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Chapter 11: Ambition: The Roots of Terrorism

I used to be the guest of a family in Kolkata. The man owned the most beautiful building in Kolkata, with a beautiful garden. When Kolkata was the capital of India, this house was the Governor General’s residence, so this man was very proud of his house. Except for the house, he hardly talked about anything else. I stayed in his house several times. I would say, “I have seen your whole house, I am familiar with every inch of your house by now. Have mercy on me! How long can I listen to this eulogy again and again?”

But when I stayed at his house for the last time, I was very surprised. He was completely quiet - not a word about the house. I said, “Say something about the house! It feels a little odd. You, and sitting so quietly!”

He said, “There will be no talk of the house anymore. Can’t you see out at the front? Somebody has built a palace. And until I have built a better, bigger and taller palace than his, there will be no talk of this house. Now, the subject is no longer about the house.”

I said, “It is still the same beautiful house. These are still the same beautiful, historical things!” And I said, “He has built a house, but he has not even touched your house. Your house is exactly the same as it was before. Why do you feel so troubled?”

Coincidentally, the person who had built that other house was also familiar with me, and knowing that I was there, he came to see me. He invited me for dinner at his place and of course, along with me, he invited my host too. After inviting us the man left and my host said, “I cannot step inside that house. I would rather that palace caught fire. Even at the cost of my life I will make sure it is destroyed.”

I said, “That fellow is a good man. He came to see us. He has invited you.”

My host said, “This has nothing to do with being a good man or anything else. He has nasty ways. He wants to find a way to show me the inside of his palace and his belongings. I don’t even look at his house! I have put curtains on my car windows. I have raised the boundary walls of my garden. I just want to forget, somehow, that that house even exists. You will have to go there alone. Please forgive me. I will not be able to come with you.”

What madness! But every child is being fed the poison of ambition from the time he is still on his mother’s breast: “Don’t die without achieving something. Prove yourself! Leave your name in history. Make the world remember that you existed.”

And you may reach the highest of positions, accumulate all the money in the world, live in great palaces - and then begins the real trouble: “Is this what I have been running after my whole life?”

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