The Unspoken Dangers of Being Good

I was made aware at a very young age of the dangers that befell young children who ventured past their neighborhood. There were stories of monsters that dragged children by their heels to lands where they are forever tortured. They come in hordes, my grandmother used to say, clad in saffron, pretending to be monks, then, later, after having identified the bad children, would abduct them, poke their eyes, and get them to perform demonic deeds.

I was ten and curious, eager to know where some roads led. So I stood, staring as far as I could to where the road bent. I could see no monsters. I was naïve in thinking then that what one does not see did not exist. There were monsters everywhere.

These stories were further augmented by the men at church who had devoted themselves to making the notion of goodness saturated with religion. They would conjure tall tales, accounts of an unspeakable evil that stench at the hearts of anyone who deviate, even slightly, from the path of light – which in my case, was the road that connected my school and home. The good child, they would say, wakes up early, goes to church, does his homework, stays attentive in class, remains obediently at home, forgoes the desire to play, respects all elders, eats supper quietly and without throwing a fuss, and goes to bed on time. I attempted at all this for the sake of a few relatives who came to visit, for neighbors who would peek from behind curtains, and for strangers who, for the lack of a better thing to do, stalked me around, certain that they will all transform unhesitatingly into monsters I had been forewarned of, at my first signs of rebellion, ever judgmental, and caring nothing but for the preservation of goodness.

What was unbeknownst to many then, and what has become very apparent today, is that this model of goodness, this antagonization of our wrongs, torments us with the ideals it set and the deviation of the reality we form. It was assumed then that the few who did not bother with the forbidden road or similar signposts of badness posed no immediate threat, and that all was well with them. They were the not cause for any anguish or anxiety for their parents. The others, which included me, were sent off to devotional centers every summer for an intensive soul-repair. The list of things that most bad children were forbidden to do is an inexhaustible one and I won’t mention any here, but any baddie reading this would attest to the fact that even an attempt at them invoked the wrath of God himself.

This need for excessive compliance and a repression of childhood’s most innocent curiosities and emotions meant that a whole generation of people grew up unfamiliar to the idea that, despite all their inadequacies, they could still be loved for who they are. Now, bereft of it, they are unable to cope with conflicts, or stand up to bullies, are hesitant at courtship, devoid of ambition, stuck at mediocre jobs, and wondering how it all went horribly wrong for them.

They were good, but being good does not always mean being ahead. It just means you are tolerable. Often what it takes to succeed is a frank ownership of your demons.

They were good, but being good does not always mean being ahead. It just means you are tolerable. Often what it takes to succeed is a frank ownership of your demons.

On a recent trip to Fort Kochi earlier this month to see the last remnants of the just concluded Kochi Biennale, I couldn’t help but remember something that was asked of me when I was growing up: Never go to Fort Kochi. It has nothing to offer you. Twenty years later, I cannot fathom just how wrong these words were. Fort Kochi is offering us a glorious vision, and on careful observation, the restoration of an idea that your best adventures, rephrased for the benefit of this article, begin at the end of your neighborhood.

The good man, filled up to the brim with secret sorrows and veiled difficulties, are but mere observers here. They are there admiring the works of the bad kid they once knew who used to draw graffiti on the underpass.

This article was first published by FWD Life magazine in their April 2017 issue.
Instagram: @ronnetclaw ; Twitter: @ronnetclaw

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