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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ingratitude and karma...

If there’s one thing I share with Shakespeare, it’s my hatred and contempt for ingratitude – which is, alas, a very common human failing. Here are a few quotes to show how strongly the Bard felt about it:

I hate ingratitude more in a man
than lying, vainness, babbling, drunkenness,
or any taint of vice whose strong corruption
inhabits our frail blood.
(Twelfth Night)

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude.
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude...

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot.
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remember'd not...
(As you like it)

O, see the monstrousness of man
When he looks out in an ungrateful shape…
(Timon of Athens)

All the stor'd vengeances of Heaven fall
On her ingrateful top!
(King Lear)

Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquish’d him,
Then burst his mighty heart…
(Julius Caesar)

The man must have been hurt beyond expression by ingrates again and again for the iron to have entered so deeply in his soul! And if you think that it was only Shakespeare who had a bee in his bonnet about it, try the following link:

It’s not my idiosyncrasy that ingratitude hurts me almost more than anything else: in every land and age, sensitive people have suffered greatly from it.

It doesn’t hurt everybody equally, of course. Some people (and it strikes me as very odd that some people are like that from early childhood – it’s probably in the genes) go out of their way to curry favours, and forget their benefactors promptly, and even malign them right and left behind their backs once they know they cannot expect any more favours; at the same time, they never do anybody any favours if they can help it, unless they are sure of getting back much bigger favours in return, and never let you forget it if ever they did you even the most trifling of good turns, and are endlessly inventive in wriggling out of situations where they have been asked to do something for somebody in need. But there are also people who are simultaneously too proud to ask for favours and very eager to be of help to others when they can sense some need. If they are stoical and saintly, they of course expect nothing, not even gratitude in return, so it doesn’t hurt when those whom they have done good forget them or badmouth them, but alas, most of us (myself certainly) have not learnt to become so saintly and stoical yet, so it feels wonderful when people show by word and deed that they remember old favours, and hurts like the dickens when they cut you dead, or strain themselves to give you a bad name.

And this is where thoughts of karma come into the picture. At my stage of life, having done and seen a lot of things and remembered a lot of things (I am cursed with a long and vivid memory – my own family members have long forgotten hurts they gave me years ago which rankle cruelly still!), I am convinced that it is some people’s bad karma that they can neither stop trying to be nice to others, nor stop hurting that others care so little about it (khel khatam, paisa hazam, they say in India: what is done is forgotten). Lest any reader should think that I am indulging in self-pity over imaginary hurts, let me put on record that my wife, who has been observing my life closely for almost 14 years now, and once upon a time used to say I imagine these things, has come round to the view that I am truly extraordinarily unlucky in this regard. Not only does Murphy’s Law work like an ironclad rule with me (‘if something can go wrong, it will’ – even to the extent of cheques bouncing again and again because some stupid bank clerk could not spell my name right!), but I shall compulsively go on trying to help folks who tell me their sob stories – folks of all ages, from teenage pupils to beggars and businessmen much older than me, and help of all kinds, from lending a shoulder to weep upon to giving shelter to lending money – and end up lamenting a few years later that all my concern and help has produced some more ingrates (these include family, one-time friends, colleagues and numerous ex-students: I hope some of those people I have in mind are reading this, and can make out that I am talking about them)!

I thrill with delight when some people get back with return favours, even if it be something as minor as returning a debt, or giving a small gift, or just dropping in to say hello and put on the nosebag together of an evening for old times’ sake, just to show that they remember and care still. But I cannot tell you how few and far between these joyful experiences are, and how common and frequent the other kind! … among the cruellest are those who averred for years and years how much they loved and admired me, and were thankful for everything I had done for them, and then, one fine morning when it seems to them that I have said something they don’t like to hear, they promptly give the lie to all the nice things they had been saying and cut the line for good – all the ‘love and respect’ vanishing into thin air, as if it never existed. No apologies, no reflection that I might not have been wrong after all, no consideration of how I might deserve a little leeway even if I have been wrong, taking into account all the good things I have done before; no understanding, even, of how grossly they were cheapening themselves in my eyes (and in the eyes of everybody I talk about them to) by making such about-turns: just gone with the wind!

Following my wife’s counsel (‘people will forget or speak badly about you anyway, most of them most of the time, and those who want to do good and speak well will do so regardless of how you treat them, so stop bothering about being nice and good to all and sundry…’) I have of late been trying to become a more cautious person, less overtly willing to be a sucker, more ‘professional’ in dealing with people, much less expectant of goodness in return than before. It goes against the grain, so I cannot say it makes me happy. But at least I have the consolation that I will not have to lament as before that I did so much for people and got no good vibes in return. Meanwhile, the word seems to be going around that I have become much more selfish and hard-hearted than I used to be. I leave it to the reader’s judgment, and to the consciences of all those who know they have not treated me well!


