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Be nice, looks can be deceiving!

A few days back I chanced upon a video from Indian motivational speaker Gaur Gopal Das. While watching it, I got reminded of a story I had read nearly 15 years back in my school – The Needle. A copy of this story may be accessed here. This story is written by Polish-American Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer who mostly writes in Yiddish.

It is amazing how one born on the banks of Vistula in Poland and one born on the shores of Arabian Sea in India are conveying the same message – Be nice, looks can be deceiving! One through needle and the other through Bank Account.

The Plot

It so happens that in the 20th century Poland a noblewoman is in need of a needle. Now needles cost only a meagre quarter a penny. Furthermore, in Poland trading in needles is a sort of an ill omen as it brings bad luck. No shopkeeper wants to deal with it. Patrons would usually buy a spool of thread, some buttons, and a needle would be thrown in without even being mentioned. Too embarrassed to fetch quarter a penny worth needle, the noblewoman decides to guise as an ordinary subject and visits a distant town. Of course she could have gotten any one of her hundreds of maids to fetch the needle but this was no ordinary needle. After a long and arduous journey, the noblewoman reaches her destination. She sieves one shop after another in search of the needle.

Elsewhere in the 21st century USA, a rich lady walks into a Bank to withdraw $500. Unfortunately she is told that she needs to use the ATM for withdrawing any amount below $5,000. The old lady was not convinced but was told that rules were rules. Undeterred she then instructs the cashier to withdraw all the money in her Bank Account which to the astonishment of the cashier happens to be 3.5 billion dollars – enough to give 35 rupees to everyone on the planet! The cashier panics as she doesn’t have so much money in cash. Apologetically she tells the old lady that she can only withdraw a maximum of $300,000 which the old lady promptly does. Only to take $500 from it and returns the remaining $299,500 to the cashier to deposit it right back. The flabbergasted cashier is lost for words.

Meanwhile in Poland our noblewoman is rudely shown the exit way shop after shop. Even an angel would have lost patience culling the needle with the exact length, the precise eye and the perfect width she desired. A quarter a penny was not worth any salesgirl’s time. Much ado about nothing or was it? ‘Tis not a needle she was looking for. She was looking for a lady. A lady to be her heir. A lady to be the bride to her son! And what qualities she desired in her daughter in law? Someone who would be as courteous to a customer looking for a quarter a penny needle as she would be to a client transacting in billions of dollars. Eventually she finds a young salesgirl who tells our Noblewoman, “First of all, a needle costs only quarter of a penny and then, as the Talmud (the holy Jewish book) says, the same law applies to a penny as it does to a hundred guilders (Dutch currency). Besides, today you buy a needle and tomorrow you may be buying satins for a trousseau (wedding dress).


Something as trivial as a needle and something as valuable as 3.5 billion dollar bank account both need to be treated with same sincerity. Be nice to people, you never know who you are dealing with. They may have “wealth” (of money and knowledge) that you never know of.

Take a clue from the picture below. The richest man on the planet Bill Gates is standing here patiently waiting for his burger. Would you have the same courtesy if you had 96 billion dollars in your account?

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October 13, 2019 2:43 am


October 14, 2019 2:17 am