Thursday, 18 October 2007

The right perspective

Bare truth is a sharp knife. As Balthasar Gracian said, you should seize things not by the blade, which cuts you, but by the handle to use them. Among people, clothe naked truth with good sense and politeness. This reminds me of a story:

As everybody knows by now, Timur the Lame was not only limping but also one-eyed and crippled in one wrist. At one time of leisure, in Samarkand where he sat court and erected his sky-blue palaces, dream gardens and lavish imperial tents, the mighty Emir fancied his painted image to be made for the wonder and joy of generations to come. A portrait to last across the ages to show who he used to be.

The court painter, who was sent for in China, displayed his finest art. For thirty days he ravished into a spitting image, a perfect reflection, the very twin of the living Timur, the incomparable emir, looking straight at you from the canvas.

The thirty-first day, the ruler ordered the portrait to be uncovered, looked at it and grew angry: "This is true, but it is ugly. Take this worm out and bring me back his head on a platter, to rest my shorter leg and my blind eye on it!"

The second painter of the court tried his luck. With shaking limbs, he presented his own work to the brow rising emir. Timur admired the picture for a while before he decided,

"This image is beautiful but it is not true. Take this cheap flatterer out of my presence and let him be beheaded! You can leave his head outside, by his feet."

No third painter gathered enough courage to try again, so that it was, as often before, Nasreddin's time to be summoned and offered to choose between brush and blade. Hoça chose the brush and worked hard (with some help from paid artists, too shy to claim their merit at that time).

After six months, when the spring came, the day of showing could not be delayed any more.

Timur uncovered the portrait with his own hand.

He looked, and looked, scratched his head, frowned, turned his eye skywards, smoked a whole narghileh and then allowed a large smile to spread on his imperial face.

"Not so bad", he said. "I'm not handsome but seen from a reasonable distance among my troops I look proud. On horseback, who could notice that I'm lame? From one side, nobody sees that I have only that good eye. As I am holding my side quiver, my deformed wrist is hidden . Let this witty painter be showered with a thousand gold dirham. He knows how to show the truth to the people."

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