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Home >> Seeker’s Solace  >> Let not appearances cloud your mind

Let not appearances cloud your mind

We live in a world of Maya. We are so dependent on our sense impressions, that we get taken in by what we see and hear. Thinking, alas, comes later!

We have been told repeatedly since our schooldays, that we must never judge a book by its cover. But this is exactly what we do with people. We judge them by the clothes they are wearing, the car they are driving and the jewels, accessories, even the brand of cellphones they carry!

Let me tell you a real-life incident that happened at what is probably the world’s best University, namely the one and only Harvard!

One day, the smartly dressed receptionist at the Harvard University President’s outer office, looked up from her vanity mirror to see a middle-aged couple enter the reception area. She frowned. What could bring them here? They neither looked affluent nor fashionable; and they certainly did not look like professional researchers or scholars. And these were the only ‘types’ she recognised from her front desk. The lady was wearing a simple cotton dress and it was not exactly new; her husband was in a homespun suit. They both walked in timidly and approached her. “Can we see the President of Harvard University?” the man asked softly.

The receptionist favoured them with a cold disapproving look. Putting them down in her own mind as “backwoods” and “country hicks” she decided that these people had no business at Harvard and probably didn’t even deserve to be in Harvard.

With an air of authority and arrogance, she uttered the line that all receptionists love to utter. “Have you an appointment with the President?”

“As a matter of fact, we don’t” the man replied. “But we would like to see him as it is a matter of great importance.”

“Well, he is going to be busy all day,” the secretary snapped.

“That’s alright,” said the lady, “we are prepared to wait.”

For the next few hours, the secretary ignored them completely, as donors, senate members, professors and rich parents criss-crossed the reception area. She smiled and fawned on them, laughed and joked with the students and even got up and bowed obsequiously to those whom she considered VIPs. All the while she was hoping that the ‘shabby’ couple would realise what a grand place Harvard was and go away discouraged.

However, the couple stayed on, determined to attend to their errand. The receptionist felt that they were disgracing Harvard and herself by staying put in her front office. In frustration, she walked into the President’s office and said to him, “Sir, there is this shabby couple stationed in the reception. They say they want to meet you anyhow. Maybe if you could come out and just see them for a few seconds, you can dismiss them.”

The President was not touched or grieved. He only frowned and said harshly, “My dear madam, you must understand we can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery!”

The President sighed. Might as well get rid of these unwanted visitors, he thought to himself. Looking his sternest and proudest, he walked into the outer office and stood before the couple. “Yes?” he said sternly. “What is it that you want? And make it brief; I have several appointments pending.”

The lady told him, “Our son was at Harvard last year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. Unfortunately, we lost him to typhoid last year. My husband and I thought that we would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on this campus where he spent such happy times in the last days of his life…”

The President was not touched or grieved. He only frowned and said harshly, “My dear madam, you must understand we can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery!”

“Oh, no sir, you don’t understand,” the lady explained quickly. “A statue is not the kind of memorial we want for my son. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.”

The President rolled his eyes. He glanced at her simple clothes and her husband’s quiet demeanour and exclaimed as haughtily as he could, “A building! Have you any idea how much a building costs? The Harvard buildings today are worth seven and a half million dollars in terms of immovable assets! Do you want to give us a building?”

The lady stared at him silently. The President rejoiced secretly. At last, he had shown them what it was to talk to a Harvard President. Surely, they would leave now. He glanced at his receptionist and they exchanged triumphant smiles.

The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Seven and a half million dollars! Is that all it costs to start a university? I think we should start one of our own, in that case.”

Her husband, a man of few words, nodded his head in assent.

The President stared at them in utter confusion and bewilderment. What were they talking about?


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