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For a joyful 2023

 


You and I may be saints in a country that garlands rapists and killers.

One of the delightful short stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is ‘The Saint’. A man named Margarito Duarte, who has not studied beyond the primary school, becomes a saint in the view of the narrator by doing nothing but carrying the dead body of his seven-year-old daughter for 22 years hoping to get her canonised by the Catholic Church.

Margarito, like many others of his village, is forced to disinter the body of his daughter because a dam that is going to be constructed requires the acquisition of the parish cemetery. Everyone in the parish disinters the bones of their dear departed so that they can be buried elsewhere. When Margarito opens the tomb of his daughter who had died at the age of 7 due to illness, he is startled. His daughter looked as alive as she was before her burial eleven years ago. He, as well as the others in the parish, is convinced that his daughter is a saint and that is why her body has remained uncorrupted for all these years. Now his quest is to get her canonised.

He takes the body to the Vatican. Popes come and go one by one. 22 years pass. Margarito is still waiting when the narrator meets him, waiting for the canonisation of his daughter. The narrator concludes Margarito’s story saying “he had spent twenty-two years fighting for the legitimate cause of his own canonization.”

Margarito is the real saint, in other words. His is a life that has been dedicated to a single cause with the sincerest commitment. What else is sanctity but that sort of commitment to what you think is your life’s mission?

Absurd, you may say – as I did when I first read this story some ten years ago. What is so holy about a man spending almost an entire lifetime pursuing a foolish cause like Margarito’s? The answer is what I hinted at in the beginning of this post. What is holy, what is heroic, what is patriotic? Who decides such things?

One of the best parables I have ever read about the futility of most human pursuits is from Albert Camus. In his sublime essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus tells us the story of a madman trying to catch fish from a bathtub. Seeing the guy sitting so serenely holding the fishing rod, the psychiatrist asks him, “Hey, chap, caught something yet?” The madman’s answer is: “No, you fool, this is only a bathtub.”

Who is sane and who is mad in this parable?

Camus’s point is that we are not different from that madman. We are trying to catch fish from the bathtub knowing fully well that there is no fish in there. And a few of us are like the psychiatrist pretending to be wise and climbing up holy pedestals. Our endeavours to rescue our idols from among the fossils of Aurangzebs, our dreams about expanding the borders of Akhand Bharat beyond the Himalayas, our notions about heroism and greatness… make us very like Camus’s loony or the loony’s doc. Or like Margarito Duarte. Absurd or hollow pursuits with firm convictions.

If only we could be a little sceptical, the world would be a far better place. What we need is not the saint’s certainty but the fallible person’s scepticism. Don’t be a saint. Take a sip of whisky, sing a song and dance once in a while. Make some mistakes. Enjoy life.

Wish you a joy-filled New Year.

 

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