More important than salt…

In this post I am going to relate a story I had heard when I was a child. I had heard it a long time ago; so I might be filling in some details with my imagination. But what are folk-tales without these improvisations?

Once upon a time there was a king who had three daughters. He loved them all dearly, but the youngest was his favourite. One fine day, he decided to test his daughters’ loyalty for himself. He called the eldest one first.

“Dear Daughter. Tell me truthfully, how much do you value me?”

“I value you above all the riches of our kingdom, dear Father.”

The king was happy with her reply. He treated her to several expensive gifts and sent her back. Then he called his second daughter.

“Dear Daughter. Tell me truthfully, how much do you value me?”

“I value you more than all the wealth in heavens and earth, dear Father.”

This made him happier still and the second daughter returned with even more expensive gifts.

Finally, he called the youngest one, hoping to received the most pleasing reply from his favourite daughter.

“Dear Daughter. Tell me truthfully, how much do you value me?”

“Dear Father. I value you more than even common salt.”

The king was crestfallen and furious. His daughter compared his worth to that of salt. Common salt? Could she have thought of anything more worthless? In his anger, he banished his once-favourite daughter from his kingdom. His attendants accompanied her to the jungle on the outskirts of the kingdom and left her to her fate.

Years later, the king went hunting in the jungle and lost his way without having made even a single kill. He was famished. He spotted a woodcutter’s hut. Without revealing his real identity, he asked for the poor woodcutter’s hospitality and found him to be a generous host for his means. It took some time, but the woodcutter’s wife prepared several delicacies for him, all his favourites. She stood in the doorway, her face veiled, as her husband served the disguised king. The famished king attacked the food with gusto, but his enthusiasm went for a toss when he tasted the first curry. Hesitatingly he tried another dish, but that was no better either. Then he tasted the next, and the next. Finally he could not control his royal anger and yelled at them.

“What kind of a joke is this? How is one supposed to eat this food? It looks delicious, but there is no salt in it.”

Puzzled and intimidated, the woodcutter looked to his wife. What had come upon her? The one time they had a guest at house, how could she make such a mistake?

The wife spoke slowly, “But how could I have used something as cheap and lowly as salt while preparing food for the great king? Wouldn’t it have been an insult? I have used only the best grains, vegetables and spices.”

“But who has ever heard of… wait a minute. Who are you? And how do you know me for a king?”

“I am a foolish daughter, my Lord, who had the misfortune for inviting her father’s wrath over worthless salt. I have tried to be careful ever since.”

As she unveiled her face, the king was stunned to see his youngest daughter there. He was humbled before the wisdom of his daughter.

“Food is not edible without salt,” he mumbled.

“And without food no man can live, build and prosper, Father. There would be no wealth, no riches, no kingdom without food.”

“Salt is very important.”

“But I still think you are more important.”

The king understood his folly and atoned for it. He gifted large tracts of land and jewels and money to his daughter and son-in-law. The woodcutter also saw his fortune turned because of his wife’s ingenuity. And because of salt, of course!

Inspired by MK Dabbawala delivering paneer biryani without any salt in it.

Author Update: A 10 minute IIT Puzzle

The telegraph extensively quotes Dr. Sanghi’s blog post on the rather lax process of hiring IIT Directors.

Sanghi said the process of selecting an academic leader of an institution should aim at assessing a candidate’s leadership qualities to take the institution to international levels in teaching, research, industry linkage, etc.

The process in American universities is more rigorous, with the board shortlisting three or four candidates after studying their bio-data and references. The candidates then have to spend a day or two with the board’s trustees and other stakeholders and present their vision for the institution.

Sanghi said he had had to go through a similar process before he was selected director of a private institution in Rajasthan in 2008.

He drew a contrast between the rapid selection of directors in six hours and the long-drawn selection of students for BTech courses through a series of tests. A student has to clear the Class XII board exam with 75 per cent marks or has to be in the top 20 percentile in the board.

Read the article on The Telegraph.

The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina by Gary Saul Morson

I can not make this a part of regular recommendation, because it would make sense only to those who have read the voluminous classic Anna Karenina and preferably also War and Peace. But I couldn’t help writing about this article.

Oprah Winfrey, who chose Tolstoy’s novel for her book club, followed many others in viewing Anna Karenina as a celebration of its heroine and of romantic love. That gets the book exactly wrong. It mistakes Anna’s story of herself for Tolstoy’s. Just as Anna Karenina imagines herself into the novel she reads, such readers imagine themselves as Anna or her adulterous lover Vronsky. They do not seem to entertain the possibility that the values they accept unthinkingly are the ones Tolstoy wants to discredit.

Anna Karenina, the character, justified the “romance” of her life. Not the book or the author.

As one of her friends observes, she resembles a heroine from a romance. But Anna’s sense of herself is not Tolstoy’s sense of her. He places his romantic heroine not in a romance, where her values would be validated, but in the world of prosaic reality, where actions have consequences and the pain we inflict matters.

Is Karenin the unfeeling, uncouth man that Anna makes him out to be?

Because Anna feels guilty for hurting her husband, she persuades herself that he cannot feel. She knows better and is well aware that although he cannot express his feelings, he nevertheless experiences them. He suffers horribly from jealousy. But she makes sure not to see his suffering. Tolstoy tells us that Anna “schooled herself to despise and reproach him.” She maintains of him that “this is not a human being, this is a machine.”

If you have read Anna Karenina and have only thought of it as a tragic romance, you must read this article for yourself on Commentary magazine.

Author Update: Traversing a Scenic Silk Trail with Meera

Deccan Herald has an interesting article about the silk trail tour organized by Meera’s company.

As we embarked on a silk trail to unravel the entire process of silk-making in Bengaluru’s backyard, we realised each village has a yarn to spin, waiting to be unravelled in the seemingly innocuous small towns like Vijayapura and Sidlaghatta.

Read the complete article on Deccan Herald.