Two sisters were chatting with each other over tea at the farmhouse of the younger one. The elder sister who lived in town was not impressed with the living conditions ofher younger sister. She said it was terrible to live in a farm with minimum conveniences of life. However, the younger one had a different perspective. She said life in the farmhouse was free from tension and had less occasions for temptations compared to town.
Pahom, the younger sister’s husband who overheard their discussion said to himself, “It is perfectly true. Busy as we are from childhood tilling Mother Earth, we have no time to let any nonsense settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t land enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”
Pahom, a peasant farmer, really thought if he had plenty of land he would be perfectly happy. Though he enjoyed farming he had no land of his own. He always tilled the land leased by a landlord for a huge fee. Hence, he had his heart set on acquiring a few acres of land. As luck would have it, a lady landlord was willing to sell him as many acres of land as he wanted. But he could only raise enough money for 40 acres of land. He managed to do that with the help of his brother-in-law who was happy to help him.
In quest of fortune
The new land brought him a fortune as all his crops were good. And he was very happy, but not for too long. He thought if he could acquire more land he could make more profit and thus he could find real happiness. It was then he heard land was available in a faraway village which was dirt cheap. In no time he sold his land and moved to the new place where he became part of a Commune through which he acquired 125 acres. Again his crops were good and he was able to make ten times more money than before.
Was Pahom happy when he made ten times more money? Not really. His only thought was if he had more land he could have made more profits. So again he set out to buy more land using his profits. He almost clinched a deal for 1300 acres when he heard that he could buy 13000 acres for the same amount of money in a faraway place. Immediately he set out for his new destination which was three hundred miles away.
When he reached the place, the ‘Baskhirs’ who owned the land welcomed him with open arms and offered to sell him land. “Our price is always the same,” their Chief said, “one thousand Rubles a day.” Confused at the offer,Pahom asked, “A day? What measure is that? How many acres that would be?” “We do not know how to reckon it out,” the Chief said. “We sell it by the day. As much as you can go around on your feet in a day is yours, and the price is one thousand rubles a day.”
Pahom could not believe his ears. He knew he could cover thousands of acres in a day on his feet. He dreamed of becoming the richest landlord in the country. “But there is a condition,” the Chief said. “If you do not return on the same day to the spot where you started, your money is lost.” Pahom thought the condition was reasonable. At the crack of dawn the next day, he ran with a spade digging holes and piling up dirt, thus marking the covered area.
The more land he saw the more ambitious he became. He ran non-stop till noon covering thousands of acres. Then he remembered he had to get back before sunset to where he had started to stake his claim for the land he covered. After quickly nourishing himself with food and drink which he had carried with him he began to run back in a circular direction.
He ran under the scorching sun. Nothing could stop him;not fatigue; not hunger; not thirst. Fighting exhaustion and dehydration, he made it back. As everyone clapped including the Chief, congratulating on his achievement, he collapsed on the spot from where he had started. As his servant who had been waiting tried to help him, he found that Pahomwas dead!
“His servant picked up the spade and dug a grave long enough for Pahom to lie in, and buried him in it,” the famous Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) writes concluding his famous short story, How much land does a man need? “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed.”
A bottomless pit
The celebrated German-born American Psychologist Erich Fromm (1900-1980) understood greed when he wrote, “Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” Pahom had a genuine need for land. But the moment he got some land, his need became greed and nothing could stop him from pursuing his goal.
By presenting the story of Pahom from being a peasant farmer to an avaricious landlord, Tolstoy has successfully portrayed the flawed human nature which always craves for more in the form of more wealth, more fame, better job, bigger house, etc. There is nothing wrong in having ambition as long as it helps us achieve success, peace and satisfaction in life. However, if our ambition takes the form of greed, it will ultimately end up in disaster.
Greed is disaster not only for the greedy person but also for everyone who comes into contact with him. Since greed is not limited by any rules or guidelines, it will naturally lead to all kinds of vices like dishonesty, cheating, corruption, exploitation, envy and hatred. Greed will eventually destroy the greedy person and will adversely affect the people who come into contact with him. That is why people with an enlightened vision try to avoid greed,akin to the plague. Are we enlightened enough to see the dangers of greed which pulls us down into a bottomless pit?