation that you're doing everything right and there are some unexplained forces that are responsible for what you cannot control. In fact, I think it should be like that. Because the control freaks of our world need to know that they cannot dictate everything. Hats off to your tenacity.

    1. Yeah, some things should remain beyond one's control. Otherwise we would all be gods playing with the fates of others.


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