The Great Humbling

“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Book of Proverbs, 16:18).

Dr. N. Crutak, the Chief of Quality Control at the airport, was a very famous man. He had written his Ph.D. dissertation in a span of six months, entitled A Systematic Analysis of Benefits: A Philosophical Discourse on the Multiple Methods involved in the Selection of the most advantageous paths and positions in Life. It made such a huge impact on publication he was instantly awarded professorship at the university. Dr. N. Crutak rejected it as he was of the opinion that imparting his hard-earned knowledge to students was unjustifiable. He opined his scholarship should be used to retain the good and eliminate the bad (rather than better the good and improve the bad as others might believe). Therefore, he joined the airport as the Chief of Quality Control so that he could execute his desires. He was a self-satisfied smug man who also thought highly of himself as a connoisseur of books, beauty, and benefits.

For the last three weeks, Dr. N. Crutak was keenly observing a young man standing alone, at the same hour and place at the arrival terminal. The young man invariably left after an hour or so. Dr. N. Crutak was usually a very self-absorbed person, but this stranger had elicited an inexplicable interest in him. It was as though the great doctor was unable to analyze in depth the benefits of regularly standing at the arrival terminal. Dr. N. Crutak was greatly perplexed by the young man’s habitual visit for the last three weeks.

One day he finally decided to confront the young man and approached him.

“Hello, young man! I see you waiting here every day. Are you looking for someone?”

“No…and yes, sir,” replied the young man.

“Huh? What do you mean by no and yes?”

“I mean I am not waiting for someone in particular. In fact, I am looking for something, if you may call it so, sir,” he said and smiled.

“May you be kind enough to speak plainly, young man. Do you not know that simplicity is the soul of substance?” Dr. N. Crutak was annoyed.

“Yes sir, I do. But the circumstance called for both no and yes!”

“Aha, a paradox! The refuge of the pinheads! Your answer calls for an explanation.”

“Certainly, sir! It is my pleasure to provide clarification for my statement. I am here at the airport for the elementary reason that I am looking for advice!” the young man declared.

“Advice? Here at the airport? From whom do you want to seek advice?” Dr. N. Crutak was getting increasingly irritated.

“Anyone willing to offer it. I have often heard that advice in life is always free, only the consequences of following the advice need payment!” The young man grinned from ear to ear.

“A witty young man! You are warned not to indulge in the asinine game of trying to impress others.” Dr. N. Crutak shook a finger at him.

“No sir, I am not so bold as to even imagine such a thing. I am a user-friendly person, easy and straightforward if I may say so,” he replied in a most affable manner.

“Young man, you are not so coherent even in your lucidity! No wonder you are looking for advice…Haha!” Dr. N. Crutak said with a biting sarcasm in his voice.

“Then sir, you are the very person to give me the advice I am looking for!” He refused to be floundered.

“Not so fast, young man. I am a very busy person, looking after many important details of the airport,” Dr. N. Crutak said pretentiously.

“Is that so? Then all the more reason to seek your advice! Is it not said an idle mind is the devil’s workshop? Obviously, you are not idle but busy with important matters. Hence, your mind is not tenanted by the devil, and therefore perfect for offering advice to a needy soul like me.” The young man sounded very confident.

“Bah! Very sophistic rhetoric! Tell me why you chose me for the advice.” He suppressed a slight smile of superiority.

“Nay sir, I did not choose you. In fact, if you may kindly recall, you approached me first! Which means you chose me to offer your advice!”

“I’ll be damned, young man! Tell me why you came to the airport. There are plenty of other places to seek advice. For instance, the friendly neighborhood park with all the old men and women who are eager to share their wisdom with a strapping young man like you!” Dr. N. Crutak shot back with venomous spite in his words.

“Pardon me, sir, parks are good for many things but not for advice. In fact, the playful ambiance in the parks makes it a particularly dangerous place to look for it!” The young man smiled and there was a sagacious twinkle in his eyes.

