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Vikram and Vetaal – 2

This is another story from Vikram and Vetaal. For people who are new to Vikram and Vetaal stories, it is recommended to read the introductory story here.

The Vetaal (who had possessed the corpse) flew back to the banyan tree and hung upside down. “Hooo hooo hooo”, it laughed eerily.

Now, out of experience, Vikram knew he had to deal firmly with the Vetaal since it would easily escape from him. So in the very first instance, he climbed the tree and gripped the corpse tightly and shoved it on to his back, clutching its legs firmly.

He began to walk back to the sorcerer with the Vetaal clinging to his back. The Vetaal started talking again.

“You have managed to capture me again to take me to the sorcerer” said the Vetaal. “But the path is quite long and so I have decided to tell you another story. The story will have a question at the end. I know that you are extremely intelligent and so, if you know the correct answer and yet keep quiet, your head will break into a thousand pieces. On the other hand, if you tell me the correct answer, I will fly back to the tree.”

Vikram had no choice but to agree to this condition, and the Vetaal started the story.

Once there was a king by name Chandrakant who ruled over a kingdom. He was a very intelligent and impartial king who ruled well. In his reign, all his subjects were happy.

One day, one of his gate-keepers came to him and said, ‘Your Majesty, there will be an attack on our kingdom by some enemies in a few days. It is better if our armed forces are alerted so that they will be prepared.’

The king was surprised, and asked him how he knew this information beforehand, since he was only the gate-keeper and not a spy. The gate-keeper did not give a satisfactory reply.

However, just as the gate-keeper had predicted, in a few days there was an attack on the kingdom by some enemies.

Chandrakant, being an intelligent king, had always kept his army trained and ready and therefore, this attack did not cause them much loss. The enemies were driven away easily by the army of King Chandrakant.

That night, King Chandrakant was wondering how the words of the gate-keeper had come true and mentally decided that he would reward the gate-keeper for his timely information.

So, the next day, he called for him. When the gate-keeper came, King Chandrakant handed to him a bag containing a thousand gold coins as a reward and said, ‘I appreciate your timely information on the attack by the enemies. But tell me now, how did you know this would happen?’

The gate-keeper, in his enthusiasm after having received the gold coins said, ‘Your Majesty! Whatever I see in my dreams when I am asleep comes true. That night, when I was on duty here, I got this dream of the enemies coming and attacking our kingdom. Immediately in the morning I came and informed you’

King Chandrakant thought for a moment and looked at the gatekeeper sternly. ‘Thank you for the information. You are hereby dismissed from service’ he said.

All the people present were shocked on hearing the king’s words. They wondered why the king had given a punishment to one who had done well for the kingdom. No one was bold enough to ask the king.

The gate-keeper also looked stunned for a moment but did not even question the king. He seemed to have understood the reason for his dismissal and said ‘Yes. I deserve this punishment’ and left quietly.”

The Vetaal stopped his story. He asked King Vikram, “Tell me O King, why did King Chandrakant dismiss the gate-keeper from service and why did the gate-keeper accept it? If you know the correct answer and yet keep quiet, your head will break into a thousand pieces. On the other hand, if you tell me the correct answer, I will fly back to the tree.”

King Vikram, without a moment of hesitation replied, “The gate-keeper on duty was supposed to be awake and guard the gates of the palace. If he had dreams at night, it meant he was sleeping and not doing his duty and he also understood that this was the reason for his dismissal.”

The next moment, King Vikram heard an eerie cackle and Vetaal had slipped out of his hold. “Vikram” it said. “I told you that I will go back if you told the right answer! And here I go, hohoho…….”

The Name Game

This is yet another story from the Jataka tales.

Long long ago, around 700 BC, Takshashila was a well established university in India. It was one of the biggest with about ten thousand students. It offered studies in all disciplines, ranging from science to philosophy, though its specialization was in medicine. Many greats like Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya and Charaka are said to be products of this university. This university was located near Rawalpindi in present day Pakistan and had international students coming to study there. This university thrived for nearly ten centuries before it was damaged by some invasions in 6th century CE and thereafter abandoned.

There are mentions of this university in the Jataka tales very often. This story is one such instance.

Coming back to the story, in the University of Takshashila, there was a young scholar by name “Deena”. He was a very nice person who was very good in his studies and helpful to everyone , but he had a negative obsession about his name. ‘Deena’ means weak and miserable.

So strong was his obsession that he felt extremely bad when people called out his name. “I have got such a bad name – weak… and miserable… hmmph…” he snorted. “I wonder where my parents got this name from…” he sighed.

Just then somebody was calling him, “Deena, O Deena where are you?” Deena was so irritated hearing his name called out loud.

“I must do something about this name of mine” he said to himself.  The next day, he went to his teacher earlier than usual.

“Come Deena! What brings you here so early?” asked the Guru (teacher).

“I have a request Guruji” said Deena. “I do not like this name of mine. It hurts me a lot when people call me ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ and so I want to change my name.” He looked crestfallen.

The teacher smiled and patted his shoulder comfortingly. “Deena, I think you are too obsessed about this” said he. “The name is only an identity, Deena. I don’t think you should be worried so much about this”

But Deena did not seem convinced. “No Guruji” he said. “I want you to please give me a new name. Kindly give me a good name. Please…”

The teacher thought for a while. “I will give you a new name, but you will have to do something before that. Will you?” , he asked.

“Sure, Guruji” said an overjoyed Deena.

