Archive for March, 2012

The Eyes of a Beggar

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Unmaskd Tales

The Eyes of a Beggar

“My life is dull,” said glorious Emperor Moktut.
He had just finished listening to his Royal Advisor’s briefing and sat staring straight ahead, as if not seeing his palace, which had been said to be the most luxurious palace ever built on earth.
“Bring me a mirror,” he ordered.
The Royal Advisor rushed to fetch a mirror. He could have and even should have sent one of the servants to bring it, but he was glad to get away from the Emperor even for a few minutes. He had always known how to deal with the Emperor’s fury. But he was terrified by these new moments of unexplainable misery. The Emperor was not supposed to feel miserable. If he — the most powerful man in the world — felt this way, how common men were supposed to feel? Emperor Moktut had never shown any signs of misery — until two moons ago when he spoke to that horrible arrogant man by the name of Puram Bam.
“I am the most powerful man in the world,” said Moktut, studying his own reflection. “I should be happy. I should be far more than happy. So what is it that makes me feel so–”
He broke off.
“I need to talk to him,” he said, turning to the Royal Advisor. “Go and invite him at once.”
“Me?” asked the Royal Advisor in astonishment. He had never seen such a violation of the royal etiquette. His shock was so strong that he even dared to ask, “Your Majesty, do you mean that I should send the Guards to bring that man here?”
“Yes,” said the Emperor. “If you want to spend the rest of your life in the dungeon. But if you intend to keep your job, go tell him that I’m inviting him to live here as my guest.”
The Royal Advisor and left, his knees shaking.
“He said what?” asked Moktut three days later. “Are you sure?”
The Royal Adviser nodded, not daring to to look at the Emperor.
“Yes, your Majesty,” he muttered. “He said that he would’ve gladly accepted your invitation, but he would not do well in a company of beggars.
“Beggars?” repeated Moktut, his voice puzzled. “Go tell him that in this palace he will live among the richest men of my empire. Men who can buy anything and anyone. Men who eat from golden plates and travel in palanquins decorated with diamonds.”
This time the Royal Advisor left without asking questions.
Three days later he was back, trembling.
“He said, your Majesty,” he reported, his voice full of horror, “that these are exactly the men he means.”
Moktut sat still for a long time.
“Tell him,” he said finally, “that he should not be concerned about spending his days among those who are only attracted to material goods and are poor like beggars when it comes to matters of spirit. Tell him that in this palace he will find poets who care only about sharing their poetry, preachers who possess little more than their robes and who only want to preach, and painters who create their paintings asking for no reward. Go now.”
The Royal Advisor left, silently cursing Puram Bam and shuddering at the thought that he was about to curse the Emperor.
Another three days passed. The Royal Advisor was back. Alone.
The Emperor’s silence was more menacing than his wrath could have been.
“He said,” the Royal Advisor conveyed, wondering how in the world he ended up in a position of a message boy, “that these poets, preachers and painters are also the people he was referring to. He also wanted wanted to remind you that a beggar is someone who throws himself at the mercy of others and pleads for something they have while offering nothing in return.”
“The hell with him!” replied Monkut, gravely. “He has pushed my good will too far.”
The Royal Advisor felt relieved. The Emperor was coming to his senses, at last.
“It is almost time for the Summer Royal Celebration,” he dared to remind the Emperor. “I’ll see to it that we have the most majestic celebration in years. This celebration will make the people of this empire feel proud, while making other nations envy your splendor. The attention of the entire world–”
The Emperor’s palm flew up, making the Royal Advisor stop in the middle of a sentence.
“Attention,” whispered Moktut.
“Yes,” happily went on the Royal Advisor, “attention of the entire world! We will–”
But another irritated gesture of the Emperor made him stop again.
Moktut’s eyes were looking far beyond the vast hall. He didn’t see the flabbergasted face of his Royal Advisor. He didn’t see scared faces of his courtiers. He didn’t see indifferent faces of his servants. He saw something else.
He saw the richest men of his country spending millions on luxury they neither needed nor appreciated. These millions were spent with the only goal — to impress others, rich and poor, men and women, old and young. To make them gasp in envy. He saw poorest men of his empire doing the same — depriving themselves of something they needed so they could buy something to boast about in front of their neighbours. He saw poets frantically writing their poems, hoping that one day everyone will know their name — the name, not their works. He saw himself, sitting on his throne, bored by people’s admiration — and still wanting it with all his heart. He saw people going around asking, pleading, begging for attention — and accepting it as alms, not caring if they had any value to offer in exchange. He saw beggars begging beggars — and making that begging the ultimate motive of their life.
“Should I get the preparations started?” asked the Royal Advisor. The Emperor nodded, indifferently.
“Go,” he said. “Make them gasp. Oh, and take that mirror away. You’ll bring it back one day.”
“On the day,” he finished in his head, “when it won’t show me the eyes of a beggar.”

