On the Horns of a Dilemma

This is a rather weird question to start with but let me ask it anyway. Where would you rather be–on the horns of a bull or the horns of a dilemma? I guess both can be equally painful in different ways and different places.

Life is one endless stream of decisions. From the first one of the morning as to which side of the bed to get out of, to whether to shower or use the tub, whether to wear the striped undies or the check ones, whether they should be Jockey or Hanes (the MNCs have got into our underwear too), it’s decisions, decisions, decisions. I joke a bit about the issues mentioned, but there are many times when decision-making is not easy and differing facts point you in diametrically opposite directions. Another way to put it is to say we are required to tackle dilemmas ever so often.

The word dilemma originally had a meaning quite different from what is understood today. In its original context, a person confronted with a dilemma would lose regardless of whichever option he chose. The example of John Morton, Lord Chancellor to Henry VII, is often quoted to show what became known as Morton’s Fork. The Lord Chancellor would contact rich people for contributions to the King’s coffers. If they were big spenders, they would have money to give to Henry VII. If they were not big spenders, they would have large savings and could therefore afford to give to the King. Either way, they were forced to fork up or fork off.

Here are some real-life dilemmas. See which of the options you would choose, given of course that you had no recourse to alternatives other than those suggested.


Image Courtesy Greenpeace India
Image Courtesy Greenpeace India

Dilemma 1 : Of Tatas and Turtles

 What do you say about a man who is inspired to make the world’s lowest price car when he sees a family of four riding on a scooter? And what do you think about the same man when he sees nothing wrong in setting up the infamous Dhamra port on India’s west coast right in the vicinity of the only place in India where the endangered Olive Ridley turtle breeds?  Could he or his minions not have located the port some distance away? His name is Ratan Tata and he is credited with the launch of the Nano, the world’s lowest-price car.

Horns of Dilemma—Tatas or Turtles

Who would you vote for, Tata of the low-priced Nano fame which empowers people to move up from two-wheelers to four, or the turtle who cannot fight for itself and who travels thousands of miles to return to the same sands where it took birth so that it can propagate its species?

Dilemma 2 : The Joggers Park

 A coconut seller is my economic barometer. From his sales, I can take a guess at the state of the economy. He parks his humble handcart outside the gate of the park where I exercise every evening. His is a simple, self-powered, non-polluting, no credit risk business. Perhaps not simple, as like any other business it involves hard decisions on purchasing, stock levels, minimising perishable goods losses, pricing and competition (there is another coconut seller standing next to my barometer).

But there is another challenge bigger than these, way beyond his control. And that is the Pune Municipal Corporation.  This body is supposed to be the controller of Pune’s civic amenities.  My coconut seller needs a license from the Corporation to use a handcart to peddle coconuts legally. The Catch-22 is that the Corporation has stopped issuing licenses in order to control what could become a situation where cart pullers overwhelm traffic that is already moving at a snail’s pace.  

 So here he is, an old man, trying to earn an honest living, forced by the capricious ways of government to resort to somewhat illegal means. A large number of cart pullers like my friend are forced to ply their trade on the fringes of the law. Periodically, a police van comes along, and confiscates the carts. A fine of Rs 500 ($ 10) which totals a week’s earnings is levied if the puller wants his handcart back. The process takes a couple of days or three, which adds to his loss of earnings.

Horns of Dilemma - Coconut Seller or Corporation

Who would you vote for, the Pune Municipal Corporation which is trying to keep the city clean and the traffic moving or the coconut seller trying to make an honest living?

Photo Courtesy Niteesh Krishnamurti
Photo Courtesy Niteesh Krishnamurti

Dilemma 3 : Gando Baval and Poverty

In the Western state of Gujarat in India, a wild, quick-growing bush called Gando Baval was introduced to stop the spread of the Thar Desert into the Great Rann of Kutch. In the process, it exterminated the local plant--Meetha Baval--which used to provide gum and wood for furniture making. The rapid spread of the Gando Baval has forced the government to allow the cutting of the bush.

The Gando Baval, which can be burnt to make charcoal, has in the course of time, become a major and in many cases the only source of income for the impoverished souls living in these areas. Unfortunately charcoal-making involves inhalation of huge amounts of smoke which causes respiratory and eye diseases. The environment is also adversely affected by the release of carbon dioxide into the air.

