Words Can Change the World

By Shlomo Maital

        For many years, I have studied startups and taught future and present entrepreneurs.  My tools are…. words, words, words, in articles and books.   Often, I doubt whether producing words, rather than world-changing innovations, is worthy and meaningful.

This is why I found reassurance and encouragement in a BBC story about a handful of words that did change the world, for the good —   a short story by the 1913 Nobel Laureate for Literature from India, Rabindranath Tagore. 

His story, “Kabuliwala”  was written in 1892.  It is about an Afghan, a Pathan, from Kabul, who visits Calcutta (today’s Kolkata), India, each year to sell dry fruits in the marketplace.  While living in India, he develops a strong affection and friendship with a five-year-old girl, Mini, from a middle-class aristocratic family, who reminds him of his own beloved little daughter, at home in Afghanistan.  The story is about love and about the universality of humanity.  We are all parents, children, human beings, members of the human race.

    How did this short story affect India?  In general, Tagore had a powerful influence. He fought for India’s independence from Britain, achieved only in 1947.  But his Kabuliwala story is taught in Indian schools and is thought to have made Indians more receptive to the plight of immigrants and more empathic toward them. 

    There are 21,000 Afghan immigrants in India today and they are demonstrating, demanding they be given basic rights.    And alas, there appear to be very few Rabindranath Tagore’s around these days. Perhaps, like the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, words’ impact wears off – and requires a boost. 

      Pfizer has a booster – but, are there Tagore’s around these days to boost our humanity?  I’m not sure.  It seems the anti-vaxxers, anti-poor, anti-immigrants are gaining the upper hand.    If large groups aren’t willing to wear a mask to protect others – how can we expect humane treatment for those Tagore wrote about 129 years ago?