The art of pretending

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SHARADA NATARAJAN retells a wonderful old Chinese tale with an important message on how we can all get along under trying circumstances.


Once upon a time, a young Chinese girl was married and moved into her husband’s home in a small village. It was a beautiful village situated in idyllic surroundings of hills and woods. But the young bride soon found herself hating the place, all because of frequent conflicts with her mother-in-law, whom she felt was too interfering. They were always at loggerheads and developed so much hatred towards each other that one day the girl decided she couldn’t take it anymore. She planned to put an end to her miseries.

She came to know of an old wise man with healing powers who was living in the foothills. The villagers often went to him for advice and treatment of their mental and physical ills. One day she mustered enough courage and went to meet the old man. She explained her problems to him, saying, “The hatred is suffocating me and I want to eliminate her from my life. Please give me some poison so that I can administer it to her and all my troubles will disappear.”

The old man listened patiently and said, “Oh poor girl, I pity you. I will give you a slow-killing poison, because your mother-in-law is of robust health and everyone in the village knows about the strained relations between the two of you. If something were to happen suddenly, the suspicion would fall on you. Here is a decoction made of poisonous herbs. Mix two drops in some liquid and give it to her every day for six months. Then you will see the result.”

The girl was a little upset at having to wait for six more months, but also felt relieved that a solution was in sight. She accepted it with gratitude and was about to leave when the wise man stopped her and said, “Here is one piece of advice. As you are going to commit a punishable crime, take precautions not to get caught. The whole thing must look like a natural occurrence. So here is what you must do: from tomorrow, be extremely pleasant to your mother-in-law. Be kind and try to please her in every possible way. Pretend, so that when she dies from the poison you will not be blamed.”

The girl hesitated, but then realized the wisdom behind the man’s words. She prepared to start her ‘drama’ in right earnest. The girl did everything to please the old lady, so slowly her mother-inlaw also started reciprocating her goodwill. All the petty quarrels and skirmishes vanished and life was becoming joyful for the entire family. She realized that what had started as ‘faking’ had turned into a reality. As both the women started feeling a strong bondage of love for one another, the girl’s conscience started pricking.

She visited the old man again: “I had been foolish and immature to think of committing such a shameful act. Now we both are very fond of each other and I don’t want to lose her. Please give me some antidote to the poison.”
He smiled and said, “My dear child. I knew you would come one day like this. Love attracts love. When you give love, you will get back only love. Do not worry, my child, what I gave you was not poisonous. No harm will befall her. Go home and be happy.”

So perhaps all the formal and customary wishes and greetings we follow in our everyday lives, the gestures of respect, goodwill and hospitality, do have a higher purpose. It is worth thinking about.



Article by SHARADA NATARAJAN


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COLLECTOR'S EDITION 2016