Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Winner Stands Alone

I grabbed Paulo Coelho's latest book, "The Winner Stands Alone", during one of my rare weekend outings about a month ago (weekend, for me, is time to stay home doing homey things). Romantic at heart, I was struggling reading its first chapter - no thanks to Igor, the Russian Billionaire (I imagined him looking like Putin). He is on the pursuit of 'destroying a universe' (Read: Killing people) to make his ex-wife realised that leaving him for another man is the biggest mistake! At one point of my life, I, too, had a strong urge to cause such grievous actions on others so that they could see how hurt I was (thankfully, I was sane enough to realise things always happen for good reasons. If not now, later).

But as I progressed with this book, like many other admirers of Paulo Coelho's works, we realise Igor epitomises our life's greedy pursuit for power just to make us feel normal, at par with the rest of the degrading worldly people. This book is life-changing for me. It has too many secrets about life and one of them is Lucifer Effect. This term coined by Professor Philip Zimbardo explains so many inexplicable events inflicting us. His extensive works on Lucifer Effect make Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine so relevant in today's world. Zimbardo and Klein's works picture the worst side of us humans.

I hope you enjoy reading this one meaningful story taken from this book.

The spirit of the girl with the dark eyebrows reminds him of the story told by an old Afghan in a break during a battle.
After many centuries of turmoil and bad government, the population of a city high up on one of the desert mountains of Herat province was in despair. They could not simply abolish the monarchy and yet neither could they stand many more generations of arrogants, egotistical kings. They summoned Loya Jirga, as the council of wise men is known locally.

The Loya Jirga decided that they should elect a king every four years, and that this king should have absolute power . He could increase taxes, demand total obedience, choose a different woman to take to his bed each night, and eat and drinks his fill. He could wear the finest clothes, ride the finest horses. In short, any order he gave, however absurd, would be obeyed, and no one would question whether it was logical or just.

However, at the end of that period of four years, he would be obliged to give up the throne and leave the city, taking with him only his family and the clothes on his back. Everyone knew that this would mean certain death within three or four days because there was nothing to eat or drink in that vast desert, which was freezing in winter and like a furnace in summer.

The wise men of the Loya Jirga assumed that no one would risk standing for the position of king, and that they would then be able to return to the old system of democratic elections. Their decision was made public, and the post of the king fell vacant. Initially, several people applied. An old man with cancer took up the challenge and died during the period of his rule with a smile on his face. A madman succeeded him, but left four months later (he had misunderstood the terms) and vanished into the desert. Then rumours started going around that the throne had a curse on it, and no one dared apply for the position. They city was left without a governor, confusion reigned, and the inhabitants realised that they must forget the monarchist tradition altogether and prepare to change their ways. The Loya Jirga felt pleased that its members had taken such a wise decision. They hadn't forced the people to make a choice; they had simply got rid of those who wanted power at any price. Then a young man, married and with three children came forward.

"I accept the post", he said.

The wise men tried to explain the risks. They reminded him that he had a family and explained that their decision had merely been a way of discouraging adventurers and despots. However, the young man stood firm, and since it was impossible to go back on their decision, the Loya Jirga had no option but to wait another four years before they could put in place the planned return to elections.

The young man and his family proved to be excellent governors. They ruled fairly, redistributed wealth, lowered the price of food, organised popular festivals to celebrate the change of season, and encouraged craft work and music. every night, though, a great caravan of horses would leave the city, drawing heavy carts covered with jute cloth so that no one could see what was inside them. These carts never came back.

At first, the wise men of the Loya Jirga thought that the king must be removing treasure from the city, but consoled themselves with the fact that the young man rarely ventured beyond the city walls; if he had and had tried to climb the nearest mountain, he would realised that the horses would die before they got very far. This was, after all, one of the most inhospitable places on the planet. They determined that, as soon as his reign was over, they would go to the place where the horses had died of exhaustion and the riders of thirst, and they would recover all that treasure.
They stopped worrying and waited patiently.

At the end of the four years, the young man left the throne and the city. The population was in uproar, after all, it had been a long time since they had enjoyed such a wise and just governor!

However, the Loya Jirga's decision had to be respected. The young man went to his wife and children and asked them to leave with him.

"I will", said his wife, "but at least let our children stay. They will then survive to tell your story".
"Trust me", he said.

The tribal laws were very strict, and the wife had no alternative but to obey her husband. They mounted their horses and rode to the city gate, where they said goodbye to the friends they had made while governing the city. The Loya Jirga were pleased. They mights have made many allies, but fate is fate. No one else would risk accepting the post of governor, and the democratic tradition would be restored at last. As soon as they could, they would recover the treasure abandoned in the desert, less than three days from there.

The family rode into the valley of death in silence. The wife didn't dare say a word, the children didn't understand what was going on, and the young man was immersed in thought. They climbed one hill, and travelled for a whole day across a vast plain, and slept on the top of the next hill.

The woman woke at dawn, wanting to make the most of the final few days of her life to look her last on the mountains she had loved so much. She went up to the very top of the hill and gazed down on what should have been an empty plain, and she was startled by what she saw.

During those four years, the caravans leaving the city each night had not been carrying off jewels or gold coins. They had been carrying bricks, seeds, wood, roof-tiles, spices, animals and traditional tools that could be used to drill into the earth and find water.

Before her lay a far more modern, far more beautiful city than the old one, and all in working order.

"This is your kingdom", said the young man, who had just woken up and joined her. "Ever since I heard the decree, I knew it would be pointless to try and change in four years everything that centuries of corruption and bad governance had destroyed. I was certain of one thing, though, that it was possible to start again".

1 comment:

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.