“Then do enlighten me why the airport is the best place to look for advice.” Dr. N. Crutak grimaced.

“Sir, let me tell you at the outset, that the crossroads are equally good places to look for advice as the airports. That is what my dear father used to tell me. He was of the opinion that at both these places people are the most open-minded they will ever be in their lives. Both places are full of travelers, and according to my dear father, the wayfarer with his wide-open vision of the road is the best person to seek advice from. Now he never told me why I should choose the airport over the crossroad, it was my personal conclusion after having given enough thought to the matter.” The young man rubbed his hands, very satisfied.

“Pray tell me, young man, why the airport is more suitable in matters of seeking advice than the crossroad.” Dr. N. Crutak prodded him further.

“The reasons are very simple. One is the setting, and the other is the breadth!”

“No riddles, young man, do not speak in riddles!” Dr. N. Crutak frowned, visibly upset.

“Alright, sir! By setting I mean the busy nature of the crossroads versus the relaxed nature of the airports. Breadth is the exposure of the traveler, his mental horizon, his psychic landscape, which is necessarily broader with air travel, particularly international, compared to land travel, almost always merely local.”

“And pray why the arrival terminal over the departure terminal?” Dr. N. Crutak chuckled.

“It is very easy sir, very easy. The arrival terminal provides the best of both worlds. The setting is relaxed and the breadth is cosmopolitan, unlike the departure terminal where the setting is hurried and the breadth insular!” the young man concluded with great relish.

At this, Dr. N. Crutak burst out laughing. The laughter he had been suppressing for so long, came out spilling from the depths of his belly, and he succumbed to the eruptions of guffawing and gurgling fits at last.

When he finally recovered his composure, which took a reasonable amount of time (that is, as much as can be expected of a very busy man like Dr. N. Crutak to make available for laughter), he proceeded to ask the unusual but very genial stranger, “Seeing that you are in sufficient need of advice, I have decided to make time to offer it to you! Tell me, young man, what is your problem? What is the matter for which you need my advice?”

“Sir, I must confess it is a routine matter, nothing out of the ordinary. A matter which most people never even imagine would need advice, so confident that they are about it. But advice is a strange thing, taking it can lead to dangerous results, but not taking it could be even more deadlier!”

“Now, now, young man, stick to the point. Give it to me straight from the shoulder. My time is very valuable!” Dr. N. Crutak said pompously.

“Forgive me, sir. The matter I am referring to is the usual matter of the heart. A heavy burden, a leaden weight on the heart, albeit a sweet and satisfying one!” he paused and looked at Dr. N. Crutak pensively.

“No riddles, young man! I have warned you! I have no time nor inclination to solve your boneheaded puzzles!” He motioned as though he was going to leave.

“Alright sir, alright! I will come straight to the point, without beating about the bush. It is that I am in love with two women at the same time! I do not know whom I should choose to be my lifelong mate!”

“That is hardly a difficult matter, young man. Just choose the more beautiful one!” Dr. N. Crutak declared with aplomb.

“Sir, if it does not inconvenience you much, I would like you to decide for me.” Then he pulled out two photographs from his wallet and handed it over to Dr. N. Crutak. The young man appeared very excited as he waited for the assessment and decision of his advisor.

He took a quick glance at the two pictures and declared the first one was the prettier one.

At this, the young man took the photographs from Dr. N. Crutak’s hands, brought them close to his eyes and gazed intently at them for an entire minute.

Dr. N. Crutak was getting impatient but was very curious at the whole episode and waited for the young man to speak.

After one minute of close scrutiny of the pictures, he handed them back to his advisor, “If you are so gracious as to take one more look at them, I would be grateful!”

“Don’t waste my time, youn…!” Dr. N. Crutak’s jaw dropped. He was astonished to see that the women in the photographs looked equally beautiful. He was dumbfounded by the sudden transformation and was unable to speak for a whole minute.

“Do not play games with me, young man! Enough of your conjuring, I warn you!” he shouted at last.

