by Mirza Yawar Baig —
Once upon a time there was a beautiful land in which clear rivers flowed through lush forests. Birds flocked to the trees which were heavy with fruit until one was almost deafened by the cacophony of their cries. And if one dared to walk under the trees, then one needed an umbrella which quickly changed color and became white with the spirited discharge of processed fruit ensuing forth from enthusiastic birds. Of animals, there were plenty in this land but only the non-biting kind. All those that bit had been muzzled and lived on a diet of liquid protein shakes and Red Bull. So, it appeared as if all was right with the world and the sun was shining and rain was falling and there was actually a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Never mind that nobody had actually got to it yet. Good thing that, or there would not be a pot at the end of the thing now, would there?
However, the Wise Ones tell us never to be deceived by what we see for there can be much under the surface that is not visible to the naked eye. And that is how things were in this land as well. There was much pain and suffering under the surface. The reason for this was very simple. The land was enslaved. People craved to be independent and free but they were enslaved.
There were two kinds of people in this land, the Fatty Bottoms and the Bony Backsides. Fatty Bottoms, hereinafter to be referred as FBs were the rulers. Bony Backsides were the workers who lived only to serve the FBs.
In due form, we shall refer to them henceforth as BBs. Fatty Bottoms sat on special chairs which were specially shaped to fit their rather large sit-upons. FBs never left their chairs and when they had to go to a party or indeed anywhere they forced the BBs to carry them there, chair and all. This added to the suffering of the BBs because not only were FBs heavy to carry, the movement disturbed the fluid balance in their bellies and they expressed their feelings in an aromatic manner. The aroma unfortunately had no competition except perhaps from Satilla the Skunk and was not appreciated by the BBs who had to carry the FBs to their parties.
Not unnaturally it was the greatest desire of the BBs to become free of the oppressive Fatty Bottom rule. For this they schemed and made many plans but never managed to succeed, because the FBs had a law called Secret Code 420. This law had specially and very cleverly been made to ensure that the FBs always remained in power and the BBs could never become free.
It was a very interesting law because it was only one line.
Secret Code 420:
Whether any action is a crime or not depends on who does it, not on what is done.
So, if a BB protested against the oppression, for example, he was called a rebel and jailed. If he took any direct action which the FBs were frightened of, it was labeled ‘terrorism’ and he was hanged after first being tortured. If something happened and the FB police couldn’t find out who did it, they simply grabbed the first BB they could lay their hands on and then beat him into a state where he would willingly admit to anything including what the birds did. Then once he had put it all in writing, he would conveniently encounter a stray bullet while attempting to commit mass murder of FBs and would be out of the race. This saved a lot of time and energy of the entire legal system which was much appreciated by all of FB-dom. What the BBs felt about the sudden abridgement of their friend’s lifespan was neither here nor there, because BB’s feelings and opinions were of no consequence anyway.
As they lived in this land, the BBs always wondered what it was that gave the FBs so much power. The Wise Ones told them that the secret lay in the shape of their chairs. The chairs of the FBs were carefully shaped with two very large cup-like depressions to fit the two cheeks of the sit-upon with a little ridge in the center to ensure that there was minimal lateral slide. The BBs believed that it was these chairs and their shape that gave the FBs their power to rule. Occasionally when an FB who had been carried around for some time desired to commune with nature, some of his BB chair carriers would try out the FB’s chair for size. Naturally this was a capital offence and any BB caught sitting in an FB chair would have his head separated from his body, but forbidden fruit is sweet and so BBs took the risk to sit in the FB chair anyway. But the experience was disappointing. The chair was intensely uncomfortable for a Bony Backside’s sit-upon. It poked them from all sides and they could neither fit into one depression or the other. The central ridge was the worst as it played havoc with all the delicate parts of the BB. How such a devilish contraption was so comfortable for an FB, the BB could never understand. Meanwhile here comes the FB master and time to go on the road once again.
One day it came to pass that there arose among the BBs one who was not afraid of the FBs. He carried a stick, wore eye glasses and drank goat’s milk. He was called the Great One. The Great One did great things which all the BBs marveled at and which were a source of unending aggravation for the FB establishment. For example, one day he walked to the sea and made salt to prove that those who wanted salt in their food could very well make it themselves and had no need to go to Wal-Mart to get it, thank you very much. He spun thread on a spinning wheel and made cloth and then wore it wrapped around his waist. He never got around to making any more cloth as it took too long and he had much to do and so never wore a shirt. Great One had several companions among whom was one who always said that he had many miles to go before he slept. His name was Ruby Red. It is not known who he was going to meet at the end of that long road, but it was a good line to say and so he always said it: ‘Many miles to go before I sleep’. It is said that the time makes the man. And so it happened in this case.
The BBs with their leader, Great One – the guy with the stick, followed by the guy going for a walk – Ruby Red, managed to raise enough of a revolution to make life difficult for the FBs. Their war cry was, ‘FBs go home and take your chairs with you.’ BBs were convinced that until the FB chairs were destroyed and removed from the land they would never be free.