Horns of Dilemma - Gando Baval and Poverty

What would you vote for, to allow the Gando Baval to continue spreading and giving income to the needy while harming the individual’s health and the environment or eliminate this bush altogether thereby remove a source of income for the poor and needy?

Women and Gando Baval

Image Courtesy
Image Courtesy

Gando Baval and the Making of Charcoal

Dilemma 4 : Dictatorship, Democracy and Development

China is often touted as the model for developing nations. Visitors gape at the economic miracle of spanking new airports and roads and highrises which rival anything in the developed world. What is often forgotten is the human cost. How many lives have been lost, how many homes destroyed? Tiananmen Square lies forgotten in the glory and glitz.

In China, I believe that if it is deemed necessary by the powers that be that a road be constructed through your living room, so be it. There is no recourse regardless of the fact that both your father and your father’s father sat and smoked in that very room. I am willing to believe that any active objection would probably be met with a bullet.

In India, building a road through someone’s living room would mean an immediate stay from a court. This would undoubtedly delay the project, but it would also safeguard the individual’s rights against the whims of a callous government.

 China’s dismal human rights record is offset by the brilliant economic statistics it produces as well as the markets it opens to the Western Business Machine. Till the 80s, both Asian giants were languishing. Since then China has outpaced India, increasing per capita income by over 8% annually compared to India’s 4%. By 2007, average Chinese incomes were twice those of Indians on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) basis, and the number of people below the extreme poverty line (defined as less than US$ 1.25 per day) had dropped to 16% compared to 40% in India.

Horns of Dilemma - Development or Freedom

What would you rather be, a prosperous Chinese with little familiarity with the word freedom or a less prosperous Indian aware of his democratic rights and comparatively unlimited freedom?

To me, life is full of grey, figuratively speaking. There is very little that is starkly black or white. Dilemmas are so much a part of human existence. Even murderers and rapists and religious fundamentalists have followers who find justification for the vile beliefs and acts of these societal freaks and weirdos.

There are times when I feel I would much rather just stay in bed. But let me first decide whether I am already in bed or about to get into it, whether to wear my striped underwear or the check ones and which side of the bed to get in from or out of. Ah decisions, decisions, decisions.

A lot of the credit for this Hub must go to Sally's Trove for her eagle eye and incredible insights into the world of writing. My sincere thanks.

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Comments 23 comments

Sharing Insight profile image

Sharing Insight 7 years ago

Bravo and how great to read yet again such an intelligent, amazingly witted, poignant hub first thing in the am...Sabu, what a gem you are to Hubpages and to the world...!

Thanks for the usual effect you have on me which is...How interesting! -along with- putting the biggest smile upon my face...sometimes making me laugh out loud too...

I appreciate you dearly...

Continued success...:D


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Great job summarizing important issues and describing the dilemmas they present. If everyone could put this critical effort into analyzing issues in order to come to decisions, the world would be a much better place.

As always, it's a pleasure to work with you, Sabu. Thank you for the kind mention.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you for your appreciative words Sharing Insight. It feels so good to have someone like what you write. My thanks.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

And thank you too, dear Sally's Trove. You add a lot of value to my efforts.


doc snow 7 years ago

Thanks, Sabu!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

What a wonderful look at the shades of grey, Sabu - in the horns of a dilemma indeed - which decision to take is anyone's question. Great read!


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you for reading Doc Snow.

And Shalini, to you, my first fan, it is always a pleasure to know you have read and liked my Hub. Thank you ever so much.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

This is a thought-provoking and well written Hub. Thanks.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you for reading and commenting Ralph.


Connie Smith profile image

Connie Smith 7 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

As usual, Sabu, this article is brilliant. For my take, the turtle comes first. Tata is not going to quit producing cars, no matter what. Two is a bit more difficult as we can see the need to regulate, but is it really impeding traffic and also, is there another place to peddle coconuts that is still issuing permits and is also a place that the peddler can still make a living at? Three also is questionable in that the people need to make a living so I am wondering if there is a solution to that problem as in pooling money together as a collective (a group that works independently but puts resources together for the common good) for ovens that filter the smoke away from the people who are burning the bush. As you know, I do worry about the environment, but is this enterprise causing as much pollution as the mass production of the Tata? These are also dilemmas for me as I do not know the answer. Four is easy, at least for me. I would rather starve in a democracy than get fat in a dictatorship.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Connie, I am most grateful for your kind remark.

