wanting to be a better man

Every scripture in the world agrees on one thing – that humans have an ‘obligation’ to be good and when we pursue the things that we really need in order to be happy, we are being good. Google translate says ‘honesta’ stands for ‘virtuous’ in Latin. Aristotle must have used the word ‘honesta’ often. He was obsessed with the science of being virtuous.

I got that from reading ‘Aristotle for everybody’ by Mortimer Adler, in my final year of engineering, a year that was reserved for the ‘final year project’. Every student was designated a ‘project guide’, a member of the faculty who’d be his mentor for the project and the paper he would present on it. Your project guide could make you or ruin you.

My project was on ‘artificial intelligence’ and this was 1976. I had a young green-horn post-doctorate fellow as my project guide. He had a stock answer whenever I sought his help. It went this way,” You know what? I have no idea.”

It didn’t bother me none actually. By the first week of our association, I had introduced him to the pleasures of export-quality Trichy weed. There was virtually no way he wouldn’t give me a high A+ on my project. Did I choose him as my guide? No, he was given to me – by the Almighty. The Lord stuck a chillum into my hands and said, “Go forth, my son, get stoned and get your guide stoned and your efforts shall bear fruit.” And boy, did it bear fruit. I got an A+ overall.

‘Aristotle for everybody’ is an interesting book on philosophy for laymen, provided you don’t mind reading every paragraph twice in order to get what the heck the guy is talking about. And please, don’t drink and read Aristotle.  Get stoned and read Aristotle. You’ll love it then, I guarantee you. Drinking robs you off the ability to analyze dispassionately. Smoking weed heightens it. Trust me on this.

I soaked up Aristotle and Plato in engineering school and that’s why I am such a happy guy today. I didn’t become a big shot, not because I didn’t have it in me but because, instead of studying, I was analyzing what these two creepy old homosexual pedophiles preaching. I’m not being homophobic, mind you, but most Greek philosophers around the 4th century BC were queer. Aristotle founded a school in 355BC which turned even the mighty Alexander the Great gay. Ari named his school the ‘Lyceum Debenta Invidiam’ which in English stands for ‘vagina-envy is good’.

Getting back to being good, I am sick of it. 59 years. No, 56 years, assuming that the first 3 years I didn’t know better. 56 years, I have been trying to be the best I could be and I am tiring of it.

Take Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Pope John XXIII, Mother Teresa, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Vivekananda, heck, I could go on and on. All these gents and ladies were very good at being good. But did they have a ball? I doubt that. They suffered like the rest of us, all kinds of ailments, constipation, flatulence, migraine, gall stones, sciatica, dementia, gout, arthritis, lack of libido. Yeah, lack of libido too. Gandhi slept in the nude with his two nubile nieces and claimed he could will himself not to get a hard-on. I guess it was the Gandhian version of Russian roulette. We’ll never know of whether he ever said,” Oh crap, I came, get me a hanky please” or “Was it good for you, sweetie?”

Of course, being the upstanding husband that he was, Gandhi tried to convince his wife, Kasturba, that he was sleeping with nubile girls just to test his resolve and she went along with him. It didn’t occur to her to ask him why he couldn’t do his ‘resolve testing’ with her. Did ‘fat and ugly’ have anything to do with it?

At 77, Gandhi would regularly have Abha Gandhi, the 18 year old wife of a grand-nephew, sleep with him in the nude. The poor grand nephew went along with it because he was made to believe it was for the ‘greater good’. Gandhi wanted someone to keep him warm. Gradually the grand nephew got a bit upset, quite understandably. He offered to keep Gandhi warm himself but the old man declined. Again, quite understandably.

So maybe I’ll strike Gandhi out of my list of good guys after all. But he had a ball, being good, didn’t he now? A 2010 biography, titled “The thrill of chaste – the truth about Gandhi’s sex life” reveals a mixed-up sexual deviant-cum-pervert (pun intended). That a 300-page book can be written on anyone’s sex life alone, is revealing in itself.

Was Gandhi fit to be the father of the nation or was he just another pathetically dirty old deviant personality who used blindly faithful young women to satisfy his warped needs? Why do we vilify Bill Clinton or JFK or Jacques Chirac when our very Indian epitome of virtue committed adultery with robotic followers, in full view, even in his late 70s?

You’ll find a review of the book, by biographer Jad Adams, here:- http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/thrill-of-the-chaste-the-truth-about-gandhis-sex-life-1937411.html

Two thousand years before Gandhi, Aristotle was holding forth on moral virtue being the only practical road to happiness and that the virtuous person sees truly and judges rightly, since beautiful things appear as they truly are only to a person of good character. And while Aristotle mesmerized audiences with his rhetoric, there he was humping every young Greek boy he set his rheumy eyes on.