“Then, do one thing. Go on a trip to the nearby city for a few days and observe any incident which happens there and also find out the names of the people involved. You can go and stay in a public guest house. Visit markets and other residential areas and observe. Then after you come back, you can decide on changing your name” said the teacher.

Deena agreed. In those days there were public guest houses run by the kings where people could go and stay for free. So it was not difficult for Deena.

The next day Deena left for the city by walk. Upon reaching the city, he saw a procession with a dead body being carried for cremation. The pall bearers were going in the front and the relatives of the dead person were walking behind.

Deena remembered his teacher’s words and slowly walked up to a relative of the dead person and asked him “What is the name of the person who has passed away?”

“Amar Babu” said the relative and walked ahead with the crowd.

“Amar Babu means ‘immortal person’” thought Deena, “but he is dead??”

He reached a choultry (public rest house) and stayed the night there and was thinking about this the whole night.

The next day morning he decided to visit a residential area, and while walking on a street, he saw a woman outside her house. She was speaking angrily to another woman who appeared to be her maid-servant.

“If you are not doing your job well, I will get someone else to work for me. Get lost from here” the woman yelled, and gave the maid-servant a beating with a cane.

The maid-servant was pleading with tears in her eyes, “I will do better tomorrow Mataji (mother). Please do not stop me from service. I have three mouths to feed at home and they will starve to death if you fire me.”

The lady’s neighbours looked on helplessly. They seemed visibly disgusted at this incident. As Deena passed by them, one of them commented to another, “See how our neighbour is beating her maid-servant Lakshmi. She is Karuna only by name, but her behavior is so cruel! Don’t know who named her thus!”

After all, Karuna means ‘mercy’ and Lakshmi means ‘wealth’.

Deena was shocked. Cruel ‘Karuna’ and poor ‘Lakshmi’. He thought he had understood the purpose of names now and thought of going back to Takshashila the next day.

As he walked towards the end of the city, he saw a man approaching him. The man asked “Are you going to Takshashila?”

“Yes” replied Deena.

“Well” said the man. “May I come with you? I am also going to Takshashila, but I do not know the way”.

“Of course yes!” said Deena.

They slowly started walking towards the wooded road which was leading to Takshashila.

Deena asked the man, “By the way, what is your name please?”

“Margadarshaka” said the man.

“Margadarshaka means ‘guide’? But you do not know the way to Takshashila and are asking me to guide you??” asked Deena.

The man got terribly upset.

“Are you joking my friend?” said he in an irritated tone. “Do you mean to say if my name is Margadarshaka, I should know all the roads and routes in this country? Are you mad or are you making fun of me huh?”

Deena felt bad. “I am extremely sorry, my friend” he said. He then narrated the tale of his travel to the city, and its purpose. The man looked at Deena and took pity on him.

“Look here Deena” he said. “The name is only an identity for a person to mark who he or she is and does not reflect the owner’s character, understand? Though your name means ‘weak’ or ‘miserable’ you are so strong in character, are you not? I hope you understand now.”

“Thank you” said Deena as he went back to the university with a clear mind.

The next day, even before his teacher could ask him, he said, “I am happy with my name Guruji. Thank you for showing me the right path.”

The teacher simply smiled in response.

From the Panchatantra – Four Friends

Dear Readers, A very Happy New Year to all who are celebrating New Year today all over India!

Today, I am narrating a story from Panchatantra, from the chapter Mitralabha or ‘Gaining of friends’.

There are already a few stories from Panchatantra in this website which you can locate and read using the ‘Search’ tool on the right or down below if reading from mobile.

A small introduction to Panchatantra is available in the background guide for new readers.  Click here to see the background guide.

Long, long ago in the forests of Central India, there lived four friends, Hiranyaka the mouse, Mandaraka the tortoise, Laghupatanaka the crow and Chitranga the deer. The mouse, tortoise and crow were friends for a long time, while Chitranga had joined their group recently after escaping from a hunter. However, they enjoyed the company of each other and would meet regularly near a lake in the forest to share their thoughts.

One day, when the friends were meeting at the lakeside, Chitranga did not come. Hiranyaka, Laghupatanaka and Mandaraka waited and waited but there was no sign of the deer.

The friends got worried. They thought that Chitranga might have been trapped or killed by some hunter or would have fallen into a pit made by the hunters to catch elephants.

“What do we do now?” asked Hiranyaka, the mouse.

Mandaraka, the tortoise who was the oldest of them all looked at the crow and said, “Look here Laghupatanaka, neither Hiranyaka nor I can run fast in this jungle. You, on the other hand can fly high and see things which are far away. Why don’t you fly around and see if you can spot Chitranga?”

“You are right” said Laghupatanaka. “I will fly and see and tell you.”

Saying so, he flew over a short distance looking for Chitranga. Not very far away from the lakeside, there was a clearing and there he saw Chitranga lying down, trapped in a hunter’s net. The hunter who had laid the trap did not seem to be anywhere nearby. Laghupatanaka flew down to Chitranga. Chitranga was so relieved to see his friend but was feeling so helpless that tears were flowing from his eyes.

“Friend, what happened?” asked Laghupatanaka.

“What should I say?” sobbed the deer. “Death is chasing me and I am happy that I could at least see you before I die.”

“Don’t lose heart my friend” said the crow. “I will go immediately and bring Hiranyaka here. His sharp teeth will cut the net in no time.” He immediately flew fast to the lakeside and told Hiranyaka and Mandaraka of the plight of Chitranga.

