Virtuosity and Lies: What Does It Mean To Be Good?

I remember exactly the first time I lied to be thought virtuous. It was a school test. It had general questions. One question was this: Do you help your mother around the house regularly? I’ll ignore the assumption that only “mothers” are supposed to work around the house for now. I wrote “Yes” as the answer.

Now I did help around the house. Sometimes. When I felt like it. It wasn’t a compulsion or a duty or anything. If I was asked to do something, I did it sometimes, sometimes I refused saying I was doing important things like playing. It wasn’t a big deal. So the true answer would have been “Sometimes”. But we were asked to answer in just Yes or No.

I wrote Yes because of two reasons. One was to account for the “Sometimes”; I didn’t think it was fair to ignore all of the work that I did in the face of the times that I didn’t. The second reason brings us to today’s topic: I wanted the teacher to think that I was good.

What does being good mean exactly?

A simple definition would be to be kind, generous, helpful to the people around you. But these words themselves are pretty vague as far as their own definitions are concerned. What does being kind mean? What is the line between being generous and being taken advantage of? What constitutes help and where do we stop it?

Being selfless combines all of the above if we look at it simplistically. And selflessness?

Altruism: the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

To be unselfish?

A selfish person is one “lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”

I refuse to believe that anybody is completely selfless. All of us are selfish in varying degrees. And all of us know it deep down. And it’s not such a bad thing. Why then, this need to be considered “selfless” by others?

I think I’m considerate enough towards people as a general rule. I think I help them reasonably; not doing their entire work, of course, but as much as is genuinely needed. If had to choose a path that benefits everyone, I would choose it over the one that benefits just me. I would try and avoid the path that hinders others. But if there was a choice between a path benefits somebody else but harms me in any way, I don’t think I’m selfless enough or virtuous enough to choose it. I don’t think I can let anyone matter more than me.

It sounds harsh when I say this perhaps. But I don’t think I’m wrong. There’s a difference between being good and being taken for granted. I have no qualms in doing something for another being; I can take a little bit of trouble for it. Because it makes me feel good. I have to admit that it is about me even then. It is always about me.

And yet, we have this inherent need to be considered good by others, especially when we are young and in school. Hence, I have to tell my teacher that I’m “helpful” and “obedient” in my house. I have to share that last bit of cake with my classmates even though it is my favourite and I don’t want anybody else to eat it. But I have to share because I’m good and “generous”. I have to help people with their homework because I’m a “kind” person, and it doesn’t matter that they gave some superficial excuse not to do it. Otherwise, I shall be considered “selfish”. It’s okay if I’m not actually good inside my head, with my thoughts, as long as I’m being considered good by the world.


It has become easier to think for myself first and then others as I’ve grown older. But as a society, we continue to expect people to confirm to these behaviours. Don’t get me wrong. The children have to be taught these things, even if it doesn’t come naturally to them at first. But what about teaching them about that fine line of difference? What about when they grow older? Do we still expect them to be just as “virtuous”?

All of this does not mean that one should always keep oneself above others at all times. But real kindness, generosity or helpfulness is, in fact, completely selfish.

To be selfless is completely selfish.

It is in our own selfish interest of feeling good that we help somebody. And that, right there, is goodness.

What do you consider to be good? How do you learn what is the right sort of kindness/helpfulness/generosity? Is it easy to teach children about being good rather than just being considered good?

Dancing The Night Away!

Navratri. Nav-Ratri literally means “Nine Nights” in Sanskrit. A festival which celebrates nine forms of Goddess Amba. It is celebrated five times a year, the most important being the Sharad Navratri, or the Maha Navratri, which marks the beginning of Winter. You can read more about it here.

It is celebrated differently in all parts of India. Here, in Gujarat, it is celebrated as a dance festival; the longest dance festival in the world. For nine nights, we do Garba (the dance form) on traditional Gujarati songs. Yeah, the tradition began long before the night clubs were even invented!

The traditional clothes: Chaniya and Choli. Yes, we do dance dressed up like that!

This is what was keeping me busy the past week, though I danced only on some of the days, being in the university.

Of Dance and Worries

As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to worry a tad bit more than most people. There is always stuff to do, deadlines to meet, goals to be accomplished. The back of my mind is a pretty happening place, I tell you! Quite a bustling market!

Why do I mention this? Though the back of my mind is jam-packed place a lot of times, it magically clears up when I dance! I may be worried about a thousand things before I start dancing, and I may continue to do so after the dancing is over. But when I’m dancing, in those moments, I’m free and floating. In those moments, I’m completely blissed out! Dancing, like music, is food for the soul!

Which is why Navratri is my favourite festival. I wait for it throughout the year, and I’m hung-over for at least a week after it (Still in the Garba-mode, I mean). I’ve been doing Garba for as long as I can remember. It has become so much ingrained in me that though I do it only for these few days every year, I could probably do it sleep-walking if you ask!

Of Navratri Experiences

Where I stay, the Navratri Garba is organised with great fanfare every year. This includes live music and singers, beautiful lights and of course, mid-night snacks!

