The Helplessness of Man

Saathi na bane koyi,

Takdir ke maron ka.

Insaan ke majburi,

Hai khel sitaron ka.

I found no friend,

Such is my destiny.

But Man’s helplessness,

The whimsy of the Gods.

(Lyrics of a song from the 1953 Bollywood movie ‘Dhuaan’; singer Krishna Goyal)

Just four very short phrases, but what phrases! These 15 simple words are sufficient to convey the essence of a Greek tragedy. If we close our eyes, we can almost see — seated high upon the peak of Mount Olympus — Zeus and his nine companions (some scholars list a total of 12), looking down on the mass of humanity milling around the plains below. And deciding upon their fate, often on a whim. Being the sole deciders of Man’s fate, they had the ultimate power to control and even alter the course of the lives of ordinary mortals.

The most striking feature of this quotation is the incredible economy of words. Four very short phrases, but enough to prod us onto a journey of discovery, on how the Gods-on-high manage the lives of ordinary mortals. No doubt a prose writer could also have conveyed the same message, but he would have needed more than just those 15 words to do it. The beauty of poetry lies in the economical use of words, and yet manage to express so succinctly the elements that make for the human condition.

So what were the Greek Gods really like? Well for a start, just like any God, they were not as whimsical or vindictive as those in the quotation. Often they were generous to and supportive of humans. If we believe in Creation, then we can only marvel at the thousands of things the Almighty has created for our enjoyment — from fruits and vegetables, to fish and other non-vegetarian foods for us to consume to our heart’s delight. He has also created self-generating clean air for us to breathe and fresh water to drink, and the sun to give us warmth and light. On the aesthetic plane we can but marvel at the beauty of a colourful rainbow, the sweet scent of wild flowers or the flight of a flamboyance of flamingoes. And so much more…

But we must beware of the wrath of the Gods too. We cross them at our own risk and peril. Retributive devastation and destruction is bound to follow (from the Gods of fire and brimstone?!) should we step over the limits imposed by them. It is said that the Greek Gods ruled over Man’s destiny, nature and justice. Thus they were the sole deciders of the kind of justice to be meted out to mere mortals. And unlike the justice system of Man, there was no higher court of appeal. Unsurprisingly this strikes a familiar bell with the retributive nature of the God of almost every man-made religion.

It would be nice to think that the character from ‘Dhuaan’ found his friend, his companion, his love. But did he, or had the Gods destined him to pine away his entire life without anyone for company… lonely, forlorn, unloved? Indeed the divine and the human condition can render perplex!

Ramesh Beeharry

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