Real People

Posted: March 18, 2012 in Unmaskd Tales

Real People

“You are a hard man to find,” said a young woman, as she stopped by the bungalow of the world famous sage Puram Bam. “Everyone knows who you are, but only few know where to find you.”
“How did you find me then?” asked Puram Bam, taking his eyes off the letter he was reading.
“I found someone who had found you.”
“Don’t you suppose it should be the only way to find me?”
“I suppose so,” said the young woman thoughtfully. “But how did your first guest ever find you?”
“Is this what you came here for?” asked Puram Bam.
“No,” said the young woman. “I wanted to ask you about something else. About myself.”
“Aren’t you the only one who can answer a question like this?”
“I am. But I heard that you help people to find these answers.”
Puram Bam smiled and nodded.
“What is your question?”
“The other day someone asked me what truly impresses me in people. At first, I was at loss for words. And then all I could say was: nothing. I’ve met many people, I said, old and young, rich and poor, famous and unknown. But no one has ever truly impressed me. I know I’m supposed to be impressed by titles, riches and accomplishments, but I’m not. That person asked me then, but what about virtues? And I said, even virtues don’t impress me that much. I value courage, I long for honesty, I respect perseverance. But never in my life have I met a person who had something that would truly impress me. Something that would take my breath away. I wish to think they exists, but I haven’t come across one yet. And so that person said that I either had lost my marbles or have expectations that no human can match. And the worst thing is, I think that person is right.”
“Yes, this may be the worst thing,” agreed Puram Bam. “But what is your question?”
“How do I explain what impresses me?” asked the young woman. “How do I explain this to others and even to myself? I know what it is, but I just can’t put it in words.”
“When you use words to explain something to yourself, they only hide the meaning,” said Puram Bam. “You said you believe they do exist. But who are they?”
“They are real people,” said the young woman. “Real is the only word I can think of, although I have no idea how to explain it. And it’s probably a totally wrong word. It means that everyone else is not real, but that’s not what I mean. No one would understand it.”
“I do,” said Puram Bam. “I know exactly what you mean.”
“You do?” asked the young woman, astonished. “But how can you know it when even I cannot express it?”
“Because I happen to be attracted to the same quality in people,” Puram Bam replied. “And it’s neither material goods nor virtues. Every virtue you have mentioned is only a part of what makes someone real. But not every commonly praised virtue would be found in him.”
“Right!” the young woman exclaimed. “I don’t care if a person like this lies — he would stay true to himself even while doing this. I don’t care what he looks like — but do I know that his eyes would not be the eyes of a beggar. I wouldn’t care about his job — but I know it would be something this person loves. Because he would not be spending years of his life doing something that doesn’t excite him. And most of all, I don’t want him to want to impress me. I’ll be the most impressed if I meet someone who doesn’t want to impress anyone — and yet does it all the time. I don’t know why I feel that I know it would be like even though I’ve never felt this way.”
“But you have,” said Puram Bam. “Every time you watch a wild gracious animal or hear a young child laughing you feel it. They don’t live to impress you or anyone. They simply live — and enjoy life. This is what you want to find in an adult. In someone who understands how the world of people works and how ugly it can be — and still chooses to be true to himself every moment of his life.”
“Yes,” said the young woman. “Now I believe that you really understand me — maybe even better than I understand myself. But where do I find people like this?”
“There aren’t many of them,” said Puram Bam. His eyes moved to the letter in front on him, then back to the young woman standing at the door.
“But if you look for people like this, you’ll find them. You will also learn to recognize those who are almost like them. Who betray themselves often — but one day may be strong enough to stop it.”
“I may know one or two people like this,” said the young woman. “I even think–”
She stopped.
“Never mind,” she said. “Thank you, sage. But how do I explain all of this to others? How can I make someone see what I see when I say real people?”
“You can’t,” said Puram Bam. “Those who can understand it will know exactly what you mean. With others, no explanation would ever be enough.”

