The Case of the Missing Milk

February 10, 2021

About three decades ago, I was walking the corridors at my work and saw a short yet poignant story pinned to the outside of some cubicle. I never forgot about it.

Let’s take a look:

Whose Job is it Anyway?

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.


So succinct, yet so expressive of the practical issues surrounding shoulda, coulda, woulda, perfectly knit together!

This reminds me of another story I have heard when I was a small boy.

The Case of the Missing Milk

This is set in India where it is auspicious to bathe the idol of Lord Shiva in pure milk.

Once, a king ordered that a huge vat be set up at a temple for an elaborate ceremony of such a bathing. All the merchants of the kingdom were asked to privately donate a jug of milk each by pouring their offering into that vat while praying and seeking the Lord’s blessings. The vat, filled with such donations, would provide the milk required for this special ceremony. The vat was so huge that people needed to lift their jugs above their heads to pour in their offerings.

Each merchant reasoned thus: “All the other merchants will be adding milk into the vat. If I just take a jug of water and pour it into the vat, it wouldn’t make much difference. I can save some money.”

One by one all the merchants made their private offerings, secretly applauding their own smartness.

After all the offerings were collected, the priest arrived to find a sumptuous supply of pure water for the Lord’s bath.


Now I have a question for you: Did you find the story of the missing milk exemplifying the story of Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody?

Please take a quick survey and submit your feedback! I will collect all the feedback and talk about these two stories in next week’s newsletter.

P. Venkat Raman



How a chessboard helped to humble a king

There once was a king in India who was fond of chess.

He would often challenge visitors to a game of chess. A wise man once accepted such a challenge.

The wise man beat the king in the game. A good sport, the king asked the man to name his reward.

The humble man replied, “O, King! All I want is a few grains of rice. Please give me one grain of rice on the first square of the chess board, two grains on the second square, four grains in the third, and so on, doubling the number of grains of rice with each square and covering the entire board.”

Perplexed by such a small request, the king immediately ordered his minister to fulfill the man’s request.

The worried minister swallowed nervously and replied, “Sire, we have a problem. There are not enough grains of rice in the entire world to accommodate this request!”

He went on to explain by listing the number of grains of rice needed to fill each successive square of the chess board.

1st square — 1
2nd square — 2
3rd square — 4
4th square — 8
5th square — 16

and so on, reaching

8th square — 128
16th square — 32,768
24th square — 8,388,608

and eventually requiring 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice to fill the board.

No kidding!

This is estimated to be around 210 billion tons of rice, far outstripping the entire supply on earth!

It’s anyone’s guess what the fate of that humble man was, having defeated the king twice.

But the question that comes up is: What does this have to do with personal finance?

Read the application of this story in personal finance here.


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