“Come on Hiranyaka” he said to the mouse. Climb on to my back and I will take you there fast. The hunter will come any moment and we will have to free Chitranga soon”.

“You are correct” said the mouse as he climbed on to Laghupatanaka’s back. “We, as friends should do our best to free him. Otherwise what is the point of friendship?”

The moment they landed near Chitranga, the deer felt very happy. He was so glad that he had such good friends. He realized how important it was to have good friends, and how troubles could be easily overcome with the help of good friends.

Hiranyaka asked the deer, “How is it that a clever and swift being like you got caught like this?”

Chitranga said, “Friend let us not talk about it now. Cut the net fast so that I may get out. The hunter will be here any moment. Quick” There was fear in his eyes.

“Don’t you worry my dear”, said the mouse. “My sharp teeth will do the job in a jiffy. But do tell me how this happened.”

Chitranga said, “What to say, my friend, when luck forsakes you and when death comes for you, you lose your thinking ability and that is what happened to me.”

As they were talking, with the crow perched on a nearby tree, they noticed that Mandaraka was slowly sauntering and was reaching the clearing.

The crow said to Chitranga and Hiranyaka, “Look, who is coming. Who told Mandaraka to come here? It is such a foolish act. Now if the hunter comes, both of you can run away and I will fly away and it is he who will be caught. Hmm… Such stupidity! Now how do we save Mandaraka from the hunter?”

As they were debating on how to hide Mandaraka since there were no bushes around, the hunter appeared on the scene.

Hiranyaka was cutting the last string of the hunter’s net and in a flash, Chitranga got up and ran for his life. Hiranyaka scampered up the tree nearby. The hunter was stunned for a second but the next moment when he saw Mandaraka plodding his way to safety, there was a wicked smile on his face.

“Aha!” he exclaimed, “I will not go home empty handed after all haha…” he chuckled as he picked up Mandaraka and tied him to his bow and slung him on his back and started walking away.

Hiranyaka felt very bad for the tortoise.

“Everything in this world seems short-lived” he thought to himself. “And when troubles come, they keep coming in waves affecting the same persons again and again. The only solace during troubles is the sweet thing called friendship, but again now we are losing a good friend…” He was feeling very sad.

Meanwhile the deer and the crow came back and the crow said, “There is no way we can save Mandaraka if we sit here brooding. We have to act fast. Come on, let’s plan.”

He thought for a while and again spoke. “The hunter will have to cross the big pond which is a mile away from here. Chitranga, you run fast through the bushes and go near the pond and lie down as if dead. Hiranyaka, I will carry you and reach there. I will sit on Chitranga, cawing and pretending to peck his eyes while you hide in some bush. The hunter will surely prefer the deer over the tortoise and he will put down Mandaraka near the pond and come to lift Chitranga. Hiranyaka, you have to swiftly cut the strings from Mandaraka’s legs so that he can disappear into the pond. Then when I caw loudly once, Chitranga can get up and run away. Okay?”

“Right” said Hiranyaka and climbed on to Laghupatanaka’s back. Chitranga swiftly reached the farther end of the pond and lay down as if dead. The crow and the mouse soon reached the place and Laghupatanaka sat on the deer and pretended to peck his eyes cawing all the while.

In a short while the hunter reached the pond and was distracted by the cawing and saw that there was a dead deer at the farther end of the pond. He paused for a while and then put the tortoise down and approached the deer slowly.

Hiranyaka darted from the bush behind which he was hiding and started to gnaw at the bow string. Mandaraka’s legs were only tied and so in an instant, he was free. “Slide into the pond, quick” whispered Hiranyaka to the tortoise, and Mandaraka plodded as fast as he could and with a ‘whoosh’ went inside the water.

At the same time when the hunter came very near the crow gave a loud caw and flew away. The next moment, Chitranga got up and darted into the dark bushes and the hunter was so shocked that he had been cheated. Resigned to his fate he turned around to come back and take the tortoise but got another shock that the tortoise was nowhere to be seen. He was aghast and went home feeling betrayed and bitter.

After he had gone away far, the four friends reunited and celebrated.

“This is a lesson to mankind” said Hiranyaka, “that friends who are faithful to each other can never be defeated!”

The four lived a long life thereafter as the thickest of friends.  

The Power of Truth

Dear Readers,

It’s a long time since my last story…

Now, I bring to you, a folk tale from my own state, Tamilnadu.

Long long ago in the present state of Tamilnadu, there lived a young man by name Perumal. Perumal was extremely intelligent but very lazy and had fallen into bad company in his childhood. As a result he was an expert thief whose every word was a lie. He drank a lot and gambled and had all the bad habits of which he was not a wee bit ashamed.

Perumal’s parents had died when he was only three years old and he had been brought up by his paternal grandmother, the only person who was very fond of him and the only person whom he was very fond of. She loved her grandson so much that in spite of his having all the bad habits, she never reprimanded him.

On the back of her mind though, she was much worried about Perumal’s future especially with the recent taking over of the prince as the new king of their kingdom. The prince was known for his honesty, bravery and intelligence.

“What if my Perumal gets caught red handed one day?” the old lady used to worry. “What if he is given capital punishment by this new king?” The very thought sent chills down her spine. She had no one to look after her and could not imagine a life alone. She shuddered to think of her grandson spending his whole life behind bars or being banished to some distant land where he would have no one. In those days banishing one to some far off land or island was a common punishment.

