Thursday, February 07, 2002

Some have asked me what I meant by "The heaviest responsibility is a collective one". I did not mean heaviest in any literal sense.

Let me narrate an apocryphal story which most of us would have heard in our childhood.

The Mughal emperor Akbar had great faith in his subjects. He believed they were responsible citizens, hard-working, loyal, and honest. His trusted minister Birbal vehemently disagreed. After much heated debate, Birbal informed Akbar that he could prove His Majesty wrong.

Akbar agreed to an experiment.

A royal decree was prepared. It required each and every subject to contribute one glass of milk to a collective pot, which was kept in a secluded spot. They were given a week's time to do the needful.

At the end of the week, Birbal led Akbar to the pot. After much ceremony, the lid was removed.

Akbar was shocked to discover that the content of the pot was more water than milk. "How could this be?" the emperor asked of his minister.

Birbal had a ready answer: "Your majesty, many of your subjects thought: 'If I put a glass of water in the pot, who would be able to tell, with all that milk others are poring in'. So they did just that. Of course, they were a few good men, who shouldered their responsibility, but they were outnumbered by the cheaters."

Moral of the story: If we want milk, we have to shoulder our collective burden. Or we will end up with water.

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