An old man, actually a contractor, takes an afternoon nap near the Karkardooma drain in east Delhi in the summer of 2009.
As all fables go, so does this one. There is just one difference. It asks a question towards the end. Neither does anyone get a prize for guessing the right answer nor will I be surprised if you get the answer right.
Here goes the story...
Once upon a time, in not so ancient times, there was a man who was lying critically ill. Nobody could, it seems, revive him. He lay on a cot in that big, important village which was important because it fell on the crossroads to cities and other villages. People, traders, farmers, saints and mendicants had to pass through it and many stayed at the village overnight. Many of these good natured travellers tried to help The Old Man but without much success.
The traders brought gifts hoping that the man would cheer up and show signs of improvement. The saints looked into his future and predicted that he would bring glory to all around him. This gladdened the hearts of his immediate family, the neighbours and also the villagers. The mendicants would give his family antidotes, potions and other plants-based pills but nothing helped. The guests who would come to visit their friends and relatives in the village would come to seek his blessings and pray for his vigour but nothing helped.
The frail old man lay on his cot bedridden, pale and weak. His skin looked as if it had been stretched on his bones to give dignity to him. The scene was stark because the man's fraility was in sharp contrast to the crowd of healthy people that forever surrounded him - relatives, neighbours, visitors, passers-by and saints. Close to his feet lay riches - gifts and donations by his followers - whose sincere hearts wanted him to get well and get going. The gifts were precious and many - money, gold, food, fruits, medicines, potions. In fact so many that a whole village could survive on those donations. This was that could be seen and valued. Then there were those gifts that could not be measured - blessings, prayers and wishes.
Nothing helped. Months turned into years, years into decades but the man's health remained as it was.
One day Three Wise Men from the West came to the village. They had heard of the family's distress and the old man's poor health and had come to help and take stalk. When the wise men entered the village they noticed that it was a village unlike others they had seen on their way.
This was a prosperous village. The people were fatter, wore good clothes, worked less, pursued leisurely interests and their houses showed signs of prosperity. When the wise men reached their desired spot - the brick and mud courtyard of the old man's house - where he lay almost lifeless, they realised that they were entering the portals of a mini-palace, not a rural dwelling. They could discern that the old man's family was wealthy and that the riches were new.
After listening to the family's story and how the old man had contributed to the society and to the village, the three men too reached the decision that he should be revived. It was in the interest of the family, the village and the society at large that the man should be kept alive. After putting their heads together, the three decided to help.
Wise Man One gave a lot of money to the family for the better upkeep of the old man. Wise Man One said: "You have been taking good care of the old man but your efforts have not borne fruit. Maybe you should improve his physical conditions, change his space, get a new bed, put tiles in the courtyard, put the bed up on a stone platform, construct toilets, bathrooms and put some flower pots around him - he may feel important and he just might revive."
The family accepted the money eagerly, which was a lot, with a lot of humility. It promised Wise Man One that it would indeed construct all that he had said and, "we will try to do more so that the visitors who come to meet the old man can stay in comfort," said The Eldest Daughter. Wise Man One was satisfied.
Wise Man Two gave much advice, ideas and invited the family to visit his village in the West to look at their solutions and how they had successfully tackled the health problems in their village. The family was excited because it had never stepped out of their village. The First Son said: "We are so engrossed in trying to bring good health to our old man that the thought of leaving the village never crossed our minds. But you live so far that it would be impossible for us to visit you."
Wise Man Two reassured the family and said: "Don't come together. Visit us in small groups and we will take care of your expenses." The family was very happy because keeping the old man alive was an expensive business and they had not gone out of their village in years.
Wise Man Three looked grave. He had been listening carefully to the conversations. Now he was thinking deeply. Finally he said: "I can see that the whole family has been working sincerely and with a lot of prayers in their hearts for the better health of the old man. Because you have not been successful, I think you should do what I tell you." Because Wise Man Three spoke with so much conviction and so much power, the family quickly gathered around him. For a little while they forgot all about their old man.
As Wise Man Three sat brooding, the family too looked at the mud and the brick floor. Then he said: "I cannot offer you a solution right now. I will go back and consult with my team of experts. If there is a need, I can even ask my experts, the best in the world, to come here and help the old man. I am sure that with their help, the old man can be restored back to health. I will send send my best men and women here - a doctor, a psychologist, a nutritional expert, a cardiologist, a endocrinologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a skin specialist as well as a geriatric specialist."
The family gasped, for it had had visits by such experts over the years but never had so many of them come together at the same time. The daughters and the sons looked back at Wise Man Three in surprise and gratification.
Wise Man Three continued. "I am willing to help the family and the old man with my best expertise and chosen experts. But you have to bear the costs of such expensive and high-tech consultants."
The family was surprised. The Second Son said: "But we cannot afford to pay for your worthy consultants. We do not have that much money."
In a stern voice Wise Man Three reproached him. "You have the money. Money will not be a problem, I can assure you but you have to be willing first. Wise Man One gave you money in front of my eyes. I can also give you a loan. With that loan you can pay back the fee for my consultants."
In front of so may people and the old man, the family could not say NO to Wise Man Three's proposal. Very bravely, The Eldest Daughter stood up and announced to the gathering: "Please join me in thanking the Three Wise Men from the West for their concern and promises of help. Together, all of us will ensure that the old man is nursed back to health despite whatever. Come what may, our tireless efforts will prevail. We will work ceaselessly till the day he is back on his feet and is walking amongst us." The son started clapping, the Three Wise Men joined in and even the crowd did so.
It was time for the First Son to make a speech. "We will have to use all our resources to restore the old man's health. We will put all our money, all our resources and everything that we have to get him back on his feet. I will need the support of the villagers and I am sure they will not deny that. We will use the money that Wise Man One gives us. We will levy a fee on visitors who come to see the old man. We will also start taking donations from the village. We can ask the people to contibute in other ways - afterall it is to restore the health of the old man."
The Three Wise Men were happy. The people merely nodded their heads. The old man simply stared into the air.
Suddenly a child stood up and shouted: "The old man is fine. Just give him enough water to drink and food to eat and he will be okay. Immediately, the Two Sons and the Elder Daughter pounced upon the boy. The Three Wise Men too jumped up and clasped his mouth shut tight.
THE STORY ENDS HERE. THE QUESTIONS ARE:
Can you identify the people in the story?
1-The Old Man
3-The Elder Son
4-The Younger Son
5-Wise Man One
6-Wise Man Two
7-Wise Man Three