Ah, The Quality of Mercy!

Ministhy Dileep | October 18,2013 03:38 pm IST

I think I read that line first in a Mary Stewart novel*. (Her chapters always began with an apt quote).

Just yesterday, mercy was mentioned yet again. This time, it was the villain demanding that from the wronged man, "What happened to your mercy?" And the Count of Monte Christo retorted, "I am not God. I am not a Saint"**. I cheered lustily as the Count of Montague fell. It felt exactly like Tendulkar hitting a sixer off Shoaib Akhthar.


Remember Gabbar Singh? One nasty drawl, "Kitne aadmi the?" and we knew what to expect. Not that you and I are bloodthirsty curmudgeons. We don't even belong to the Dracula family. Yet, why is it that we look down on mercy as a rather effeminate quality? We drop people from our friends list if a whisper of slander passes by his/her name. Not to mention if the guy, ever so high in the corporate, happens to be involved in a sexual harassment case. Even a concocted one. The corporate will drop him faster than a sack of hot potatoes. And will bar every member from eating potatoes for a year.


It seems people lined up to see Andrew Fastow being handcuffed. What is it called? Yeah, Fair weather friends. Maybe we shouldn't blame the corporates. They are also filled with watchers and passers by. Brimming with what Psychology calls the "Bystander apathy"***. Something to do with de-individuation and dilution of responsibility. Everyone thinks everyone else will do the helping act. Finally, no one does. That is why people bleed to death on highways and side roads. And languish in despair when cold-shouldered.


There are all varieties of sufferers herein. The underdog, the hit and run victim, the hapless witness, the wrongly accused, the wrong doer. All in the same old cell. Named "The Alien." Emails are barred in the cell. Phone calls are tapped. And God save you if you try to be merciful to Lucifer dropped from Heaven. You will be ostracized in a jiffy. And who likes to be treated like a leper? Merci monsieur, next time perhaps.


Maybe some of us can remember how it felt. To be an outcast. Castaway into an island where Harrison Ford wasn't keeping us company. (Not even for Six days, Seven Nights****). It felt horrible, period. To be condescended to, by the exalted beings around one. To be treated like something brought in by a particularly nasty wind. Blowing from the direction of the public toilet. (The Walkman sings into my ears - "Sharm aathi hai magar aaj ye kahana hoga"). Serendipity, blow gently by my side.


It is rather tough for the friends of the outcast. Like Tekira (was it?), that outspoken monkey pal of little Tarzan*****. Who befriends the "Hairless Wonder". He so badly wanted to be "in" with the other monkeys too. So he gently dumps Tarzan during adventures with other pals. And refers to the dumping as a "pest control problem." At least, he had an iota of mercy. He didn't call it a lice eradication mission.


(I felt a quaint sense of déjà vu on watching that scene. It reminded me of a very popular friend of mine, back in B-school. Who often had to deal with another "pest control problem." No prizes for guessing the identity of the pest).


The need of the hour is, of course, to become the Good Samaritan. That is what the psychologists advise as a remedy for the bystander apathy. The important first step. By one who will publicly step forward to stand by the underdog. When the other pedigreed ones are biting his/her guts out. To say, "Stop. This far and no further." To drop like mercy from the heavens.


Tough deal. You see, good Samaritans are not bite-proof. Their silk coats can get easily mangled in the ensuing mêlée. (That is why mercy is the quality of the gods. It needs courage). Incidentally, it's easier to save the silk dress by keeping quiet. And by taking it to the dry cleaners whenever you can. Along with the underdog's body. Ah, as that Nazi officer said - "I was just doing my job". What did the wag comment about the conspiracy of silence?


In this era of collateral damage, the tendency is to say, "Lump it." Who cares if so & so was wrongly accused in the sexual harassment case? Lump it. Who cares if Maxim portrays Gandhi as a buffoon? Lump it. Who cares if MTV USA does something worse? Lump it. Did you know a German firm took a patent on Vaastu? Lump it. And another American firm has gotten onto Neem. Lump it. Hey, your best friend hanged himself. Lump it.


* Mary Stewart: genre novels like Madam, will you talk? Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael et al.
** Alexander Dumas, " The Count of Monte Christo".
*** Latane & Darley, 1972. Explains why no one in a crowd does anything to help a victim.
**** Don't tell me you missed that one. Every female's fantasy come true in a gorgeous film by the same name.
***** Walt Disney, of course. Not Edgar Rice Burroughs. 


Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....