The tongue of a fool and the tongue of a wise

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The best and the worst part of our anatomy is the tongue. It’s just three inches long and yet capable of killing a man or a woman six feet high. We are blessed with two eyes, two ears, and two nostrils but only one tongue. Philosophers round the globe invariably opine that Nature did this on purpose so that we can hear more, see more, smell more but talk less. But everyone is aware that the most difficult thing on earth is to talk less. Women are more aware of it. The tongue is a great warbler always ready to shoot out words either foolish or wise or both, depending upon its mood and refuses to be controlled by any force. As we know the tongue snugly sits in a cave guarded by thirty-two white terrorists. Yet no terrorist is bold enough to say ‘hold’ when the tongue, sharper than a razor, wounds or kills.

Good people fear the tongue of man more than the eye of God. Pythagoras was right when he said: “The wound from a tongue is worse than a wound from a sword; for the latter affects only the body, the former the spirit.” The great Tamil bard Thiruvalluvar had said the same before him but in different words: “An injury is much sooner forgiven than an insult”. In fact, this saint poet had devoted ten couplets, out of 1330 couplets of his immortal work Thirukkural for the proper use of the tongue. The chapter is titled ‘Adakkamudaimai’ (Self-control). And we get the following maxims only from the book: “Through fault of the tongue, eyes have to shed bitter tears”,  “A guarded tongue adds richness to the rich”, “A single bad word will destroy all other good”, “Self-control takes one to the gods; its lack to utter darkness”, “There is nothing more precious in life than the guarded tongue”, etc..

Remember Luciana of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors? When she gives good counsel to Antipholus of Syracuse for forgetting a husband’s office, she says: “Be not thy tongue thy own shame’s orator”. Truly, the tongue is as slippery as an eel and as powerful as an alligator in the water. We should be on the alert, else the loss is ours.

Once a fisherman had a good catch. He found amidst several varieties a strange one in his net. He had only heard of such a fish in folk tales told by his grandparents. Wishing to make it a present to the king, he took the fish to the royal court. “Here is an unusually strange fish, your Majesty, fit enough to be added to the royal museum,” said the fisherman. The king was really surprised to see the quizzical fish. He ordered his finance minister to give the fisherman a bag of gold containing one thousand pieces.

The minister parted with the bag, but not without a grudge.

“The price you have paid for that silly fish is too much,” the minister whispered to the king.

“It is a prize,” corrected the king, “to the fisherman for thinking of bringing it to me”. The minister wanted to play foul and so requested the king to permit him to find the truth of the matter. The king readily agreed.

“Is this fish male or female?” asked the minister. His intention was to return the fish and get back the bag of gold. So he said to himself, “Say male, I will ask for a female; say female, I will ask for a male.”

When he asked the fisherman, the latter replied in a jiffy, “Sir! This is neither male nor female. That is why it is an odd fish worthy to be exhibited in the museum.”

Pleased with the answer, the king ordered his minister to give the fisherman another bag of gold with one thousand pieces in it. When the second bag of gold changed hands it gave way at the seams and one gold coin escaped and started rolling on the floor.

The fisherman ran after the coin and picked it up. The minister awaiting lame excuse, began to bully: “Oh, don’t you know that we are not allowed to pick up anything that fell to the ground? Whatever falls to the earth becomes Mother Earth’s property. It is a law in our country. For disobeying the law you will have to pay a penalty of two thousand pieces of gold.”

The king looked at the poor fisherman. But his presence of mind was really stunning. He said in all humility, “Sir, There are certain things that are above the law. I have noticed the king’s head on one side of the coin and a flower on the other side. As per law if I allowed the coin to remain on the floor, passers-by who fail to notice its presence may step on it. Stepping on the king’s head would only amount to disgracing the king. As a sincere and honest citizen, I can’t tolerate that. That’s why I picked up the fallen coin.”

The king felt honoured by the fisherman’sanswer. He was so amused that he ordered yet another bag of one thousand gold pieces to go to the loyal fisherman.

The tongue of the foolish minister became nothing more than an unstringed harp. Had he remained silent from the beginning the king’s treasury would not have lost two thousand extra pieces of gold. He felt sorry for his mistakes. But there are no mistakes, only lessons.

About the author: P. Raja

P.Raja (October 07, 1952) a son of this divine soil, Pondicherry, India famed for its spiritual heritage, writes in his chosen language, English, and also in his mother tongue, Tamil. More than 5000 of his works – poems, short stories, interviews, articles, book reviews, plays, skits, features and novellas – have seen the light through newspapers and magazines that number to 350 in both India and elsewhere. He has 30 books for adults and 8 books for children in English and 14 books in Tamil. Apart from contributing special articles to Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literature in English (London), Encyclopedia of Tamil Literature in English, and to several other edited volumes, he has also written scripts for Television (Delhi). He broadcasts his short stories and poems from All India Radio, Pondicherry. He was General Council Member of Central Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi (English Advisory Board - 2008-2012) representing the Pondicherry University. He is Editor of TRANSFIRE, a literary quarterly devoted to translations from various languages into English. His website: www.professorraja.comAuthor can be reached at [email protected]

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