Utpal Chatterjee

Was the real Socrates more worldly and amorous than we knew ...

MISUNDERSTANDING those that have deserved a just and fair appraisal has, sadly, always been the norm. Understanding them for what they truly are has been rare. History has shown how misunderstandings have landed knockout punches and done grave injustice to some of the greatest figures. They have included, among others, the likes of Socrates, Cleopatra, Alexander the Great, Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Anne Boleyn, King Canute, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and our very own Mahatma Gandhi, among others. Instead of taking up each and every case, let us cite the instances of a few. Anne Boleyn was snatched by Henry the Eighth in the 16th century, made his Queen for three years but when she delivered a daughter, she was beheaded in the Tower of London. History remembers her for all the wrong reasons to do “justice” to the “image” of Henry who married eight times. It is another story that the daughter Anne bore grew up to be Elizabeth the First, arguably the most successful English monarch whose tenure is also synonymous with the emergence and greatness of Shakespeare.Canute, who was the King of Denmark, England, Norway and Sweden, is remembered as an “idiot” when all that he tried to prove was that no King or Emperor was more powerful than Nature.Edison, the great inventor, was branded an atheist and hence a “sinner”. Cleopatra, who was a great and tough ruler, is remembered simply as a sex symbol. A grave injustice has been done to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci and to the image of Vincent Van Gogh. Our Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest figures of the 20th Century, has been misunderstood for his stellar role in India’s Independence movement for several things that happened before his assassination. Coming to more recent times, starting with the great Mikhail Gorbachev who changed modern history to our very own Russi Mody, who world’s numero uno in industrial relations, have all been victims of misunderstandings.So, to cut a mightily long story short, who are we when it comes to being misunderstood and misinterpreted? Coming closer home, my late lamented father, was a scholar of international eminence and a National Professor who, although much, much younger than the great J.R.D.Tata, was known and respected by the latter as I discovered during one of our long “working lunches” at Bombay House.” Yet, my father, too, was, occasionally, misunderstood for he preferred calling a spade a spade to diplomacy. As his son, I have been relatively moderate but my manners, that first came from my parents, have remained impeccable.Yet, on the rare occasion, I have been maundered for reasons that have left me baffled. We speak of sense and sensibility that I often find missing in many even in history. One can be good and continue doing good to others.Yet, there is no limit to the kind who would MISUNDERSTAND and, what is more, prepare to land that “knockout punch”. I have, for all practical purposes, come to live a short life and live it the best way I possibly can by being conscientious, harmless, pleasant, dignified, and one that others can look up to with pride. More importantly, there is nothing like being and doing good to others. True creative geniuses in history, like da Vinci, once famously snapped back at pestering critics and the misunderstanding lot, “They create nothing but human manure.”The joy of possessing real talent and doing good is incomparable. That is how we must choose to live in the time of Corona and thereafter. WHEN NATURE STRIKES! As we all experienced, it feels like Doomsday itself.Sadly, though, for all the climate control summits held, a man keeps meddling into and disturbing Nature for all the wrong reasons. The consequences of Global Warming have been spelt out time and again but, sadly, in vain.Yes, the glaciers have been melting, water levels are rising, carbon emissions taking their toll but when, pray when, will man awaken to the fact that when Nature strikes back as it did with “Amphan”( “Umphan” as the Thais would have it), that would seem like the very END. All that we took for granted came crashing down. We have been irresponsible especially in the Third World countries by cutting trees mercilessly, filling up water bodies in the name of “development” and giving a damn about immediate consequences that include rising temperatures and cyclones blowing at wind speeds of 185 kmph.With Covid-19 having kept most indoors, if new diseases and infections, like Dengue, do their rounds, why should we be surprised? True the Centre has a Ministry of Environment and State Governments, too, have a Ministry to that effect.But, where is the urgency to make up for what is lost and take measures to ensure that prevention is better than cure? During the daytime, trees let out oxygen so conservation is absolutely essential. The world over, there are regimes that indulge in dangerous games and experiments that can only cause an imbalance in Nature. But only when tsunamis and cyclones strike, earthquakes cause irreparable harm, floods wreak havoc, draughts cause untold misery and depleted water sources spell doom, does the man seem lost and helpless? When there is some respite, howsoever brief, man is back to the usual hatred, bitterness and finger pointing.No wonder that when the brilliant, young Wordsworth and his contemporaries returned dismayed and distressed from France, it was a case of, “Man losing faith in Man”.Hence he and his ilk turned to Nature. As Wordsworth wrote, “The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Little we see in Nature that is ours. ‘is a sordid boon. “That, about, sums it all. The pictures show Calcutta before the horrific cyclone and bits of what is left behind. If we do not rise above ourselves and all the pettiness that consume and waste so much time if we do not get over the obsession to do harm to both our fellow beings and Nature and if we do not unite to ensure the best for the environment, we are DOOMED! Surely, better sense will prevail? We must have the will. We just cannot afford to lose anytime. (picture courtesy Aeon)

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