Subhanjan said...

Dear Sir,

This post is not much new to me as I have seen you lamenting in front of my eyes several times. Being a very sensitive person myself, I know how much pain is brought to a sensitive heart when it is betrayed by several whom it had loved. My experiences are far fewer in number than that of yours. You have seen a lot, and have suffered a lot. More that I can possibly imagine. But today I am too pained by your sadness and I need to say a few things to you. Though I had said them before, I need to emphasise them today.

I have been pained several times by some people dear to my heart. As I said, my experiences are limited. But then with this limited experience and too much pain, I have simply STOPPED expecting from people. Literally STOPPED. Believe me, I have really stopped expecting from people. But I still love to be helpful to people, whether they are grateful for it or not, and I do it without expectation. And I am sad that it is a big weakness of mine. But you are a strong man. And so I request you again to STOP expecting from people. This world is full of people who have no shame whatsoever. They will mould you in such a way that you will be melted and suck every benefit out of you. And you are a very mature man who knows which person is of which type. Therefore I really request you to wipe away from your mind any expectation that you might be having, and treat people the way boudi has said - ‘people will forget or speak badly about you anyway, most of them most of the time, and those who want to do good and speak well will do so regardless of how you treat them, so stop bothering about being nice and good to all and sundry…'
Those of us who love you will be there for you and you won't even have the need to bother for any help. You just need to call up. That's it. And for the rest of the crowd, just forget them. Just FORGET. If you are sad, they win. Do not let them win. Show that you simply do not care. It's time that you grow a strong heart. I want my dear Sir to grow old with me and not die early with a lamenting heart. Please.

With love,

Subhanjan Sengupta

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Touching comment, Subhanjan, and I am grateful, but it's easier said than done, as you know very well, too! It would have helped very, very greatly if I didn't have to earn my daily bread from teaching...

Rajdeep said...

I do not know if this is relevant. Eklavvya and Karna are two of my favourite characters in the Mahabharata. Eklavvya achieved mastery by his own hard work. And Karna could not be defeated with skill alone. What is it that the writer of the Mahabharata wanted to convey? I have always wondered without ever getting an answer. And as Sir has said about powerful patrons, Arjuna needed the help of Lord Krishna to succeed.

Tanmoy said...

I understand what you say Suvroda. It saddens me immensely to see you in such pain.

On one hand, I feel like requesting you not to bother about each and every student like you do. On the other hand I feel why should I ask you to do that because your diligence, your emotional attachment, your fair treatment of everyone and your eagerness to see your students to be complete human being makes you an ideal person.
Suvroda, I cannot possibly replace the pain that you feel which makes you lament on the issue but one thing I can repeat, there are some students of yours who would definitely make you feel proud and they would recognize the impact you had in their lives. I am sure your hard work in gifting the world better human being is not going waste. Sometimes I think it is difficult to assess one’s performance but even if it matters little let me tell you Suvroda you are a hero at least in my little life - Hero in the true sense of the term.

I am not saying all these to flatter you or just for the sake of infatuation. I am saying this because I am expressive and I like saying this over and over again. It took me 16 years and meeting hundreds of people from different strata of society to conclude that there are undoubtedly few people who can be like you. In school I was amazed by you because you were a teacher with a difference but now after so many years I realize how much impact you have on my life. Perhaps there are some habits in me that are actually from you. May be I having interest in so much variety because I know I have to talk to you about beautiful things that I see.

I miss not seeing you for 16 long years. I still have the inland letter card in Kolkata where you invited me to your marriage. Suvroda, you are an integral part of much such student’s life. I am sure about that.

May be you have not always been perfect, nobody is but those who never bothered to look back at you, it is actually their loss. They don’t know life is very tough and they would be better off to be in your vicinity, at least they would know one man who has such integrity. Think of those ungrateful people as some demons that you have created during your experiments that went wrong. Nobody is perfect Suvroda isn't it, so forgive yourself for those ills.

You shall be taken care, loved, respected always. I am sure the loving lot of students are very huge too. You deserve all these and much more from all your students. You need not be grateful about that.

Please be happy always.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

For reasons that should be obvious, Rajdeep, not only do I empathize profoundly with Karna and Eklavya, but perhaps even more so with Bhishma.

aranibanerjee said...

