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May 26, 2021 Wednesday 01:48:22 PM IST

What the World Needs More


Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) was a giant among the French literary figures of his time. As one of the founders of realism in European literature, he excelled as a novelist and playwright. Balzac produced an enormous number of books during his short span of life, including 33 novels, 12 novellas, 20 short story collections, and eight plays. There are also few other books that he published either pseudonymously or anonymously. Balzac is known to have influenced the writings of Charles Dickens and Emile Zola and that of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Balzac had a knack for writing very fast. Moreover, he had the discipline and commitment to work long hours without taking any breaks. That’s how Balzac was able to produce such a large amount of literature during a short period. Even though he was a voluminous writer, he never made much money through his books. His attempt to publish and sell his books was a failure. He also did not get any support from the publishers of his books. They always took advantage of him.

The Last Fay was one of the early novels written by Balzac. When he submitted it to a publisher, the publisher liked it enormously. He knew it had all the qualities needed for a bestseller. Hence, he decided to buy its copyright from the author. In his estimate, it was worth more than 3000 Francs. However, he decided to check the background of Balzac. To his astonishment, he found Balzac was living in a poor area of the city. Immediately, a thought came to his mind. How can he deserve 3000 Francs if he is living in such a poor neighborhood?

After thinking it over for some time, he decided it was too much to give 3000 Francs to a person hailing from such a background. Hence, he brought down the amount to 2000, commending himself for his smartness. Taking 2000 Francs in an envelope, he headed immediately to the residence of Balzac. When he reached there, he found Balzac’s home on the sixth floor of a dilapidated apartment building. It was worse than he could imagine.

How can a guy who lives in such horrid conditions deserve 2000 Francs? Does he need all that money? A thousand Francs would be more than sufficient. With these thoughts, the publisher climbed the steps of the building slowly, congratulating himself for bringing the amount further down. When he reached the apartment of Balzac, he knocked at the door, knowing not how Balzac would respond to his offer.

When Balzac opened the door, the publisher looked at him from top to bottom. “I am here to buy the copyright of your novel,” he said. When Balzac stood there amazed at this surprise visit, the publisher handed him 300 Francs and said, “This is the price for your novel.” “Thanks,” accepting the amount, Balzac replied without showing any particular emotion.

The publisher knew Balzac’s novel was worth 3000 Francs. However, how much did he give? 300 Francs! What happened? The publisher had the desire to make a considerable profit at the expense of Balzac. And his decision was very discriminatory. He was prejudiced. His bias against a commoner was evident. He felt no prick of conscience when he made such an atrocious decision to give Balzac only 300 Francs. In the case of Balzac, he had no choice other than to accept the unjust offer of the publisher. As he needed money, he took it even though he knew he was worth much more.

Balzac was an unknown author at that time. Hence, he was not in a position to bargain. Consequently, he had to be satisfied with what he got. He got only 10 percent of what he deserved to get. Are things any different now? Do most people get what they deserve? Are there not people today who face discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, and religion? The fact is, prejudice and discrimination are rampant in our society. It is not only a question of being fair in money matters, but it is also a matter of giving the respect, recognition, and appreciation that other people deserve regardless of their particular background and position in society.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once said, “Defeating racism, tribalism, intolerance and all forms of discrimination will liberate us all, victim and perpetrator alike.” Yes, it will be beneficial for both the perpetrator and the victim to end discrimination and prejudice in our society. As the famous American songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder wrote, what the world needs is more love, unity, peace, and understanding, and not hate, prejudice, or bigotry.  

Jose Panthaplamthottiyil

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