“I will have to start reforming this boy” she thought to herself, knowing that this was not going to be an easy task at all. She pondered on this thought for a few days and one day after Perumal had come back to his house after way-laying and robbing some tourists, she slowly broached the topic. She talked of how important it was to give up all the bad habits and seek a proper job and live a normal life. She went on and on, while Perumal was listening half-heartedly. He knew that she was speaking with genuine love and concern for him and he could not bring himself to say a flat “No” to what she was saying.

As he was fighting a mental dilemma of what to counter her with, as if striking a deal, she said, “Well, my grandson, let us do things one at a time, okay? As a first step, you stop telling lies. You will speak only the truth from tomorrow, okay?”

Perumal was sort of relieved that she was ending her sermon, and with no other option, agreed to her condition.

Over the next few days, Perumal went about stealing and robbing as usual. The next day was a new moon day and the new king who was known for his bravery, decided to go for rounds in the city at night.

New moon nights were days of bonanza for Perumal as he could rob more due to the absence of moonlight. In those days electricity was unknown, and street lamps would be lit with oil and would go off once the oil was exhausted. So Perumal had started late at night and was roaming around deciding where to strike.

The king sporting a beard and a cloth covering his whole face except his eyes was coming on his horse and at the same time Perumal was also coming out of a bush nearby. The quick eye of the king caught Perumal and Perumal also saw him and hesitated for a moment as he was on a horse.

“Hey you!” shouted the king, dismounting from his horse, “who are you, where are you from and what are you doing in this late hour of the night huh?”

Perumal remembered his Grandma’s instruction on speaking the truth and said, “My name is Perumal and I am a robber. I live in the outskirts of this city and I am out for doing my work”.

The king was amused by this straightforward answer and decided to entertain himself. He said, “Well young man, if you want some real wealth, I can tell you where it is inside the palace and I can also show you the way in avoiding the security guards. Are you interested?” Perumal jumped at the idea. “Yes, yes, tell me” he said enthusiastically. The king took him behind the palace where there was a small trap door on the compound wall about which only the king knew.

“Go in through this door” he said pointing to the door. “Go around alongside the wall so that you will not be spotted by any one. When you reach the other side, there is a long rope hanging from a balcony. Climb up with the help of the rope and you will reach the window of the king’s chamber. Next to the King’s chamber there is a room with an almirah. You can take anything you want from there. Now go! I shall wait for you here”

Perumal also followed the instruction of the king and an expert robber he was, reached the room with ease. He opened the almirah and found some expensive clothes and pairs of sandals. He rummaged under them and found a box with three diamonds, nice and big, shining and sparkling. “Oh my luck! These would be worth so much of money” he thought. As he was going to take all the three, he stopped for a moment. “Will I need all the three? No, I think even one will fetch a large sum of money”.

With such thoughts crossing his mind, he finally kept one diamond back in the box and took the two diamonds. “I will give one to the fellow who helped me” he decided. He left the box open in the top shelf of the cupboard. The clothes and sandals which had also fallen down while he was rummaging the shelves, lay on the floor. The door of the almirah was left wide open.

He successfully came out unnoticed by the guards through the secret door and true to his word, the king was waiting in the same spot.

“Thank you my friend” said Perumal smiling at the king. “I found these… in a box in the almirah. Here, keep one for helping me” The king was pleasantly surprised at his magnanimity and asked him, “Were there only two diamonds in the box?”

Perumal, remembering his grandma’s instruction to speak truth and said “No, there were three of them. I thought of taking them all but then, thought that one was enough for me, but took another one for you and left one in the box”

The king took the diamond, thanked Perumal and said he had some urgent work and rode away. Perumal did not suspect anything and thanking his stars, went home.

The king, on reaching his chamber went to the room and checked the box and true, there was one diamond left. He left the things as they were.

Early in the morning, the maid who came to clean the room, saw the almirah open and many clothes and sandals fallen down. Shocked,she raised an alarm. She went and told the king who was in the next room that she suspected a theft.

The king acted surprised and called for his minister.

“Go and see what has been stolen from the almirah!” he ordered the minister as the minister went to check. He saw the open box kept on the top shelf with one diamond in it. He was aware of the three diamonds which had been gifted by another visiting king. He thought to himself, “What a fool the thief is! He has left one of the valuable diamonds behind!”

Now, this minister was not a man of integrity and another thought crossed his mind. “The King does not know what is stolen and so if I take this diamond and accuse the thief of stealing this diamond also, the king will not know. And if and when the thief is caught, the king will not believe him even if he tells the truth also, for the king will never believe a thief”.

Thinking so, he slowly looked around and there was no one to be seen. He quickly took the diamond and hid it in his belt.

He came rushing back to the king and said, “Your Highness! Nothing other than the three diamonds which were gifted to you, have been stolen. The thief should be flogged in public and banished from the country! Such audacity to rob from the king’s almirah! Hmph… The security guards should also be dismissed.”

“Did you see properly?” the king asked.”Is anything else missing?”

“Yes I did” lied the minister, ignorant of the king’s knowledge of the happening.

The king was seething with anger at the minister’s dishonesty knowing that it was he who had taken the third diamond. He called out to the guards.

“Go to the outskirts of the city and ask for a young man by name Perumal and bring him here right now!” he ordered.

