Wēn Jiābǎo 1942

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The poetry loving popular Premier of China.

(Excerpt from a letter of the White Tiger, a thinking man and an entrepreneur, to His Excellency Wen Jiabao, The Premier's Office, Beijing, Capital of the Freedom-loving Nation of China.)

He was an old Muslim, with a ptich black face that was bedewed with sweat, like a begonia leaf after the rains, and a long white beard.

I said: "Can you read Urdu?"
He opened the book, cleared his throat and read, "'You were looking for the key for years but the door was always open!' Understand that?" He looked at me, wide furows on his black forehead.
"Yes Muslim uncle."
"Shut up, you liar. And listen."
He cleared his throat again.
"'You were looking for the key for years but the door was always open!'"
He closed the book. "That's called poetry. Now get lost."

"Please, Muslim uncle," I begged. "I'm just a rickshaw-puller's son from the Darkness. Tell me all about poetry. Who wrote the poem?"
He shook his head, but I kept flattering him, telling him how fine his beard was, how fair his skin was (Ha!), how it was obvious from his nose and forehead that he wasn't some pigherd who had converted but a true-blue Muslim who had flown here on a magic carpet all the way from Mecca, and he grunted with satisfaction.

He read me another poem, and another one....and he explained to me the true history of poetry, which is a kind of secret, a magic known only to wise men, Mr. Premier, I won't be saying anything new if I say that the history of the world is the history of a ten thousand year war of brains between the rich and the poor. Each side is eternally trying to hoodwink the other side: and it has been this way since the start of time.

The poor win a few battles (the peeing on the potted plants, the kicking of pet doogs, etc.) but of course the rich have won the war for ten thousand years. That's why, one day, some wise men, out of compassion for the poor, left them signs and symbols in poems, which appear to be about roses and pretty girls and things like that, but when understood correctly spill out the secrets that allow the poorest man on earth to conclude the ten thousand year old brain war on terms favorable to himself.

Now, the four greatest of these wise poets were Rumi, Iqbal, Mirza Galib, and another fellow whose name I was told but have forgotten. (Who was that fourth poet? It drives me crazy that I can't recal his name. If you know it send me an email.)

From the novel The White Tiger by the Indian novelist Aravind Adiga, 2008 The Free Press, a division of Simon & Shuster, Inc.

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