WEDNESDAY: THE ONE WITH A GAME OF COSMIC CARROM AND DAISY’S DEMISE
When Inora left Emil’s apartment on Tuesday night, she did not go straight to meet her parents and Marco, as Emil thought she would. Her own apartment was within walking distance, and she went home first. She had to pack another bag and she had to think a few things through before getting an Uber to her parents’ house, which was on the other side of the city, in Dhanmondi.
There was also a pouch, now safely resting inside Inora’s tote-bag, that was resting heavily on Inora’s mind. She had come by it not long ago. In fact, it was back at the cottage, while Emil was still sitting outside, and she had gone inside, when she had climbed the stairs again, walked inside the room she usually slept in when she was staying the night, opened the correct drawer, and took out the pouch, still exactly where she had last seen it.
The fact that it was in her room did not, technically, mean it was her. And yet, she knew that if it was not hers to give away, it was nobody else’s.
Not until her grandmother had suddenly announced many years ago, “Someday, this will be yours, Inny.” did she lift her head up to notice the pendant hanging from grandmother’s neck. When she did, she took a good look at it. It could come in handy, she thought, very handy indeed. Of course, she would not wear it around her neck. She would put it in a pouch and hang it on the right side of her utility belt. Then she would be ready to fling it at any assailant in less than a second. “Can I see it?” she asked. She had to see how hard it was.
“Not yet, dear. But someday.”
“When, nanu?” she asked.
“When you get married, Inny, this will be passed on to you. The day you become a woman.”
That sounded like a long wait and Inora immediately lost interest. But she thought she should clarify something important to her grandmother since she seemed not to know, “Ma says I am already a woman. And baba says whatever ma says must be true.”
“Such a faun of a man, my son-in-law.” Inora’s grandfather muttered under his breath from the bed.
“Oh, hush you. Do not listen to him, Inny.”
Inora nodded her head, “I never do nanu; you asked me not to last year.” She said and all three of them had a laugh.
“The day this is finally yours,” grandmother continued, “I might not be around anymore.”
“Where will you be? Will we come visit you there as well?” Inora asked, no stranger to her grandparents living far away from her.
“Oh yes, you will, silly girl. But not for many years after.”
“Do you have to be very old to go there, nanu? Last year, the first and second graders at school went on a field trip to a zoo but we were not old enough; so we stayed in school and did finger-painting.”
“Oh, did you? How fun. What did you paint with your fingers?”
“Oh dear. How many fingers did you draw?”
“As many as I could fit in the page. It was very easy to draw them.”
Her grandfather was laughing softly, “You don’t even realize what a unique sense of humor you have, do you sweetie?”
“I know everything that I have; I made a list last month when I had the flu and had to stay home for a week. It is three pages long. Can I put that on the list nanu?” Inora asked, pointing with her finger to the pendant.
“Yes dear, you can. It is your. But I will keep it safe for now. On the day you get married…”
“No buts. When you get married.”
“But how old will I be when I get married?” Inora asked.
“That is far too young!” Inora’s grandfather protested, “Much too young!”
“Twenty-five is far too old! What will people say?”
“I don’t know! What will they say?”
“That there must be something wrong with her!”
“There is nothing wrong with Inny Binny!”
“That is not what everyone will say if she waits too long!”
“Then she can just go and prove them wrong, can’t she?”
“Sixteen I say!”
“Thirty-six!” Inora shouted, laughing hysterically. She had learned to square integers not long ago and this sudden real-world application of abstract mathematics amazed her, “I will marry when I’m forty-nine! Sixty-four!”
That was that for the time being. Grandmother, amazed that Inora could count that high took her downstairs by the hand and gave her a sugary snack. Inora had it gratefully, thanked her grandmother, and ran outside to continue searching for the perfect pebble to add to her arsenal until it was dark and time to go back indoors.
It was not until another two years later that Inora finally asked her grandmother, “Nanu, why did the locket not pass on to ma when she was married? Is that not how it works?”
Her grandmother’s face darkened, “Because she made a mess of things, Inny. I could not pass on my mother’s pendant to her after that. You will understand when you are older.”
“Ma made a mess? What?”
“She got the order of things backward, dear. Completely backwards. But you will do it right, won’t you?” She kissed Inora on the forehead, “You will do it right, I have no doubt. I would never give the locket to your mother after what she did. But do not worry. This will be your very soon.”
And then grandmother’s face did a funny thing where it gazed faraway in the distance, looking simultaneously pained and confused and distressed. Finally, with a grimace, she tousled Inora’s hair and went back to her work. Inora’s best guess was that she was trying to subtract 8 from 16 to tell Inora just how long they had to wait before the pendant was her.[i]
Grandmother passed away not very long after that and the pendant was handed to Inora by her mother one evening. Inora had no need for a projectile anymore. And she felt that if she were to put it around her neck, the way grandmother had intended, she should at least fulfill her one stipulation. She did not agree with the stipulation, but she decided she was not going to use the pendant until, unless, the stipulation was met.
And so, she put the pendant in her drawer, checked on it now and then, and thought no more of it.
Now, she wanted to do something different with it. Something Inora thought would be the proper thing to do with it. And this proper thing did not involve a slingshot.
The Uber driver was quiet and Inora played with the pouch in her hand through the entire ride. She got off not far from her parents’ house, did some grocery shopping, looking forward to cooking with her mother for one more time. She picked out the most expensive pack of cat food for Marco. And when her father let her in twenty minutes later, she told her parents that a friend had to borrow her car, so she has had to delay her trip by two days.
