There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. – Hamlet (1.5.167-168)
Seven decades of life are good enough for a man to know everything that he needs to know. In fact he has travelled this far in this wide world with his rather limited knowledge. And that is more than good enough, indeed an achievement of sorts. As one who crossed the threshold of the eighth decade some years back I too feel proud that I know everything that I need to know. It does not matter at all that what I KNOW amounts to pretty little, just an iota, and what I DO NOT KNOW is as big and strange and spectacular as the Milky Way. But why should I know more, for what purpose, in these twilight years when a miniscule knowledge was all that was required to come this far?
I was six years old when India became a Republic and from my school days till now I have been hearing a lot about our Constitution, the testament of governance that the people drafted and gave unto themselves. In fact everyone, including me, swears by it. But do I know any of its provisions? Like most of us, I think, I am blissfully unaware of its many, many Articles, including the acclaimed Fundamental Rights that safeguard me from excesses of the powers that be. If someone asks me what the Fundamental Rights are, and waits for an answer, he will not definitely get an answer right away. I may fumble and mumble for quite a bit of time before giving what can amount to be an elliptical reply. But I believe in Fundamental Rights. I do assume that when the time comes these provisions will be there to protect me from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous’ exercise of power. Perhaps not!
The same is the case with law. I always consider myself as a law abiding citizen. But how do I abide by a law that I do not know? Strictly speaking I am an outlaw. I am outside the ken of most laws as I do not know them. I have heard of them, of course, but am not familiar with them. There are laws here, laws there, laws everywhere. Acts are a million and Rules thereunder beyond counting and comprehension. As though they are not enough our Legislators and Parliamentarians are going on making new laws or amending existing ones every other day. How to keep track of all these and freely move about in society without fear of getting caught for offences one never intended? When caught, even for a silly traffic offence, I cannot take refuge behind the plea that I was ignorant of that provision of law that I infringed. Ignorance is not at all an excuse in a court of law where Dame Justice is depicted as benignly looking at you – blindfolded.
And the laws are so unnervingly complex that one may say that they are made to put the people in perpetual obligation to the lawyers and other interpreters of the Codes and other canons. See how appropriately named are the provisions like the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. Are they not obviously written in a language that only the jurists and the lawyers can decode?
When considering all these it may strike a lesser soul that he has no right to exist at all, as he is not only ignorant of the many rules and regulations that govern the management of this magnificent world, but also ignorant of many aspects of the society, the country and even the world itself. But I am made of sterner stuff. I do not think so. I do feel that a little knowledge is not at all a dangerous thing as we were taught in school. A little knowledge is all that we need to pull on in this life. And make a success of it. Of course it may be folly to be wise, but ignorance IS bliss. I know as I have lived with it for the past 73 years.
We can also draw from many far better examples. Take any hundred people of Fortune list who made it big in this world and look into their background. Or a hundred people from politics, administration, industry, business or even spiritual business. It will be hard to find any of them in the category of geniuses or in the category of child prodigies once upon a time. On the contrary there may at least be a sprinkling of them without any sort of formal education, the un-schooled group that the media would patronizingly call ‘self- made men.’ And most of them reached the spot they are in through a combination of circumstances, that include hard work, common sense, luck, vision and perhaps subterfuge and ruthlessness, all of them in varying degrees. And not a single one of them can be described as a know-all. They are mostly mediocrities, like us, but the difference is that somehow they struck gold and struck it big.
There is a memorable closing line in Amadeus, a film on the life of Mozart. A wheel-chair borne Salieri, a composer who was once intensely jealous of the genius of Mozart, tells the priest who came to give him the Last Sacrament: I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint. Mediocrities everywhere... I absolve you... I absolve you...
Which all lead to one thing only, that there is merit in mediocrity.