“I am not a monster. I am just a human being like you. I have my flaws and problems just like everyone else but I also am not pure evil. There is a good side to me too, that is if you deign to look” said the man standing behind the bars.His proclamation was followed by a guffaw of laughter from the other inmates as I hurriedly beat a retreat.
It was my third day out to the prison trying to collect material for my thesis. I had still not gotten used to the fact that these ordinary looking, common men had committed such heinous crimes that they had been charged with. When I had started off I had been convinced that I could steel myself to their crimes – after all, it was all for a research. None of this had happened to me or anyone I knew. It was all just a horror story that I could forget about once the paper was submitted. To be honest, I had been a little thrilled by the prospect of meeting hard core criminals and trying to figure out what turned the cogs in their brains. It had taken barely two visits before the charm had worn off.
As a child I had always been fascinated by the way people’s minds worked. It was so amazing to see that while I looked upon a toy as a source of entertainment, my brother would be busy thinking of ways to dismantle it. While my thoughts were restricted to the good and nice box, for him no borders or restrictions existed. If two people brought up in the same environment and with the same sets of rules can turn out so different, it wet on to prove that each human being could be a potential case for study. Everyone had a story to tell and I wanted to hear it.
Somewhere in my youth I was introduced to the Ender’s Game series, born in the same year as me. I fell in love with the young protagonist who was engineered to be the perfect mix of good and bad, to put it in simple terms. While he tried to avoid conflicts of any kind, he knew that he had to make his mark for things to ultimately work out. For example, once he was surrounded by a group of bullies who had made his life a constant misery in school. As they circled him and moved in for the kill, he thought that the only way to end this forever was to hurt the leader so badly that others would fear him forever. Thus, he did the wrong thing but his reasoning was solid. With one major act of violence he managed to defuse a series of cruel actions. This raised a question in my head that has led me on a wild goose chase since then.
What was the question? Why, I thought it was quite obvious. Which was the lesser evil – doing the right things for the wrong reasons or doing the wrong things for the right ones? Even then I knew that there was no way that we could escape evil completely. All the scriptures, texts and stories told us of the existence of duality in nature. The good and bad; angel and demon; day and night; right and wrong; life and death…you get the point. So if goodness existed within a person it couldn’t be without a single speck of darkness. Of course, the percentages varied otherwise we would be living in horror our whole lives.
I spent a good chunk of my time trying to understand what motivated people to do good. Why would someone with such little means give not a second thought to sharing?Highly successful people would pack up their lives and move to remote villages to bring change. Random acts of kindness happened daily in each and every part of the world. All this convinced me that people were fundamentally good inside. There was a bright burning light that fought very hard to dispel the darkness inside. Everyone was forever engaged in this war; and if their struggle ended prematurely there would be another life to continue it in. Living in the comfort of my home I was completely unaware that there was a hideous face of humanity that I was hitherto not introduced to.
One day when the maid came in for work, her usual kohl darkened eyes were painted black and blue instead. There was a cut near the parting of her hair where she wore the mark of her marriage. Her normally sweet smile was distorted by a swollen lip. Though it was quite obvious that she was in physical pain, she went about doing the chores as if it was just another day. Like Prince Siddhartha’s moment of realization, seeing my maid was a shock for me. It wasn’t as if I had not seen my share of violence on the idiot box; it was just that I always naively felt that such things were only stories. No one could really derive pleasure in hurting another, could they? But that day, talking to the beaten up woman, I realized that such incidents occurred with a surprising regularity and were not restricted only to the uneducated class of people.
From that day forth, my quest began to try to understand why people let the devil in. I am not a religious kinds, as in I don’t believe that there is a God or His counterpart. I don’t believe in idol worships or performing rituals that hold no meaning to me. All I believe in is the existence of the duality in nature that makes us who we are and sets a guideline that will help us become who we want to be. We hold the key to all the things that we keep locked up inside us; the only thing left to do is search for it. Not very different from the usual searching we do for the house keys or the car keys which seem to mysteriously disappear from plain sight the moment you need them.
So anyways, with all that background you finally know where I am and why I chose to be there. I had managed to twist some arms to wrangle this right to visit the most vicious of criminals and pick their twisted brains. I had walked in expecting the Devil with two horns, a swirling pointy tail and a pitchfork to prod those too slow to dodge it. However, even in the dim light it became evident that these evil-doers looked just like any other man on the street. There was no mark distinguishing them as the rotten apples of the lot. Nothing that could alert the others with the deal they had cut with the Devil. I would have been taken in by their appearance as well had it not been for my guide giving me the litany of their crimes. “Rape, murder, assault. Rape, murder, assault. Rape, murder, assault.” he chanted away every time I looked for some signs of innocence in an inmate’s face. It seemed impossible to believe that all these had willingly caused harm to another living being.
Then we finally stopped in front of one of those solitary confinement cells which radiated the darkness of the soul hidden in the gloom. My guide whispered softly, “This one is most definitely the Devil’s agent. None of the other prisoners can stand him. He has been transferred from one prison to another till finally he has been brought to this highest security area. The last place he was in, he caused five suicides, three gang conflicts and bloodshed at least twice; and this is only those things that are on the record. God only knows what else he has been doing all these years.” He made a quick sign of warding off evil as the man in question came out in the light.
I felt not much different than as if I were observing a dangerous animal caged and presented to the tourists for their viewing pleasure. With alert brown eyes that seemed to soak everything in and a calmness that belied his present state, this man could have easily been mistaken for a professor or one of those intellectual eccentrics. Yet, I knew that in his case looks were most definitely deceptive. My guide handed me a sheet that enlisted a few of the crimes that he had been acquitted of. My heart thudded wildly in my chest as I knew that I had finally made up my mind. This would be the man I would study. Standing at the bottom most rung of pure evil, he had to be the most twisted mind of the century. If I could understand what made him tick, I might just be able to answer the suspense that had haunted my entire life – “Why do we do what we do?”
Dear friends, I am in a dilemma. While the story enfolded itself so far so smoothly, there is a hitch here. Should I continue trying to understand what the man in question was all about or should it end right here, knowing that men are capable of the worst evil possible? What would be the right thing to do? With Christmas right around the corner, I kind of fail to understand why the only thing that my mind is “giving” is such painful or horrifying thoughts!!! So, I ask you – any suggestions on which road to travel?