‘Ces hommes propres avec des regards sales’
— Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
The friend who quoted these words of Malcolm de Chazal some time back was looking forward to retiring from his sphere of professional activities in about two years from now. Unfortunately, he said, the circumstances of his career had brought him into contact with de Chazal’s category of persons, and what was disturbing him was that of late he perforce had to mix and interact with them more and more.
Zotte costumé cravaté
tout, colgate smile lor zotte figure, mais mo dire toi zotte banne hypocrites, menteurs, zotte dire ene zaffaire mais zotte mean lotte…
This left him worried about the future generations, whether they could receive a fair deal in this their own country and be treated with the respect due to all citizens. He felt that we still had a long way to go before this happened, and he had almost lost hope that he would see this take place in his own lifetime, even if one were to allow him a couple of decades beyond the proverbial two score years and ten. At this stage of his life, he had decided that the best way in which he could help the upcoming younger crowd was to try and inculcate in them a sense of ethics and solid values, so that they would be prepared to face the future’s mined and uneven playing fields with some degree of serenity and pragmatism without compromising on fundamental principles. And he was actively engaged in forums where this could be done.
I was reminded of ces hommes propres avec des regards sales when I saw a newspaper column titled ‘British Fritzl who raped daughters for over 25 years.’ Josef Fritzl, it would be remembered, was a 70-plus year old German whose crime came to light a few years ago after one child out of the several he had fathered by his own daughter was admitted for treatment in a hospital. The daughter had been kept prisoner in an underground bunker as from her teens; he had repeatedly raped and beaten her, and it was 24 years later that this sad story surfaced in all its gruesome, unbelievable horror. At some stage during his trial this father had confessed that whenever his eyes fell upon his daughter all he could think of was that he wanted to rape her! And this is the man who was remembered by neighbours and colleagues as always being smartly dressed and a model, regular employee (he was an engineer): but in truth he was un homme propre avec un regard sale…
It would be a grave mistake to assume that this kind of crime and such men are found only in some places; alas, after Fritzl was exposed, similar incidents around the world were and continue to be reported, such as the latest one involving two sisters whose ordeal started in 1981 when they were aged 8 and 10 respectively; between the two of them they got pregnant eighteen times by their father and had seven babies. Credit must be given to the authorities which boldly uncover these horror stories – although alas too late — and mete out swift justice, and organize the necessary social and psychological support for the victims. It goes some way to comfort if not console them, and one hopes that their own inner strength will do the rest over time, to blunt the painful memories and allow them to pick up the threads of their lives afresh.
The betrayal of trust
A few days ago I met a social worker who narrated to me in some detail similar ‘cases’ that she is regularly called upon to deal with including, for example, the betrayal of trust of innocent girls barely into their puberty entrusted to men in religious garb. And again, one would be wrong in thinking that this phenomenon is confined to one community or one social class, although it may predominate in certain more vulnerable sections of society. In the Annual Report September 2008-2009 of the Ombudsperson for Children, 211 cases of sexual abuse are reported, out of which 92 relate to sexual intercourse with minor under 16, 18 are rape cases and 29 are incest. In addition, there are 19 cases of minor treated as in-patient for pregnancy and childbirth in government hospitals. The Report underlines that these figures may represent the minimum, as there is underreporting and deliveries may take place at home or in private clinics.
Cases of sexual abuse are the more sensational ones and are reported in corresponding style and with gory details in the media. What my friend was talking about does not necessarily hit the headlines, but was no less pernicious because it was perhaps more widespread. The people that Malcolm de Chazal hinted at are, according to him, to be found in our very proximity more often than not. A sophisticated lumpen of liars, hypocrites, backbiters, manipulators, exploiters, abusers and cheaters amongst others. I shuddered. I know that we are in kaliyuga, but all the same…
There were some who hid behind the smokescreen of immunity to attack those whose competence, dignity and honesty they could not match, and who were defenceless in such forums for the simple reason that they were not present to give their version of the allegations made against them. Not only are such loathsome persons hypocrites, pointed out my friend, they are also cowards: if they were men enough, they would face those they were accusing man-to-man. But no, they preferred to slander and gossip behind closed doors. And to imagine, said my friend as he gesticulated in despair, that such unmanliness and cowardice were involved in defining the course of the future in our country!
