Once there was a guard who was employed at a mental asylum. He was the one who was in charge of hushing the inmates if they started to shout and scream, stopping scuffles if they broke out, and, in general, maintaining order and decorum in the asylum. Although he was paid adequately for the job, he despised it. He was hardly ever at peace, actually. The comments passed by his relatives about his job (‘Can’t he do some other job and earn more than what is just sufficient? Moreover, can’t he do some other job than manage those madmen?’), the behaviour of his wife, it was all getting to him. Seldom was he in a bright mood with such negative and pessimistic thoughts always running through his mind.
But more than all of this, there was one particular thing which irritated him like nothing else. It was this – the inmates were intermittently very happy. No doubt, they were often sad and in complete despair, but at times they seemed happier than he had ever been. This intrigued and irritated him. How could these people,who had probably been denounced by their family, who had no one, be happy, when he was perpetually?
There was one man in particular whom the guard could never understand. This man, who was very old and had a long white beard, seemed the guard – he was perpetually happy. Maybe ‘evergreen’ was a word that could describe him. The old man always wished the guard a good day whenever the guard went over to him, and thanked the guard everyday for bringing him his food. He lived in a cell, which was on the far side down a corridor, where sunlight seldom shone in the winter days. However, the guard had never heard him complaining. The guard had often wondered, ‘What wondrous thing makes him so happy?’
Then one day, curiosity got the better of him. After handing the old man his food, which he accepted gratefully, he hung around for some time, hesitant. Finally, he started speaking, ‘Baba….’
The old man looked up, surprised at being called ‘father’. Then, as fatherly feelings took over him, he smiled slowly, and blessed the guard.
‘Ayushman bhava.’ May you have a long and healthy life. ‘Yes, my son?’ he said tenderly, as if speaking to his own son. The guard was still hesitating, but then he answered, ‘I….. I would like to know….. Could you please tell me….. How are you so happy and cheerful all the time?’
The old man gave a small laugh. ‘Very well, my son,’ he said, still smiling broadly. ‘But first tell me this. You think I am mad, don’t you?’ No response. The old man smiled further, as if he was enjoying himself thoroughly. His wrinkled cheeks and forehead, showing his age, did not stop his eyes from shining, which were still young. He had the look of a an enthusiastic teacher, ready to share his knowledge willingly, while also willing to listen to others.
Then he said, quite abruptly, ‘How do you know that it is I who is mad, and not you?’
The guard was stunned. He looked up, straight into the eyes of the old man, shocked at what he had just heard. The old man’s eyes seemed earnest. But him? Mad? ‘These madmen ought to be left to themselves,’ he thought, irritated. He was about to get up and leave when the old man spoke again.
‘Sanity is statistical, my son. That truth has been put down on paper by the great author Blair long ago.’ He was still smiling from ear to ear.
The guard was bewildered. He recognised the quote at once, of course. In his childhood, when life was carefree and people commented lesser, he used to be a bookworm. And he remembered this particular quote by George Orwell, simply because he had never quite understood it. ‘Until today,’ he thought. Though he had begun to understand it, he had a feeling the old man would explain it anyway. What shocked him even more was the fact that the old man had used the real name of the author, which was hardly known, not the pen name, by which he was famous.
As if the old man could read the guard’s mind, he said, ‘What? Surely you did not come to me with one of the biggest questions which has troubled humans by simultaneously believing that I was a fool?’ The guard felt as if he had lost the ability to speak. ‘Then again, we are fools, we ‘madmen’, aren’t we?’ The old man laughed, as if amused by his own words.
‘Sanity and insanity are determined by the opinion of the majority, my son. Thus it has ever been. And thus it continues to be.’ He paused briefly, as if to check whether the guard was listening, the resumed, ‘When the opinion of the majority was that the Earth is the centre of the Solar System and the Universe, anyone claiming otherwise was decreed to be a heretic. The were even burnt alive! And now that the belief is different, one is a ‘fool’ to suggest otherwise. Then again, the scientists say that in an infinite space, any and every point can be considered a centre. So in this infinite Universe, why not believe the Earth to be the centre?’ The guard was listening with rapt attention, as if the Truth of the world was being voiced. He felt like a student, seeking, and receiving, the light of enlightenment and the knowledge of Truth from his teacher.
‘Neither the villain, nor the hero, is wrong from his own point of view. That is what everything depends on. That one thing which influences everything we do. That one thing is point of view. Perspective.’
The old man remained silent for some time, as if letting the words sink. He had a serious face now. Suddenly, his facade changed again, and for the first time, the guard saw hints of pain and agony.
‘I, too, had my own perspective. A very different perspective from what people generally have. A perspective radically different from the perspective my family has. They, therefore think I am mad.’ There was pain in his voice as he stopped again, but only briefly.
‘But,’ he lowered his voice, as if about to tell a secret. The guard had to lean in to listen. ‘But, I am content with what I have. I can have my own perspective without being subjected to contempt. Therefore, I am content.’ He brightened up when speaking this last sentence. His voice no longer had traces of despair.
The guard was unsure how to react to this. Thoughts were swimming about his head so fast that he barely had time to process any of them. He looked up, into the eyes of the old man. They seemed to penetrate him and calm him, and he felt himself at peace at once.
‘Remember this, my son – you must be content with your perspective of things. Be content, and you will have no problems. Be content, and you will have inner peace. Be content, and you will be happy.’