As I grow older, I feel that I know less of what I did once; I also feel that much of what I learn is useless and could do without. 'Ingratitude' makes me feel that I should have known fewer people. It happens daily and with so little effect on the way I conduct myself, in that I keep going back to those people because I have to earn a living, that I feel I deserve much of it. That of course is not the case with you. You deserve much less for you have achieved more in terms of the quality of life I would set as my dream. The difference with 'tragic ingratitude'(like that of Lear or Ceaser) is that in my case there is no discernible sense of 'flaw' that could make the act and the suffering it causes capable of arousing 'pity' and 'fear'. Tragic poetry comes from ones own sense of grandeur and magnificience, which, arguably, is also flawed; King Lear begins with a king's rage against ingratitude and also ends with sobbing pain of the same king, who is an 'unaccomodated man' now, over ingratitude. The only transformation is that there is 'recognition' that has set in Lear; he recognizes true gratitude and its language and values it more than the unkind ingratitude of others. The 'fool's' critique is the strongest, and he calls the corpse of Cordelia his 'fool'. It is perhaps from this that you can derive some solace--that for every Goneril and Regan there will be a Cordelia. Gloucestor too will have an Edgar cry out--'My father, poorly led? World, world, O world!'

May God give you all the peace in the world.

With warm regards


Suvro Chatterjee said...

One wonderful thing about ungrateful people is that rarely do they feel contrite and say sorry when their ingratitude is pointed out to them: in nine cases out of ten, they get very flustered trying to defend their failing, or become very angry and cut the line!

Alka Dwivedi said...

When I was reading this post all the memories from the past visited me with fresh pain. It seems as if you are writing about me. But there is a one big difference. I ran after people and helped them at the cost of my studies, career and health. At least you are/were not like that. Now after many failures and heartbreaks I am wiser. I have gained this wisdom after paying a huge cost. I almost apologized for my existence. Now either I forget after doing something for someone or cut them out of my life so that they can feel the difference between me and rest of the people they are interacting me. Believe me deep within their hearts they know the difference. :-)
You are lucky to have such a beautiful and sensitive wife.

Alka Dwivedi said...

I was too emotional when writing above comment. I wanted to say "I cut people off, if they misbehaved with me after a favor."

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I am much too young to compare my own with your experiences but I have seen instances of what you're talking about. You have made me think about the connection between Ingratitude and Karma. Is it one's karma to keep on at something that is basically a thankless exercise? I really hope not Sir, I can't help but feel that it is better to harden the heart at least a little bit however difficult it may be.


Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,

I think I understand better now what you mean when you say that you ’compulsively go on trying to help folks’. You can’t help it can you, Sir? You cannot see people in distress and not help them (even if you know that they are the very people who will ignore you and bad mouth you later or even if they have hurt you before). You just cannot help caring for others. That is why, however hard you try, you cannot be too careful about the people who come to you for help. And many folks in some very disgusting sense understand this about you and take undue advantage of your benevolent nature!

Oh God, what a nightmarish burden to carry all your life, Sir! How do you do it? Your heart scarred with so many ‘unkind cuts’, some wounds fresh and bleeding, some old and stinging and yet…and yet not once does your love and affection diminish for the ones you care. You keep on trusting people. Deceived by thousands, you could easily wash your hands off the business of others. You could easily say- “Why should I help you? There is a big chance that you too will hurt me like so many before you” but you never do so. You always go out of your way to help people in need and make everlasting bonds with them. You invest time, money and energy to nurture such bonds and I am sure that I cannot even imagine the pain you suffer when they break.

I am glad that you have finally decided to take Boudi’s counsel and have become more professional in dealing with people which keeps so much of undeserving pain away from you. I had no idea that goodness is paid back so cruelly by this world.

But there is not an iota of doubt about the fact that you have been successful in making this world a better place through your students and your family. Some are conscious of the fact and acknowledge it and some do not. But nothing changes the fact. Nothing changes the fact that you have made living easier for innumerable people whether they remember it or not. Many, many more will benefit from and take solace in your writings through Shipidi’s work. And God sees all. He keeps all the records.

May God help you forget and ease your pain. May God bless your soul.

Prayers, love and regards

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Well, Rashmi, sometimes, every now and then, there's a little bit of sunshine which washes away a great deal of accumulated gloom and recharges my batteries again. See, for instance, this blogpost:


As for the rest, well, I guess I am simply made that way. Many people would simply not care about others no matter what; some on the other hand care compulsively simply because they can't help it...