My best friend loves that I, too, have read all the Harry Potter books. I love that all it took was reading plot summaries on Wikipedia to convince her of that. From fighting wars to binging mind-numbing pop culture junk, so much of what we do is for social approval and status. But why achieve anything if you can simply lie about it and get the same result?
Learning multiple languages can impress people but so can learning two phrases of Japanese and telling your friends you know the entire language. Of course, you have to be sure none of them know Japanese, or they’ll know that all you do is say ‘this soup is too hot’ with different inflections.
I discovered the power of lying after talking myself into a corner. Saleha and Nadine had heard so much about my Mom’s Biryani that they convinced me to have her cook them a pot’s worth. Biryani is the most difficult Indian dish, and I volunteered to have it cooked on behalf of my senior citizen mother.
Usually, my mom would cook anything on request, but in those days, she had discovered a book titled The Power of No. Unfortunately, the book was quite effective, and my mother’s self-esteem didn’t seem to be tied to getting compliments about her cooking.
I decided to call Saleha and come clean, but the first thing she said upon picking up was, “Ibi, so excited to finally try your mom’s biryani.” Whoever said ‘Honesty is the best policy’ wasn’t in the position of breaking bad news to Saleha. The girl wears her heart on her vocal cords, and you can hear it break if you give her bad news.
Hearing the excitement in her voice, I decided to choose dishonesty, which is the second-best policy. I had already bought the disposable food containers to carry mom’s Biryani. I just lacked Biryani. So, I visited Biryani Pot, one of Dubai’s premium Biryani spots, and ordered three servings.
I didn’t expect it to work but knew it would be a good story if it did. After finishing the Biryani, one of my friends claimed, ‘this tastes even better than biryani pot.’ That’s when I discovered something about humans: they’re too lazy to ask one more question.
People are usually one question short of knowing the truth. Bernie Madoff’s investors didn’t question how he was getting such high returns so consistently. Later they were surprised that he had been robbing Peter to pay paul all along. Pakistan had its own version of Madoff. He was titled Double Shah, ever so subtly.
The guy literally doubled everyone’s money, yet no one got suspicious. He was a blue-collar worker that retired with some savings. Legend has it that he borrowed money he didn’t need and added his own money to return its double to the lender. Word traveled, and soon more people were interested in lending him their money for a few weeks.
After the demand increased, he changed the waiting period to 90 days, enough to take the money from latter ‘investors’ and give double to previous ones. Unfortunately, lavish spending and sudden fame got the government to do what no one had done up until then: ask one more question. When the anticorruption guys wondered what the source of Double Shah’s returns was, they found out it was just people being stupid.
The problem with Double Shah was that his con was too big. Mine have always been smaller. I am a Pakistani who went to an English school. No one expects me to know Arabic, so I don’t tell people I know a third language. And every Arab ex of mine thinks I learned Arabic for her.
Little do they know I picked up the language watching Arabic cartoons on free-to-air TV because we were too broke to afford Disney tapes. Why would I learn Arabic for someone who also speaks English? Again, one question away from the truth.
But the question I need you to ask is, why is lying bad? I think certain lies are very comforting. And given that we spend more money on everything from Uber to Mattresses for added comfort, we should appreciate lies as they give us comfort for free.
It’s uncomfortable to be out of the loop when all your friends are discussing something.
My high school friends got hooked on Humsafar, a Pakistani TV series best described as an arranged marriage fairytale.
Most Pakistani serials are arranged marriage fairytales where the girl flips a toxic man into a decent husband who courageously volunteers to do the bare minimum. I can’t stand watching shows with toxic men because I relate to them, and they always lose.
I didn’t watch Humsafar but read episode summaries so I could join weekly discussions during the school lunch break. It was during such discussions that I met a senior student who introduced me to Middlesex University, a place that changed my life. Credit goes to lying and the doors opened by lying.
In Middlesex, my professors would receive emails with questions at 3 am. They started thinking, ‘This Ibrahim lad stays up late studying.’ which is a lot better than ‘this dude schedules emails to make us think he is working past midnight.’ The trick worked with all the instructors except Mr. Kay, who had a Computer Science background.
When I scheduled an email with questions about an assignment I hadn’t even begun, I clicked PM instead of AM. So he received an email that read, ‘Mr. Kay, I am going through the assignment JCM003 and am currently stuck on….’ the rest doesn’t matter.
What matters is that the email read as if I was working on the assignment at that moment. But at 3 pm, I was one urinal away from Mr. Kay. This is the closest I have come to getting caught with my pants down.
Lying never hurts anyone. Getting caught does.