The minister stood there not able to figure out what was happening.

In a short while, Perumal was brought in front of the king. He was terrified and stood before the king with his hands folded.

“Come on, narrate what happened yesterday night” commanded the king.

Perumal narrated the whole story truthfully without any hesitation.

The people around were surprised and the courtiers and minister had by now understood that the ‘man’ who Perumal told about was none other than the king.

The king loosened his cummerbund (a large cloth tied around the waist) and took out something and there it was, the second shining diamond!

“Search this minister!” the king ordered the guards. The minister was taken by surprise and the guards found the third diamond hidden between the cloth belt and the fold of his dhoti. The minister was shivering in fear.

“Well,” said the king, his eyes red with anger, “You had told me what punishment is to be given to the thief and the same shall be given to you! From today Perumal shall be my minister… till such time he speaks only the truth”

Perumal looked on with surprise and was overwhelmed at the luck which had come to him following his decision to speak the truth. With tears of joy, he thanked the king and promised to be truthful till he lived.

“Now, I want to tell another truth your highness!” he said to the king. “The truth is, everyone makes mistakes, just as I was living the life of a thief. Therefore everyone deserves a second chance. Hence it is my sincere advice that the punishment to the minister should be restricted to banishment for a few years. Let him be spared of the flogging. If he repents and changes, he can come back and it is for you to accept him or not”

The king agreed and Perumal became his able minister and lived a happy, truthful life thereafter.

Birbal Outwitted

It’s a long time since I wrote on Akbar and Birbal and so I am giving a short and sweet tale of Birbal’s sharp intelligence.

Once, there was some argument between Akbar and Birbal over some issue and Akbar shouted at Birbal and said, “Don’t ever show your face to me again!”. Poor Birbal did not retort as he walked out with a red face. Of course, Akbar did not mean it when he told Birbal not to show his face again, but Birbal, this time wanted to make the king realise that he could not shout at anyone just because he was wielding power, and so without informing anybody, he went away to live in hiding in a nearby village.

The next day Birbal did not turn up in the court. Akbar did not give much thought to it since he knew Birbal would be angry. “He will come tomorrow!” he said to himself, smiling. But Birbal did not turn up the next day as well, and the next and the next.

Akbar was worried and sent a messenger to Birbal’s home but the messenger brought a message that Birbal had gone away even without informing his family, which was indeed true. His family members were also anxious about his whereabouts but had not dared to ask the king, as Birbal had told them about the argument.

Now Akbar was more worried. He felt bad about having shouted so badly and now he found no way to get his favourite minister back. The courtiers who were jealous of Birbal were very happy. “Good riddance!!” they chuckled to themselves. “Now the king will ask us for suggestions instead of asking that cheeky Birbal” they thought. But Akbar was missing his intelligent friend badly and could not find a way to locate him. Somehow, it occurred to him that Birbal would not have gone away to a very far place.

Ten days passed and now Akbar was desperate to see Birbal’s face and hear his witty anecdotes. He thought for a long time and came up with an idea. After all he had been with Birbal for so many years and had imbibed some of Birbal’s qualities.

Few days later, there was an announcement in the city and the suburbs by the security guards. In those days, there were no newspapers or television or such media and announcements had to be made by persons in a loud voice, and to attract the attention of the people, they would usually come beating drums and stand in a public place and make the announcement.

“Dum dum dum dum”

“Hear O People of this kingdom!” said the man who was making the announcement in a loud voice. “Our Emperor, His Royal Highness Akbar Sultan has announced a competition for all. The winner of the competition will be given a hundred gold mohurs”

Now, ‘mohur’ was the name of the coins issued by various kings from the sixteenth century in India. A gold ‘mohur’ was the coin in gold and used to weigh about 10 to12 grams.

All the people gathered there were curious. “A hundred mohurs??” said one. “Then it must be very difficult task” said another. “What is the occasion for this competition?” asked yet another. At the same time, each one jostled with the other to come nearer the announcer and hear the details. When many had gathered around him, the announcer continued, beating his drum.

“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”

“The Emperor has announced that anyone who can walk one hundred metres in the sun and the shade at the same time will get one hundred mohurs. Whosoever wants to compete may come walking day after tomorrow and meet the emperor”

“Dum dumara dum dumara dum”

The people looked at each other puzzled. “Who can walk in the sun and shade at the same time? What sort of contest is this?” they murmured to themselves, looking disappointed that they could not get the prize announced by Akbar.

The crowd melted away as the announcer went to the next spot to announce the same contest.

On the appointed day Akbar was holding his court in the open courtyard under a makeshift pandal(shamiana), wondering if his idea to locate Birbal would work out. The court was almost over and it was going to be one o clock and Akbar was looking up now and then hoping that someone would take part in the contest and come to him.

Suddenly from afar, he saw a queer sight. A man was walking towards him, carrying a cot made of rope.(It is called ‘charpai’ in Hindi). As Akbar peered at him, the courtiers also turned around to see what had caught the attention of the emperor.

The man walked and came and stood in front of the pandal , in the sun but he was still holding the cot aloft with both his hands over his head. He seemed to be a very poor man as it was seen from his tattered clothing and bare feet.

To the puzzled emperor, he said in a weak voice, “Huzoor! I heard of the contest you had announced. I am very much in need of money and therefore I have participated in this”. The emperor and the onlookers were still puzzled when he continued, “Huzoor, look at me. I am in the sun and shade at the same time! Will you give me the promised prize??”

