Amba was getting her things together ready to go in the car with her family to the seaside town of Seaport, when her friend John called. He said that he was going to Seaport with his family, and would she like to see them off at the station.
“Sure”, said Amba, “I’ve got time. I’ll probably see you in Seaport”. John didn’t answer but looked glum. Amba wondered what could be wrong.
When she got to the station her friend John looked at her seriously.
“Look”, he said, “I know that your parents said that you were going to the seaside, but they were lying. Can you see the sign there”.
Amba looked and read the sign “All people travelling on to Seaport must go to the ticket office and purchase a valid ticket. No exceptions will be made, a valid ticket is necessary for travel”.
“You see”, said John, “The only way to get to Seaport is to buy a ticket here at the ticket office. The rest was just a lie.”
Amba looked with amazement. “Well, obviously this is right in the context of people travelling by rail from this station.” She said. “But there are other ways to travel. What about the Gautamas who set out to hike to the seaside last week? Or the Epsteins who were taking the family boat along the river”?
“Can’t you read!” said John. “It is written that the only way to Seaport is to buy a ticket at the ticket office. The Epsteins, the Gautamas, and your parents are all liars”. John’s father came and said “Its true. What a sad world this is that we are not allowed to sink the Epsteins’ boat and burn your fathers car like in the old days. Then you would have come with us”.
“This is ridiculous” said Amba. “You know that the guy in charge of transport is good and capable. Why would he only provide one way but have signs indicating many? Why wouldn’t he make it clear how to travel?”
“But it is clear, the sign clearly says ‘All people travelling on to Seaport must go to the ticket office and purchase a valid ticket. Couldn’t be clearer”, said John.
“Well look”, said Amba, “I have a map from the transport authority showing clearly that there is a road route. Several actually, some more direct than others”.
“I know your map must be a fake and a lie because of the sign”, said John. “That smelly, stinking map is useless”. John’s dad joined in, “The map is made of paper. It’s worth about as much as toilet paper. The sign is true, follow that!”
“Well done, Dad”, said John, “you really know how to tell those non-believers”.
“I’m going, and I’ll see you in Seaport”, said Amba.
“Wait”, said John, “look at this logically. If your parents really thought the car could take them to Seaport they would have been shouting at us, the Gautamas and the Epsteins, telling everyone else that they were liars and wrong.”
“Look,” said Amba, “you really are being ridiculous, you don’t know anything about the way transport here works.”
“Yes, we know the sign, read it. It’s all there is to know”, said John.
Amba looked and said, “You’re taking it out of the full context.” John’s dad looked angry. “I have read nothing but the sign and the station regulations for 20 years. I believe in it fully and know that anything else is a lie. You are the liar – we are right, it’s as simple as that.” John said, “My dad is an expert in station regulations. And you reckon that you know more about it than him after his years of study.”
“I’m sorry”, said Amba, “but though you know far more than me about these regulations, it is clear that you don’t know anything about the purpose of them or of the transport system”. Amba went home, rather saddened at her friend’s behaviour.
John, his dad, and his friends went and brought the tickets. “Yes”, they said, “our travel is assured”. Some wandered about, not knowing what to do next and finally went home. Others got on a train heading in the wrong direction, talking about how liars who sold road maps should be put in prison. A few did get on the right train, where they argued with a family who said that they thought the train was a good way to travel but not the only way.
When night fell not all of them had reached Seaport. Some would come back the next day, and the next, and the next, being more concerned about the text on the sign than the practicalities of travelling.
Of those who did arrive at Seaport, the atmosphere filled them with good will, and they found that they were happy to see people there who they thought had been left behind. How could they ever have thought that things would be otherwise?