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Despicable Imp - A Discourse on Loyalty

Updated on November 2, 2016
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Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler with an interest in etymology.

An Imp is for...

I am settling down to watch the season finale of Bates Motel, when the television screen crackles like the HBO title card. I press the remote control a few times, sighing at the misfortune of a possible malfunction. There is no one at home and I was hoping for some quality 'me' time.

"An Imp" comes a familiar voice from the TV, "is for life, not just for Christmas". I jump up, spilling the precious slug of Glenrothes I had just poured from the decanter to assist my imminent period of self indulgence.

There is this hiss of yellow green sulphurous smoke issuing from the TV. Instead of the delectable Vera Farmiga, it is the rather ugly countenance of Pandemonicum Grenvillard Woodimp that manifests from the screen. He seems to stretch the screen like rubber, jumps out in front of the TV and stands there surveying my domain like a diminutive Caesar contemplating the land he is about to conquer from the summit of a hill.

For those of you as yet unfamiliar with the Imp I would love to add some exposition here. But tips on good writing always insist that I show rather than tell.

"Ahoy there, partner!" hails the Imp, grinning from ear to ear. The Imps ears are set at a peculiar angle, which makes the grin bisect his face into two unpalatable halves. The whole, for that matter, is equally unpalatable. The leathery brown skin is textured like a weathered walnut and his beady eyes remind me of overripe blueberries. I wipe down the Scotch from my front and sigh. It has been so long since his last appearance that I had started to believe that I was cured of this ailment. For you see, the Imp only appears to me and is invisible to others. Which makes these conversations rather suspicious to the rest of the world. I do stress, dear reader, that my mental faculties are intact and I'm not suffering from undiagnosed psychosis. Nyuk, nyuk.

"Ailment, I ain't." the Imp waggles a twig like finger at me. "I am your salvation."

"You promised me that you wont read my mind."

"Hardly. I was merely inferring your thoughts from your rather bilious expression, dear boy. Did you miss me?"

"Like an abscess on my asscheek"

The Imp makes a sound like an extractor fan in disrepair. I seem to recall that as his chuckle.

"Thou dost protest much. I do know, however, that you have missed me." He shuffles across my living room and pours himself a generous measure of my Scotch, "It has been far too long. I apologise for not visiting sooner. My journey through the seventh dimension has given me many a pleasant memory but also resulted in an unsavoury imprisonment"

I lean back on the couch and wave him to a seat. "I know you are aching for me to ask why."

The Imp curls his three foot tall form into the armchair, tucks his tail in and stares at his glass as if looking for memories. "It's all a case of misplaced Loyalty, my friend. I was betrayed by a comely impette when I was temporarily incapacitated after a booty call"

Josaiah Royce - American objective philosopher 1855 - 1916
Josaiah Royce - American objective philosopher 1855 - 1916

The Etymology of Loyalty

In the 15th century, when the word loyalty originated, it was attributed to fidelity in love, service, or to an oath one has made. The archaic spelling of loyalty is loialty perhaps from the French loiauté,

Loyalty as faithfulness to a person, a country, a cause or a nation was usurped as a Feudal concept of Fealty. This largely resulted in philosophers ignoring Loyalty in their contemplations until the early 20th century. The American Philosopher Josiah Royce was the first to define and defend loyalty as a virtue in his book The Philosophy of Loyalty.

Is Loyalty an antiquated notion?

I shudder. The Imp does tend to get into far too much detail when describing his liaisons. It's not the detail that bothers me, but it is the imagery that is left behind in my mind.

"Never mind the tale," says the Imp much to my surprise, "I hear you are pondering the very subject of Loyalty for your monthly musings. Perhaps I could help you."

"I was fine before you arrived." I say, rather unkindly. To be fair, loyalty was like a slippery eel in a freshly moisturised hand. I couldn't quite grasp and contain it for my monthly perspectives theme.

"I", says the Imp after taking another sip, " I am the very personification of a loyal friend. I have always appeared to you in times of crisis, self doubt and any other such cognitive dissonances you seem to suffer from"

He is right. "Am I the only one you attend do in this manner? Or do you have other people you choose to annoy too?" I sound like a sulky girlfriend.

"Doc, I count you as my friend. I have no other human attachments in this domain. I do however have a string of talented Impettes as you know, with whom I have certain arrangements. I am loyal to each one of them, I hasten to add."

I wrinkle my nose. " That seems to a contradiction in terms. How can you be loyal to each of your Impettes?"

"A- ha. I rest my case. Your understanding of loyalty is perhaps too rudimentary. I do not expect a mere mortal of your tender age to have the wordly wisdom of someone who has lived through the ages like moi."