Personally, I couldn't agree with you more as far as the turtle and democracy are concerned. Just to clarify, the issue as far as the Tatas are concerned is the Dhamra Port which is under construction. Will the Tatas quit the Port or will they continue steaming ahead? I fear it will be the latter. Even Greenpeace seems to have accepted this as a fait accompli.

As you can see, I have "slimily" inserted a little clause which says you have no recourse to any other option. So if you had to choose between the alternatives given for nos 2 and 3, what would you choose? Just to see how far our wavelengths match.


Connie Smith profile image

Connie Smith 7 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

I think I had not read the cart puller's situation clearly. The first time, I thought he needed a license to sell his coconuts at a specific place -- the park entrance. I believe, after reading it (several more times) that he needs a license to pull his cart, which is not being issued anymore. Though I feel for the cart puller, I believe that the city has the rights here. We have this same problem in America in which people have tried to make a living using carts to sell food. Here, one must have a business license to sell and usually, it is in a specific location that the vendor must operate. For the good of all, Pune has decided the cart puller cannot operate. While we feel sorry for your friend, by continuing to operate, he is still making SOME money, which is better than no money. In a large city, we have to have some kind of law and order. Of course, I am not familiar with your city to know if the traffic is indeed being disrupted. If that is the case, I must go with the city. Your friend will continue to operate until the fines outweigh his profits. (I hope that last bit was not cheating :)

For the next one, it is easier. I believe that the people are doing a service by removing some of the bush and should continue to do so. As you said, it is, in some cases, their only source of income. The fact that it is not good for their health does not outweigh the fact that starving is worse for their health. I also doubt that the carbon dioxide is worse for the air in general than any of the big factories or the Tata which is being mass produced. I think they should be allowed to continue. My grandfather was a coal miner, which is a very dangerous job and also bad for the respiratory system. Still, though he knew it was bad for his health, his family's needs came first and so he continued, never knowing when he went into the mine if he was going to come out or if there would be a cave-in. He risked his life and sacrificed his health for his family, which is the same as these people are doing. The fact that coal was and is bad for the air quality was not really an issue then, but today, though it is, there is still coal being mined and miners out there risking their lives and their health for their families. Still, I do hate to see the small children being exposed to it and hope that they find another way or, at least, figure out a way to keep the children away from the smoke.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Brilliantly put Connie. Honestly, for me the dilemma continues. Much easier for me to decide whether to wear Jockey or Hanes, lol.


Connie Smith profile image

Connie Smith 7 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

Thank you, Sabu. I really enjoyed trying to use logic and reasoning skills to make sense of these problems. (My brain needed some exercise lol) Unfortunatey, you did not then let me know if our "wavelengths" matched. To add insult to injury,as the Michael Jordan commercial here asks, I do not know even know if those Jockeys or Hanes are boxers or briefs. LOL


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

Ordinary decisions are hard enough to make without getting embroiled in greater dilemmas! But, you make us think sabu, and that's always a good thing! :)


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you Connie. As witty as ever.

And thank you FP. I follow some sage's advice - leave all the small decisions to your wife - which house to buy, when to sell the car etc etc. I handle the big ones - Kashmir, the drought and so on and so forth lol.


jiberish profile image

jiberish 7 years ago from florida

Fascinating, and very thought provoking.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you for your kind words Jiberish.


anjalichugh profile image

anjalichugh 7 years ago from New York

Very interesting analysis! You brought to surface so many simple, yet grave, issues which we overlook in our daily lives. You've got an eye for detail. There is so much happening around us where one person's loss turns out to be a blessing for the other. What to do and what not to do...each one of us faces dilemma before we finally take any action. It's ultimately a matter of 'making choices' I suppose. I loved reading thru.


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thanks Anjali. You are absolutely right. It is all about making choices.


LRobbins profile image

LRobbins 7 years ago from Germany

Extremely well written and insightful Sabu. It also makes you think about seeing things from a different perspective since as you've mentioned most things are not black and white. Re: the Tatas vs the Turtles, I'm rooting for the turtles!


cashmere profile image

cashmere 7 years ago from India

I am amazed at your insight and the horns are prickly. True every choice we make is a choice between lesser evils. But who is to decide which is the lesser evil?


sabu singh profile image

sabu singh 7 years ago Author

Thank you for your comments Cashmere as also your good wishes on my getting to the 100th fan figure. Almost feel like Sachin Tendulkar lol.

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