April 17, 2007

Mea Culpa?

... for human reality, to be is to choose oneself; nothing comes to it either from the outside or from within which it can receive or accept. Without any help whatsoever, it is entirely abandoned to the intolerable necessity of making itself be — down to the slightest detail.

— Jean Paul Sartre. Being and Nothingness, New York, N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1972, pp. 568-69.

I am chagrined beyond belief. Furious with myself. How could I have been so irresponsible?

Yes, I have subscribed to Sun TV! After everything that I huffed and hawed about the serial criminals beamed out of this Tamil television channel, how could I have? I even signed a petition urging each and everyone in the wah-wah-wah not to subscribe to the channel that never seem to tire of hurling insults to one's intelligence. And then I go ahead and meekly surrender to the devil!

It's not that the Sun TV came bundled with the Comedy Central, and I could not have lived another day without the Daily Show. It's not like I had little control over my fund manager's decision to allocate a precious fraction of my assets to the Chinese Gulag, Inc. I chose to pay $14.99 per month to subscribe to the Sun TV, à la carte. Voluntarily. Out of my own free will, whatever that is. I even let them install a second dish on my roof, pointing to a different part of the sky, a different satellite, spewing the nonsense from space. What happened? Did the fool overcome the rational? Did the Buridan's ass in me yield finally to temptation and ate from the wrong haystack?

No, it's not me, it's my mother, folks! Yeah, right, blame it on your poor mother for everything. Either it's the genes that you inherited from her, or how she brought you up, is it not? Shame on you, rational fool! Please, hold your invectives, and read me out. I am not trying to pass the buck here. Not entirely. Actually, not at all.

Here's some background. My mother is eighty something, and was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease about a year ago. A fiercely independent woman, she has been managing on her own in Chennai, India, until then. She lost her will after realizing that her impaired mobility was there to stay and would only get worse. Bereft of any other alternative, she reluctantly agreed to emigrate to the US and live the rest of her life out with me. There was just one problem, though. She was addicted to Anandam, Kasturi, Kolangal... She did not think life was worth living without knowing what happened after Rekha became pregnant with her bigamous husband's child. And, while she was unlikely to live beyond hundred, the battle between Abhi and Adhi would be eternal.

I hedged. Sun TV might not be broadcast to where I live. The local cable companies might not carry the channel. My brother could email her the unfolding stories everyday. Most of what happened to Kasturi on any given day could be detailed in one sentence and therefore, would consume hardly any bandwidth at all. Better, he could record all the shows and mail them to her every week. Without the ads and the background wailings, the DVD would have enough space to throw in a Bollywood movie, or even two Hollywood ones, as bonus. After much persuasion, my mother yielded, and the visa officer was quite pleased to close her file...

...Ten thousand miles from the birthplace of the serial killers. The world's most popular national park — Yosemite — is just a few minutes drive. From my yard, one can see the snow capped mountains in the Ansel Adams Wilderness, playing peek-a-boo through the gathering fog. The apricots, the peaches, and the plums are in bloom. None of these, however, seems to matter to my mom. She misses Abirami, Tholkappian, and the rest of the crowd terribly. My brother's weekly updates are only making her more miserable. And that makes me miserable, too. The snow is gradually melting in the Sierras. How long can I hold out on her? My neighbor, an opera and soccer buff of Indian descent, drops in, and declares that the Dish Network offers Sun TV for an addition of just $15 over the price for basic subscription. Check! My defenses crumble, and I resign. Adhi now thunders on the air waves that he'll kill Abhi. Every weeknight. At dinner time. I have nowhere to run.

... this young man... at this moment, had the choice between going to England to join the Free French Forces or of staying near his mother and helping her to live... he found himself confronted by two very different modes of action; the one concrete, immediate, but directed towards only one individual; and the other an action addressed to an end infinitely greater, a national collectivity, but for that very reason ambiguous – and it might be frustrated on the way. At the same time, he was hesitating between two kinds of morality; on the one side the morality of sympathy, of personal devotion and, on the other side, a morality of wider scope but of more debatable validity. He had to choose between those two. What could help him to choose?

... I had but one reply to make. You are free, therefore choose, that is to say, invent. No rule of general morality can show you what you ought to do: no signs are vouchsafed in this world.

— Extract from Existentialism Is a Humanism, Lecture by Jean-Paul Sartre, 1946.

Enough of the banter. Who am I to judge my mother's and millions of others' choice? Let's get serious about my choice, shall we? Where have I gone wrong? Where does this arise from, this urge to please and take care of one's elders? Even at the expense of one's own preferences. Mirror neurons? Moral imperatives? Or is it just self interest couched in moral sentiments — a demonstration to our children of what is expected of them? Evolutionary psychologists argue that morality may have its origins in reciprocal altruism. The case for reciprocal altruism between parents and children is at best weak. What is the recourse for the parents, should their children defect? None. No tit-for-tat strategy is available to the parents, and it's common knowledge to both the parents and their grown-up children. Besides, care of one's offspring is consistent with the selfish gene thesis, but care of one's parents is not. I have not come across any research on the prevalence of parent care among the primates, elephants, whales, and other social animals, have you?

If it's not hardwired into me, then I am free to choose between pleasing my mother and being faithful to my ideals. The dilemma that I faced was hardly comparable to the weightier one Sartre used as an example to explain existentialism. Nevertheless, I am as troubled by my choice, as the young soldier would have been, if he had chosen to stay with his mother. Did I sacrifice an ideal that I hold in the highest reverence, an ideal that I'd never be a silent witness to the propagation of dystopia, the dystopia of the worst kind in this case, as it affects half the world, across time and space? Isn't that defeating the very purpose of this blog itself? I became not only a silent witness, but also an accomplice to the crime. I am paying hard cash to fund the production of these serials, albeit indirectly. All of this, merely to satisfy the immediate interests of one individual, who happens to be my mother!

Mea culpa?

  1. heheh. you make it sound like that oft heard charge of "aiding and abetting" a crime.
    She is being uprooted and planted in an alien soil - at her age she doesnt enjoy a walk in the natural park or the various colourful trees in full bloom.She need to hear familiar sounds and be in touch with something on a daily basis that makes her give a sense of familiarity and belonging.

    And it isnt a crime in this case because she is not going to absorb any socially regressive values from these at this age or perpetuate them. It is as harmless as an old man watching pornography.

  2. It's called love. You did it for love. I don't know how many kids shows I've watched, listened to or read to my kids. It even effects my pocketbook, I find myself pulling out money for items that I wouldn't ever purchase for myself. But it's not for me, it's for them. So they would be happy. Even for a minute, sometimes even for things I really don't want them to have but they do. And then it goes away, the desire, the push, goes away. And it seems so trivial then, but if it wasn't done, it can be a long lasting problem, fuel for a much bigger fire. So, sit down with mom and enjoy the tv for awhile.

  3. Hi,
    I guess we are all guilty of the same crime.
    I have some principles that I strictly follow. But I realized along the way in the last 27 years that it is not right to ask others to follow them. You can always tell them but to enforce it on them takes away democrary.
    You just subscribed to Sun TV. No big crime right. Well it does have its own version of Comedy Central. Watch Sun News at 8:00pm India time daily.


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