We had Dr. Shashi Tharoor visiting our campus a few weeks ago, during our cultural festival Pearl. The turnout for his session was huge, with even the laziest of students abandoning their rooms and trudging all the way to the auditorium an hour in advance and hunting for decent seats. Among the various topics that he spoke about, the one that struck me most was his demand for an apology from Britain for the atrocities committed against Indians during their colonial rule.
There are multiple reasons for why this is a good idea; how an apology from, say, the Queen, on the anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, could possibly change a lot of things. It could bring a sense of justice, closure, some sort of retribution maybe. But then again, would it really affect anything? And even if it were to, are we even eligible to demand an apology?
There is a story in the Bible, which throws light upon this question. A woman is about to be stoned for immoral activities, when Jesus calls for the one without sin to cast the first stone, following which everyone leaves. If we stand up and raise our voices to condemn, we must first examine ourselves. None of us are truly innocent, no nation has a clean record, and thus, it would seem hypocritical to ask for an apology. If one was to argue further that the extent of the Britisher’s atrocities were extreme, another question to be answered would be, who decides which act is atrocious enough to be condemned or apologised for?
Moreover, to whom do the Britishers owe an apology? To the Indian government? To the people of India? Or should their apology be addressed to the departed souls of those who suffered at their hands?
The concept of asking for an apology is, surprisingly, not as simple as it seems. This is a conclusion I have come to after almost a decade of observing how actions or words affect people to different extents and their subsequent expectations from the person who has supposedly wronged them.
My earliest memory pertaining to this topic is when I was barely 10, and in the midst of an argument with my mother. I probably said something along the lines of “what yaar, you never understand what I’m trying to say” to her. After the discussion had reached its natural end, my father lectured me on my usage of “disrespectful” language with my mother and demanded that I apologise to her. Something little 10-year-old me refused to do. The logic that I offered then was that if my mother had no objection to the way I had spoken to her, why must I have to apologise? Had I spoken to my father in a similar fashion and had he been hurt by my words, yes, I would apologise. But who is a third person to dictate how I must behave with someone, especially if that particular person has no objections? One can argue, of course, that in this case, the fault did lie with me and that my father had every right to say that, but that isn’t really the point I’m trying to make here.
The contrasting line of thought is that no matter your intentions, if you realise that you’ve hurt someone, you apologise to them. Period. Now, whether you meant something as a joke, or it’s the other person being extremely sensitive, the moment it comes to your notice that your actions or words have caused pain, you ask for forgiveness.
And then there’s the whole “say sorry only if you genuinely mean it” angle to this as well. The movie ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ has a scene where Hrithik Roshan tells Farhan Akhtar, “maafi sirf tab maangna jab dil se aaye” (ask for an apology only when it comes from within). A half-hearted apology is probably worse than no apology, if you really think about it, because you’re just apologising for the sake of it.
Personally, I think that it’s never acceptable to hurt someone and not atone for our actions or words. Sometimes we don’t want to hurt someone but we end up doing precisely that. And the knowledge that we have caused unnecessary pain to someone should be enough to make us want to mean the apology. Hence, not only do you apologise even though it’s not entirely your fault, but you also mean it.
An apology doesn’t make you the smaller person. It doesn’t make you the “submissive” person in any relationship. It doesn’t make you someone who always adjusts for others, or someone who can be pushed around. It’s never too late. Of course, it makes more sense to apologise as soon as you realise your mistake, but honestly, a late apology is better than none. So go on and say that magic word, after all, what goes around, comes around.