Written by Uswa Zainab
At a first superficial glance, the choice between the devil and the deep sea seems to be grossly unfair. For one thing, there is a stigma attached to the name of the devil. For this reason, human beings would like to play safe and be comfortable on the side of the accepted and conventional course. They would shun the devil-like poison. That grand old gentleman-the Devil, notwithstanding his bold adventures and exciting exploits, is said to have had a fall, displaying a singular lack of common sense in so experienced a figure. Man prefers to have a rise, and if that appears too ambitious, he at least wants to go steady. This being the case, the Devil starts with a handicap. The deep sea, on the other hand, brings to the mind visions of a vast expanse of calm, enchanting blue with green and golden fish playing hide-and-seek among the weird red sea-weed and golden-haired mermaids, finned and fair, playing on their harps and singing their sweet melodies. Only the sailors know the rough side of them. Then the sea also conjures up thrilling hopes (secret, of course, because there are so many modern realists around) of fabulous treasures and a magnificent wrecked Spanish galleon. The fact that a dead person will have all these things is dismissed as irrelevant and unromantic for the time being.
On closer examination, however, the odds in favour of the deep sea are not so great. Neither the fish nor the mermaids have been reported to know how to talk—at least not in Urdu or English—and a human being cannot stand silence. He must have some audience who can understand his incessant chatter. The presence of mermaids may even give rise to a grave situation – there may be an undeclared war among them to monopolize the attention of their lover. During meals, almost all the dishes would be various kinds of fish, and I do not like fish at all. Besides, they may not prove good for the figure.
The modern usage of the expression “Between the Devil and the Deep Sea” is for dangerous situations. There is not now the same emphasis on the type of danger – spiritual or material – as there used to be in the past ages of religious belief. Perhaps this is so because it is such a long time since the Fall of the Angel occurred, and time being a great healer man has reconciled himself to this fall. It is also possible that man may have discord a psychological reason behind the Devil’s behaviour. If the Devil is a psychic case, he needs sympathy rather than rejection and deserves acquittal on the grounds of insanity. Whatever the reason, the idiom has become so common that a boy who apprehends punishment from his teacher for not doing his homework or a boy who is afraid of missing his favourite television programme, claims that he is caught “between the devil and the deep sea.”
Fundamentally, however, on deeper reflection, the idiom means a choice between spiritual hurt and physical hurt—whether one is willing to undergo hardship rather than forsake one’s principles and values or one is willing to sacrifice one’s conscience and character to gain material advantages and physical comfort. Crudely speaking, it is a choice between the body and the soul. Whatever the case may be a sacrifice has to be made. An example of this dilemma would be the hard lot of a citizen who is in a position to unmask the corrupt activities of his influential boss. If he speaks out, he will lose his job, and if he keeps quiet, he will betray his own conscience. Another example is that of the poor man who is offered a bribe. If he refuses, his family starves; if he accepts, his soul is besmirched. In such and other cases like these, it is easier to side with the devil. One can even argue that the wise and profitable course would be to give in to the devil. Let the dangerous situation pass, and you can then undergo a dramatic change of heart, repent of your sin and stage a magnificent comeback to the ranks of the good. In this way, not only the original situation will be smoothly passed over but also there will be a greater gain for it has been said that there is more rejoicing in heaven over the return of one sinner than over ninety-nine who have never sinned. It will also be a noble act on the part of a penitent offender to give an occasion to the angels to have a happy time, especially in these days when the poor souls in heaven get only meagre chances to rejoice because of the hardened sinfulness of man. But people of character and conviction scrupulously refrain from treading the primrose path of yielding to temptation and firmly avoid all compromise with the devil. They realize that if only once they make a truck with the devil, he will never release them from his bondage. One should always remember that the devil clings very firmly to his votaries and has a compelling record of gripping his disciples forever.
Mental and spiritual agony is more challenging to bear than physical discomfort. A conscience at peace, a personality developing, expanding and reaching outwards to greater heights are the assets of human beings. There is no sacrifice worse than the sacrifice of self-respect and character. Once the personality starts slipping downwards, it is very difficult to avoid the abyss. The ruin of one’s soul is sure. Without entering into a theological discussion, the choice which is spiritually and ethically right is the choice to be preferred. Suffering, hardship, ridicule, discredit and even death – if all these things are undergone for upholding truth, justice, and honour, for defending self-respect and defeating evil, it is not a loss but a priceless gain to the personality. The dynamic Kashmiri had a choice like Sheikh Abdullah and so many others before him, between conforming to India’s political ideas and betraying his people or suffering in the service of truth and justice. If they had chosen the former path, they would have been given riches and a high position—he had only to agree with whatever India said. They did not choose the devil. They preferred to remain loyal to his cause, and most of them is being tortured brutally by the Indians. But they have not betrayed his people. We salute them with tears and pride.
A strong, developed personality is capable of climbing miraculous heights. It is better to drown physically with one’s soul and character intact than to burn in hell-fire forever. The deep-sea is preferable to the devil.
About the writer:
Miss Uswa Zainab is an apt student of Sir Syed Kazim Ali, one of the distinguished grammarians in the contemporary world. She has gone through his 4-month course on Freelance Creative English Writing and Basic to Advanced Grammar. Pursuing graduation in the field of computer science and studies in English writing, she relishes writing articles and blogs on diverse themes: academic articles – everyday science, current affairs – and creative blogs – technology, beauty, fashion, entertainment, etc.
Name of the Student: Miss Uswa Zainab
Total Articles/Blogs: 11
English Coach: Sir Syed Kazim Ali
Course Taken: Creative English Writing & Article Writing
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