Bringing out the best and worse out of people h

January 19, 2014

Not very long ago. I overheard a land broker from the East recounting to others in the kopitiam – how a Singaporean couple who had just started an orchid business only last year had decided to throw in the towel and move back to Singapore.

I knew something was amiss. As even from my rudimentary understanding of people do not start enterprises only to wind up in less than a year. Something is very wrong…..

After making a round of discreet enquiries. A disturbing picture began to emerge. I gathered this couple were having trouble establishing their business – as since they were city folk, many villagers seem only to be interested in taking advantage of them – coupled to this sad state of affairs the local pocket gangster had been making all sorts of unreasonable request on this poor couple and I can only imagine this must have all added up for the couple to conclude, it may be a better idea to sell their land and for the man to return back to Singapore and drive a taxi.

One day I decided to drive to the East and take a look at the parcel of land that was put up for sale by this Singaporean and his Malaysian wife – hardly had I arrived, a curious village elder asked politely what had brought me here – I simply told him, I heard recently in the grapevine a Singaporean couple has decided to put up their lands for sale and I might be interested – he went on to ask in a concerned tone, but this is so far from where you…. I simply turned to him and said, yes it is always like this in the very beginning when one considers settling in a new place for the very first time….But I am sure with time, everything will come together very nicely.

That same afternoon, I paid a visit to a seafood restaurant where the local gangster and his clique hung out in. Again someone asked curiously – what has brought me here…is it business or pleasure? Again, I told them all…I heard recently in the grapevine, a singaporean couple has decided to put up their lands for sale and I might be I interested – he went on to ask, but this piece of land is so far from where you are based…surely, you have no plans to expand your business here…again I replied… yes it is always like this in the very beginning when one considers settling in a new place for the very first time…but I am very sure with time, everything will come together very nicely….

In the evening, I went down to the Kuan Yin temple and played a few hands of mahjong with the elders of the village – again someone asked curiously – what has brought me here….Again, I told them all…I heard recently in the grapevine, a singaporean couple has decided to put up their lands for sale and I might be I interested – he went on to ask, but this piece of land is so far from where you are based….again I replied… yes it is always like this in the very beginning when one considers settling in a new place for the very first time…but I am very sure with time, everything will come together very nicely….

One week later I received news from the land broker -the Singaporean couple had changed their mind – apparently the husband had decided to stay – it seems the entire village after experiencing a rare moment of epiphany was now under the belief a malevolent spirit was about to descend upon them like a screaming falcon – even local amulet seller has been experiencing a spike in sales – so in their attempt to ward off evil, they have all united and collectively undertaken to see to it the business of this Singaporean couple becomes a thriving success – even the local kingpin who once exacted tribute from this couple seems to be helping them out by offering free and unlimited lorry services on the condition they retract their standing offer to put their lands up for sale…. when I asked the land broker why have things taken such a bizarre turn of events and what could possibly account for sudden change of heart of the villagers….he whispered in hush tones, it might have something to do with the devil who had recently paid them all a courtesy visit and even expressed an interest to relocate to their village…though the story remains patchy it seems the villagers were under no illusions the devil was out to wreck havoc and the last thing they wanted was to allow him to put so much as one foot into their door way.

When I heard the land broker recount this bizarre story. I simply expressed in a resigned tone – it seems superstition is still rife in the kampungs and it was indeed most unfortunate the Singaporean couple had decided not to sell their lands…


“To me there is no such thing as a good or bad, amoral or moral, faithful or unfaithful, responsible or irresponsible man – as how a man ultimately comes across to you and me is really a function of what he has to regularly put up with in life – people I reckon, cannot be so different for angular stones that tumble and roll down a mountainous stream – their character is not static, rather it is constantly shaped by people, events and circumstances. So when I see a man who is ruthless and unforgiving – I cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness and even camaraderie with such a man who everyone seems to fear and secretly loath.

As I know only too well, that is because life must have exacted such a heavy toll on this man’s humanity, reasonableness and goodness that he is really only a victim of circumstances.

Unfortunately,when I speak along such lines many people roll their eyes and say that I am confecting lies to explain away the likes of serial killers, mass murderers, dictators etc etc.

