Personal Growth - The many-sided truth
by Suma Varughese
A family skirmish gives the Sathes an opportunity to appreciate the complex nature of truth, says Suma Varughese
The atmosphere around the Sathe dining table was as electric as the stormy weather outside. Monsoon had just broken on Mumbai amid the usual display of thunder and lightning. The smell of wet earth was wafting up from the garden below. However, visible tension around the table had stopped everyone from appreciating what would normally have been a milestone moment – the arrival of the much-awaited monsoon.
Mom was looking out of sorts but the real warriors were Alka and Avijit, who were both looking blackly at each other.
“What happened?” asked Dad, puzzled. “Why is everyone looking so upset?”
"It was my fault," said Mom. "I have punished Avijit for something that was not entirely his fault... Alka came rushing to me an hour back complaining that Avijit was refusing to help her with her maths preparation for her exam tomorrow. Knowing that Alka’s weakest point was maths, I went and gave Avijit a piece of my mind. Only then did he tell me that he had not refused to coach her; he had only told her that he would first have to finish his conversation with his friend – apparently they were both planning a project for their college and time was running out. Anyway, he was pretty shirty with Alka for misrepresenting the facts..."
Avijit snorted, "Outright lying," he said angrily. Alka tried to kick him in the shins. "I was not lying. You said you could not teach me then..."
"But I said I would teach you later..."
"Enough, both of you," Mom said wearily. “The lesson for me in all this is not to react instantly but to find out from both sides what the truth is. I would have thought I should have learnt this lesson by now, having had to arbitrate between so many fights among you all but it seems I can still be taken by surprise.”
"It’s not an easy lesson, Abha," said Dad. "Most of us are still liable to jump to conclusions. Why only recently, one of my boys at work, Harish, told me that his colleague, Sunil, was not co-operating with him when he had to go on leave because his mother was unwell. I sharply reprimanded Sunil, and was flabbergasted when Sunil told me that he had offered to do his work, but Harish himself did not want to let go of the work because he was afraid that he would not get it back. I felt like an ass!"
“People see the truth differently too. Here is Alka convinced that Avijit was not going to help her, when all he said is that he wanted a little time,” said Ajoba.
“Exactly,” said Avijit, making a vicious face at Alka.
“Remember that famous film by Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon, where four people give conflicting versions of the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife?” asked Dad. “That is the truth of the matter. There is no such thing as the objective truth. Everyone sees the truth differently based on their points of view.”
“There’s a lesson in this for Alka and Avijit too,” said Ajoba. “Perhaps Avijit told her that he would teach her later but in a tone which implied that he was impatient with her request and did not take it seriously.”
Alka gasped with delight. “Ajoba, that is exactly what happened. He just shook me off, saying later. I knew he would not help me…!
Avijit cleared his throat with embarrassment, “Well, I did have that project hanging over my head, but I am sure I would have helped if she had asked me again.”
“Hmm,” said Mom, sardonically, “you are changing your story, son... But I have a feeling that Alka has her own nuances too. I bet the way she asked was not calculated to get a positive response.”
“Exactly,” crowed Avijit triumphantly. “She had the cheek to tell me, If you don’t help me, I am going to tell Mom.”
“Wheels within wheels," chuckled Dad. “It tells us how complex the truth can be and that what you say is only one part of the truth. How you say it is often a bigger part of the truth.”
“So what’s the learning in all this?” asked Nisha.
“For me, the learning is that next time, I will inquire deeply before taking action,” said Mom. “Not going to be flying off the handle in a hurry.”
“My learning is that when I want someone to help me, I should ask them nicely and not try to blackmail them,” said Alka, shamefacedly.
“My learning is that no matter how badly this brat asks (giving Alka a playful slap), I need to remember that I am the older person and not get sucked into reacting,” said Avijit.
“Excellent learnings, everyone!” said Dad. “Am proud of you all.”
“And my learning is that this thing called truth is very hard to discover. Maybe it does not even exist,” said Nisha.
”Oh, we have a philosopher in our midst,” cried Ajoba delightedly. “Yes, dear. Indian philosophy says that there is no such thing as the objective truth, only the subjective truth. What is true for each of us, may be different from what is true for the other.”
“Oh, I see,” said Nisha. “That is so interesting, Ajoba.”
“And my learning is that unless we get up soon, our hands are going to be stuck to our plates,” said Aji, hurriedly, seeing her husband ready to launch into a learned discourse.
The family laughed and got up from the table, taking their plates to the kitchen to wash.