He gave an instance of what he was witness to once, when one participant finger-pointed someone who worked with him. Some others joined in to add fuel to fire, for the too obvious reason that along with the guy they were supporting in his salvo, they talked loudly in public about high-faluting principles which they glibly transgressed in their dealings, and they were unable to silence or influence the person being targeted because he was a stickler for uprightness. The chair of the meeting sat listening quietly and pensively to this exchange of diatribes, and when they had finished he asked a question to the accusers: ‘Would you repeat what you have said here to the person you are aiming at if I called him here?’ And, addressing the main protagonist directly, he asked him, ‘did you confront the person with these criticisms you are making behind his back and seek his explanations?’
Faces fell, and there was a silence. ‘Go back,’ said the boss, referred to as such – for he was a real one, known for his sense of fair play and empathy, ‘and do your homework before you come here next time!’ More silence, and crestfallen expressions.
What was to be done then? – I asked my friend. Well, he replied, unfortunately to pas pou capave dresse ene pied qui fine pousse travers! Someone in the subset in whom arrogance, foul language, badmouthing, backbiting, fits of temper and so forth were ingrained could not be re-trained as it were, that was his experience. Nor could the other variety either, the smooth, suave, innocuous-looking operators. So it was better to pursue, as he was doing, one’s task to the best of one’s ability and according to one’s conscience and accepted universal values, keep an open mind and look at the larger picture, help out with sincerity whenever and wherever possible, and shun self-advertisement or undue publicity. And most of all, he concluded, learn to listen and understand – something he wished that those Malcolm de Chazal alluded to possessed to a larger degree so that they could at least make an attempt to mend their ways.
Some more about hardworking donkeys…
Which brings me to the other expression that I had heard — ‘hardworking donkeys’ – and that I had written about earlier. In fact a primary school teacher and fellow walker shared with me a lesson about self-critical analysis and improvement as regards his teaching techniques and increased efficiency.
He was talking to one of his colleagues who seemed to put in less time with his pupils, and yet the latter had better results than his own. What was the secret, he enquired. Simple, replied his colleague: he had taught his pupils listening skills, and he also honed his own concurrently, and this resulted in a synergy which made it such that he could cover more ground in a shorter time, sparing the rest for revision – and completed the syllabus while my friend would still be struggling to do so. The latter therefore decided to adopt that technique, and added a complementary one of his own: teaching his kids the value of silence, 30 seconds at a time.
The outcome was soon felt: because, he observed, he had increased his efficiency as a result of the adoption of the new way of handling his pupils. And that was surely because he had been prepared to listen, understand, and put into practice what he judged as sound and plausible.
So listen, understand, acquire knowledge, put into practice what one has learnt so as improve oneself and thus increase efficiency of functioning — and then see the result. There’s nothing like knowledge applied judiciously to effect transformational change. But one must first be willing to acquire that knowledge, and an absolute condition in the leaning process is that one has to shed one’s ego to begin with. How many are prepared to do that — to be less of arrogant fools and more of humble learners?
And these were people, he added, who were in high level positions where the decisions they took or influenced had the potential to have a wide-ranging impact on the country and the people at large. And sometimes even on individuals, destroying careers and lives of families – but that was the least of their bother. Appearances, he underlined, were really illusory, and not to be trusted. So too were the words uttered by such people, for they also could not be trusted. In the midst of their talks about grand schemes, his experience allowed him to make out that their focus was many a narrow vested interest, but they had the means to spin-doctor so that when matters were articulated in public, nobody could suspect their underlying agenda.