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The Villain of the Piece


Sometimes I wonder about grey characters. Come to think of it, every story is written from someone's point of view. One person looking out at the world. It must be then, safe to assume that the character description is already prejudiced. Take our fairy tale villains for one; a cannibalistic woman (the witch of Hansel and Gretel), the wicked fairy godmother (Sleeping Beauty), an ogre (Jack and the Beanstalk) and the most uncomfortable of them all, the baby-obsessed Rumpelstiltskin. It is only recently that interesting backstories and research into the original unadulterated versions of these stories are attracting attention. The happy endings are possibly the only things that are child-like in these stories; even one layer down, these stories are studies into complex human psych. 

Which brings me to the bothersome point. We have all done some pretty vile things at some or the other point. If someone were to listen only to the victim of our injudicious behaviour, why, we shall be painted the blackest villains ever. Imagine, how we would be described in the books then... I certainly do not give a nod to cannibalism or kidnapping or extortion - which these fairy-tale creatures often resort to - but since I am yet to meet an ogre or a witch or a baby-smuggling goblin, let us assume that these behaviours are only indications of the very worst in man. Of course, entities among our civilisation that actually indulge in any of these activities as a habit or for pleasure, are exempt from this discussion, or any other, for that matter. We are all villains in somebody's life, and if a life were to be inked, I would like to have a pick of the form of literature to feature in.

For a children's author, I would be plain evil, to be burnt at the stake with raucous applause; the town would be freed from the dark shadow of my presence and the men and women and children would live with nary a trouble for generations to come. The day of my burning might even be celebrated annually.  

An autobiography (not mine) would be far worse. It would be like a open letter. And I would have to go through the painful process of penning my own biography, just to prove that someone is in the wrong in the whole bargain. My guess is, from what I have read so far, both versions would end up being petty and useless, though on a standalone basis, each work can be quite juicy.

A romantic poem would be the most expedient place to be a villain in. The poet shall have to concentrate more on the goodness of the protagonist/s in a parlance so melting, that anyone being described otherwise, would automatically draw the ire of readers. So, the whole world is a giant, nasty army, ready to rip apart the lovers. Being a part of a whole doesn't feel so bad after all.  

The safest haven for a villain would be in the hands of a short story writer. His/her primary aim is to shock/provoke/leave things inconclusively. I believe, man inherently rejoices in the good of the other. Most humans have both sides; some have an inclination towards one or the other. Short stories typically bring out the whole picture, in far fewer, more succint terms, in a way where man is seldom viewed as comprehensively bad. While some may argue that a reasonably lengthy story or a hefty saga also does justice to a character, none of them do so in as crisp fashion as a short story. It takes a reader much longer to actually decipher the good and the bad in a man in the real world. If I wanted to be described to a complete stranger who had fifteen minutes to spare, I would entrust my life to Saadat Hasan Manto or Saki. 

We are after all, like the green ogre Shrek; pushed to the wall in most cases, defensive and reactive. We see the bad far too easily, both in ourselves and in others. But if each day of our life could be drafted in two pages, perhaps we could have a better grip on who we are - we are an amalgamation, both a hero and a villain. 

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