Preserving the Scamp within us

We live with the ethos in India that values discipline. At least in Mumbai. And maybe particularly so amongst the predominantly Maharashtrian community in the city.

For the life of me I cannot understand what is meant by discipline and why it is important.

Does it mean that people should respect the law? It is the job of the police and the courts to enforce the law. The solution to that is that is police reforms and an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

Does it mean that people behave in undignified and loutish ways at times? That is because they are uneducated and poor. And there is no solution to that unless people are prosperous and have a good education and upbringing.

We are enjoying the benefits of living in our own country as free citizens. And the benefit to us here is that India is a low cost of living country and that is primarily due to our large population. Imagine trying to run the house without our kaamachi bai.

The objection I have to discipline is that people try to police each other when they are not trained to play that role. I have been persecuted and victimized by people who sincerely believed that I had committed crimes whereas – in fact – I had done nothing of the sort. In fact, the people who ill-treated me were themselves (perhaps unknowingly) breaking the law.

The second objection is more philosophical and is based on the importance of human dignity. I refer you to the book The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang. In that book he glorifies the ideal of the scamp and the vagabond.

I was carried away by the wit and the humour of the book when I first read it as a teenager. And perhaps unknowingly my life has been shaped by this ideal in the book.

Quoting from the book:

My faith in human dignity consists in the belief that man is the greatest scamp on earth. Human dignity must be associated with the idea of a scamp and not with that of an obedient, disciplined and regimented soldier.

In this present age of threats to democracy and individual liberty, probably only the scamp and the spirit of the scamp alone can save us from becoming lost as serially numbered units in the masses of disciplined, regimented and uniformed coolies. The scamp will be the last and the most formidable enemy of dictatorships. He will be the champion of human dignity and individual freedom, and will be the last to be conquered. All modern civilization depends entirely on him.

Human dignity . . . consists of four characteristics of the scamp . . . They are: a playful curiosity, a capacity for dreams, a sense of humour to correct those dreams, and finally a certain waywardness and incalculability of behaviour.

It is difficult to be a scamp and a vagabond while at the same time holding a job and supporting a family but we must try to keep the spirit of the scamp alive in us (even if we are unable to act according to it at most times).

I’ll end here. Please explore this blog for more articles on Self Help, Politics and Spirituality. Please also comment on the articles if you liked them and even fi you didn’t. Feedback from my readers keeps me going.

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