It was only then that all noticed that the sun was shining on him through the rope cot and therefore the shade of the rope was also falling on him.

Akbar was truly amused at this idea. But he knew that none other than Birbal could have thought of this and so he asked him, “Is it your idea or did any one else give you this idea? Tell the truth”.

The man replied “Huzoor, an elderly traveller has come two weeks back and is staying in my neighbour’s house in my village and when I was telling my friend about this contest, it was he who gave the idea, but anyway told me to take the prize money if I won, as he is well placed already it seems”

Akbar smiled to himself and said to the man “Well, you are the only contestant and I will give you the money for the smart idea, but I want to see the fellow who gave you this idea. So, go with my guard on horseback and bring that person here”

The man could not disobey and went with the guard and Akbar was waiting without even taking his food as he was eager to know if his idea was going to bring back Birbal to him. True to his expectation, in about half an hour the person returned with his ‘elderly traveller’ and the man was none other than Birbal!

The emperor was so happy to see Birbal again and gave him a warm hug much to the ire of the jealous courtiers. Birbal was also very happy to be back. Even though he had been upset when Akbar shouted at him, in his heart of hearts he was longing to come back.

“Now you have outwitted me Huzoor!” said Birbal beaming with happiness and the two were united once again.

The Brightest Son

Wishing all my readers a Very Happy Deepavali today!!! (29/10/2016)

Once upon a time in the ancient city of Varanasi, there lived a merchant by name Somayya. He was a very shrewd merchant and made good money by being very prudent in his dealings. Somayya had three sons Ganesh, Mahesh and Ramesh. He brought them up very well giving them the best of everything.

As years rolled by, Somayya was growing older and wanted any one of his sons to take up the business so that he could retire and go for pilgrimages which was his long cherished desire. Being a very shrewd merchant and having developed his business with great care, he wanted it to be given to the son who was the cleverest of them all.

One day he called them to his room and said “Sons, I have a wish to retire from my business and go for pilgrimages with your mother. I want one of you to take up this business which I have nurtured…”

Before he could complete, Ganesh said, “Well father, I am sure I am your choice for I am the eldest and have the first right to all that is yours”

Mahesh interrupted him. “Bhaiya, all the time, either you are favoured as the eldest or Ramesh is favoured as he is the youngest. This time I am not going to let it be so. I will take up father’s business”

A worried Somayya looked at Ramesh for he expected him also to say something but Ramesh said with a smile, “Father you are the best judge. Whatever decision you take, I will abide by it”

Somayya thought for a while. He did not want to take any decision based on seniority or rights, but wanted the cleverest of them to be given the chance.

“Well sons”, he said, “I know all the three of you are honest and sincere and will do any job with utmost sincerity. But in business, sincerity and integrity alone is not enough. You need to be sharp and shrewd and be able to read between lines. So I am going to give you three a test”

The sons looked at him with curiosity wondering what the test would be.

Somayya took out fifteen gold coins and gave five coins to each of them.

“Sons” he said, “There are three rooms in our house of equal size. I am giving you each five gold coins. By the next Monday, you have to buy something by which the room can be filled up, one room for each of you. Spend carefully and buy something which will be useful from the moment you bring it home. I am going on a business visit to the nearby village and will come back after a week”. He handed over the coins, five each, to the three of them.

The next few days were spent by the sons going to the market to see which item would be good enough to buy.
After a few days, Somayya returned late at night and was eager to see what had been bought by each of the sons.

“Ganesh, show us what you have brought and how much you spent on it” asked Somayya.

Ganesh proudly took them to his room and opened the room and there were heaps and heaps of cotton wool filling up the room. The floor was very dusty due to the dust in the cotton wool.

“Father”, he said. “A man can live without food but cannot live without cloth which protects his dignity. And so I bought cotton. I had to spend all the five coins to buy enough to fill the whole room up and also to bring this to our home. This cotton can be used to make clothes”

There was no reaction on Somayya’s face as he looked at Mahesh as if asking him to show what he had bought.

Mahesh happily led them to his room and when it was opened, it was full of wheat grains. Here again, there was lot
of dust and ants.

With great pride he looked at his father. “Father, you have always taught us the importance of Annadaan or feeding the poor as it is the greatest virtue. So, I bought all this wheat so that the poor can be fed. I had also to spend all the coins you gave me since I had to transport this to our home”, he said looking at him expectantly.

There was no reaction now also. Somayya looked at Ramesh who led them to his room. “Please wait outside” said he as he went in with a small bag in hand.

A minute later, he opened the room and they all eagerly barged in. The room was empty, but spotlessly clean and at one corner was an oil lamp illuminating the whole room with its bright light. In those days there was no electricity and people used oil lamps with cotton wicks to light up the house.

“Father” said Ramesh, “You had told us to buy something which would fill up the room and would be useful from the time it is brought home. You also said we should spend carefully. Keeping all this in mind, I bought this lamp. The light has filled up the room and driven the darkness away and so it is useful right away. I spent only one coin from what you gave and I brought it back in a small bag for which money or effort was not needed. Here are the four coins remaining”. Saying so, he took the coins and gave it to Somayya.

Somayya was overjoyed by the sharp-wittedness of Ramesh. Ganesh and Mahesh were equally stunned at the shrewdness of their younger brother. He had surpassed them by his cleverness and they also realised how good a listener he was. He had listened carefully to each and every word their father had said.

