ETHICS AND YOU Education Plus

Thanking the world, thanking people

A story by Bisham Sahni called “The Boss Came to Dinner,” unfolds with Shamnath, a corporate executive, arranging the house for his visiting MD — an Englishman. The one person who does not fit into that elegant evening is Shamnath’s mother whom he and his wife view as an embarrassment. “Stay out of sight… don’t come into the house…” they caution her. Their guest tours the house admiring all the artifacts collected over the years and finally notices the mother. Brushing aside her inability to communicate with him or even shake the hand he holds out, he lavishes praise on the phulkari she fetches for him to look at. After his boss leaves Shamnath rushes to his mother “Ma, can you make a phulkari for my boss? It will help my promotion.” The bitter truth is clear: a son’s ingratitude and the pathos of his mother’s position as she stands stiffly, half blind and wrapped in the memories of a lifetime during which she had sold her bangles to educate her only son.


Shamnath’s life turned out well but how much of it was the product of his individual development? If you are doing well at the moment, how much of it is entirely your achievement? Surely some of the credit must go to the natural gifts, the genes you were born with. What about the physical vitality, health and sharpness of mind your family and teachers encouraged? Did anyone stop your studies and put you to work instead? Certainly the many fortunate twists of fate in my life and the opportunities that came my way depended on circumstances I did nothing to create. Quite different from that experienced by an earlier generation: a hundred years ago, a young girl named Muthulakshmi took her examination seated behind a screen. She couldn’t face her examiners directly because at that time it was a disgrace for girls to be seen going to school after the age of 12. “The answers came like bullets” said her examiner about his examinee. Forty years later, in 1954, that small girl, Dr Muthulakshmi, founded the Cancer Institute, Guindy, in Madras. Modern-day girls who attend college and plan their higher studies could try to remember with gratitude, their grandmothers who struggled to ensure their right to even leave the house!


Just writing this article made me think of all the things I need to be grateful for. The list of things I usually complain about silently suddenly shrank and seemed so petty. As both a feeling and an awareness, gratitude is a virtue with ethical consequences. It makes you mindful of what you can give of yourself and how much you can do for others. The secret source of joy in life lies in maintaining the balance between receiving and giving. Recently, a neighbour — the last in the tradition of great gentlemen — passed away. Talking about him I remembered how, many years ago, a serious theft had occurred in his house. Though he was certain that one of his domestics was the culprit, he refused to call in the police saying that he did not want the innocent members of his staff beaten or threatened. Gratitude for their service caused him to set aside his loss.


The other side of the mirror is filled with people who refuse to acknowledge the help they have received. Though they benefited they neither wish to thank nor remember; they don’t seem to know at all that that “krithagnyatha” is an important virtue and a big marker of a person’s nature and personality. They pursue and woo persons for just as long as it takes to get something from them and thereafter cast them behind and move on.

We live in a country where every night 7,000 people go to sleep hungry and never wake up because they are so enfeebled by malnutrition. We live in a country which is home to one-third of Asia’s illiterates — they are people who will never hold a book or understand that a plastic globe is a model of their planet. Can we in this first month of the new year, gratefully remember those who taught us and helped us to read and write? Could we look at these lines below? It isn’t great poetry but carries wisdom:

I am thankful for my health

I am thankful for each meal

I am thankful for a roof over my head

And at night for a bed

When my doctor friend working at a missionary hospital was asked what gave her the most satisfaction, she said “The look of gratitude in the eyes of a patient — something money cannot buy.”


Make a mental list of things that might have gone wrong for you and did not. Whom would you thank for such grace?


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Printable version | Nov 21, 2021 4:33:05 PM |

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