“Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, well, I have others” once said Groucho Marx. I always wonder if there can be a sentence that typifies flexibility more aptly than this one! I certainly belong to Groucho’s school when it comes to being principled. I frankly do not understand what is it that is called being principled. What does it really involve? The axiom, one man’s food is another man’s poison, applies to principles too. Sarojini once exclaimed how much the Government had to spend to keep Gandhiji in poverty! The principled people never really bother about how much hardship they cause to others by their strict adherence to their principles. It is one thing to stand committed to certain strong beliefs and no one can fault anyone on that. But if such a commitment is going to cause hardship to others, then, by being a principled person, we can only cause pain to others. Principle is defined as guideline to conduct. It naturally follows that a person’s conduct is determined by what he holds as principles. If the principles are obnoxious, so will the conduct be. If you have a principle that you will not have your morning coffee until you have read your newspaper, it should be ok with everyone but if you have an addendum to it that no one shall have coffee until you have had yours, it creates friction. While the first principle is unobtrusive and does not infringe on others’ rights, the second has a far-reaching effect. It can have a catastrophic chain reaction that may snowball into something on the lines of Mutiny on the Bounty! My point is why should anyone be principled at all? Draw a circle around a couple of ants with an anti-termite chalk like Lakshman Rekha and see how miserable they become not knowing which side to go. Our principles have a similar effect on us. The problem is confounded if you have practiced your principles for a fairly long time. Everything becomes a ‘prestige issue’ for you and you find giving in too difficult. I always believe that much of the happiness comes out of our ability to compromise. In Tamil, there is a classic word for too much adherence to principles. It is called ‘varattu gowravam’. I have seen many families ruined by such uncompromising attitude on the part of the heads of families. Because of my lack of any principles worth a mention, people call me bohemian and I am sure that they’ll call me something else if I had been a highly principled man. People do not realize that if you are not principled, you do not have to compromise and that’s a great advantage. You don’t have to pace the floor asking yourself ‘To be or not to be!’ I am a Wodehousian at heart. To me it’s a great thing to be able to say, ‘No skin off my nose!’ I am happy that more and more people are realizing that being a principled person is like climbing Everest with a 50kg iron ball tied to the legs. There are still a few left and I run for cover if I sight them!