Genes or environment

I was meeting Sharan probably after seven or eight years. She and I were studying together for a part-time course in one of the institutions in Chennai. I remembered her as a rich, brash, headstrong woman who flaunted her status and looked down upon people who were not so fortunate like her. She never concealed the fact of her hatred towards them, irrespective of their relationship/friendship and even refused to acknowledge their presence when she happened to meet them. I was surprised to see her greeting me with a warm smile and literally appearing pleased.

Hai, Sharan, what have you been doing all these days? I asked not failing to notice the marked difference not only in her appearance but her behaviour as well. She looked elegant in a simple starched cotton sari worn with minimum jewellery. The proud as a peacock look had given place to one of cordiality.

Probably, she too noticed me taking in the change in her because she said, I know, you must be wondering at the transformation, I am not like what I used to be. I have taken to social work in a serious way and have started enjoying working towards uplifting the poor and downtrodden, it gives me a lot of satisfaction.

I related the incident to my husband saying how environment played an important role in transforming a person’s thinking and attitude.

You are right, said he, and I was quite happy to see that he greed with me for once.

Suddenly, I recalled another incident of a person similar to her in many ways excepting that she specialised in social work but never was inclined towards it. On the other hand, her contempt for the poor and deserving had only increased! I cited her example to my husband and said I stood corrected as one couldn’t generalise the role played by environment vis a vis genes in transforming a person’s attitude and thinking because it depended more on the person – whether to be a round character or a flat character.

Probably you are right, echoed my husband. But some have an unequal influence of both. Don’t you think there is a standing example of this amidst us, he said.

Who? I asked.

You of course, as a journalist, you tend to ask a lot of inconvenient questions and are short-tempered just like your mother, he deliberated on the last word.

His statement left me speechless. I thought I had asked for it!

N Meera Raghavendra Rao

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