One would expect to meet the devil in ‘thunder, lightning and rain’ but it was on a sunny day on the beach that I met Mr Lived (he pronounced it Lee-Wed). It was during the course of a pleasant chat with him, over ginger ale, that he told me that his name, spelled backward, means Devil, and assured me that that was indeed his true vocation.
What surprised me was his attitude. He was far from apologetic. With all the bad press that he got, one would have expected the Devil to be a little cagey and defensive, but I found him comfortable and relaxed about the entire image thing.
“After a while you do not give a damn,” he said. “You see it hardly matters what is written about you, people know better.”
“That you are not bad after all?” I asked.
“No, not that. That my being bad does not matter to them unless I am bad with them,” he said.
“You mean with people it is the famous ‘your soul for riches’ deal?”
He laughed, “All that is a myth. It is not that. People just see whether you are successful or not. They do not worry over how you get your success. People have become amoral actually,” he said.
“Yes and I see that you are not getting too much of bad publicity either these days,” I mused.
“If you had lived as long as I have, you would not have said ‘these days’ – it has been so always. Those who write history have not been too kind with me – they somehow shy away from the fact that I have ruled always. In fact I do not remember a time when one of my stooges has not been in power. Some of the shrewd ones just managed to sustain an anti-devil image,” he said and sighed whimsically.
“And that bothers you?” I asked.
“Not much. I realize you can’t have everything. I have had power, and acolytes, but not friends and well wishers,” he said.
“You have power, wealth, class, a comfortable and unending life – what more does one want to be happy? If it works, it should be good enough for you,” I agreed.
“Now you have got it all wrong. Where has this happy thing come from?” he asked, his mood changing.
“Aren’t you? I mean what more does one need to be happy?” I said, confused.
His scowl passed as fast as it had come, and he grinned, “This is the key, the nub, the crux. I can tell you, not that you would believe me, that I have never been happy, and that none of my stooges and admirers and followers have been happy, or can be happy. Happiness is not a part of the deal.”
“But those who don’t have power etcetera are also not happy, so that way maybe it does not matter?” I asked, hesitatingly.
Lived looked long and hard at me, sipping his ginger ale slowly. Was he struggling to answer that or was he wondering whether I should be told or not?
“There are many types of unhappiness. Aspiring for something and not getting it is a type of misery that is induced by me – it is a motivational tool. Misery that I cause because of greed, hatred and violence is a different type of unhappiness, again my creation. But the misery of knowing that one has failed in spite of all the successes is a curse. It is an acid that burns inside, and all the while one wonders why it should matter. This unhappiness surpasses all others – for there is no one to put the blame on.”
I had no clue what he was talking about. “It is lonely at the top, a successful man does not have friends, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven and all that I have heard. But given a choice I would rather choose this unhappiness over the others,” I said vehemently.
“As do most of the people,” agreed Lived, “And that is why I have more followers than any other ‘leader’.”
I think he was avoiding the word God, though I am not sure what his relation with God is. I hesitated in bringing up that sensitive issue, and instead asked, “Are forces opposing you are also actively working in society? I mean do you have enemies?”
“Now those are two separate questions, not one. If you are referring to the existence of God, then I confess I do not know. I am hardly likely to be the one God would give audience to, if He exists. And about enemies – yes I do. I deal in the business of enmity. For me it is a clear ‘either you are with me or you are against me’. I pride myself in being a bitter enemy. How else would I be able to sustain my terror?”
This dialogue with the devil was messing up my thoughts. This gentle person did not look capable of having bitter feelings about anyone, and I said so. “You don’t look too terrifying or bad,” I said.
“Again that is a part and parcel of being a devil. Propagandists have painted me in terrible attire and colour, while I have always been classy and mild mannered. You had that aptly named movie remember – The Devil wears Prada? Some of the worst scourges of mankind have not been Attila or Hitler (though they were not bad, as far as classiness goes, I can tell you), the real ‘devils’ have been much more gentle and ‘honorable’ men. I would not take names, but do think of the names of those who have sent men for the wars and caused poverty and misery in the name of their ideologies.”
His devilish answer could have been to shake my faith in all that I consider good, and so I was on my guard. “How do you recognize who is on your side?”
“The motives. I look at the motives. Those who work only for themselves, even to the detriment of the interests and feelings of others, are in my league. Those who waver in doing so, those who would rather come second than hurt others, are the one who need to be motivated. And those who refuse to understand despite my efforts, are my enemies,” he tried to clarify, though not with much success.
“I cannot understand you, so does that make me your enemy?” I asked, half in jest.
“I would think so,” he said, smiling kindly.