Somayya spoke now. “Sons, it is not enough if you are good, sincere and honest, which you all are and I am happy about. You need to be clever and shrewd and also know to interpret in the correct manner, what is being said, if you want to be a good businessman. I was looking for these traits in my successor and Ramesh has it all. Cotton or wheat cannot be used right from the time we buy it. Moreover you have spent all the money and physically also struggled to bring that home. And now, we have to spend more money and effort in sending the cotton and wheat for processing or selling it again. Now all the three of you know who is fit to take over my business…”

“Yes father” said Ganesh. “I agree, Ramesh is the best person to take over your business. I will take up the job of writing accounts in some shop in the city. Ramesh can run your business”

“I agree too” said Mahesh. “Ramesh can take over your business and I will also seek a job in some shop for an earning”.

Both knew that Ramesh was the best suited person but they were a little disappointed in their heart of hearts.

Ramesh spoke. “Ganesh Bhaiya, Mahesh Bhaiya”, he put his hands on both of their shoulders. “You have always loved me and taken care of me. I respect you both as much as I respect our father. I will go as per father’s wishes and take over the business, but not without the able support of both of you. Ganesh Bhaiya will be the accountant in our business and Mahesh Bhaiya will support me in running the show”

“And me?” asked Somayya.

“You are our guiding light father and we will see that you and mother take ample rest after slogging for our sake all these years, visit the places you want to visit and shower us with your blessings always”

Somayya’s wife who was listening to the conversation was shedding tears of joy!

After all what more joy do parents want than seeing their children being united and happy?

Like the light that lit up Ramesh’s room, let our lives be brightened by the light of joy and happiness, with the blessings of our elders and ancestors on this Deepavali day!!

Elephant is equal to Pot

elephant_and_pot_final

This is a folk tale from Tamil Nadu based on which there is a proverb “Aanaikkum Paanaikkum sari” meaning Elephant and Pot are equal.

Long long ago, in a village in Tamil Nadu, there lived a wealthy oil merchant by name Ramu. In addition to his oil business, he owned an elephant which he lent for marriage processions and melas and earned extra money from that.

In the same village there lived a poor potter by name Somu. Somu was a hard worker and earned his living by selling pots. Somu had one son. Though Somu could hardly make his ends meet with the money he earned, he cut down on his needs and gave very good education for his boy. The boy also studied very well and got a job in the King’s palace. Somu was extremely happy for the boy and in due course fixed up his wedding.

Somu had seen weddings of the rich landlords in his village where the bridegroom came on an elephant and wanted to do the same for his loving son.

“I will hire the elephant from Ramu” he told his wife. “Our son should come on the elephant like a King.” The wife was also equally fond of her boy and agreed with Somu’s idea.

Somu approached Ramu and asked him for the elephant to be lent for the wedding procession of his son.

“Hiring my elephant for your son’s wedding?” asked Ramu scornfully, as he was very arrogant of his riches. “Well, ten gold coins for an evening. I hope you will be able to pay it .Nothing less and no favour for anyone” he said with contempt, closing any chance for bargaining.

Ten gold coins were a very high amount in those days but nevertheless Somu wanted to have the elephant procession for his dear son and agreed for the price.

“The elephant should be returned on that night itself” , Ramu said in a very gruff voice.

Somu agreed for the condition and came home. On the day of the wedding, after the wedding rituals were over the procession started with Somu’s son and his bride sitting atop the elephant and the procession went on in a grand manner. All the guests and Somu’s family and the bride’s family were very happy and just as Somu and his bride dismounted from the elephant and as it was going back to Ramu’s house, it trumpeted loudly and fell down dead with a ‘THUD’. Luckily no one was hurt but everyone was shell shocked.

Early next morning Somu hurried to Ramu’s house. Ramu had already been told of the elephant’s death and he was in an angry mood.

“I am really sorry Sir!” said Somu feeling bad for having not been able to keep up his word of returning the elephant. “I really do not know why this happened”, he said with heartfelt sorrow. “I will give you the price of the elephant or buy a similar elephant and give it in a few days”

“I do not want any other elephant or money” growled Ramu. “This elephant was a lucky elephant and I want the very same elephant. I do not care what you will do. My elephant should be back by this evening or else I will go to court”. Ramu’s voice echoed his wealthy arrogance and attitude of disregarding poor. “Go and get my elephant back!” he grunted once again.

Somu was in a fix. He was wondering whether Ramu was joking or really meant what he said. “How can a dead being come to life” he wondered and felt even more sad and depressed as he did not know how to proceed.

Not being able to come to any conclusion, Somu went home and he did not have any time to think about it as the guests and relatives who had stayed over were taking leave and he had to settle the bills for the expenses of the wedding.

The next day morning as Somu was about to sit for his meal, there was a knock on the front door. When he opened the door, there was this man from the court asking Somu to come along immediately with him to the court. The judge had called for him since Ramu had filed a complaint against him.

A dejected Somu and his wife went to the judge. The judge informed Somu about Ramu’s complaint on his elephant.

“I will give the price of the elephant or get him one Sire” said Somu humbly to the judge, “even though I cannot afford one”. His eyes were full of tears.

“I cannot accept anything other than my own elephant” came the rude reply from Ramu. “Tell him Sire, to produce my elephant alive to me”.

The judge looked at both of them. “I cannot decide this case in haste” he said. “Both of you come after two days at the same time and I will deliver the judgement”.