"Sounds like a philanderers excuse, you dirty rat."

The Imp sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. I use the term nose rather loosely as the Imps facial configuration seems to be have been designed by a drunken Picasso at his peak of creativity.

The Imp momentarily closes his eyes. His eyes open and I can see a steely glint in his overripe blueberries, "I see that you too have been poisoned by moral police. Come, come, dear boy, loyalty has far too long been utilised by devious dictators, pious preachers, sneering spouses, crafty companies, bullying bosses, tyrannical teachers and other such assorted scum to mislead others to achieve their own selfish needs. We need to redefine loyalty to the new millennium. I feel loyalty's very soul has been corrupted by the puritanical pen-pushers."

'Loyalty is a devotion to another person or a cause that is given freely and actively, not something that one is born into but something one acts out after consideration. Something wholehearted and wholesome...'


The Imp stands up, drains the glass of the remaining Scotch and wipes its rubbery lips. Such lip-wiping often is a sign of determination and an impending lecture. I refresh my glass and get comfortable on the couch. The Imp can be an annoying intruder but it does have the wisdom of the ancients tempered with a modern sensibility. I can spot a lesson coming.

The Imp snaps his finger and conjures up an electronic whiteboard in mid air, erasing any doubt in my mind that I was about to be given a didactic drumming. Much as I prefer a more interactive learning style, I am not averse to bit of powerpoint, especially when it is delivered by a short, hairy, ugly supernatural being with a tail. I did rather well in Biology and I am sure my teacher was one of those too.

The Imp waves its claw like hands in air, making the screen come to life. The letters L.O.Y.A.L.T.Y appear on the screen arranged vertically.

"Tell me, dear friend, what does loyalty mean to you?" The Imp waves his hand at the board and the letters wait as if in anticipation of more.

I clear my throat. I hadn't quite contemplated this at length. I may as well take a punt.

"A devotion to a person or a cause?"

The Imp grins. "Good. Would that person or a cause be one's own? Could it be forced?"

"No. It has to be directed externally and something given of our own free will"

"Could it be passive?"

"I don't feel it could be. Loyalty has to be actively practiced. It has to be not just a casual interest but a wholehearted dedication"

"A devotion to another person or a cause that is given freely and actively, not something that one is born into but something one acts out after consideration. Something wholehearted and wholesome. Does this sound like something else?"

"Quite." says the Imp, " Could one love without loyalty or be loyal without love? A profound question, dear boy."


I worry a strand of hair that falls over my forehead. "Perhaps. Is loyalty the same as love? Could one love without loyalty or be loyal without loving someone or something?"

The Imp snaps its fingers and the word 'LOVE' appears from the 'L' of loyalty on the white board.

"Quite." says the Imp, " could one love without loyalty or be loyal without love? a profound question, dear boy."

I feel quite good with myself for asking a 'profound question'. It's has been a while since I asked a profound question. Although some of my less philosophical friends thought ' How does that strapless dress stay up?' was profound, I think we can discount that.

"You said loyalty should not be forced. So is obedience loyalty?"

"I don't think so, obeying a law for fear of repercussion, a master for some reward, or a cause out of fear cannot be loyalty. As we said, it has to be of one's free will. It has to be owned by the person not by someone else."

"A-ha." The Imp jumps and claps its hands. The word 'OBEDIENCE' appears first after the 'O' and then in a neat bit of graphics erases itself and is replaced by 'OWNERSHIP'

'Under loves heavy burden do I sink...'


"So one has to own one's loyalty, not ascribe it to coercion, force or even fear..."

P.G. skips back to the decanter and refreshes both our glasses with the golden liquid. "Your taste in Scotch, dear boy, is as impeccable as your taste in Imps."

I didn't point out that if it was my choice I'd have picked an Impette that looks like Scarlet Johansson or Rihanna. I'll save that cutting remark for another day.

"What about the loyalty of a fan? Someone who is loyal to an author, a film star, a musician or a group? Does it count as loyalty? People tend to use the term ' a loyal fan' quite a lot..." I say.

The Imp ponders this while running a finger around the rim of the glass, his expression is almost human should you forget the impish features.

"Good one. I suppose everyone wants to belong... they yearn to be close to stars and fame. Or they yearn to be part of a group. Man is indeed a social animal. Pack instincts may prevail. I think we may have just found our next dimension to loyalty... " he gestures at the board and the word 'YEARNING' appears.

"I am always stunned at the level of animosity one group of fans may exhibit to other groups. Fans loyal to one sports team may fight with another... religious loyalists hate each others views... Does loyalty beget hatred?"

