By Sanjay Jha
Published in Tehelka/Financial World
Also on http://www.HamaraCongress.com
There was an outrageous outpouring of flagrant cynicism last week; the disgraced former boss of CWG and Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi was apparently suffering from dementia. Promptly there was frenetic speculation that Kalmadi had pulled off a rather creative subterfuge, loss of memory, which would give him warm protection from legal hawks and gnashing prosecutors. It soon turned into a universal media diatribe precipitating into logorrhea, simply unstoppable . The ersatz Kalmadi was seemingly putting up a Broadway performance, impersonating the first symptoms of Alzheimer. A perfect malinger, so to say. As it turns out, the controversial sports czar has perfect mental constitution; he said so himself, in what seemed as genuine relief to him. To give the man his due, at least he cannot be accused of spreading the canard himself. But the sadistic hounding of Kalmadi, even one of a casual tea encounter, was in repugnant taste.
Hypertension and chest pains has become the rudimentary ruse indulged in by criminals on the loose in handcuffs being unceremoniously paraded to Tihar Jail and elsewhere. It gives you breathing time ( pun intended). Ergo, the contemptuous dismissal of Kalmadi’s alleged dementia has an intriguing history of cry wolf, and is logically understandable. In a country so cynical it even perhaps reads the dates on the newspapers carefully before the headlines to make sure it is true , such a bitter reaction should be expected. But alas, it is also unfortunate. Our EQ ( emotional intelligence) levels are abysmal, and we are getting increasingly susceptible to casual generalizations; the “ sab chor hai” ( everyone is a thief) mentality. If you are on the wrong side, you are swiftly condemned, in one lethal stroke. A virulent lynch mob will then do a celebratory war -dance round the inanimate object of ridicule. It is becoming a pattern. Kalmadi is just a pit of the iceberg.
We are all essentially brought up to care, commiserate and show concern for our fellow beings. It is a normal human trait. Man, I learnt in civics while in school, is a social animal. I remember driving my daughter to school some years ago when she suddenly spotted a disconsolate sparrow refusing to budge despite angry honks from our impatient driver. The poor bird was unable to fly as it had a broken wing. So she gingerly picked up the fluttering thing and we sent it home to recuperate , even if it meant that she missed her crucial mathematics class. Of course, some thought that was the “height of emo(tional) overdose”. But must innocence, faith and goodness necessarily get obliterated as we grow up or mutate in a harsh world? Do we surrender to the practical demands of daily existence, compromising with our deep, innermost convictions? Must we really transmogrify into obnoxious ogres unaffected by the state of the others around us? Frankly, does that make us feel happy?
From my personal experience, EQ in employees and leaders is a more valuable asset than their IQ, technical brilliance or strategic planning. It keeps you grounded, builds better relationships and creates a vibrant work culture. The positive emotional energy is infectious. They say EQ is visceral, inherited, which often cannot be taught in classrooms. I disagree, it actually can be, even if some of us are inborn with tear ducts. When watching the train scene between Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai my daughters were terribly embarrassed because my eyes glistened.
EQ and empathy are inextricably intertwined; that’s why the Titanic and disaster movies are a big success. Because we imagine what it must be like to be in the middle of the turbulent Pacific ocean, slowly but surely submerging into icy cold waters, with a large white ice slab being the sole witness of our final destination. It is why the Jessica Lal/ /Aarushi murder cases committed with beastly brutality angered an otherwise placid public. The vicarious experience of horror. And then complete helplessness. I remember the hellish Kanishka plane bombing of 1985 left us aghast, horrified. We cared. We don’t know them, the victims might as well have been faceless strangers from another planet , and yet we share in their anguish, and grief. It’s the way we human beings are meant to be. It gives a tonic shot to our own emotional health, even if it flickers just momentarily like it did in candle-lights post-26/11. Every gesture, however ephemeral, can have a tectonic impact on those who need those words of comfort from us that assuage their hurt souls.
But these days we seem to be in a strangely disturbed world, forever tentatively poised, nervous and restless, inhabited by a kangaroo court culture; there is a swift synthetic trial, a homogenous jury cries bloody murder, and ghoulish creatures lead the victim blindfolded to be guillotined. It is dreadful ,personified by undisguised antipathy. In a rat race world , we breed a dog eat dog culture; in every aspect of our lives there seems to be traces of mutual assured destruction. Our own growth seems less important than the extermination of our competitor. It manifests an appalling state of morality besides a seriously flawed way of thinking. In urban India, the prevalent psyche is one of daily evaluation of where one is on the corporate escalator, personal net worth, market value of stock portfolio and the size of the latest sedan in the garage. Nothing else matters. Usually we utter well fabricated tokenism to demonstrate our larger societal and human commitments. But we wouldn’t care less. We are looking for new targets to shoot, and I dare say, we have multiple choices these days.
Kalmadi is in jail because he probably deserves to be there; his crime cannot be described as bagatelle, it was maybe bountiful. The media was fully correct in pursuing his misdemeanors with unflagging zeal. Looting the public exchequer is wrong, illegal and unfair. He deserves his just desserts. But let us also remember, Kalmadi did not kill anyone. He did not slaughter a lifeless limb into grizzly dismembered pieces , like a bone collector, for heaven’s sake. Like everyone else, and all alleged criminals, he deserves a chance to defend himself, get the best escape route within the judicial framework. Indeed the oppressive loneliness caused by solitary confinement can easily lead to atrophy, a gradual decapitation of nerve cells in any human being . If Kalmadi had indeed been afflicted with dementia, I for one, would not have been surprised, given that his age is beyond average Indian life expectancy. Would you? We must remember that human beings have an extraordinary capacity for a bounce-back, for renewal. Everyone must have equal opportunity for rehabilitation. Remember, even criminals have children, families, grandparents and friends. They have a life. We need to respect that.
The Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik’s parents wished he had killed himself. That was empathy for those who were cruelly slain for inane personal philosophies of a madman. They deserved better. And believe me, no jury or court verdict can match the damnation of parental indictment. Politicians are often the butt of wicked humor; there are liars, damn liars and politicians, perhaps topping the charts. And yet, many live a life on the edge, one of extreme vulnerabilities. Like the 24×7 nightmare of deadly assassins plotting a suicide attack. The cynic may dismiss that as an occupational hazard, but that actually reveals our low EQ and empathy levels.
It is generally assumed that high EQ reflects a soft syndrome, a weak construct that we must adroitly camouflage. We have allowed imperceptibly a culture of being hard-boiled, overtly passive, and professionally clinical. It is de rigueur to be mealy-mouthed, tight-lipped, poker-faced. Expressing yourself, sympathizing, trying to take a little extra time to understand and listen to the problems of those around us seems to have become a Himalayan endeavor. The danger lies, not in overlooking the obvious, but in being oblivious to our own delusions.
But yet finally at the midnight hour when the head hits the pillow, we have someone who invariably furtively crawls next to us for a late-night chat, whispering in a contralto voice; How was your day? The voice of our inner conscience, that intangible force that defines us all . Stark naked, the façade put away, the pyrrhic victories set aside, we need to confront those little dark demons, in that moment of truth. Unless we pretend we are suffering from transient dementia ourselves. And forget that nice guys do finish first. Sorry Mr Murphy.