My dearest father…may his soul rest in peace…taught us many great truths. One of his favorite quote was “Every saint has a past….and every sinner a future”. And this, while he was counselling me when I had sinned. But let me begin the story at the beginning…a good place to start!!!
I have always been a strong movie buff….the large screen, the love stories, the beautiful heroines, the suffering heroes, the convoluting twists and turns of fate held great fascination for me. Mine is a serious case of Bollywood addiction!!! Every movie which released, must be seen by me!!!
But in school times, I was on a small, monthly pocket money. And that did not last very long in front of my burning desire to see each & every movie. So I took to stealing. Maybe stealing is a big word, it was more like pinching pennies….a 2 Rupee note here, a 5 Rupee note there: pinched from my mother’s kitchen purse, or my father’s trouser pocket. Maximum was 10 Rupees if I felt very adventurous!! Never large sums, as I felt that would get too much attention. But small amounts which, I hoped, would go unnoticed. All to fuel my movie mania. (As I write, I just realised this kleptomania may have run in the family. A cousin took this to a different level, and started skimming money from bank accounts…where he was working…and nearly landed in jail!!! But that is another story!)
Let me get back to my small thefts. As happens often, Truth Prevailed… I got caught & exposed. Fortunately, only by my loving Father and my doting Mother. I was crestfallen & crushed, guilty like hell, totally low & self-humiliated. And while telling me to rise above such petty tendencies, my father gave Wilde’s words of solace…Every saint has a past….and every sinner a future! They supported and counselled me out of my bad habit, and brought me up to be an upright and honest adult, who takes great pride in how he changed for the better.
History is replete with examples of sinners and saints who have walked on both sides of the line.
In Hindu mythology, the most illustrious case must be of Valmiki. Valya Koli was a bandit looting and killing people in the jungles. He accosted Sage Narada once. When challenged by Narada, as to why he is sinning against humanity and whether anybody will share his guilt, Valya Koli had the realisation that he alone was answerable for his misdeeds. He decided to mend his ways, in the process becoming a Sage himself! As Valmiki, he went on to pen the Ramayana. Known as the “Adi Kavi”, the first Poet, he composed India’s premier epic.
Angulimala, the bandit thief who wore a necklace of the fingers he cut off from his victims, is another story which teaches the lesson that everyone can change their life for the better, even the least likely people. Aṅgulimāla (Pali literally ‘finger necklace’) is an important figure in Buddhism. In childhood, he was a scholar and a favourite of his teacher. Due to the jealousy of fellow students, his teacher was provoked into asking him to get 100 fingers to complete his study. Angulimala became a ruthless brigand. Yet he completely transformed after conversion to Buddhism. He is seen as the example par excellence of the redemptive power of the Buddha’s teaching and the power to change. Under Gautama Buddha, Angulimala gave up his old ways and became a monk himself.
Judas Iscariot exemplifies the other half of our basic proposition. Here we have one of the original Twelve Disciples, who betrayed Jesus Christ by kissing him and revealing his identity to the crowd who had come to arrest him!! While the motive for Judas’s betrayal is still debated, Jesus himself had predicted the betrayal at the Last Supper. According to the Gospel of Matthew [26:15] Judas received 30 pieces of silver. Gospels of Luke and John say he was possessed by Satan. Whatever the reason, in Judas we see illustrious follower & “saint” fall from grace and become a “sinner” in the eyes of posterity. Interestingly, we must accept that the betrayal of Judas, set in motion events that led to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, which in turn brought salvation to humanity!! Good or Bad? Saint or Sinner? Debates rage on as The Gnostic Gospel of Judas – rejected by the mainstream Church as heretical – praises Judas for his role in triggering humanity’s salvation and exalts Judas as the best of the apostles.
So is being a Saint or a Sinner separated by a very thin line? Can we truly differentiate?
दिल की आवाज़ भी सुन मेरे फसाने पे न जा
मेरी नज़रों की तरफ देख जमाने पे न जा……thus sang Mohammad Rafi in Humsaya. And that is indeed true for all Sinners….and also all saints, past or present.
In modern times, look at the industry icons, the New Age Apostles!! Have they reached pinnacles of success purely following a pristine path? Behind every commercial success, there are many skeletons in the cupboard!! Who will judge Dhirubhai Ambani: Sinner or Saint? Histories of large business empires are replete with stories spoken in hushed tones in mixed company. How will you judge Mukesh Ambani? or Anil Ambani for that matter, who frittered away all he had received on a platter? Akash & Isha Ambani may have come with shining degrees from US business schools. But can they stay away from the shadow of corruption and manipulations of the Reliance Industries’ past? This is just one industrial house I quote, as it has been most hotly debated publicly, for years. But who comes with totally clean hands? Saints or Sinners?
The debate continues. The recent case of V G Siddhartha of CCD committing suicide is another classic example. Reports yo-yoed from calling him an epitome of humane corporate leadership to talks of blatant gangsterism in acquiring the coffee estates & building his plantation empire. Beginning with calling the IT Departments and Banks as villians in ruining a good entrepreneur, the tone soon changed to how political pressure was used to get soft loans and then defaulting on repayments. The web is yet to be unravelled and the jury is still out to conclude decisively whether VG Siddhartha was a Saint or a Sinner? Or take the case of our P Chidambaran – one time Finance and Home Minister who was hiding from the police & authorities. Kartik Chidambaran disproportionate assets makes the word disproportionate pale into insignificance. Harvard educated, Chidambaram was revered once. But now?? Saint? or Sinner?
The example I quote often is Alfred Bernhard Nobel. Engineer, Chemist, Businessman and Inventor : 355 patents to his name! The synthetic element “nobelium” is named after him!!!
Today’s generation will know him for the Nobel Prizes in Pure Sciences and Peace Prize. And thereby hangs the tale. The Nobel fortune was founded on his patent for Dynamite. Bofors was a iron and steel company, before Nobel transformed it to a maker of cannons and guns ….weapons of destruction!!! Reading an premature obituary which blamed him for making a fortune from selling arms, he bequeathed his entire fortune to institute the Nobel Prizes. This is how he is remembered today. Saint? or Sinner turned Saint? You decide.
So I come back to the basic thing my Father taught me. All Saints have a past. They have done things they may not proud of. And would rather forget or at least, gloss over or embellish when history is written. Similarly, all Sinners should have the faith that Tomorrow is yet another day. The new Sun will come with other potentialities. And newer endings to the story of life, which is still being written. As King Khan reassured us in Om Shanti Om…if Happy Endings have not come, then do not lose faith….पिक्चर अभी बाकि है मेरे दोस्त. Things will change. And you can choose a different future….or a different past, a la Richard Bach.
If you keep the Faith, then the following concluding lines of the Humsaya song ring true… मैं हक़ीकत हूँ, ये एक रोज दिखाऊँगा तुझे
बेगुनाही पे मोहब्बत की रुलाऊँगा तुझे
So Learn to Forgive and Keep the Trust, the cycle will turn: vikas the hopeful