Saturday, June 09, 2007

Happy Endings

Which of these two stories will leave you more satisfied?

Story A: Early in his life, the hero is kidnapped from his father’s castle and abandoned in the forests. He is raised by wolves and later by gypsies. He does back-breaking work for 18 hours a day, barely manages to make ends meet and struggles through middle age. When he is 53 years old, he finds out that he was actually born to a king. Against incredible odds, he manages to claw his way back to the castle and regain the kingdom that was rightfully his. He rules for another 5 years and dies a happy, contended man.

Story B: The hero is born to rich parents. He has a terrific time right through his early years; he marries a beautiful girl; they have delightful kids; he builds on his father’s business that sees explosive growth over the next few decades. He is considered one of the most successful men of the era. Alas, when he is 78 years old, disruptive changes in the business environment take place, his enterprise collapses, his family deserts him and he dies bankrupt and a broken hearted man.

A survey published in The Guardian last year showed that an overwhelming majority of respondents preferred books with a happy ending. In fact, 12% of readers even wanted to reverse an unhappy event in a story as recent as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (Via)

But, why is it important that the ‘ending’ must be happy, independent of how the rest of the life story has been?

Suppose we were to look instead at the percentage of time in one’s lifetime that one has been happy? Take the Ramayana. Why do we conclude that Rama was better off, because he triumphed over Ravana finally? If you consider the years of misery that Rama went through, his long stint in the forests in pathetic conditions, the agonizing search for Sita and the final showdown, it will be reasonable to conclude that 75% of his lifetime was a washout, and he was happy for only 25% of his lifetime – possibly his childhood years and later the post-war years. Whereas, Ravana had a whale of a time all through his life, till about two days before the final battle .The lucky devil spent 99.8% of his life in complete bliss and reckless revelry. His tragic ending and beheading be damned.

Coming back to the examples provided at the beginning of this post, more people are likely to vote for Story A, rather than Story B. But, why?

The hero in Story A was happy for 10% of his life, whereas the hero in Story B was happy almost right through, say 98% of his lifetime.

So, would you rather be Hero A or Hero B?


ybr (alias ybrao a donkey) said...

Neat presentation.

Happiness and unhappiness are relative terms.

Ramayana is mythological and fictitious and not history. The whole story has been twisted to make Rama an ALL PERFECT HUMAN BEING, which is not he.

Even after his coronation, Rama made people unhappy.

Rama should have been happy while in forest with Lakshmana and Sita, before her kidnap. He was free from the burdens of Princes. He was enjoying marital bliss with his beloved for 13 years in the forest. The unhappiest fellow must have been Lakshmana and his wife Urmila. Lakshmana was under a self imposed bondage to Rama. Urmila was left out in Ayodhya to the care of her mother(s)-in-law. She was denied of her sexual and conjugal rights.

The billion dollar question is : Who is happy in Ramayana?
For insights into Ramayana, painstakingly analysed by me:
What I wrote will not appeal to people. I can guess that when or if they accidentally visit my blog, they will close their eyes, fold their hands in prayer to Rama and close the window.

2) People think that Vivekananda was the happiest Indian by the end of 19th Century, having promoted the cause of Hinduism. His life will neither come under story A or story B narrated by you. You may like to see:

dazedandconfused said...

Hero B. No question about it...

Raj said...

multisubj yb : swamiji, i just mentioned Ramayana in passing;I am no expert on the subject, though I have been told that my face resembles Hanuman's.

D&C : Good luck, hero B.

Unknown said...

When it comes to story telling, Disney is king. Accept no substitutes..

Did you know that disney changed the Little mermaid movie to have a happy ending instead of the original sad one by Hans Christian Anderson ?

Happy ending is good for everyone, including the box office!


Raj said...

Sundar, I agree everyone likes happy ending. My question was, "Why?".