Humility is rare

Humility is rare


She also had an unpredictable temper and lost many friends, including me. She died of brain tumour a few years ago. Radha Kumar, one of the three interlocutors exploring possibilities of bringing peace in Kashmir is Dharma’s only child.

I am reminded of Dharma when I came across the Hindi words: ‘vinay’ and ‘vineet’ ‘vinamr’ for humility. The only Urdu and Punjabi equivalent I can think are ‘mita hua’ (self-effaced) and ‘mitaya’ boys.

Dharma’s favourite story of lop-sided humility was about her cousin Raghavan Iyer who had been a topper in every exam he took and was elected president of the Oxford University students union. He considered canvassing for votes beneath his dignity. His admirers did it for him.

As soon as the results were announced, they rushed up to Iyer’s room and broke the good news to him. He was sitting in lotus pose (padma asana) on the floor with his eyes closed. As they shouted: “Iyer you have won”, he raised the index finger of his right hand towards the ceiling and exclaimed: “Victory is Thine O Lord!”

A more amusing story Dharma used to tell about Iyer went somewhat as follows: One evening as he was sitting, surrounded by his admirers, one of them asked him: “Iyer you have achieved so much in life, how do you manage to remain so modest?”

Iyer replied: “Good question. I have evolved a formula of self-extinction. I sit on the floor every morning and repeat I am not Raghavan Iyer who got a first class first from Madras University; I am not Raghavan Iyer who got a first class first from Oxford University; I am not Raghavan Iyer who was elected president of the students union. I am not Raghavan Iyer, the most brilliant philosopher of the East. I am merely a spark of the Divine.” In this evening meditation he went over the same lines with a variation of the last line — instead of ‘spark of the divine’, he said, “I am only the vehicle of the Mahatmas”.

We Indians pay what might be called hand-worship to humility. While people in the western world shake hands when they meet, we join the palms of our hands as if in prayer and say namastay, namaskar, vanakkam or sat sri akal.

Likewise, Muslims bow and touch their foreheads with their right hand when they say salam valaikum. But in real life humility is rare. Our favourite topic of conversation is ourselves. Anyone who does that cannot be humble.

Politicians cannot afford to be humble because they have to tell everyone they are better than rivals to be entrusted with power. So are the wealthy, whether by their own endeavours or by inheritance. They may cultivate good manners but deep down them there is arrogance that wealth produces. “They are proud of their humility, proud in that they are not proud,” as Robert Burton wrote in his ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’.
I fancy myself as a humble person. One evening I sought confirmation of my humility from my daughter and grand-daughter. I asked them if they all thought that I was humble.

My grand-daughter Naina who is known for her brashness, replied: “You must be joking! You love flattery. All these ladies who send you kababs, kheer, cakes and flowers gives you enormous pleasure and inflates your ego. And the man who lays it on thick and keeps giving you vintage scotch, flatters you as if you were a minor prophet.

As if this was not enough, my daughter Mala added: “When you are dazzling your audience by your wits, you expect them to say nice things about you. And when they fail silent, you feel bored and tell them to go. How can it is be possible to call yourself humble!”

They are probably right. Though I don’t talk about myself, I think about myself all the time. I have failed in my quest for humility (vinamrata). I always remember what Guru Nanak said:

Haumam deergh Rog hai
Daaroo bhee iss mahein
Ego is a full disease
It is also its cure

I bet you didn’t know this

Letters ‘a’ ‘b’ ‘c’ & ‘d’ do not appear anywhere in the spelling of 1 to 99.
(Letter ‘d’ comes for the first time in hundred)
Letters ‘a’, ‘b’ & ‘c’ do not appear anywhere in the spellings of 1 to 99.
(Letter ‘a’ comes for the first time in thousand)
Letters ‘b’ & ‘c’ do not appear anywhere in the spellings of 1 to 999.
(Letter ‘b’ comes for the first time in billion)
Letter ‘c’ does not appear anywhere in the spellings of entire English counting.

(Contributed by Vipin Buckahey, Delhi)

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