Monday, June 23, 2008

Milky Mughal

Last weekend I was regaled with an apt anecdote about the blindness to reality that can arise from an inflated sense of self-importance and the individual onus of social responsibility. The two protagonists in the tale were the Mughal emperor Akbar and his Grand Vizier, the Rajput, Birbal.

One day, at the peak of Akbar's majesty and grandeur he commented to Birbal on how much his subjects loved him. Birbal expressed respectful doubt on his master's supposition but Akbar's view was unswayed. Akbar eventually decided to settle the mock debate by confirming his impression of the people's adoration for him.

"I shall demonstrate the people's love for me to you Birbal!" exclaimed the emperor. "The people will answer the emperor's call. The emperor would like some...milk."

So an order was decreed that the head of every village in India was officially summoned to gift some milk from their livestock to the emperor. A huge tank was erected in front of Akbar's pavillion to act as a receptacle for the milk.

Soon, village chiefs began to arrive with buckets in hand and scaled the ladder to deposit their villages' contributions to the emperor's milk plea.

Once all the villages had paid their dues, Birbal turned to Akbar and said, "your majesty, the time has come to sample your citizen's generosity". Akbar turned the tap to the tank and nothing but water flowed forth.

Each of the village heads had assumed that if they were to substitute water for milk it would not be detectable amidst the copious milk others would offer. Unfortunately they all thought this way. Akbar was humbled, Birbal was vindicated.

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