Garba, I should tell you, is not a dance form which is practised individually. You do it in a group, mostly a circle around the idol of Goddess Amba.

The sound and video quality is not excellent, but you’ll get my point. Watch from 1:30 to get a clearer picture of what I mean.

The beauty of it is that most people here have grown up doing it, including me. So, most of my friends are just as enthusiastic about it as I am. Not all the people that dance with us are friends. Some are friends of friends, some are total strangers. Most are acquaintances; people who come together every year just for one purpose: Garba.

Our “group” dances every year. Each year, there are additions to the circle, and subtractions too (excuse me for being too mathematical). But each year we meet, dance, chit-chat into the wee hours of the morning, learn new dance moves, and have a whole lot of fun!

The Kid Problem (or how I learnt Garba as a kid)

Garba, traditionally, is to be done in one big circular formation. But more often than not people break into their own little circles. Our group too has its own circle after the first few songs. (A group that people admire, by the way!). A lot of other people join too. The trouble arises when kids as young as seven want to join too!

Now I’m all for encouraging kids to dance. They will learn it this way. I learnt it the same way, coming in the way circle of the grown-up didis, getting bashed by the strong and fast-moving arms! Nevertheless, I pursued it relentlessly, though I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of them!

What goes around comes around! The thing about Garba is coordination of foot-work. And those kids have tiny legs! And then, we grown-ups (ahem!) have to take care not to hurt them. It does take the mindlessness that I enjoy the most out of dancing!

But then I see some kid actually moving in sync with the beats, and I think (as if I’ve had hundred years of experience doing Garba!) that “Hey, that one’s got potential!” It makes me really happy.

Continuing The Love For Dancing

I wonder what it will be like after, say, fifteen years. All of us will be busy with our jobs, families, lives. A lot of us would have moved to different cities perhaps. Will we come back here? Will we get the time to celebrate Navratri? Will we come here, with perhaps our spouses and kids, and connect once again through dancing? More importantly, will we be able to begin where we left off, as we do every year?

I should very much like to think so.

Get Me Another Sandwich, Woman!

“If you love a guy, let him go. If he comes back, the other woman made lousy sandwiches.”

This is what was printed as the “joke” of the day in a supplement of a leading newspaper recently. Here is what it implies:

1. Guys are with you only because of your cooking skills.

2. Guys are incapable of making good sandwiches by themselves.

I don’t like cooking. I’ve been avoiding learning it for five summer vacations now. I don’t enjoy it, and it doesn’t come easily to me. The reason is that it involves winging it. “Just a hint of the flavour” type of instructions are not my cup of tea. I’m a major believer of exact proportions.

My parents worry about how I’ll manage once I live alone. I tell them I’ll figure it out like everybody else does. And I will, I guess. It can’t be that difficult to cook edible meals for one person, can it? I agree though, that I’ve got to learn it some time.

Here’s my point: Cooking is a life skill. A life skill, I say. Not a woman-specific skill. Which is why the above joke is highly offensive to me.

Feminine stereotype

This is a “feminine” woman in her rightful place; the kitchen

I remember, in primary school, we had a picture in one of our textbooks. It showed a family in their home. The husband was sitting on the sofa, reading the newspaper. The children were playing around. The wife was in the kitchen, cooking. I remember looking at it and getting irritated. Even though I wasn’t old enough to know fancy terms like “stereotypes” and “gender-based roles”, it still made me mad. Because of one simple reason: I felt like an outsider. Someone whose family didn’t fit into this established norm. I felt that the picture wasn’t showing everybody’s reality.

My mother likes getting up early in the mornings and reading the newspaper over her cup of tea. My father is fond of eating as well as cooking, and he’s an excellent cook, “hints”, “flavours”, and all.

But I agree that this doesn’t happen in most households. When my mid-day snack was appreciated by my classmates, they said, “Be sure to complement your Mom. This is great!”. My response, that the said snack was actually made by my father was met with awkward silence, and sometimes outright amazement. Rarely did people say just “Oh” and left it at that. Really? Do no men cook in this country? I refuse to believe so. I’ve got proof. Most famous chefs are male.

Sanjeev Kapoor

Sanjeev Kapoor

Talk about a male-oriented world! But that’s for another post.

My problem is this:

What was government-approved textbook doing, re-emphasising these stereotypes?

What is a national newspaper doing, normalizing the utterly ridiculous idea of dumping all responsibility of household chores like cooking or cleaning?

What happened to social responsibility?

I know that the role division is as above for the majority of the population. I know that most children, if not all, saw the depiction as a familiar setting. But for once, I would like to see a depiction in a textbook where the husband is helping the wife around the house. I would like to see a depiction where the wife is being handed a briefcase by the husband. For a lot of children that I studied with, most of these ideas were foreign. But isn’t that what education is all about? Introducing new worlds and ideas to children when they have an impressionable mind.

I don’t say that division of work should happen in a certain way. There is no right way. Every family figures out there own rhythm. But there’s no wrong way either. People, especially children, should be made aware of this fact.

We have grown accustomed to reading about such notions. Or listening about them in songs. And at some subconscious level, it does have an impact. We grow used to the idea. And that’s where the problem lies.