Okay, that’s enough of all this crap about being good. I just wonder if being good is really important or whether feeling good is. The feeling we get when we do the right thing spontaneously, instinctively, without taking the time to think them through. The delicious feeling that comes over us when we take even ourselves by surprise with a spontaneous act.

Take Courtney Walsh, the West Indian cricket legend with 519 test wickets. At Lahore, during the 1987 World Cup, Pakistan’s Abdul Qadir was at the crease and Pakistan needed just 2 runs to win. Walsh ran in to bowl the last ball of the match. As he thundered up to the crease like a locomotive, he suddenly pulled up without delivering. Salim Jaffar, at the non-striker’s end, was by then well out of his crease, heading up the wicket. Walsh could have run him out comfortably but chose not to do so and headed back to bowl the delivery again. Qadir scored the necessary runs off the last ball and Pakistan won the match. West Indies’ chances of a semi-final place were in jeopardy. Walsh was deservedly feted for his sportsmanship. He even received a hand-woven carpet from a local Pakistani fan.

Scipio Africanus was a brilliant Roman general, who never lost a battle. He was best known for defeating the legendary Carthagian general, Hannibal, at the final battle of the Second Punic War at Zama 205BC, a feat that earned him a place in military history as one of finest military commanders ever and the nickname “the Roman Hannibal”. Skilled in strategy and tactics, he inspired his legions with his confident leadership. The role of Maximus, the Roman general, in the Ridley Scott film ‘Gladiator’ is said to have been styled on him.

Scipio Africanus had a weakness for beautiful women and knowing this, one of his soldiers presented him with a beautiful young woman captured in Iberia. The woman turned out to be the fiancée of an Iberian soldier who had been taken prisoner. Seeing her in such a pathetic condition overcome by despair, Scipio is said to have exclaimed,” Are we men, that we may take a woman in her grief?” He not only freed her, virtue intact, he freed her fiancée as well.

Then there was the Italian striker, Paolo Di Canio. Wearing the colors of West Ham United on a visit to Merseyside in December 2000, he caught the ball inside the penalty area after Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard dislocated his knee, attempting a kick. Seeing the keeper in pain, Di Canio remained where he was, holding the ball, passing up the opportunity to put the ball in the unguarded net. With clock about to tick into the 90th minute and the game poised at 1-1, it was a moment the 31,260 fans that afternoon will never forget.

How can I not mention the 2008 Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain. In October, 1967, he was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam when his A4E-Skyhawk was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain was captured and spent 3 years in the dreaded North Vietnamese POW camp known to the Americans as ‘The Hanoi Hilton’.

In his book, “Character is Destiny,” McCain writes about how he was thrown into a solitary cell, his hands painfully twisted and bound around his knees which were drawn up sharply, leaving him curled up in a ball. He quickly realized that if this went on, he would end up a paraplegic. But that didn’t happen. One of the guards would steal into his solitary cell at night and loosen the ropes and then sneak back in next morning, to tighten them before other guards noticed.

The North Vietnamese guard said nothing while performing this unbelievably brave act of kindness night after night, but one time, in the yard, in McCain’s own words… “I became aware of him as he walked near me and then, for a moment, stood very close to me. He did not speak or smile or look at me. He just stared at the ground and then, very casually, he used his foot to draw a cross in the dirt. We both stood looking at his work for a minute until he erased it with a swipe of his foot and walked away.”

When my son was three, he liked to sit on the jump seat next to the driver, when we took a bus. That way he could have a panoramic view of the traffic in front as well as the sidewalk to the right. Eyes gleaming with excitement, he would devour the scenes around him and I’d stand next to him and watch him have a great time.

But every time a lady boarded, my son stood up and offered his seat to her, even though he didn’t have to, given how little he was. Besides, over here in Canada, there are no separate seats for ladies and there is no requirement to vacate one’s seat for anybody, unless the person is disabled or ill. I never consciously taught him, nor did I stop him from being gracious, even if it meant that he’d have to travel standing the rest of the way. The incredulous expressions on the faces around us were reward enough, I guess.

If we try to imagine a world where everybody treats themselves and others the best way they can, we would probably behave in the same manner. Doing the right thing would then become natural, like a default mode of behavior. That however doesn’t happen. Some of us are good only so long as it is in our self-interest to be good. Some of us are indifferent, apathetic or actively bad and we see no advantage in being good. I am painfully aware that I have been this way too, many times.

But being an agnostic has helped me tremendously, in that I don’t have the millstone of religion round my neck – like an admonishing school principal. I have come to believe that I should constantly try to decide what constitutes being good, by thinking of the manner in which I have lived my life. I have looked for reasons why I should be good and I have realized that I should try to be good because I choose to be good. And if I do pray, I’ll pray for spontaneity in my actions.

I’m still working on it. I want to be a better man and like Jack Nicholson, I’m looking for someone, something to make me want to be a better man.