Information Systems
College of Business Administration
University of Missouri - St. Louis

Birbal's Hodgepodge

Once upon a time in the winter season, Emperor Akbar wondered if anyone could be strong enough to spend one whole night standing in the cold waters of the pond by his castle. So he announced that if anyone does so, he will handsomely reward the person. Hearing this, a poor starving fellow was compelled to take up the challenge. At sunset that evening, the man showed up at the pond and entered it. The emperor watched the man from the castle and ordered two guards keep a watch on him. The poor man spent all night shivering in the cold water while risking his health and life. But extreme poverty had left him with no options. The slow night finally came to an end and after sunrise, the man came out of the pond. At Akbar's court that day, the man arrived to claim his reward. Akbar called upon the two guards and asked them if the man had played a fair game. One of the guards replied that though the man had remained in the water the whole night, there was a torch burning in the distance on the castle wall near the pond. The emperor thought, "Hmm. It seems that this fellow received heat from the distant torch and so he is disqualified. This man does not deserve the reward. Guards, get him out of my court." Tears ran down the cheek of the poor fellow, but no one could argue or oppose the emperor! His decision was final.

Akbar's most valued minister-advisor, Birbal, who was called the 'Gem' of Akbar's court, was highly disappointed with his emperor. He knew Akbar very well. Being a man of extreme intelligence, wisdom and patience, he decided that any argument now would make matters worse. Moreover, the other people in Akbar's court who envied Birbal, would back up Akbar and defeat Birbal's point and eventually purpose. So, he decided to handle the problem tactfully and to drive his point home, Birbal designed a shrewd plan.

Next day at court, Akbar was surprised that Birbal had made no appearance. Court formalities went as usual. However, Akbar was very uncomfortable dealing with everything without his gem. So, during the lunch break, Akbar sent a guard to enquire what the matter was. Guard came back and reported that Birbal was cooking hotchpotch and will be able to join the emperor only after he eats it. Akbar did not mind it at all and decided to give Birbal more time. Time went by and Akbar became anxious. There were no jokes, no entertainment, no advices, innovative solutions to problems or creative advises without Birbal. After the court in the evening, Akbar decided that he himself would visit Birbal. When he reached Birbal's house, he was shocked to see that Birbal had placed the pot six feet high over the small flame. Emperor laughed out loudly and said, "Dear Birbal, I thought of you as the most intelligent person I have ever known. And here you are doing the most foolish thing. How silly of you to place the pot that high and waiting for your hotchpotch to be ready for you to eat! And you missed the court today."

To this Birbal replied, "If a man can get enough heat from a distant torch to spend a night in cold water of the pond, why can't I cook my hotchpotch with the distant heat of this flame?" Being a wonderful person at heart, Emperor Akbar not only realized his mistake, but also called upon the poor fellow to be brought to his court that very moment with royal honor. He not only gave the rightfully earned reward to the poor man, but gave him 20% extra gold coins, invited him for dinner and offered him a job at the palace! Everyone was happy and needless to say, Birbal also received his share of reward.


The guard never said that the man may have received heat from the torch. Akbar assumed it. It is very important in Systems Analysis to pay attention to what is being said. Just hearing is not enough, one must listen carefully. Furthermore, communication should be loud, clear and relevant. Input or data received needs to be filtered, polished and then processed.

Akbar perceived that the poor fellow cheated. He never gave it a second though before Birbal bringing it up. What is perceived may not be the truth. Dig deeper and analyze. What appears on the surface may be misleading.

Birbal handled the problem very tactfully and with patience. Rushing to conclusions, arguing and just using words may not always reflect what one tries to express. Instead, creativity and innovations might go a long way not only to drive home one's point, but also to avoid conflicts, especially when working with and/or for larger groups.

These stories are adapted examples written in my class, IS 6840 (formerly MSIS 488).
© Vicki L. Sauter. All rights Reserved.

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