When revenge is sweet

Revenge, it is said, is sweet and one of India’s great epics, The Mahabharata seems to endorse this. Like the blood that flowed on the plains of Kurukshetra, this stark emotion runs like a spreading stain through the fabric of the story. We see the Pandavas and the Kauravas bent on avenging the many insults and wrongs that they, at various points of time, heaped on each other. Are we to believe then that revenge is both natural and permissible? It may seem so, but notice that none of the victors, including Dharmaputra who was in the end crowned King, was happy or devoid of regrets. Without exception, they attained true liberation only after death.

When one meets with injustice, the immediate reaction is to retaliate. To hit back and give as good as one got appears to be a strong human instinct. One can recall the words of Shakespeare’s unforgettable character, Shylock, ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed.... if you poison us, do we not die and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?’

Let us admit it, revenge cannot be interpreted as an offence, which is perhaps why it comes across as a form of defence. It is considered to be a way of establishing justice, rough though it may be. It also appears to provide one with some protection from future hostile actions. The threat of revenge intimidates the offender, so that he desists from targeting the other once again. Revenge also promises the pleasure of seeing the guilty suffer and thus lessen the pain that one has been subjected to. It is surprising to learn, therefore, that revenge does none of the above. On the other hand, it worsens the situation. Scientists have carried out experiments that show retaliation merely succeeds in deepening the wounds. It has been found that when people cannot or do not take revenge, they accept the situation and move on. Revenge, however, underlines the event. It lingers in the mind, forcing the person to go over it again and again, reliving the misery. It also makes the offender strike again, thus creating a vicious circle. It is true that when you try to get even with others, you become at odds with yourself. In Gandhi’s words, ‘An eye for an eye only ends up in making the whole world blind.’

However, there is a kind of revenge that can be described as sweet because it is capable of bringing in the light of understanding. This incident of recent times illustrates it well. During the days of the Berlin Wall, some East Berliners decided to send a ‘gift’ to the West Berliners. They loaded a truck with garbage, broken bricks and other rubbish and stealthily conveyed it to the West Berlin side. When the West Berliners discovered it, they were incensed and wanted to pay back in the same coin. One wise person persuaded them instead to load the truck with food, clothes and medical supplies, all very scarce and valuable. They also left a note, ‘Each gives according to his ability to give.’ Needless to say, the act led to a greater understanding and a better relationship between the two sides.

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