Is Lying Bad?

Posted: March 8, 2012 in Unmaskd Tales

One glorious morning, glorious Emperor Moktut sat in his favorite Ruby Room and listened to the daily briefing of his Royal Advisor. Everything was fine and splendid in the Empire, while its neighbors struggled with chaos and poverty.
“I’m delighted to know that my people are so happy,” said the Emperor when the Royal Advisor finished. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?”
The Royal Advisor paled.
“Oh no, Your Majesty,” he whispered, his eyes wide with horror. “I would never lie to you!”
“Of course, you wouldn’t,” agreed Moktut. “Otherwise very soon you’d bid farewell to your head.”
The Royal Advisor smiled, his lips trembling.
“But I wonder,” continued the Emperor. “Would you be still as truthful, had you not feared the punishment? People lie so often, even though lies are so disgusting.”
“And I also wonder,” he continued, looking at the shaking Advisor, “What is it that makes lies so disgusting to me? I’m the most powerful man in the world — and yet I don’t want to lie even to someone like you.”
The Emperor spent whole day in deep thought.
Next morning he gathered his advisers and said, “I have decided that I want to know why I find lies so repulsive. I don’t expect any of you to answer this, so bring me the wisest men you can find in my country. A month from now I wish to hear their answers.”
A month later the Emperor sat in his favorite Amber Garden, looking at the gathering of people who were came to his palace from all over his wast empire.
“You are the wisest men in my Empire,” he said to them. “Or so my advisers are telling me. This is your chance to use your wisdom for a great cause. I want to you to explain to me why I find lies disgusting. So disgusting, that I don’t want to utter a word of lie, even though no one would ever doubt my words. I will reward the one, whose answer I like the best. Who wants to be first?”
Silence followed his words. The wise men were looking at each other. Finally, an old man with a long silver beard stepped forward.
“Many call me the wisest man in your Empire, Your Majesty” he said, bowing. “And dare I say they have many reasons for that. Of course, my wisdom is but a shadow of the wisdom you bring to our world, but one does not compare a mere human to–”
“If you say another word about yourself or my wisdom, it will be your last,” said Moktut. “I don’t have time to waste on this nonsense — this what my court is for. Answer the question.”
“As you wish, Your Majesty,” said the wise man, his hands shaking slightly. “You detest lies because they are not noble. The highest purpose of a human spirit is to tell the truth and a royal mind like yours does not wish to tolerate…”
Ten minutes later Moktut stopped him.
“Enough,” he said. “I would need another life to listen to everything you want to say. Lies are not noble, I get it. Next!”
“Our religion teaches us to be truthful to one another,” said the next man. His beard wasn’t as long, but it was wide and bushy. “When in doubt, we must listen to what we are taught, and not question the divine teaching. We must…”
Ten minutes later Moktut stopped him.
“Next,” he said, frowning.
“The lie is the vilest thing on earth,” began the third man, “and being the purest spirit in the world, The Emperor has all reasons to despise it…”
A great many number of wise men spoke in front of the Emperor on that day. They talked about virtues and values, sins and redemption, moral duty and spiritual growth. They cited sacred texts, dead poets and themselves. They condemned lies, praised the truth, and spoke of the Emperor’s glory. They spoke till late night.
Moktut sat still, his face calm.
“I’m lucky,” he said when the last man finished speaking. “Your wisdom is enlightening and I feel so humbled by it. You all are the most precious treasure my country has.”
“But,” he said as wise men started smiling, “you’ve just taught me that I should not be lying to anyone. So let me say this. YOU ALL ARE USELESS MORONS!! You spent all day telling me why others thought lying was bad, but I asked why I find it disgusting. None of answered my question! You’ve wasted my time! You–”
Suddenly Moktut stopped. He noticed a calm face among dozens of terrified faces in front of him.
“You,” he said. “Who are you? I don’t remember you speaking today.”
“My name is Puram Bam,” said the man. “I didn’t come here to speak.”
“Why did you come then?” asked puzzled Moktut.
“Your guards brought me here.”
The Head of Emperor’s Guards stepped forward.
“Your wish was to see every wise man, Your Majesty,” he said, his voice hoarse. “People say that this man is a famous sage, but he didn’t come on his own. So we brought him here.”
“Interesting,” said Moktut. “Did he resist?”
“No, he said something about not struggling against a current and came with us. But he hasn’t spoken today, so he is probably not that wise.”
The Emperor looked at the man.
“So do you want to answer my question, sage?” he said, looking into a face that was as calm as his own.
“You won’t like my answer,” replied the man.
“After today I’ll like anything,” said Moktut. “Go ahead. Answer it.”
“You despise lying because you are afraid of death,” said the man.
The court gasped. The Head of Emperor’s Guards lurched forward. But Moktut smiled.
“Explain,” he said, stopping The Head of Emperor’s Guards with a gesture. “This doesn’t make any sense, but at least it’s original.”
The man stepped forward. Moktut looked into his eyes and for the first time in his life felt that he was looking into the eyes of an equal.
“Lies are neither bad nor good,” said the man, his voice sound and clear.“But they are final and nothing terrifies us more than finality. You are your mind, and your every honest thought is a part of you. It bears the seal of your soul and when you share it, you’re giving that part of yourself a new life. It will live on in the minds of others and may even outlive you, since some thoughts live long after the mind that gave them life is gone. But when you lie you’re sentencing that of part of you to life in prison. In the prison of your mind. Every lie comes with a hope that the truth will be never discovered. And this is what terrifies you. Because you know that you’re sentencing some part of yourself to death. Now it will spend the rest of its life in solitude and die with you. Lie is not the opposite of truth — it is simply the truth’s death sentence. People don’t like signing death sentences for parts of themselves. That’s why they find ways to confess to each other. That’s why they feel what you feel.”
After a long silence Moktut asked the man, “You’ve answered my question, sage. How can I reward you?”
“You can’t,” said Puram Bam. “Kings can only punish. The only person who can truly reward a man is himself.”