I assure you all. Nothing could be further from the truth. As where I turn the wheel of life as a farmer – the idea of the devil is a very real construct. Unlike in the city, where the idea of devil is really only a distant abstraction. Neither does this notion have anything to do with the Western conception of some malevolent being who goes around peddling bent contractual agreements in exchange for the souls of the unassuming either – as in the kampung, when a man is called a devil. It simply means, he is supposed to go to that other unmentionable side that no one dares to speak of. But due to a fluke of fate and destiny, he has somehow missed the bus and is stuck with the living. So the devil is really quite an odd character in the pantheon of spirits that occupy the psyche of those who live in the kampungs.

To many, he is the intercessor of heaven and earth. While to others, he is a facilitator who is able to commune with that other world.

And this leads us to ask the practical question: how does one become such a mythical being?

It seems there are numerous accounts depending on the number of tiger beer bottles emptied. But I for one know of one reliable way. It involved the sad story of the man who all consider the devil. But this boy was not always the devil. As in the very beginning when he first appeared in these parts, he was just a simple boy who wanted to do nothing except plant row after row of palms – one day evil and greedy landowner reckoned he was easy meat. They descended on him on one moonless night and some say he was hacked to death – but the following day, this boy was seen walking down the hill…whole and complete…only now, he was a very different sort of man – he was very hard, ruthless and cruel unlike his previous self and so many of the villagers surmised, this man must have died and was probably reincarnated into this malevolent being – how else can one supply an explanation as to why he was so different from that other person. And since then, everyone in this village has had to live as best they can with this fellow who seems so diabolically cunning that he can even raid other people’s land with impunity. I do not believe it is very fun for the villagers to live with this restless spirit as since he appeared in their midst, they all seem to be like a bunch of shivering rabbits before a poisonous cobra…but never forget, he was not always like this….he was a man before….but this man was killed by gangsters and now only this other being exist who everyone considers the devil.

In this respect the kampung interpretation of the devil is very karmic when compared to it’s western counterpart who closely resembles an errand insurance salesman who is just interested in gaining a pecuniary interest by hoodwinking mankind with his cunningness – while in the context of the kampung – the devil is a being that is fashioned from the hand of evil people.

This is the reason why whenever I see people trying to take advantage of the unassuming – I always tell them in the kampung, treat others the way, you like to be treated and I cap this stricture with “as what goes around comes around….” As this is just another way of saying, do not call upon the devil to pay you a visit.

In the kampung parlance this simply means, don’t stir up shit, if you don’t want to be covered in shit!

That is why, I believe it is so important to be straight forward, above board and thoughtful of others, especially those who harbour a very naive world view – as when one adopts this sort of attitude, then if this person who you were once kind and gentle too succeeds in life – the chances are, he or she will probably believe wholeheartedly in the idea of goodness and this person will also help others – as since he himself is a direct beneficiary of goodness. This person can only be good.

But if all one can do is take advantage, double cross, disappoint and hurt others – then I hope this man who has been transgressed meets either an unnatural death or ends up a bankrupt. As, if this man manages to succeeds despite all the roadblocks put up against him. Then I do not believe this man will ever attribute his success to the idea of goodness…instead he will be a monster….and he will inflict the same misery that he himself had to go through on others. Neither will he have any qualms taking, taking and just taking either…to use and even abuse…as in this man’s sad history…no one ever showed him one shred of kindness or for that matter thoughtfulness…so how is it possible for this man who has never ever received charity before possibly give? It is not possible – as for a man to learn how to give, he must first be given too – otherwise, this man will just take, take, take and take. But that is not the worse part…the real tragedy is when this man who has never once known kindness before stands before those who were once innocent like himself…..even then he can do nothing except take from them as well…this is the psychology of the abuser…he was once a victim of abuse himself…that is why I always tell people, if you cannot do anything genuinely good for others, then it is best not to do anything at all and just shut up and behave like a door knob. If you have nothing good to say of others, again it’s best to bite your tongue and keep quiet. And if you yourself cannot bring relief, comfort and happiness to others, then don’t cause them grief and sadness…. Because when people are not mindful of the karmic law or choose to believe this is Buddhist mumbo jumbo when it is really only the law of cause and effect – then they should not be too surprised one day, if all one can do is sow the seeds of discord, create enmity and fan hatred…don’t be surprised is these same people create monsters who will come back and take, take and take away from them as well.

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