By the time it was morning, and she was having breakfast with her parents, her mind was still not at rest.[ii] Her parents were seated on either side of her and Marco basking in the sun’s ray on a tiny corner of the table. Minutes away from leaving, not knowing what faced Emil and her at the Planet, she decided that it was at last time to give to her mother what should have been rightfully her three decades ago. “Ma, I have something for you.” She said, “I know I probably should not have taken it but…”
“What is it?” her father asked.
“Uffo, do not interrupt. Let her finish.”
“Hadn’t you noticed that she was building up to say something big?”
“I had not.”
“Of course you had not. You never do.”
“It is true, I do not, usually. I am sorry, Inny.”
“It’s fine, baba. Ma, it’s fine. I was just saying…”
“Yes dear, what were you saying?”
“I am sorry I interrupted.”
“He is.” Ma said. Baba nodded his head. “Well, go on. Tell us. What is it, sweetie?”
Inora reached inside her tote bag and took out the pouch, and put it down on the table, “This.” She said.
Her parents looked stunned. They looked at each other, mouths agape, looked at Inora but still said nothing, and Inora concluded that the onus was probably on her to offer an explanation for her transgression, “Look, I know I should not have taken it. And I only took it because I thought ma should…”
“Oh Inny, dear,” her mother started, cracked up, sniffed.
“Ma! Come on, please do not cry. It is not that bad. Just let me explain!”
“Bad? This is not bad Inny, this is so…this is so…” her father struggled to find the right word, “unexpected!”
“Yes! Unexpected, dear. So unexpected. From you!”
“But if you would just let me explain…”
“Is he alright?”
“Is it Emil?”
“Is he coming over to meet us now?”
And then, before Inora had realized what was going on, before she has had a chance to offer a proper explanation, both her parents got up together, hand in hand, walked up to her, and engulfed her in a giant bear hug from both sides, “You have made your mother and me so happy Inny!”
“Inny Binny! My Inny Binny! All grown up!”
“Guys please, enough with the tears! What is going on? What do you think is going on?”
But her parents would hear none of it.
It was time for a family hug.
[i] The correct answer would not have been 8. It would have been at least 18 and counting.
[ii]What was bothering Inora?
Deontologist would have been a stricter than necessary term to assign to Inora. She certainly believed that actions could be inherently right or wrong, that you had a categorical imperative, as Kantian ethics went, to do certain deeds and refrain from others. But she was also not completely shut off from the notion that often time it helped to look at the underlying desires behind an action before judging the morality of it.
For example, the deontologist part of her strongly believed that violence was never the best solution to any given situation and should be eschewed at all cost. But she also believed that, given all the information made available to her, if she was to choke uncle Man a little, until he turned blue and maybe his eyes started to pop out, it would not be coming from a selfish or a violent place in her heart, and ergo, she would not be committing a selfish or a violent deed.
Intentions, she believed, was important above all else.
She was always careful to step around the slippery slopes of utilitarianism. As far as she was concerned, consequences of an action never preceded the motive. For example, she imagined, that while she was in the midst of choking uncle Man, if a crowd of supportive and cheering individuals was to form around them, and once she was done, everyone in the crowd were to form a tidy queue and have a go at choking uncle Man as well, the morality of Inora’s role in the whole endeavor should be limited to the duration of her fingers around uncle Man’s throat, which was the limit of her intended desire. Everything that follows after her direct involvement, unknown to her prior to the said choking, was not a part of the original decision-making, and ergo, should not form the basis of the argument to answer the question: Is Inora choking uncle Man a morally good or morally bad deed?
Intentions above consequences in questions of morality – such philosophy had served Inora well for the most part.
But now, after what she heard from Emil, she had a problem. How could she decide if her intentions were good or bad? What did these words even mean, good and bad?
Suppose, that Inora is at the Planet, and she has her knees parked on uncle Man’s chest, and her fingers are wrapped tightly around his throat. This much is familiar to us by now. We also know by now that it is not up for debate that Inora’s intentions are entirely selfless, that what she is doing, she is not doing for herself but for all the people of Earth. But here is the twist: who is to say that such exemplary selflessness is in itself a good deed? What is so special about selflessness?
Consider Socrates’ conversation with Euthyphro. Consider: are good deeds good only because god has endorsed them to you, or are good deeds inherently good, without the need for divine endorsement?
In other words: are attributes such as honesty and humility and selflessness considered good deeds only because your religion says that they are good? Or would you consider them good even if your religion had nothing good to say about them?
In a situation without divine endorsement, how do you sort out the good deeds from the bad deeds?
This is what Inora was asking herself: after I am done choking uncle Man, what is stopping me from going and choking a few more people? Why should I not, as long as I can get away with it? How do I decide which acts are good and which are not? The golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, was scant consolation to her. I want to go choke uncle Man, she thought, but I hardly want him to want to come and choke me as well. Or maybe I do, if I especially enjoy being choked. Then, should I just go about choking everyone I see?
In short: Inora no longer had an objective basis for her morality.
What did Inora choose to do about this?
Inora decided that she was wasting her time with all these philosophical quandaries since she already knew exactly what she wanted to do regardless of whether she had an objective basis for morality or not. Maybe it was built into her essence. Maybe it was just the way she was raised. Maybe it was preordained. But she was infallible in her believe that someone should choke uncle Man a little and if no one was going to rise to the occasion, it was up to her to see it done.
Because people are going to do whatever it is that they want to do.
It is nice to know that your actions are supported by divinely ordained rules, but it is also very easy to ignore these rules when your actions are going to run contrary to them. It is also very easy to take some anabolic steroids and do some mental gymnastics and convince yourself that whatever it is that you are about to do is well in accordance with the divinely ordained rules. Whatever it is that you are about to do.