The word fool originated from the Latin word follis, a large inflated ball. We generally think, an ignorant who is unable to judge or understand a thing properly is foolish. But a fool is not necessarily stupid. Michael Dirda puts fools in three categories: real fools, professional fools, and unsuspecting fools. The innocent and simpletons speak their mind without restraint, but, often, unknowingly utter words of wisdom. In fairy tales, fools finally find the treasure and also win the princess. Professional fool pretends to be stupid. They deliberately make others feel important. They are good actors. Yes-men, con artists, and clowns fall in this category. An unsuspecting fool considers himself wise. He is vain. His vanity is like a windbag that deflates mid-air. Contrary to his expectations, he gets fooled easily.
Literature in every language is full of foolish characters. Tagore’s Taraprasanna’s Fame is the story of a writer who writes all the time. He has no time for anything, besides writing, and thus knows very little about the world around him. The stuff he writes is never published. Finally, Taraprasanna’s work not only gets published, it gets the praise of the reviewers. They become highly impressed by the complexity of the book, though they couldn’t understand a word of the book. Who is the bigger fool, Taraprasanna, or the reviewers?
Tagore’s poem ‘Old Servant’ beautifully describes the master-servant relationship. It is about Keshto. No one likes this witty and faithful and good for nothing family retainer. Being the old servant, he manages to remain in the house. Once on a pilgrimage, the master gets sick. Keshto’s dedication and service rescue the master from the fatal illness. In the process, he becomes ill. This time the illness proves fatal. The master had to return home but without his beloved old servant. Keshto was not a wastrel after all.
The so-called fools can’t be overlooked, as they play a significant role in society. The historic Akbar-Birbal King-Fool pair of the 16th century is so well known. Birbal was indeed witty and entertaining, but he was also powerful, being one of the Nine Jewels of the most powerful emperor. He was well versed in Hindi, Sanskrit, and Persian. He was also a gifted singer. Should we call him a fool?
As Alexander Pope said, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”