The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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There is a story about King Darius of Persia who periodically invited scholars to debates on different topics in his court and loaded the winner with gifts of gold and silver. On one occasion the topic was: what is the strongest thing on earth' Three Jews held as hostages ventured to enter the contest. The first said, “Wine is strongest; it causes all men to err who drink it. When they are in their cups, they forget their love both to friends and brethren. And a little after draw out swords. But when they are away from wine, they remember not what they have done.”

The second man said, “The King was the strongest. When he commands people to kill; they kill; if he commands to spare, they spare lives... And so on.” The third said, “Women are the strongest because men do their bidding. For women they will kill, rob, steal and risk their lives to make them happy.” However, the third fellow was clever enough to add, “Great is the truth and stronger than all things.” He won the prize. His words: Magna est veritas, et praevalet (great is truth and will always prevail) became the motto of Christian crusaders. And of course there is our much cherished satyamev jayate — truth is always victorious — which it seldom is in present day India.

If a similar contest were to take place today in the court of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and I were one of the contestants, I would say money is the strongest: the more you have, the stronger you are. You can buy all the wine you want and the most beautiful women will come running to you; you can bribe witnesses to lie on oath and pervert the course of justice; you can bribe judges, lawyers, politicians, preachers of religion, journalists and anyone else worth bribing to say whatever you want them to say. Paisa is almighty, omnipotent.

On par with paisa I will put the kursee — not what in English is known as a chair, but its Indian version, the seat of power, the gaddi or the throne. Once ensconced, you can order moneybags to shell out their wealth or else, income tax raids, Fera and whatever else to squeeze money out of them. If there are criminal cases pending against you, you get bail and prolong hearings till everyone has forgotten what they were about.

The third in the order of strength I would put is chaaploosey and khushaamad — flattery and sycophancy. To start with, we believe god is prone to flattery: the more you indulge him, the more he likes it. What are prayers except the most blatant forms of flattery' And we Indians are in the habit of saying the maximum number of prayers. If you are adept at the art, you can flatter moneybags out of their money and get the kursiwallahs to disburse patronage and get what you cherish.

So if you can get both, fulfil your aspirations by use of honeyed words, why bother to strive to earn money or fight political battles to grab a kursee' A sweet tongue used for this purpose is the strongest.

As for truth, the less said about it the better. Our own sweet homeland has, according to the Urdu poet, Deepak Qamar, become a market place for falsehood bearing a signboard reading, “be truthful”.

Jaaney tha kaun shakhs jo sach baat keh gayaa/ Peechhey hai Saraa shehr ab patthar liye huey

(Who knows who the fellow was who told the truth/ Everyone in the town is pelting him with stones.)

Far from being the strongest, truth is the weakest of all things. Falsehood is much stronger. Count the number of truthful people who have prospered in life and you will not be able to count the fingers of one hand. Then count liars who have done well for themselves: a hundred hands with ten fingers each won’t suffice. The most truth deserves is to be made a façade: even liars know how useful it is as a mask. The more a person slaps his chest and swears that he speaks his mind and is truthful, the more successful a liar he is.

Let them live in peace

The most attractive feature of Kasauli is a dozen or so families of Tibetan refugees who have been here for over 33 years. I have not known another group more law-abiding, clean, without guile and ever-smiling than them. I make it a point to greet them individually whenever I come up. My great favourite is Pemba (lily). I knew her mother and know her daughter who is now married to an Italian. Kasauli would not be the same without them. However, there are some evil-minded people who want to drive them out.

Tibetan refugees have no intention of settling down permanently in India. They hang on to their Tibetan passports and nationality and as soon as the dalai lama is allowed to return to Lhasa by the Chinese communist regime, they will pack up and return home. They don’t have much to pack, only woollen garments, bead necklaces, packets of joss-sticks and little artifacts that they have been selling to eke out a living.

Their shops are canvas and bamboo structures along a small stretch of road between the church and the bazaar. The cantonment board has offered them alternate accommodation behind the bazaar in pucca booths to be erected by it. Their plea to let them remake their canvas-bamboo khokhas has been turned down without giving them any reasons. In short, they are being forced out of the town. The Save Kasauli Society has taken up their cause. If they go, Kasauli will lose much of its human charm.

What has happened to our hoary tradition of offering sanctuary to people persecuted and thrown out of their homelands' The greatest lesson that the Buddha taught us was to show compassion towards the suffering humanity. These people have faced adversity for most of their lives; can we not be a little compassionate towards them'

A tricky question

Santa visited an astrologer and asked his fee. It was Rs 100. Santa asked, “How many questions can I ask'” Panditji replied, “You can ask upto 100 questions.”

Santa spent three hours putting his quota of questions. Before leaving, he gave the astrologer one rupee. The astrologer was very upset and demanded an explanation. “You charge 100 rupees for 100 questions,” said Santa, “I asked only one question, whether I would go to Canada or not. The remaining 99 questions, like what will happen to my wife, how Banta shall do without me, how many children will I have from my Canadian wife and so on were only offshoots of the first question.”

(Courtesy: Madan Gupta Spatu, Chandigarh)

Too much clarity

To illustrate the importance of making prescriptions clear to patients, Dr William Osler used to tell his students this story.

A doctor once told a foreign patient; “The thing for you to do is to drink hot water an hour before breakfast every morning.” After a week the man returned to the doctor’s office. “How are you feeling'”, asked the physician. “I feel worse.” “Did you follow my instructions and drink hot water an hour before breakfast every morning'”

“I tried my best, but I could not keep it up for more than 15 minutes at a time,” replied the patient.

(Contributed by Shivtar Singh Dalla, Ludhiana)

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