THE AUCTION

1943
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What is the value of value?

“But how much do you expect to get for it?” asked the young man.

“I have strived hard to make this bassoon. Every reed went through a rigorous inspection process. I rejected a hundred for every one I chose and then rejected another hundred chosen ones to find the perfect reed. It took me a lifetime to create this model of perfection.” That the old man was passionate would be a mocking understatement. 

The young man reflected, “So, why do you want to sell it?”

The old man was crestfallen. “You don’t understand my friend. This is my life’s work. In many ways, you could say, it’s my life. Unless I was compelled, I would never consider selling it.”

“I understand. You’re in dire straits. Hence, see no option but to sell the only valuable item in your possession. But how do you know it’ll be deemed as valuable by your potential buyers.” The young man looked it over. “To me, it’s just a bassoon, like any other.”

“That’s the reason I asked you to enter it in the auction tomorrow.”

“Anything for you old man, but I still think you should have named your own price.”

“No. Never.” The old man was indignant. “It’s not for me to name a price. For me, this bassoon is priceless. It is my life’s work. It is my life. How can I be asked to place a price tag on my life? I want someone else to recognize it for what it truly is. Only then can its true value be ascertained.”

“Okay. I’ll enter it in the auction if you insist. I still think you’d do better if you put your own tag on it.” The young man took one long look at the bassoon and walked out. 

____________________

 

The auction was well-attended. Many items were on the agenda, so the auctioneer was in a rush. After four sales, the old man’s bassoon was placed for bidding. 

“As you can see ladies and gentleman, a handmade bassoon. Every reed has been hand picked by the maker. We’ll start the auction at five thousand rupees.”

The old man stood next to the stage while the young man was in the audience eyeing him closely. Through his creases and sun ravaged skin, the old man’s face was expressionless. 

The bids kept increasing at a surprising rate. From five thousand, it quickly went to fifty thousand, then a hundred, then two hundred thousand. The old man’s face remained expressionless. 

Then came the final bid. “Five hundred thousand rupees. Going once, going twice, gone!” The gavel came down and the bassoon was removed. 

The young man swore he could see tears in the old man’s eyes. Was he happy? Was this the price he had in mind?

After the sale, the old man left. The young man stayed for the remainder of the auction. 

“And for our next item”, the auctioneer said with as much sensation as he could muster. “A vase, from the nineteenth century B.C. From Mohenjo-daro. One of the few intact pieces.”

A murmur went over the crowd. “How old.” “A true antique.” “Priceless.” 

The auctioneer settled them down. “We’ll start the bidding at five hundred thousand rupees.”

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