Finding a New Foreign Minister

akbar-birbalOnce upon a time in India, there was a king who used to organize timely competitions to find talented personnel for demanding ministerial jobs. During one such occasion, the king was looking for a junior member suitable for his foreign ministry. The king needed someone who was fluent in many languages and someone who could help set up trade relations with other kingdoms in the region.  Therefore, he ordered a competition that involved challenges in translation.  He chose a panel of expert judges and asked them to come up with literature that was very difficult to translate.  They worked hard to assemble a set of riddles to translate.  More than two hundred applications from all over his kingdom were accepted for participation.

The competition day arrived.  The king took his chair and the participants took their positions in a huge auditorium.  They were given one problem at a time and asked to translate (write) it into a suggested language within a stipulated time.  All of their answers were collected.  The judges’ panel evaluated them and short-listed three candidates for the final round of interview with the king.

The king knew from their answer sheets that they were extremely good at the art of translation. There was no point in giving them a difficult puzzle again.  Hence, he decided to test them on a different footing.  In the interview, the king said something very simple and asked them to translate and write it in another language of their choice.  The first candidate chose his mother tongue, the second one chose the language of his neighbouring kingdom and the third one said he could not translate.

The king gave them another task.  This time, he handed his own portrait paintings to each of them and asked them to translate him into a language of their choice.

The first candidate wrote the king’s name with all his citations.  The second candidate chose to include a brief biography of the king.  The third candidate looked around and saw a fireplace in the corner.  He collected some coal powder and requested the king to put a thumb impression in coal under his own portrait.  The king was pleased and immediately gave him an appointment order.

Later in the day, the king asked the new recruit why he said no to translating a simple verse given to him during the final interview.  The fresh face in his foreign ministry replied, “Your majesty, I knew that the poem was in your mother tongue and there was no point in translating it back to you when you knew it so well already”.  The king patted on his back and wished him good luck.

(After writing this short story and rereading it a couple of times I realized how similar it is to some of the Birbal-Akbar stories I had read as a kid.  Imagination always sprouts from the past even when it looks at the future or thinks as if it is inspired from an unknown future…

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2 thoughts on “Finding a New Foreign Minister”

  1. You know, when I started to read this, I thought that you were reiterating an Akbar-Birbal story or a Tenali Rama story that you had read before! Strange how we connect things! I completely agree that imagination has a huge influence from our past, infact, how a story we write ends depends largely on life experiences till then and probably the ending would be written differently at a later stage in life! Also, it is interesting to note that you are using “ಹೆಬ್ಬೆಟ್ಟು” as a language in itself! Isn’t it supposed to be the hallmark of someone who cannot read and write or is it a universal language?!

    1. “ಹೆಬ್ಬೆಟ್ಟು” (thumb impression) is not a language, however can be elevated to be one under special circumstances. It substitutes for and does an even better job than a written signature. However, one cannot translate a person into words. Wouldn’t you give credit to the king for setting an interesting challenge?
      We live in a world that wants and emphasizes intelligent answers and solutions. I think we need a bit more of imagination in asking questions. By the way, I don’t mean tough, memory based, problem solving and/or olympiad questions. I don’t want misleading word-play also.

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