Generally I adopt new tech very quickly. If something makes my life more convenient and is reasonably priced, I start using it right away. The most notable exception to this rule has been ebook reading. Although using ebooks and carrying an entire library with you beats paper books hands down when it comes to convenience, there is still something very special about reading a paper book. It’s the feel of holding it in your hands, turning its pages, feeling the texture of the paper. Ebooks don’t give you that. They are too impersonal. At least this has been the case for me until very recently.

But suddenly everything has changed. I’ve discovered an advantage of ebook that paper books cannot match. And it has nothing to with convenience. Try this: take any book and read a few pages of it on your phone. Not your Kindle. Phone. If you haven’t done this before, it may feel awkward at first. The pages are just too small and have enough room only for a few sentences on that screen. But that’s the point.

The small screen makes you see the text for what it really is. Meaningless words cannot hide anymore behind their more meaningful neighbours. If the text is full of fluff, your eye, trained for years to glance over it, no longer has this option. You are forced to read it — or turn the tiny pages so frequently that the process becomes tedious very soon. Every sentence, every word that’s been included into the text to hide its lack of clarity or substance is visible now. The text stands naked in front of you and has no place to hide.

A small screen shows the you integrity of the book — or lack thereof. It’s that quality that some of us seek in people and only few of us are lucky to discover. This quality is rare and not everyone wants to find it — or even deal with it — but those who do, know what I mean. Not many many books would pass the text of a small screen. Some well known titles would fail it miserably, while others, less famous and promoted, may show depth and clarity that may be overlooked easily in a larger format. And once you find a book like this, you’re in for a treat.

Wish it was that easy with people.