It happened once…a man died who was one of the greatest nuisances in the village. He had been harassing everybody, was indebted to everybody; from wherever he took anything, he would never pay. The whole village was against him. He had been punished, he had been to jail two, three times, but he never changed his style of life. He was a parasite; and he was a very strong man, so people were afraid….
I had gone to his funeral, and I was wondering who was going to speak now in praise of him and what qualities they were going to attribute to the dead man. There was dead silence – nobody was standing up to speak. Finally people told the mayor of the town, “Unless something is spoken in his favor, in his praise, the fire cannot be put into the funeral pyre, so what is the point of waiting? We all know…say something, say anything, but the convention has to be fulfilled.”
The mayor was a very beautiful man – he was a very creative and talented person. He had written a few very beautiful stories, on which films have been based, so he was well-known all over the country. Basically and professionally, he was a legal expert.
I was sitting by his side and he told me, “Do you have any idea?” He knew me – we used to discuss strange subjects together.
I told him, “I have one idea.”
He said, “Then it is better you speak.”
I said, “No, because I am not a respectable man. You are the mayor – you speak. I will give you the hints.”
He said, “But I cannot conceive…I am a fiction writer, but even I cannot conceive what to say about this man. It will be an absolute lie – and even to utter it, I will feel embarrassed.”
I said, “Don’t feel embarrassed; you say one thing, that compared to his other four brothers who are still alive, he was an angel.”
He said, “That’s good. And that is true! You are not lying, there is no question of fiction.” And this was the truth; his other four brothers were even more dangerous. They were younger, stronger….
He stood up and said, “He was an angel….” Everybody looked at him: What is he saying? Even a lie has to be limited! For a moment he looked around and then he said, “…compared to his four brothers who are still alive.” And people clapped! It was true – it was not a lie. And I have never seen clapping when somebody is being burnt.
The mayor, coming back home, told me, “You saved the situation! But you are a strange boy; you go to almost all the funerals as if you don’t have anything else to do.”
I said, “We all have to go one day – before that I want to learn about death as much as I can. And I am also learning about people’s psychology: they are trembling inside, but laughing, joking, gossiping – just to avoid the consciousness that everybody’s death is your death. Everybody’s death is a signal that you should be ready: your time may be coming any moment.”
But we have always given, in all languages, beautiful words to hide realities.