Moral Dilemma? Oh yes, I can tell you about a moral dilemma.
Walking down a school corridor, watching someone you hate being ragged, and wondering whether or not to slip out of your security cocoon of friends and stop the ragging. That is a moral dilemma. Our sub-class of human beings face them every day. You call them teen-issues. Maybe you’ll just laugh. It’s such a small thing to be obsessing over. Not really a moral dilemma, you know. “More like a moral puzzle”. You guffaw at your superior wit. You were a teenager once. But maybe you’ve forgotten. Ah, that got you reading didn’t it?
They are holding up her long braid now. Jeering about oil and split-ends. She looks resentful… and scared. Funny how I felt just now. Was it… anger? Yet I’ve waited for this moment my whole life!
Three of them stand close around her. Anita, Naina and Ritu; the biggest bitches in school. Also the brainiest. Everyone knows them. Everyone hates them. No one says a word against them. One girl lounges against a tree, a malevolent queen, evil and resplendent, in her element.
“I know her”, I think, but then I forget.
They think she’s funny. Her clothes don’t match. I feel surprisingly disturbed, but smother it with a laugh. Everyone else does. Laugh, that is. “Rapunzel, hahaha!” I have no reason to feel bad for her. She’s made my life miserable for four years.
Since 9th Grade, every morning, I had one big reason to avoid going to school. It was never the incomplete homework;
Anamika. Smart, talented, nasty. With a tongue was like acid that burned deep every time it struck. She hated me! At first I refused to believe it. Why would she?
One friend whispered, “Jealousy…”
“But I’m nowhere near as clever as she is!” I reasoned back. She was silent for a while.
“Maybe so, but its not just your grades… maybe she hates your looks…” someone else said.
Really? Fair skin and glossy hair. Boys drooling. You don’t expect me to believe that.
I got an exasperated look in response.
The topic under discussion crossed the room and shot me a nasty look. Then, loudly, “You’re done with your essay already? That was fast!” Big smile-Big eyes. Venomous, sugary-sweet, wide-eyed innocence. It worked every time. Mrs Das looked up. “I don’t mind staying back at breakfast to get that done, Miss Rao.”
… “Et tu, Mrs. Das!”
She’d even converted my English teacher to the Dark Side.
I never did understand why she hated me. I tried everything. I was nice to her- reverse psychology – tried ‘turning the other cheek’, tried being mean in return. Nothing worked. So I tried to ignored her, and by 10th grade, had somewhat relegated her existence.
Till we changed school. It was my 6th shift. I was cool, mixed easily. She, on the other hand, was having some problems. Bitchy-ness, it seemed, was a prerogative of the popular few.
So here I was, faced with my worst enemy, in what felt like a whole new world. I should have been happy, actually. I had it easy. I was doing the laughing, safely with my clique.
Suddenly with me on the winning side, laughing, happy, revenge didn’t seem all that sweet. A mite bitter, if you’d asked me.
In this situation, how would Atticus Finch behave? Would he have ignored her? Let it be? Not interfered? Kept a dignified distance? Never seen what was happening?
Really, I tell myself, a nice thing to wonder about, at a time like this. And who am I kidding? I can’t shake the nagging feeling. It just seems wrong. They were taking it too far, spurred on by the guilty giggles.
I finally recognise the ‘evil queen’. One of my mom’s-friend’s-daughters. She had seemed nice enough. Now she looks intimidating, scary, almost Voldemort-like, a cat toying with a mouse, a drago— (Note to self: when in danger, strictly control imagination.) Why was I even thinking this? Dare I stop them? No no no! But it’s getting a little out of hand. One of the teachers looks in, and then walks away. No one is going to do anything.
I can’t believe what I’m doing, but now I am walking across the courtyard. I see all the stupidity of the situation. I’m slipping out of my warm cocoon. One more step and all support will be automatically withdrawn. No secure anonymity of the masses. No laughing ‘friends’. I feel sick.
I hate her. She hates me. Why am I doing this?
Naina, turns to look at me. Her eyes are mocking. Oh my God, what am I doing. Am I stupid?! And for Her! My Nemesis, my personal Lady Macbeth!
Now, It would be so easy to just keep walking, to pretend I don’t intend to stop. But Anamika looks like she’s about to burst into tears and everyone’s looking, so I just take a deep breath and stop. They’re all watching me now. Naina raises her perfect eyebrows.
“I think you should just let it be… I mean, the Head just looked in, you know” I falter.
Evil Queen stirred. I look at her nervously.
“You have a problem?”
“Not really. Just that she’s new. Everyone new makes mistakes”
“Really? And you are?”
I hated her. She hated me. Why did I do that?
Because neither my hatred nor hers changed the fact that what was happening was so wrong. Was it a moral dilemma? Yes, a small one. More importantly, it was something that made me think. She doesn’t hate me any more. We mutually acknowledged each other every day. My story didn’t have a fairy-tale ending. I was ostracised for a month, but it got better.
And I was and still am glad I stopped what my conscience told me was wrong that day.