‘How can you have a one-line law?’ someone asked.
‘How can an action be judged by who does it?’ demanded another.
‘Right is right and wrong is wrong and never the twain shall meet,’ said the third.
‘It is a conspiracy to keep us enslaved forever,’ said a fourth.
Such conversations have the power of a typhoon because they open the mind and stir the heart. Gradually the noise built up until it could be heard above the cacophony of the aforementioned birds and then it grew some more and drowned out the birds altogether. ‘FBs GO HOME’ shouted the BBs. FBs GO HOME.!!
Now wait a minute, you tell me. Did they not used to also say, ‘Take your chairs with you?
Hmm!! Clever you!! You are observant. Yes, they used to. But they shortened it. Why? Try shouting the whole mouthful as a slogan and you will see why. So, the last part about the chairs was taken to be understood. After all, once the FBs were gone, the horrible chairs would be demolished and burnt up because they were so uncomfortable for the BBs to sit in anyway and the law would be changed and everyone would live happily ever after. QED.
So, it came to pass, that in the middle of one night, the FBs left and the BBs were free. There was much rejoicing and dancing in the streets. Goat’s milk flowed like water and people spun spinning wheels like mad. Great One was nowhere to be found as he had apparently gone off now that he had some time, to see where it was that Ruby Red was headed towards. Ruby Red on the other hand took a right about turn and returned just in time to bid the last FB a fond farewell and then since there was nothing more to do, he sat down on the FB’s chair to rest.
The next day Ruby Red gathered some of his friends together and called the meeting to order and spoke thus. “My friends,” he said. “We have been given freedom at midnight. There is nowhere to sit except these chairs and no law except the Secret Code 420. I suggest that we all rest for a while and think about this before we throw out this law. It is true that we did not like it when we were at the receiving end but notice that today we are not. The law served the FBs very well for 200 years. We have a lot of time to change the law so let us not be in a hurry to change it straight away. Meanwhile let us get used to sitting in these horrible chairs, which believe it or not, since I have been sitting in mine for a while now, is not as uncomfortable as it used to be.” All his friends agreed with this plan to put things on hold for a while and get used to the chairs and let the old law continue. Someone even asked where Great One had gotten too, but others were not too interested and so the matter was dropped.
Time passed and those who were watching from the sidelines noticed something strange. The bottoms of Ruby Red and his cronies started to change shape. They became fat and round and took the shape of the depressions in the chairs. Ruby Red and his cronies became very comfortable in their FB chairs; though they were no longer called that. They had a new name; Singhasan.
So much so that they became very resentful if they were asked to move and go anywhere. “Why can’t we get someone to carry us?” they demanded. “Why not indeed?” said Ruby Red. “Let it be done!” he thundered and many compliant BBs ran to do his bidding. Up rose his Singhasan on the shoulders of those who had been accustomed to carry it for the FB who sat in it before Ruby Red. And off he went, followed by his whole train of friends, each on his own Singhasan carried on the shoulders of its own bearers.
Some BBs resented this turn of events and shouted at Ruby Red and his friends as they went by, “We did not elect you so that you could behave like the FBs.” Another yelled, “What is the difference between you and the FBs?” As this started to grow, Ruby Red and his cronies became worried. They knew the power of the word, for they had themselves used it to great advantage. So, they issued orders that anyone shouting against Ruby Red or his cronies was being anti-national and should be arrested. After all what was the difference between Ruby Red and the nation? Had he and his friends not sacrificed so many other BBs in order to get independence from the FBs? So naturally now, loyalty to the Ruby Red Gang was loyalty to the Nation. And opposing the Ruby Red Gang was treason. So the hunt started to ferret out the traitors. If the actual person could not be found anyone else could take his place. After all it was now a free country.
“But shouting against the rulers was what you used to do, isn’t it?” his wife asked Ruby Red.
“Ah! But the ruler was different, you see,” explained Ruby Red.
“But you used to say that justice is not about the individual but about the act. Just because you do something does not make it right, when the same thing was wrong when the FBs did it. Isn’t that how the law was in the time of the FBs? Whether any action is a crime or not depends on who does it, not on what is done? Today we are independent. We are free. Didn’t you used to say that the law was unjust and must be changed?” she demanded.
“Ah!” smiled Ruby Red. “You see, that is still the law. We never actually changed it. Really quite convenient if you ask me. Suits us just fine. After all we lived by it for 200 years, so what’s so different now?”
“You have changed,” said his wife, in a disappointed tone.
“Maybe”, said Ruby Red. “But the chair is the same. Miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep.”
“So, are we truly independent?” she would not leave him in peace.
“That”, said Ruby Red, “depends on who is asking”.
Mirza Yawar Baig is based in Hyderabad, India and is the founder and President of Yawar Baig & Associates; an international leadership consulting organization. He can be reached at [email protected]