"You are right. such loyalties can cause more harm than good. Blind loyalty like blind faith may result in a negative attitude towards those with conflicting loyalties. I myself belong to the House Pandemonicum of the Impish clans. I once dared to love a young impette from a rival house, The House Monstrosum. Our love was destined to fail. There were rival factions who forbade us from meeting and yet we tried." The Imp seems to go misty eyed. " Under loves heavy burden do I sink...These violent delights have violent ends."

I raise an eyebrow and tug at my earlobe. "Ahem. Is that not from Romeo and Juliet?"

The Imp wipes his eyes and smiles." The Bard stole my tale. The price of longevity is to have your life stolen piece by piece by others. But I bear no grudge, dear boy, for I am delighted my story gave forth an immortal classic of love." He claps his hands and the word 'ATTITUDE' appears after 'A'. "Loyalty is also about our attitude to those with rival loyalties."

'I suppose everyone wants to belong... they yearn to be close to stars and fame. Or they yearn to be part of a group. Man is indeed a social animal. Pack instincts may prevail...'


'Tell me, dear boy, how does one deal with conflicting loyalties to one family member versus the other? to ones birth family versus that to the spouse? To the one who we fall in love with from the ones who we believe love us as 'Blood is thicker than water'. How do we cope with such tension?'

Misguided Loyalties

"Talking of attitudes, extremism is said to originate from loyalties. How could one who follows the moral principles of kindness to all, at the same time wield a weapon against a fellow human for holding a differing religious belief?"

"True. When I first met humanity I too was surprised as to how much demonic traits you lot possess within. Those loyalists do not consider the legitimacy of others loyalties. They don't believe that others could hold other beliefs! Just look at the Nazi's and those who followed blindly, one mans vicious vision. They never stopped to think if their leaders wishes were legitimate."

"I think we may have found our next word."

"Right." LEGITIMACY appears after L.

"Tell me, dear boy, how does one deal with conflicting loyalties to one family member versus the other? to ones birth family versus that to the spouse? To the one who we fall in love with from the ones who we believe love us as 'Blood is thicker than water'. How do we cope with such tension?"

" I know where you are going with this. May I try? May I, May ?" I was waving my hands like a giddy schoolboy. The Imp sighs. "Go on then."

I snap my thumb and forefinger and the word 'TENSION' appears after T.

We both are quiet for a moment. It is perhaps the fact that we used up our Y already, it is not often that a word presents us with two Y's. Y, Y, Y, Delilah?

"I know we started saying that Loyalty is directed externally. It is not the love for oneself. Yet how often do we see tormented souls who deplete their happiness because of blind loyalty to others. Loyalty should be returned. Hopefully rewarded. It is not that one stays loyal for reward or return but the very survival of loyalty depends on its mutuality."

"Well said." The Imp crosses its arms and smiles. "I'm glad you understand. Be loyal to yourself too. Consider your wellbeing and your health and happiness while your loyalty stretches your bounds."

I smile too. " I use the analogy of the safety message they give out in flights. Always ensure you put your oxygen mask on first. This is not a selfish act. It is just to ensure you remain conscious and help many others. Instead if you scramble around trying to help as many as you can before helping yourself you may not stay alive to help those very people."

We both look at the screen and nod.

The word YOU appears after 'Y'.

"Shouldn't it be 'I'?" I say.

"Yes. It should be 'You'," chuckles the Imp.

"Very funny. I don't know about you P.G. but I find loyalty a vexing virtue. It cannot be viewed simplistically can it?"

The Imp waves at the board and makes it disappear in a puff of smoke. "Hence my arrival to help you, dear boy. I would not like to see you vexed."


" I use the analogy of the safety message they give out in flights. Always ensure you put your oxygen mask on first. This is not you being selfish. This way you would remain conscious enough to help many others. Instead if you scramble around trying to help as many as you can before helping yourself, you may not stay awake long enough to do what you wish."

End Games

"Thank you, kind master. Yoda can eat his heart out." I bow to the brilliance of the Imp.

He gets back on to the armchair, grabs his tail and gazes at it for a moment.

"Now, about that impette who got me in bother. Did I tell you why?"

Uh oh!

The Imp continues despite my aghast expression. "Well as you know that I've been penning the sequel to Kama Sutra. We were just trying out a new sutra. It is indeed a very complex position involving one's tail..."

I press my palms tight against my ears and go " Na Na Na Na"...

Mohan Kumar

You can follow the Imps adventures at The Earnestness of Being an Imp and Forrest Imp

© 2013 Mohan Kumar


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