The smart man accepts the challenge

There was a barber who knew everything. According to many people, he knew even more than God Himself! Everybody in the village had to surrender to the barber's superior wisdom.

This particular barber was immensely liked by the zamindar, the village chief. The zamindar clearly saw that although the barber stayed in his chosen profession, he was so smart that he could easily fool everybody in the palace, even the zamindar's ministers!

Now there is a particular fish in Bengal called 'hilsa'. This hilsa fish is most delicious. It is slightly salty. I enjoyed it very, very much before spirituality entered into my life at the age of twelve. Before that, I ate fish every day! Hilsa fish is not available throughout the year, but only for three or four months of the year.

One day the zamindar summoned the barber and brought up the topic of hilsa fish. The zamindar was so exasperated. He said to the barber, "Look, I cannot do anything. Here in the palace, everybody is talking about hilsa, hilsa, hilsa —- this fish is monopolising the conversation. I cannot concentrate on anything and it is so frustrating. All I hear is hilsa, hilsa —- as if there is no other kind of fish!"

The barber said, "I also like hilsa fish very much. What can you do when everybody likes something?"

The zamindar thought for a few moments and then said, "You have to do something for me. Tomorrow you have to go to the market and buy me the largest hilsa fish that is available —- but on one condition: if anybody speaks to you about the fish, then you have lost the game. You have to bring me the fish, but the rule of the game is that nobody should pay any attention to the fish."

One of the zamindar's ministers happened to be listening to this discussion. He said, "It is impossible! For the barber to bring you the largest hilsa fish from the market and for nobody to pay any attention to him is truly an impossible task."

But the barber was not at all perturbed. "Oh, it will be quite easy!" he said.

The zamindar had utmost confidence in the barber. He said to the barber, "I know you can do anything. I have kept these ministers in my court, but they are useless. Whenever I ask them to do something, the very first thing they say is, 'Impossible, impossible!' In your case, there is no such thing as impossible. From the start you say that you can do it." In this way, he went on appreciating and flattering the barber.

"It is true, I can easily do it," affirmed the barber.

The following morning, before the barber went to the market, he approached a fellow barber and said, "Now do me a favour. I want you to shave me only on one side of my face. And my head —- you know that I have so much hair, but you will shave one side completely. On one side my hair will remain the same and on the other side I will be absolutely bald-headed!"

The fellow barber carried out these instructions most faithfully. Then the first barber tied a large bandage around his right knee and coloured it with red ink so that the bandage seemed to be full of blood. People could see that he was bleeding profusely.

So in this way, the barber went to the market and searched for the largest hilsa fish. He soon found what he was looking for. The owner of the fish store was horrified at the barber's appearance. He exclaimed, "What is this?"

The barber replied, "That is none of your business. I have selected the fish I want and here is the money to pay for it. Now give me the fish."

The owner quickly took the money and handed the barber the hilsa fish. Then the barber proceeded towards the zamindar's palace. On the way, everybody was saying, "What is wrong with the barber today? What is the matter with him? Has he gone crazy? Look at his head, look at his face! Poor fellow, he is hurt. His knee is bleeding! What is this, what is this?"

Everybody came out to stare at the barber. They all paid attention to his head, his face and his knee and nobody used the word 'hilsa' at all. Nobody said, "Oh, he has got such a large hilsa."

Finally the barber arrived at the zamindar's huge mansion. When the zamindar saw the barber's physical appearance, he became furious. "You rascal," he shouted, "have you no respect for my house, no respect for me? How can you come here in this kind of condition? What is wrong with you? Why are your head and face half-shaven and why is your knee bleeding so badly? Have you gone crazy? Where is your respect for me?"

"What do you want?" asked the barber simply. "Do you want respect from me or do you want your yesterday's desire to be fulfilled? Which one is more important?"

"I want my desire to be fulfilled," answered the zamindar.

"Then do you not see, this is how I was able to fulfil your desire," continued the barber. "I accepted your challenge. I went to the market and bought the largest hilsa fish. Then I walked to your palace carrying it. Along the way, everybody was gazing at me and saying, 'What is wrong with this fellow? Why does he look like this today?' My appearance created such a commotion! So they all paid attention to my head, my face and my knee and nobody said one word to me about the hilsa fish."

The zamindar was so proud of the barber's intelligence. The zamindar's ministers all bowed their heads to the barber, but they were not at all happy. They said, "It is impossible to deal with this fellow!"

The barber showed that at any time one can accept a challenge if one has intelligence.