August 5th, 2010


The Non-Prodigal Son

I was having a converstion with Chandan and it struck much the law-abiding have to bear.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son who has wasted his lot and roistered around the world, has a change of heart and comes home...and all is celebration at his return, and the fatted calf is killed in his honour.

How must the other son, who stayed by his family, working hard for the family's welfare, and who did not waste either his lot or his father's wealth, feel at this? No fatted calves are killed for those who steadily do their duty, and make no song and dance about it. In fact, they are the ones who have to bear the daily friction, and often feel that nothing they do is noticed or appreciated.

Similarly, it is those children who try to adjust to their parents' views who seem to get the maximum expected from them. Instead of understanding that these children are spending their adulthood in the parental home by choice, the parents begin taking their presence for granted, and slowly, the expectations and the demands rise. "Don't go out every weekend!" "Why do you want to go out for dinner when there's home-cooked food?" the demands-couched-in-the-language-of-affection go. The more the child of the family tries to adjust to the customs and mores of the household, the more s/he is expected to do.

It must be so irritating for the obedient member of the household to hear the prodigal being affectionately absolved of all responsibility with a laughing, "Oh, X won't lift a little finger!" When Y *does* do it all, shouldering the responsibility, more often than not, Y is reviled for not doing it this or that way!

How could the responsible person's heart not grieve when, having toiled unceasingly, s/he suddenly sees the parents' faces light up when another child, living far away, who does not visit often, decides to visit? That child is the VIP; the whole household is turned upside down for the arrival and stay; special dishes are cooked...the family is on its best behaviour, unrecognizable as the fractious, bickering group of people who get on each others' nerves daily! That child comes over and sees this peaceful scene and tells Y, "You are so lucky...see, I have to be far away...' Far away, indeed! Far away from the lack of freedom, the daily rubs and irritations, the daily swallowing of difficult situations for the sake of the family....

Well...this is not true of families alone. Who is the person who is asked to shell out more taxes every year? The honest taxpayer, of course. By the time he finishes paying his income tax and his sales tax and his surcharges and his VAT, he is tired out...he comes and slumps in front of the honestly-bought TV, where the announcer is talking about the latest tax waiver plan that the Government has for those who have either not paid their taxes, or have bought their land and houses illegally....

It is the law-abiding flight passenger who waits for hours in the queue at the airport, taking off his shoes and losing his moisturizer, keys or mobile in the process of that long arduous journey to the aircraft. The unlawful guy....finds another way to circumvent the rules....

And alas, that's what most people tend to like, too. Robin Hood or Raffles or Phoolan Devi or Veerappan is a far more intersting person than Harischandra or Rama....villains are more beloved of the people than the righteous, as they seem closer to what we are than paragons of virtue.

The amazing thing is that the selfless people I've met....are actually happy to be that way, and don't seem to think of what they are giving up, or the compromises they are making. Perhaps it is this very contentedness in their nature that allows them to be the pillars of their family....always asked upon to shoulder the load, and always coming through with a smile.....

Thank you, Chandan,for making me think about this...and readers, excuse the politically incorrect gender-specific pronouns...!