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     Volume 7 Issue 2 | January 11, 2008 |

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One Off

Tolstoy's Hat

Aly Zaker

"How much land does a man require” questioned Leo Tolstoy. And that became the name of a book of his. He is long gone and, perhaps, not read by many of today's Bangladeshis. Well, that is inconsequential. What, however, is important is the fact that we do not even know how much land does a man require. For us, the elites of the Bangladeshi society, the more the merrier. That is what has perhaps got our value system all messed up. Permit me to tell in short the story that Tolstoy told us in his book. Here was this young Russian who once dreamt that while taking a walk in the open he saw an old man with a hat sitting beside a vast and empty land all by himself and his servant. When asked what was the old man doing he said, “I am selling land”. When asked about the price the old man said, “a thousand roubles for as much land as you can walk around and come back to this hat by the sun set”. Next morning the young man comes back with a thousand roubles, deposits it in the hat and starts to walk. He walks and walks. He is tired but sees good and fertile land for all kinds of crops with every few steps forward. So he keeps walking. By the midday he feels tired and hungry, eats the sandwich that he carried with him and falls asleep. When he wakes up, the sun is on a westward incline and the stranger has to cover a lot more distance to grab as much land as he can before it sets. As he starts to walk again he is so overwhelmed by the

"How much land does a man require?" the ultimate question about life that Tolstoy asked, continues to plague mankind.

prospect of owning such a mammoth size of his future property that he cannot resist walking a little more and a little faster. Then he starts to run. He goes faster and faster still. Eventually, he manages to come close to the old man with the hat, now more or less satisfied that he has had a reasonably good-sized property. Never enough, but as much as he could muster for the time being. But as he gets closer to the hat he starts to struggle. He gasps for breath and falls on his knees. Then lies prostrate, crawls to inch forward and barely touches the hat. And the old man with the hat rises, smiles, takes up a spade, gives it to his servant and says, “Dig him a grave, for he is dead. That's all the land that he requiressix by three by three feet”.

This long lost story by Tolstoy came back to me as I was ruminating on the teachings our parents gave us and we in turn tried to give our children. It is just that, I suspect, many of us do not pass on such time tested knowledge that our parents passed on to us. It may well be that they do not have adequate time for such apparently unimportant knowledge. And therefore such consequences befall us that we cannot withstand, let alone live with. Or, as some cynics say, we do not care. Quite a few of us get away with many such wanton chases for wealth that does not belong to us. So why don't we take a chance? This precisely is what happened to many who wielded all financial powers in the immediate past. They could, by virtue of their connections with the power that be, get in to the indiscriminate and, often dishonest, way of amassing ill earned wealth. Today they languish in the dungeon. Unless, of course, they were clever enough to have left for the world beyond Bangladesh where their fortune remains stashed away. Whatever it is, I suspect they will never get to Tolstoy's 'hat' at the end.

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