Be a pinch of salt to pep up life
Today, you’ll probably get your salary, literally meaning ‘salt-money’. Two millennia ago, soldiers of the Roman Empire were paid a monthly salarium—from the Latin root sal, meaning ‘salt’—a fixed amount of salt for: (a) services rendered, and, (b) staying healthy. Interestingly, the English word ‘soldier’ derives from the Latin sal–dare, literally meaning ‘to give salt’. Salt seems too trifle a thing to spend time thinking and talking about. But, have you realised how indispensable salt is; and how happy life would be if you felt you were as dear as salt?
‘As dear as salt’ is the title of an unforgettable story in our English primer at school. It told of a king who was furious when his youngest son said, “You are as dear as salt!” The young prince was banished from the kingdom. However, fortune smiled on him and he became king in another faraway land. Decades later, he invited his aged father for a banquet and ordered that many sumptuous dishes be prepared without salt. The aged king felt insulted to be served saltless, tasteless food. He then realized the wisdom of his youngest son and appointed him his successor.
I love salt. It was so dear to me that, during childhood, I’d often get pinched by mom for adding extra pinches of salt into anything and everything I ate. “Careful about salt!” she would say. I now am. But, medicos swear that salt is good for water retention and muscle contraction, and contains nutrients vital to our bodies. Commonsense suggests that one be moderate with salt intake.
Salt has many properties and reconciles many polarities. Salt is cheap, yet indispensable. It is unseen in food, yet noticed only when there is either too much or too little of it. Salt is solid, yet dissolves. It is small, yet makes a world of difference when present. Amidst that aromatic array of exotic deshi spices from Kashmiri chillies to Keralite cardamom, salt seems so insignificant. But, it is of utmost importance to teach valuable lessons in the world’s great religions.
The Brihadāranyaka Upanishad (4.5.13) says: “As a mass of salt has neither inside nor outside; but is altogether a mass of taste, thus indeed has that Self neither inside nor outside, but is altogether a mass of knowledge”. Like salt, you and I have immense capacity for wisdom and knowledge. It is vital to be aware of this and use our powers for promoting peace and progress.
The Muslim prophet Salla Allahu ta’ala ‘alayhi wa Sallam always used to have salt before and after meals. When asked about the rationale behind this, he explained that a person who does this is protected from seventy types of diseases, including dreaded leprosy.
Some two thousand years ago, when Roman soldiers were receiving ‘salty salaries’, Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Jesus desired that all his disciples be like salt—modest and unobtrusive, yet preserving life and pepping up the lives of others.
Overwhelmed by the billion-plus population of India, you might often feel small, insignificant, and incapable of contributing anything to others and to our world. Let not thoughts of smallness and weakness incapacitate you. Think! What if salt had similar thoughts of smallness and refused to surrender itself to the great mass of food? Wouldn’t every morsel we ate be tasteless?
Being short in stature, mother would wryly say: “Good things come in small quantities!” How true. Moreover, Jesus’ salty message “to be salt” is relevant not only for Christians in India who are a ‘minority’ but for all those who harbour sterile thoughts of being small, weak and useless.
So, when you pocket your salary, your salt-money, remember that you are infinitely more precious than any salary. Smile, and strive to ‘be salt’: inconspicuous, yet indispensable. Surrender to the depths of Divinity! Pep up the lives of all those you encounter!
With permission of the author, Fr Francis Gonsalves
This article also appeared in the TOI- Speaking Tree