Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Charter of Duties

“All the World is a stage,” said Shakespeare and all men and women, merely players. A man in his life plays many parts. How true. For as I mulled over the idea of what my duties were, I asked myself, “Duties as what?” - As a student, as a member of my family, an Indian, as a citizen of this world, or as a custodian of the civilization to be passed on?

As I wrestled with the subject, I asked myself again, finally, who or what am I? The snappy answer that came back was 'A Human Being'. And then the jigsaw pieces fell into place. I realized that if I could outline the duties of a human being, the list would automatically be compatible with all the roles we play as quick- change artists in the drama of life. So, how does one pinpoint these duties? I drew for myself, then, what I now call 'Janani's Charter of Duties'.

The foremost principle in my charter is what Albert Schweitzer, the noble prize laureate proclaimed, "Have reverence for life". The heroes and heroines of the World, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, St. Francis of Assisi, the Sufi saints, all understood this need to show concern and value for Human life. When we uphold this principle, we will inevitably see child labour, women abuse and female infanticide as crimes. This should be our touchstone for action.

Second on my charter is that old fashioned, homespun adage "Work tirelessly". The constitution also exhorts us "to strive for excellence in all spheres". Extraordinary people are just ordinary people with extraordinary perseverance. Witness the phoenix like rise of Japan after World War 2 and you will know what I mean. A better home, a better nation, a better quality of life, nothing comes without hard work. As the Americans are fond of saying, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Success must be paid with the currency of toil and sweat.

The third duty is "Grow as an Individual". We must respond to our higher urges, enhance ourselves and grow as people so that civilisation benefits. I must make sure that even if I am just a speck in the human population, I do not remain a mere statistic. I must count for something. I must absorb the joys and the sorrows of this topsy-turvy many splendoured thing we call life. If men and women had not responded to this call of the heart, or the muse of science and art, the World would have been denied its Michelangelo, its Beethoven, its Einstein and its Ramanujam.

Next, "Be a citizen of the Earth". We are part of a large and often enigmatic divine plan. I am no philosopher to explain why the creator has brought us here. But I do know that I am here in this world, in trust. I am a custodian of this civilisation, this glorious planet, with its land, it's flora and it's fauna. We are quick to slap behind bars, a person who has stolen jewellery. But it is a worse crime to rob the future generations of their inheritance, this glorious planet. We must not be passive spectators to this destruction, but must bring to a halt, the rape of this planet. This reminds me of our constitutional duty, "To protect and improve the natural environment."

The final duty on my charter is "Have a dream". We must all have a dream, an idea or an ideal that never leaves our mind, a cause or a purpose that absorbs us, a magnificent obsession, because, then the task of attainment itself, will become a joy.

You may ask me... Fine, I can be a signatory to this charter. I can promise patriotism and commitment. But who is the watchdog? Where is the court that enforces me to do these 5 duties of a human being?

You are the prosecutor, the defence attorney, the judge and the jury. Go ahead and do your duty for you are accountable to yourself and yourself alone. As Polonius says in Hamlet, "To thine own self be true, and it shall follow as the night, the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man".

(Published in Bhavan's Journal in May 2004)

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