Nothing Left to Learn: Harishankar Parsai’s Satirical Essay, A Sorted Man
We have all encountered that one person whose staggering devotion to a cause has left us questioning their logic and sanity. The complete denial of facts or rational explanation is a peculiar hallmark of this kind of a belief system. As is clearly evident on public forums, even highly educated or privileged folks are not immune to this disease.
An extreme brand of patriotism that has resurged in recent years is one instance of this condition. However, this phenomenon is nothing new. In his satirical essay “Ek Suljha Aadmi” (A Sorted Man), Harishankar Parsai gives us a humourous take on this blind devotion.
Harishankar Parsai (1924- 1995) was a celebrated Hindi writer who revolutionised satire writing with his direct and piercing style. Born in a small village in Madhya Pradesh, he completed his studies and settled into a prolific writing career in Jabalpur.
The protagonist of “A Sorted Man” is an extreme nationalist who is convinced of the superiority of the Aryan race and the unprecedented achievements of ancient Indians. He begins the essay with a reference to his own complacency by stating, “Many people ask me how I have come to be so clear-sighted, with a personality so wondrously simple and straightforward.” His answer is woefully simple:
By avoiding questions that can inflict pain it is possible for humans to lead a happy existence, and I have always strived for such happiness. To that end I never asked any questions other than the ones I put to myself, nor did I ever change my answers. That is the secret of my clear-sighted approach, my sense of self-confidence and my happiness.
What follows is a ridiculous set of questions that he poses to himself as a means of arriving at the truth, such as:
In thousands of years, has the human race achieved anything?
Nothing whatsoever. All the breakthroughs had already been accomplished in our land.
Do we need to learn anything now?
Certainly not! Remember, our ancestors were world leaders–vishwa guru.
The sorted man then narrates a series of verbal victories against experts at prestigious events. The speaker’s bizarre logic is all too familiar and bears eerie resemblance to the arguments offered by many contemporary public personalities.
One day, at a doctors’ gathering I said: “The West is proud that its discovery of penicillin, during the Second World War, has increased humanity’s lifespan. They haven’t the foggiest that the antibiotic was actually discovered in our land during the time of the Mahabharata war.
“Friends! Imagine the scene–Bhishma pitamaha, the upright, eternal brahmachari, Bhishma, is lying on a bed of arrows, his entire body lacerated. He is observing the pace of the sun’s movement–as soon as it begins its northward moment–uttarayan–he will leave his earthly existence.
“He stayed alive for a full 51 days and even then, he did not die of his wounds; he chose the moment of his death.
“The question I want to ask Western scientists is–how come his wounds did not turn septic? Due to the existence of penicillin, that’s why! He had been administered penicillin. The penicillin which Bharat gave to the world 10,000 years ago is now being returned to us with such fanfare by the West as if they had discovered it! Friends, don’t forget that Bharat is the world leader. We are know-alls; there’s nothing anyone can teach us.”
Through his insistence that the invention of military weapons, advances in botany, human psychology and strangely, even body building germinated in India, Parsai narrates comical instances of the sorted man’s invincible stupidity.
Parasai ends with a dark warning disguised as a joke, “I know for a fact that after listening to my ideas, many people have put an end to their learning process. They have stopped learning.”