Crime and Punishment

by Anita Menon

I read this elaborate novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky during my final semester of Engineering in 2002. What struck me most was the perfect symmetry of the story. A definite beginning, middle and an end. This impression of the novel I carried for so long and now I am reminded of it once again for completely different reasons. If you haven’t read the novel then I urge you to read it with a lot of patience and love. Years after I read it, I now realize how much of it I still carry in my heart and mind. I remember feeling the anguish of the protagonist Raskolnikov. The divide he felt for the wrong doing he was about to commit juxtaposed with the atonement that he sought for it.

Just to give you a gist of what this striking story is all about I have used an excerpt from wikipedia,
“An impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Raskolnikov argues that with the pawnbroker’s money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of a worthless parasite. He also commits this murder to test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of such things, and even have the right to do them. Several times throughout the novel, Raskolnikov justifies his actions by connecting himself mentally with Napoleon Bonaparte, believing that murder is permissible in pursuit of a higher purpose.”

From the look of it, it may seem like the protagonist is only but a antagonist or an anti-hero. But the author makes you sympathize with him and that is the beauty of Dostoyevsky’s writing. A lot of the novel I forget but the message I still remember strongly but not necessarily believe in it.

Now why have I embarked on this story telling spree, you may ask?

Being a parent / mother has placed me in this precarious situation so many times. It may rattle you, when you read this but I cannot help but compare my situation with that of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s character and what he must have felt while he was contemplating such a heinous crime. You have got to pardon my penchant for so much drama but this comparison is for a fair reason.

I was one of those mothers who was stubbornly sure about not using the stick to discipline my child. I, myself never cared for any discipline and hoped to be the easy going mother that people expected me to be. It served me well when Mimi was younger. I showered her with much love and care. Many a times I would turn a blind eye to any misbehavior treating it like an aberration. But soon those aberrations became a norm and I found myself heaving and panting after her, unable to do anything. I would raise my voice only during times when things completely got out of control but never raised my hand. Fretting and fuming inside did much damage and God knows my patience levels threatened to break records of all kinds. But one fine day, out of sheer frustration when the little imp was raising a havoc, I brought it to a stop by using my hand. Tears welled up in my daughter’s eyes more from the shock of the sudden reaction than the actual sting of the slap. I felt like my heart would break into a million pieces but the mind had already analysed the two things that were achieved : The havoc was interrupted and that the control was back in my hands ( literally).
My heart lamented the entire day and compensated for the action by a zealous onslaught of kisses. But the mind had learnt that things could be controlled by invoking fear of physical hurt in the subject at hand ( which was Mimi).
Suddenly, the pattern had reversed in a matter of few days. Whenever she refused to play by the rules, she got it from me. I justified my actions with the following :
1. By the immediate results of obedience that my actions commanded
2. By the ease of using my hand to control a supposedly uncontrollable situation
3. By quoting sayings such as “Spare the rod and Spoil the child”
4. By reminding myself of how growing up my brother an I did get an occasional whack or two and both of us turned out just fine

Funnily I realized that even with all the justifications, I did feel a compelling need to compensate. An extra helping of her favourite M&Ms, or cookies or an extended hour of her favourite tv programme etc. The more easily I succumbed to the temptation of raising my hand, the compensations became larger, bigger and better. Somewhere the little imp realized that there was an upper hand to be gained by increasing the threshold of her tolerance. To keep up I had to increase the intensity which thereby intensified my guilt. This is where I feel like Dostoyevsky’s character. Torn and unhappy, I look for the higher purpose to be achieved by my lowly actions ( higher purpose in Mimi’s case being obedience and discipline). The equation kept spilling out of proportion and I knew in my heart that it had to stop. But by now it has become an automatic reaction and Mimi expects it. She uses it to develop new measures and ways to duck my attempts and the game continues. I know I have to stop it but I don’t know how.
The easiest thing would be to judge me but then I would request that you don’t because I am already doing a fantastic job of judging myself and feeling miserable. The other thing would be to condemn myself to some severe penance so that I am reminded that I shouldn’t react so sharply.

I feel that the protagonist got away with his crime by confessing and serving his term in Siberia. But I wonder what I can do to inhibit the vicious cycle that I have managed to start. I don’t think Dostoyevsky would have an answer to that!