One of the attribute which stands out as far as our generation is concerned is to get hold of as much land as possible in the shortest period of time. Additionally, this lust is not restricted to our time span on earth, but goes much further involving our next and the next generation. Somehow we tend to ensure material prosperity for the generations to come. Pick up any category of human beings inhibiting this land of the pure (read impure), you will find this greed manifesting itself in so many pathetic ways.

The galore of housing societies and authorities cropping up every other day is a manifestation of the ever-rising demand for constructing a “house” (home is a totally different ball game), thus bringing the much needed “peace” of mind. The land mafia in its zeal to grab every inch of land has not even spared the graveyards and it has been reported that they are now offering “compensation” to the relatives of the departed ones if they allow them to flatten the grave to make room for some cushy plot. Hell with the departed one who left this world to find “eternal” peace.

This brings us to the most pertinent question as to how much land does a man need? Leo Tolstoy, a Russian writer, known as a moral thinker and a social reformer, is one who came up with a brilliant piece of writing, which, if understood, can change one’s complexion of life forever. But for that to happen, our generation needs to “read”; the attribute we lost long time back and is now replaced by “poetic” short message service that has evolved into a new vulgar language of the masses.

The protagonist of the story is a peasant named Pakhom, whose wife (like majority of present-day wives) complains that they do not own enough land to satisfy their needs. Hence, he moves to larger areas of land at other locations where he could grow more crops and amass fortune. Finally, after buying and selling a lot of fertile and good land, he was introduced to very simple-minded people, who owned a huge amount of land. He goes to them to take as much of their land as possible at the lowest negotiable price.

Their offer came out to be very unusual. For a sum of one thousand rubles, he should walk around as large an area as he wants, starting at daybreak. If he reaches his starting point by sunset that day, the entire area of land his route encloses will be his. However, if he does not reach his starting point, he will lose his money and receive no land.

He is delighted, as he believed that he could cover a great distance and had chanced upon the bargain of a lifetime. He starts his journey at day break trying to cover maximum land in the process. Toward the end, he realises that he is far from the starting point and runs back as fast as he could to the waiting villagers. He finally arrives at the starting point just as the sun sets. Extremely exhausted from the run, he drops dead and his servant buries him in an ordinary grave, only six feet long. In the end, like Pakhom, we all need only six feet of land to be buried.

To sum it, the poet Urjit Singh Bhatia beautifully puts it:

“How much does a man need?

To fulfil his insatiable desire

To reach the echelon of aspire,

How much land does a man need?

To lie down in his grave

To stand while he is alive,

How much water does a man need?

To quench his thirst after the last run

To keep a drop of blood from drying,

How much air does a man need?

To breathe his exodus

To let the wind keep on blowing,

How much light does a man need?

To see for the first time

To realise where he is heading,

How much warmth does a man need?

To keep his soul from freezing

To let his heart beat till the end

of his time,

How much knowledge does a

man need?

To acknowledge his existence

To keep moving on God's designs,

How much does a man need?

Before he finds out where he is wrong

To get back to where he essentially does belong.

How much does a man need?

Can he really find out?”

The real questions to ask ourselves are: How much we take with us and how much is left behind? Lying on our deathbeds, what do we really need? Is it the acres of land acquired while we ran after the monetary things in life or we want to hold on to something else? What is it we can’t let go? Is it the land or the touch or the presence of people around us? Is it ‘peace’ or the ‘piece’ of land we are going to miss the most? But one thing we are sure of; it won’t be anything physical accompanying us towards our journey to infinity.

The writer is a PhD in Information Technology, alumni of King’s College London and a social activist. He is life member of the Pakistan Engineering Council and senior international editor for IT Insight Magazine. He has authored two books titled Understanding Telecommunications and Living In The Grave and several research papers.