“Sir, what I have done is no magic. You do know the famous saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, don’t you?”

“How dare you question my knowledge?” Dr. N. Crutak was angry, more from the confusion in his mind than from the young man’s rhetorical question.

“Sir, all I did was take a good look at the photographs, that is to say, contemplated them deeply with my inner eye.”

“Enough of your philosophy, young man. I too know beauty is skin deep!” Dr. N. Crutak snapped, still confounded by the transformation of the photographs.

“Yes sir, beauty is indeed skin deep! My dear women have already helped me enthusiastically in my experiment to confirm the truth of that old saying,” he replied with exhilaration.

“Pray how did the three of you conduct your extraordinary experiment?” Dr. N. Crutak was very eager to find out.

“A few days back, my dear women, cooked me a morsel of their flesh and allowed me to taste them. That is to say, I tasted both my darlings, literally. And I was astonished to find that there was no difference at all. Both were equally delicious in their taste and I wasn’t able to make out any disparity in their flavor!” There was a sense of accomplishment in the young man’s voice.

By now Dr. N. Crutak was too bewildered to bother about the bizarre account and was stumped for a while. At last, he spoke, “Young man, you have to choose the more intelligent of the two.” He hastily added, “By intelligent, I mean thoughtful,” since he did not believe a woman was capable of a man’s intelligence.

“Sir, you have been very kind so far. Can I know how to test the intelligence, I mean thoughtfulness, of a woman?”

Dr. N. Crutak was quick to reply, “It is very easy, young man. You just have to ask her to write in 7 words how she feels about you!”

“Believe it or not, sir, that is just what I did!”

“And what did each of them write? Quickly tell me, so we can close this matter for good!”

“Sir, the first one wrote ‘You are a piece of my heart.”

“Enough! She is the one for you! You can let the other woman go!” Dr. N. Crutak declared triumphantly.

“Sir, I pray you hear what the second woman wrote too.”

“Tell me, young man, though I wager the matter is already settled!”

“Sir, she wrote ‘You are the peace of my heart,” the young man answered.

When he heard this, Dr. N. Crutak was thoroughly confounded. He pondered for a long time before he could answer. “Young man, I regret to say I have been unable to advise you in this matter of utmost importance. I admit I have been utterly baffled myself! Indeed, I am very sorry!”

At this, the young man said, “Sir, do not be sorry. You have been of immense help. Advice itself comes in many forms. Sometimes the inability to provide suitable advice is enough evidence that the matter at hand does not need any guidance!”

Dr. N. Crutak appeared humbled. He suddenly felt admiration for the young man, an admiration that he had reserved so far only for himself. He had the feeling that, in that last one hour or so, the young man had taught him more than he ever learned in his entire life. To Dr. N. Crutak it seemed that by some strange turn of events the advisor himself had received advice!

Dr. N. Crutak and the young man wished each other good luck and parted amicably and with affection for each other. They would remember their memorable encounter for many years to come with a smile.

***

The reader will be surely interested to know what happened to the two characters. Dr. N. Crutak became a completely different man, a more humble, down to earth and friendly person. He even decided to call himself by his first name, Dr. Nicopop C., and went on to publish a famous book refuting his earlier bestseller. Presently he teaches at the university.

As for the young man, his conundrum was finally solved with the help of the two young women in his life. The solution turned out to be an extremely easy one. It so happened that both the women were also in love with two other men at the same time as with our young man. The dilemma was solved by the simple solution of extending the circle of love, so as to include another person in it. The young men and women decided that since love was meant for sharing, it followed that it was not wrong to love more than one person at the same time. There are rumors that their circle of Love is rapidly enlarging and will soon encompass the whole world.

*****

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Beryl Zephyr

An occasional writer but a regular thinker, Beryl sometimes fiddles in speculative fiction. He sees both humour and tragedy in everyday events and is extremely concerned with the fate of other creatures trapped in the monstrous march of 21st-century human civilization.

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