Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Devil and the Intellectual

The young man was hunched over his book when he felt that somebody was standing behind him.

He turned slowly around and nearly emptied his chair with terror.

"Have no fear," came the deep-sounding reassurance. "I come as a friend." And this was performed with a bow.

The young man sat down and stared. The figure before him was that of a very handsome man in his mid-thirties; however, he wore a suit and jacket on a very hot and humid day, and his shoes seemed to conceal a hairy foot; he also wore a cap, which had two projections. A sharp arrow sneaked out from his trouser-leg and wagged at times.

"What...what...do you want?"

"Want? Why nothing. I'm here to give you everything YOU want. And I know what you want."

"What do I want?"

"You want your family to be proud of you, you want to do your PhD at a renowned western university, you then wish to come back and be an outstanding intellectual, fawned upon by both locals and foreigners alike....Need I go on?"

"How do you know all this?"

"There's very little I don't know, though I don't know everything" - he looked up with a frown - "unlike Him."

"You're not the devil, are you?" The young man looked at him out of the corner of his eyes.

"Why, a modern young man like you surely doesn't believe in the Devil, or in God, or Heaven and Hell, and all that rubbish, surely!"

The young man's vanity was wounded, and he drew in his chin. "No, of course not!"

"Or the soul?"


"Good! Then you won't mind signing this paper, surely."

"What am I signing?"

"For everything you desire on this earth, you will give me your eternal soul."

"That's rubbish, like you said, and I'm not signing anything."

"Can your parents afford to teach you at Harvard?"

He became quiet and thoughtful.

"No! You know they can't. They have the middle-class problem. They want the best, but can't afford it."

"If I sign that stupid paper, then I'll study at Harvard?"

"Certainly! And other places you would care to visit."

"Gimme the pen. What have I got to lose?"

Then he signed on the dotted line.

He was hailed as a prodigy at Dhaka University.He electrified the students' union with talk of freedom and democracy. All eyes were on him as he flew to the USA. He outdid the finest students at Harvard,finished his PhD and came back to be a teacher. His parents beamed.

He was courted far and wide. He was always jetting off to some grand conference with the most eminent people in the world. Prizes and honours were heaped upon him. He married a brilliant academic and the two had brilliant children and they had brilliant children....

Of course, the first year after signing the document, he had forgotten all about it and he attributed every achievement to his own intellect. He recalled the contact, however, one day - on his death-bed.

He knew he hadn't long to live. The newspapers had been full of reports about his ill health. Heads of state and academics from famous universities hoped for his recovery.

"I remember you!" he said, lifting a trembling, wrinkled finger.

"Yes, I thought you would," said the handsome man with the tail, and the horns and the hoofs. This time he had come in puris naturalibus. He waved the contract.

"Then it was you all along who was responsible for all my greatness."

"How vain is humankind," smiled the Devil. "How vain are Bangladeshis, and how forgetful."

"And now you want...." The word was too terrible to utter. He saw his life flash before him. All the evil he had done, all the young lives he had ruined with his hypocrisy, all the stuff he had written to please people, all the lies he had uttered, all the ruin he had brought upon his country, all the men and women who had died or were raped as a consequence of his policies...all, all had been directed towards one end by this being standing before him. Evil.

"Your soul," finished the devil.

The last words that his auditors recalled where: "What have I done!"

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