BOOK CORNER: SHORT STORY–THE THREE QUESTIONS by Leo Tolstoy

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–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

THE THREE QUESTIONS

By Leo Tolstoy

    It once occurred to a certain king that if he only knew the right time to begin any task. If he knew, who were the right people to listen to and whom to avoid. And above all, if he always knew, what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

    With this thought in mind. He decided to announce in his kingdom. That he would give a handsome reward to anyone who could teach him. The right time for every action, and who are the most essential people and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

    Many learned men came to the king but they all answered his questions differently.

    In reply to the first question some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance a table of days, months and years and must strictly adhere to it. Only thus said they, could everything be done at a proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action. And, one should always attend to all that is going on, and then do what is most needful. Others said. However attentive the king might be to what is going on. It is impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action. And that he should have a council of wise men who would help him fix the proper time for everything.

    But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a council, and about which one needed to decide at once to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that and therefore in order to know the right time for every action one must consult magicians.

    Equally, there were various other answers to the second question. Some said. The people, king needed the most were his councilors, priests and the doctors. While some said warriors were the most essential.

    Regarding the third question, as to what was the most important occupation. Some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare and others said it was religious worship.

    Since all the answers were different. The king agreed with none of them and gave reward to none. But still determined to find the right answers to his question he decided to consult a hermit widely renowned for his wisdom.

    The hermit lived in a forest. Where, he received only common people and no VIPs. So, to match the hermit’s discipline. The king too, put on simple clothes and before reaching the hermit’s cell he even dismounted from his horse. Leaving his bodyguard behind. He was now alone.

    When the king approached the hermit. He was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the king he greeted him but kept digging. The hermit appeared frail and weak. Each time he struck his spade on the ground and turned little earth, he breathed heavily.

    The king went up to him and said. ‘I have come to you wise man, to ask you to answer, three of my questions. One, how can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Two, who are the people I need the most, and to whom, should I pay more attention than the rest? Three, what affairs are most important and need my attention on priority?’

    The hermit listened to the king, but answered nothing. In fact he just spat on his hand and recommenced digging.

    “You are tired,” said the king, “so let me take the spade and work awhile for you.”

    “Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the king, he sat down, on the ground.

    When the king had finished digging two beds, he stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said:

    “Now you rest awhile – and let me work a bit.”

    But the king did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One hour passed, and then another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the king at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said:

    “I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so. I will return home.”

    “Here comes someone running,” said the hermit. “Let us see who it is.”

    The king turned round and saw a bearded man come running out of the forest. The man had pressed his stomach with his hands and was bleeding profusely. And as he approached the king he fainted and fell on the ground and began moaning feebly. The king and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing.

    There was a large wound in his stomach. The king washed it, as best as he could and even bandaged it, with his handkerchief and a towel of the hermit. But the blood didn’t stop oozing. So, the king removed, the warm blood soaked bandage several times. And he washed and re-bandaged the wound.

    Finally the bleeding stopped. With that the man revived and asked for something to drink. The king brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So, the king, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. While lying on the bed, the man closed his eyes and was quiet. But the king was extremely tired on account of the tedious day. So, he crouched down on the threshold, and fell asleep–and so soundly that he slept all throughout the short summer night.

    When he woke up in the morning. It was long before he could remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with glistening eyes.

    “Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw, that the king was awake and was looking at him.

    “I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the king.

    “You do not know me, but I know you. I am an enemy of yours who had sworn to take revenge of you, because you had executed my brother and seized my property. I knew you had gone alone to meet the hermit, and I had resolved to kill you on your way back.

     But the day passed, and you did not return. So, I came out of my ambush to look for you. But ill luck struck me. When, I bumped into your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them and would have bled to death had you not dressed my wound so meticulously. I wished to kill you, but you saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons also to do the same. Forgive me!”

    The king was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend. He not only forgave him. But promised that he would send his servants and his own physician to attend to him, and even promised to restore his property.

    Having taken leave of the wounded man, the king went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit. Before leaving he wished to beg once more for an answer to his questions. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.

    King approached him and said, “For the last time, I pray to you to answer my questions, wise man.”

    “You have already been answered!” said the hermit, still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the king, who stood before him.

    “Answered but how? What do you mean?” asked the king.

    “Don’t you see?” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied on my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me. And had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented not having stayed with me. So, the most important time was when you were digging the beds and I was the most important man and to do me good was your most important business.

    Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him. For if you had not nursed his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So, he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.

    Remember then. There is only one time that is important – and that is now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any kind of power. The most necessary person is the one with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else, and the most important business is to do that person good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life.”

Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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