– by RAJEEV GOWDA
Now that in Bangalore
The electoral hurly burly’s done
And it’ll take three weeks to figure
Whether the battle’s lost or won
I find myself
Specifically, my mind is drifting to a short story that I read many moons ago. It’s called “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” by the renowned science fiction writer, Ursula K. Le Guin (which won her the Hugo Award for short stories in 1974).
Omelas is a town much like Utopia. Life is perfect for its residents. Happiness abounds. It’s a city where the people enjoy prosperity, culture, entertainment, beauty … they have everything.
But there’s one catch. One crucial tradeoff.
In order for the residents of Omelas to enjoy this wonderful life, they must enslave a child in a dark dungeon.
All citizens of Omelas learn about this tradeoff when they come of age. As a rite of passage, they have to visit the dungeon to see for themselves the degrading conditions in which the child lives.
To quote Le Guin “No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted, that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.”
So they reconcile themselves to this tradeoff and life is blissful for all in Omelas. Except that one dehumanized child.
But slowly, over time, the unbelievable happens. Some citizens walk away from Omelas. They walk away from its perfection. They move to less utopian places. Because the tradeoff that sustains Omelas is too much for them to take any more.
Now, why on earth am I thinking of this short story?
Because Omelas strikes me as similar to the wonderful depictions of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat that the BJP’s Goebbelsian spinmeisters, Arun Shourie and Arun Jaitley are proclaiming to the world. Heaven on earth. Development’s shining shop window. To justify their case for Modi as the BJP’s next PM candidate. Even before the current one has bit the dust. As he will, as he must.
The Indian industrialist class has bought the story. Or simply sold their souls for the Gujarat government’s sops. The subsidies they feast on are really the money of the hard working citizens of Gujarat transferred to corporate wallets in a nanosecond.
Gujarat’s development story can be questioned too, but that we’ll do another day.
Think instead of the condition of the minorities in Gujarat. Whatever Modi may have done or not done on the development front, we know what he’s done to the minorities.
They live in terror. They live in fear. They rue the lives lost, the loved ones mercilessly massacred in front of their own eyes. By those who speak today of glorious development.
And then I think of Omelas. And those who walk away from there. Because they know that no right-thinking human can accept that tradeoff. That all their prosperity is tainted by the brutalization of that one child.
And then I think of Gujarat. So long as the minorities there are subject to a fear-filled existence. So long as the perpetrators of the post-Godhra riots walk free. So long will a dreadful tradeoff remain that no right-thinking, right-living human can ever accept.
As for the Aruns who lead the Modi chorus, I’ll leave them with some Shakespeare …
Lady Macbeth: Here’s the smell of the blood still;
all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
Oh, oh, oh!
*Le Guin’s short story is used to discuss the limits of the utilitarian philosophy—the greatest good of the greatest number. A truly just society would not accept the tradeoff that the citizens of Omelas live with. Because it comes at the cost of violating at least one person’s fundamental freedoms. … You can look it up … that’s what the Internet’s for.