Good, for nothing


Who‘s Shanta?’ ‘Why Shanta?’ ‘Where’s Shanta?’

It beats me hollow.

Why would people pick Shanta from a post that was all about Ram, Ravan, Sita, Lakshman-Rekha, Gandhi and Hitler?

Maybe it has got to do with the funny times that we live in.

When someone says he’s lying, we say. ‘He must be really honest to say that.’ But when someone insists he’s telling us the truth, we say, ‘I’m sure he’s lying.’

Funny world, indeed.

Last week when I narrated a simple script called The Ladder to some people, they said, ‘That’s too plain. No twists, no turns, no nothing.’

Fair enough. But when I introduced all that, and presented The Spiral Staircase, the same ones said, ‘That’s too convoluted and risky. Why can’t we have something straighter?’

Oh sure. So I went back in a day with The Staircase. Now they said, ‘That’s too laboured and out-dated.’

Not one to give up easily, I bounced back with The Escalator. ‘Oh, this is slow and monotonous,’ they said.

So I gave it my best shot and came up with The Elevator. They smiled and said, ‘ Nice. But it seems to be a direct lift.’

Oh, come on guys, give me a break! I wanted to scream that, as I left their office.

Maybe I did. For they yelled back, ‘That’s precisely what we are trying to do here, Rameshji!’

Coming to think of it, it’s not exactly a funny world.

Here’s an example straight from home.

It involves my mom. (No, for god’s sake, she is not Shanta!)

My mom has a problem with maids. (Or, the maids have a problem with her, depending on whose son is writing this.)

She finds getting maids difficult, retaining them, impossible. I think it’s because of the entrance test she has devised for the maids, which I rate tougher than that of IIMs. (I’ve always hated entrance tests. If you are going to make it so tough to enter, then c’mon, you might as well call it the exit test. Na?)

My mom’s USP (Unique Selecting Process) is a 5-month affair. The thing about mom’s test is that the entrant doesn’t know she is being tested until the results are out. It’s a secret known to only us insiders until now. Today it goes public.

Day One: The Lie Test

Entrant is asked point blank, ‘Do you have the habit of lying?’

It’s never about the reply, which is always an obvious no. It’s about where they look while saying it. Those who look straight into my mom’s eye and talk are hired. Those who look elsewhere are rejected.

I had once asked my mom, ‘Would someone who looks straight into your eyes and says yes, be rejected because she spoke the truth?’

She glared at me and asked, ‘How come we don’t see all this creativity in your work?’

Ouch! That had been below the belt.

Week Two: The Efficiency Test

A crumpled paper is thrown under the cupboard. If it disappears, the maid remains. If it remains, the maid disappears. Simple.

Month Three to Five: The Greed Tests

On the 25th of these three months, mom leaves money under the sofa, upping the stakes progressively each month from Rs.10 to Rs.100 to Rs.500.

Only three have ever managed to see Month Five. None saw Month Six, though. I clearly remember how those three had failed, too.

Ambattur being a small suburb, word had got around pretty quick. So on the 25th of Month Five, when this well-informed one didn’t find anything under the sofa, she walked up to mom and asked her about the Rs.500, and got promptly sacked for being too clever.

The second one was too anxious to impress. She returned two 500-notes and was sacked for being too honest.

When the third one crossed the final hurdle, all of us at home broke into a mini-celebration. Unfortunately, while we were celebrating, she scooted with Rs.5000 from mom’s cupboard.

Much later, my brother and I had tried to get my mom to discontinue her USP. But she shot back at us, ‘You males will never understand a woman’s issues. How I wish one of you had been a daughter!’

Now that made us instantly indebted to her for not resorting to male foeticide. We became so emotional that day that we swore to do the chores ourselves until mom found a maid.

But we quit the very next day when we discovered a crumpled paper under the cupboard and a 500-rupee note under the sofa.

How could she!

We escalated the matter. No, not to dad. He’s a male too, you see.

We went to my mom’s niece. No, she’s not Shanta, she’s our cousin on whose word mom goes by when it comes to choosing sarees, gifts, films and even daughters-in-law. (The last one is a score I’m yet to settle with my cousin.)

My brother and I waited, as our cousin was having a conversation with a prospective maid. This is what we overheard: ‘How can I hire you? You are not looking into my eyes while talking. Even when I’m saying this, you are looking elsewhere. See!’

Oh no, we thought. If that was IIM, this was IIT.

As we were leaving, we heard the maid plead, ‘No madam, I’m looking at you only! I’m squint-eyed, that’s why.’

Precisely three days after that, Shanta had walked into our lives. Walked? Na, breezed into our home without any tests whatsoever.

Just out of curiosity, I had asked my mom why Shanta was spared the USP. Her answer was, ‘Tests are only to prove to the world what I already know. Those who are good have goodness written all over them. They have nothing to hide, so everything shows. Whereas the evil have much to hide and so nothing shows until one digs it out.’

I hated that partisan answer. Maybe that’s why I’ve disliked Shanta from Day One.

All these years I’ve done all I can to prove my mom wrong. Must admit, I’ve failed miserably. And that’s only made me dislike Shanta even more.

She’s unflinching about her values and has overcome every goodness challenge that life and I have thrown at her. But that’s not what bugs me. It’s her no-fuss, no-hype, no-nonsense way of going about being good that I find tough to digest.

How can a poor, frail, hunched and old woman stand so tall, erect and strong amidst adversities of all kinds? She stands eye-to-eye, talks fearlessly, doesn’t mince words and doesn’t sugar-coat her statements. Her opinions are ruthlessly fair and fiercely independent of us- her employers, on whom her entire family depends on.

Her best was reserved for her worst- 2010, her life’s worst year. Apart from domestic issues and family tragedies, the house she built painstakingly over the years got washed away in the rains. But she remained unchanged.

How can one remain unaffected by envy and self-pity in such trying circumstances? How does one remain good when one has everything to lose, and not become evil when there’s so much to gain? How does one have the will power to say no to the not-so-evil opportunities that promise relief? How does one be thankful to those who helped, but not be obliged to do anything contrary to one’s beliefs?

Right through the year, I called my mom to ask if Shanta had changed. ‘No she hasn’t. She won’t. She never will,’ was the answer, always.

I can accept the evil because I know why they are so. I can also understand why the good are good when in return they get rewarded, appreciated, celebrated and respected. But how do I react to someone like Shanta who remains good for no reason, no gain?

I have a devious reason for dedicating this post to her. I want her to know that her goodness has been noticed, appreciated and discussed in the World Wide Web. I want her to become conscious of her goodness. I want to inject a small dose of fame, and put a pinch of pride in her. They work like slow poison; eventually making even the best succumb to the prospect of encashing their goodness.

That would be the day! I can sleep peacefully, sorted in the mind that finally there’s no one in this world who is good, for nothing.

‘I do things to prove that the bad are indeed bad. You do things to prove that the good aren’t that good. That’s like doing a post-mortem on someone to find out why he was healthy and alive,’ says my mom angrily.

Don’t blame me, I say. Blame it on the strange times that we live in.

Om Shanta Om.


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