Don’t get hanged for a Comma…!

That freedom fighter was about to be hanged inside jail. The hangman was about to remove the thin plank of wood that was the difference between life and death for the convict. The convict was Indian, hangman was Indian but the order to hang was British government’s… yeah, this story pertains to the Indian freedom struggle era. With heavy heart the hangman went up to the lever that would have removed that plank of wood. Suddenly there was mild commotion from the entrance side.

“Wait, an important message is to be received through wire … Don’t hang him till we receive it.”

It was the British jailor. Hangman’s hands froze where they were. Everybody turned towards the jailor with an expectation… a hope that the convict might get freed… he might not get hanged at all! A moment later, an orderly came running with the wire just received. But, what was that…?! It contained just three words… “HANG NOT SPARE” Communication facility was not, what it is these days and after much deliberation jailor decided to go ahead with hanging as the meaning that he had deciphered from wire was “HANG, NOT SPARE” … off course he came to know about his folly afterwards! What to do… a freedom fighter that would have been set free lost his life just because of a ‘COMMA’!

The second story is from late Mughal period. Badshah Salamat had noticed that his Naib Wazir (Deputy Minister) was absent from his court. He asked his spies to find out the whereabouts of said Wazir. By evening the reply came. It was in Persian that used to be the script of day-to-day work those days. It said,

“او مرد امروز”

(Who Aaj Mar Gaya => He died today).” Badshah Salamat was shocked to hear that but a bigger shock was awaiting him when he came to know that the spy forgot to put “Pesh” (the accented hyphen that puts in the sound “E” at “Mar” and he actually meant to say (Woh Aajmer Gaya => He went to Aajmer).

So, you see, what a misplaced stoppage (Punctuation) can do to the meaning!

In late 17th century, people started placing a common “Shiro-Rekha” (शिरो-रेखा) on all words in a sentence in Hindi. Now, try and make meaning out of following sentence from a letter written in that period:-

“कागदहीकेकारणजानगवायो।

“KAGADHIKEKAARANJAANGAWAAYO”

What do you decipher? This question was put to a “Dhobi” (A Washer man) and he deciphered the meaning as:-

“का गदही के कारण जान गवायो।”

That is, somebody (Probably a washer man) lost his Donkey (गदही) and died due to loss to his income.

Not satisfied, people wanted to consult a “Munshi” (A Clerk, or a person with literary bent of mind) as they were approaching his house, his Milkman happened to come across. Curious, he too wanted to see the letter and after seeing he couldn’t but ridicule them for not understanding a line that was very simple and obvious. It meant, according to him:-

काग दही के कारण जान गवायो।

A crow lost life for curd… (After being hit by the stone thrown by milk-woman to scare him away from the pitcher full of curd, probably …!)

People were aghast at the explanation. Suddenly, somebody noticed the Munshi coming their way. They just ran up to him with the problem at hand. The bespectacled Munshi, adjusting his specs, announced to the crowd, “Meaning is quite obvious… Someone lost very important paper and lost his life because of the urgency associated! You see…

कागद ही के कारण जान गवायो।

Till date it is not clear why someone lost his life or, what the meaning of that sentence is…! Everybody explains it according to his wisdom, his profession, his familiarity with one or other situation. So, you too don’t lose a life (Your or someone else’s) just for a silly punctuation… A Comma!

Now something deeply philosophical: –

“A Punctuation or A Stoppage, as in literature, is very important in life too, for it gives you to time to stop for a while, look around, look back, rejuvenate yourself… and then go ahead.” Think about this.

I know what you are thinking…!

“So much for your philosophies… Huuh!”

Ok, forget it!

~ by Dr. Sanjeev Kumar on August 20, 2011.

One Response to “Don’t get hanged for a Comma…!”

  1. Dr Sanjeev, u have once again swayed your magic wand. This is a swish example to avoid carelessness, and a very touching story, which depicts, that a comma can be important too. I felt very touchy after reading this, n i think people must read it ..

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