ThreatsT. SHER SINGH
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
There’s a story oft retold in our family gatherings, especially when my grandfather - my father’s pater - was still around. It has held me in good stead through life, no matter which sphere I’ve been involved in.
It’s been embellished so often that I have no idea how much of it has the kernel of fact. Life-experience, though, has taught me that its message is indeed a pearl of wisdom for the ages.
One evening - as the story goes - a number of village elders were hanging around, shooting the breeze. They were seated on their munjis (cots) in the shade of a massive banyan tree, a spot that served as the local equivalent of the Town Hall.
Suddenly, a very agitated young man burst upon the scene, flailing his arms and screaming at the top of his voice. He was accompanied by a stench of kerosene.
“This is it,” he yelled at the crowd. “I can’t take it any more. Nobody listens to me. I am always wrong. My brother is always right. Fine. I’m done, it’s all over. I am ending it all here. You don’t have to worry about me any more. I’ve poured a can of kerosene over me. See: you can smell it. Now, I’m going to end it all. Somebody, anybody! Please, hand me a box of matches so that I can finish it, for once and for all!”
The baffled old men looked at each other, wondering what to do, and then looked back at him. Waiting, it appeared, for someone - some one else! - to do something.
Apparently, this wasn’t the first time this young man had threatened to kill himself. My grandfather, who was sitting in the circle, knew he often did this when he wanted to get his way. He also knew of the problems between the brothers, since he had often been called upon to mediate.
Grandpa sprang from his seat and asked everybody to stay calm.
“That’s all right,” he assured them. “It’s absolutely correct, he’s telling the truth. There are problems between him and his brother.If he has decided that there is no other solution, no remedy, and that this is the only alternative - then, so be it. He knows what’s best for him. If he’s decided that ending his life is the only answer, let’s respect his wishes.”
He waited for a few seconds for the words to sink in. His buddies were aghast at what they had just heard. Had he gone mad?
“Does anybody have a box of matches on him?” growled Grandpa, knowing he had the full attention of the whole lot. “Anybody? No? Fine. Can somebody please run home quickly - please hurry - and fetch him a box of matches. We owe him our support, and if it’s matches what he needs, let’s get him some matches.”
If there are degrees of speechlessness, the agitated young man went through all of them. Certainly, he was struck more speechless than the others. He stood there, frozen, while his eyes desperately queried what was happening.
When he finally regained his voice, he demanded: “You want me to die, is that it? You want me to set fire to myself? Is that why you want them to fetch the matches? You murderers!”
Grandpa was quick to reply.
“No, we don’t want you to die, or end your life in this manner. But if you have chosen a course of action - and we know things have been tough, very tough for you - we will respect your decision, and we’ll gladly help you achieve your peace. If you’ve made up your mind to set fire to yourself, who are we to stop you? We do want to stop you, but we just couldn’t. It is not possible for us to follow you around every minute of the day.
“So, if all you want from us is a box of matches, we will get you a box of matches. You can then do what you want with it.”
He paused for a few moments. And then, seeing he had the man’s full attention, he continued:
“Remember, you’ll have to light it yourself. There’s just so much we can do to help you. On the other hand, if you want us to once again mediate between you and your brother, we’ll also be glad to help - in fact, more so in that manner. But, you’ll first have to go home, take a bath, change into something clean, and then come back.
“Go ahead, go home. Hey, you! Forget the matches. Just help take him home. And we’ll wait for both of you until you get back.”
As the distraught young man was led away by the arm, Grandpa turned around to face his buddies.
With a glint of naughtiness in his eyes, he whispered:
"If he really wanted to set himself afire, he would’ve found himself a box of matches before he poured the kerosene on himself.”
Conversation about this article
1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 29, 2012, 12:02 PM.
Very clever Grandad!
2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 29, 2012, 4:09 PM.
I had moved to Singapore in the mid 50's and my dear friend Jaswant Singh, famously nicknamed 'Chacha', would often be called in for any help. One day he received an urgent call from my eldest sister, Bhenji Amar, to advise her youngest son Mohni who would often threaten her mother that he would jump off the roof and kill himself if he didn't have his way. Jaswant cycled all the way and found Mohni Singh, sulking in a corner. He quietly went up to him and said, "Mohini, this sort of threat should not be given to mothers, but reserved for wives, when it might have some useful effect. Now be a good boy and go and have your meal." That was the grandfather in the kerosene story.