Truth has only one face, falsehood many

Truth has only one face, falsehood many
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Highlights

With considerable regret, and a feeling almost bordering on guilt, this columnist is constrained to admit that for the second week in succession, the news–space environment has failed to yield anything to justify its discussion in this column.

With considerable regret, and a feeling almost bordering on guilt, this columnist is constrained to admit that for the second week in succession, the news–space environment has failed to yield anything to justify its discussion in this column.

Recourse is, per force, being taken to pondering on issues of philosophical nature, once again.

A junior colleague of this columnist once remarked that the Cabinet Secretariat of the government of India is a 'zero error zone'. And that set off a train of thought.

In 2004, well-known film star Chiranjeevi had asked this columnist to inaugurate the website of his blood bank at Jubilee Hills, in Hyderabad. During the function he asked, "Is it true that you were a child film star?"

"Yes," the reply was, "but I have never acted so much in my life as I am doing in my present job!" All professions call for total dedication, complete devotion, a fierce commitment to error–free performance and a certain amount of pride in being a practitioner of that particular occupation.

The ability to effect a comfortable compromise between the need for perfection and the imperatives of practicality, is also a crucial requirement. The point being made is that just as his vocation demanded a good deal of administrative ability, the job of a civil servant also required a reasonable amount of histrionic talent.

That is the compromise which Yudhishthir, the eldest of the Pandavas, was constrained to make during the war in Mahabharat. "Aswathama is dead", he tells Dronacharya, the commander in chief of the Kaurava army, fully aware that it is actually an elephant with the same name which has died and that the wrong information conveyed by him will lead to Drona laying down arms.

Drona had to be thus neutralised, as he was fighting on the side of Duryodhana who stood for adharma. It is thus that Yudhishthir makes the only compromise in his life with his commitment to speaking the truth always. That exception is made in order to meet the ends of justice in that given situation.

In January 1995, this columnist had moved to Delhi from Hyderabad upon his posting as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, government of India.

Soon after arrival, he called on Dr K. Srinath Reddy (now a distinguished cardiologist of international repute and son of former Governor of West Bengal the late K V Raghunatha Reddy), for a medical check-up. To a query regarding smoking, this columnist confessed to moderate indulgence.

That is like saying 'I am almost a virgin', the doctor said! Apparently, Dr Reddy and Yudhishthir had different standards of absoluteness! The simple point was that there are situations where there are no grey areas and one has to choose to belong to one side or the other.

Scientists know that the slightest alteration in the initial conditions of a chemical reaction or a physical process is likely to get magnified into a phenomenon of enormous proportions with the passage of time.

As an illustration of this principle, this columnist recalls the time when, as a freshly joined probationer in the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, he had to attend his first interview with the Director of the Academy. Preoccupied with a game of bridge with colleagues, he had quite forgotten about the appointment and remembered it when there were hardly 15 minutes left.

Having run all the way to his room, quickly donned the attire called for by the formality of the occasion and sprinted all the way up to the Director's room, he rushed in, panting and puffing with the exertion and tension. An account of what transpired thereafter has appeared elsewhere in an article.

What transpired, however, was that upon being asked about the reasons for the delay in keeping the appointment, this columnist ad-libbed desperately. Having put forth a stomach indisposition as the reason initially, he was unable to answer the question about the medicine he had taken for relief.

Unfortunately, not leaving it at that, the Director pressed on, enquiring about the identity of the medication. Upon being told that it was a homeopathic preparation, the next query was about the name thereof! By the time the inquisition ended, the cat was out of the bag and the bluff had been called!

As it is said, telling a lie needs preparation for telling many others to cover one's tracks. Truth only has one face, but falsehood several.

All pursuits require commitment and dedication laced with a degree of sensible compromise with the need for perfection. It is in acquiring the ability to maintain that balance that the secret of success lies.

No career is small or big. Its dimension and significance are as considerable as the practitioners' commitment.

No lawyer arguing a complicated case can afford to ship up on a point of fact or law. Likewise, dangerous consequences will follow if a surgeon makes the slightest mistake during an operation. And, if lessons in arithmetic or grammar contain errors at the most rudimentary stage, such as the primary school, would not that defective foundation for a child's future education result in disastrous consequences?

It is also not difficult to imagine the effect of a false note creeping into the rendering of a song by a crooner, or the faltering brush of a painter making a wrong stroke in reproducing a masterpiece. For that matter, the smallest initial mistake would cascade into catastrophic proportions in the product of a computer programmer.

Sitaram Yechury (a nephew of this columnist) and P Suryanarayana, a friend, often quote the famous Chinese leader Mao Zedong who said, "How small or how big a stone you are lifting is not important. Significance lies in lifting it perfectly and placing it back on the ground carefully."

(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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