Updated: October 1, 2021 9:26:59 am
Once upon a time, in the lush, coastal state of Kerala lived a man named Monson Mavunkal, who claimed to have many wondrous treasures in his house: Among them, the Staff of Moses, two of the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas betrayed Jesus, the Prophet’s prayer mat, paintings by Raja Ravi Varma and Leonardo da Vinci. The highest of the land visited his house in Kochi to marvel at these riches. Quite a few of them were impressed enough to loan Mavunkal the large sums of money he asked for.
But Mavunkal had a secret: There was no treasure. His only asset was a great talent for storytelling which, according to the police, who arrested him this week, he used for cheating six people out of a sum amounting to Rs 10 crore. This was a twist in the tale that many who met Mavunkal should have seen coming, given how spectacular his claims were. If only they hadn’t been seduced by his stories and blinded by their desire to believe in them. But it’s not as if they are the first to have fallen for a tall tale.
Stories fill many needs — the teller may get money, attention or power, while the listener is entertained, moved or gets to imagine mysteries and marvels that are hard to find amidst the drudgery of daily life. Scammers through the ages have relied on this to spin yarns that range from the petty bread-for-my-starving-children grifts to the more ambitious I’m-a-Romanov-princess kind of swindles. The most talented of them — the con artists, if you will — know that the only market that never collapses is the one for the cock and bull story, whether it’s a clearly defined work of fiction or hazy promises of better days. Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone’s a sucker for a well told tale.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 1, 2021 under the title ‘Falling for it’.