Ramu glared at Somu and left the court in a huff . The judge (then) called Somu and told him something in a low voice. On hearing it Somu’s face looked a wee bit relieved.

On the appointed day, Ramu was in the court and his eyes were searching for Somu. There was no sign of Somu. The judge waited very patiently whereas Ramu was getting terribly impatient.

“I knew he would not come” said Ramu. “I will go and drag him from his house” he got up angrily. The judge signalled to him to be seated but he paced up and down like a hungry tiger, with his eyes red with anger.

After a while, he could control himself no more. “I will go and bring him Sire! Please grant me permission to do so” he told the judge.

“Ok, you can go and bring him. But take my officer with you” said the judge and the next moment Ramu stomped out of the court and in a few minutes, was at the entrance of Somu’s house followed by a junior officer of the judge. As he had expected, the door was closed.

“Somu! O Somu!” yelled Ramu at the top of his voice. “Where is my elephant? Where are you, you cheat? You had promised to come to the court and did not turn up. Open the door!”

With no response, Ramu furiously banged the door with his fists. There was no response still, but it appeared that the door was not securely locked from the inside. He kept banging and shouting but it was of no avail and finally, to the shock of the junior officer who came with him, he took ten steps back and came running furiously with his fists clenched as if going to box someone and the next moment there was a loud CRASH and the door slammed open. Behind the door were scattered pieces of broken pots and Somu came running from somewhere inside. The pots had been arranged against the locked door, it appeared.

Seeing Ramu he cried, “Oh! My God! My ancestral pots! Who broke them? Oh! What do I do, my pots are gone…..” He was wailing loudly enough for his neighbours to hear and in a minute, the neighbouring houses were dotted with people outside staring at Ramu as if he had committed a crime. Ramu felt very uncomfortable in the glare and tried to pacify Somu.

“I am sorry” he said trying to feign remorse. “I am sorry for what happened, I shall pay the cost of the ancestral pots, please. Kindly ask your neighbours to go”. He looked at Somu pleadingly.

“But my ancestral pots cannot be replaced Sir! I do not want your money. I want the same pots that you broke. They have been handed over to me from the past seven generations and you are saying a simple sorry. Not only I have lost the pots, I will also earn the wrath of my great great grandfathers. What do I do now?” He closed his face with his palms for a few minutes and then looked at Ramu and boldly said, “Come on, we will go to the judge. I want justice!”

And to the shock and horror of Ramu, Somu walked furiously to the court followed by the bewildered Ramu.

As soon as he reached the court, he poured out his story to the judge and said he needed the very pots that had been broken and nothing else. He made so much noise that all the people in the court were looking at Ramu as if he were a criminal.

Finally Ramu could take it no more. He looked at the judge and said, “Sire, I withdraw my case. I do not want the elephant or money. Please tell Somu to withdraw his case too”

The judge pretended to be reluctant. “Well Ramu, you know….” he started.

Ramu looked at Somu hurriedly and said, “Somu, I am withdrawing my case. You do not need to pay me money or give me an elephant. Kindly withdraw your case”

Somu thought for a while and shook his head half-heartedly. Ramu left the place hurriedly placing a salute to the judge who was amused and laughing to himself that his idea had worked so well.

Poor Ramu, his arrogance caused him to lose both the elephant and the money he would have got otherwise…

Thus came into being the proverb ‘Aanaikkum Paanaikkum Sari’

From the Panchatantra – The Monkey and the Crocodile

This is the story from the chapter Loss of Gains of the Panchatantra. Readers may refer to the background guide for more info on this.

“One who remains cool in the face of adversity, like the monkey in the water (in this story) overcomes all his problems” – is the saying with which the story starts. The story is that of ‘The Monkey and the Crocodile’
On the banks of the Ganges was a rose apple tree (Rose apple is called Jambuphalam in Sanskrit and Naaval Pazham in Tamil). On the tree, lived a monkey by name Rakthamukha. True to his name Rakthamukha was a red faced monkey. The tree was full of rose apples which were as sweet as nectar and Rakthamukha was living happily on the tree since he got lots of juicy fruits to eat.

One day, a crocodile by name Karalamukha, who lived with his wife on the opposite bank, came swimming near the rose apple tree and seeing Rakthamukha, started conversing with him.

After mutual introduction, in the course of the conversation, Karalamukha asked Rakthamukha, “Do you find enough food here?”

Rakthamukha said “Why not? These juicy fruits are more than enough! Would you like to try some?”
Without waiting for an answer, Rakthamukha plucked a few fruits and threw them into Karalamukha’s open mouth.
The crocodile chewed them and found that they were sweet and nice. “Hmmm…” he said to the monkey, “they are quite nice, better than I thought, give me some more”.

This practice of Karalamukha meeting Rakthamukha continued every single day from then onwards, with Karalamukha resting on the bank and Rakthamukha safely on the branches of the tree. Everyday Rakthamukha gave fruits to his friend Karalamukha and they both chit chatted for a while on the happenings in the world. Their friendship grew stronger by the day.

One day, it occurred to Karalamukha to carry some fruits to his wife. So he took few extra fruits in his mouth and carried them to his place on the opposite bank.

Karalamukha’s wife was fascinated by the sweetness of the fruit.

“Oh husband, where did you get such fine fruit?” she asked.

Karalamukha told her of his friendship with Rakthamukha and his eating fruits daily with him.

Karalamukha’s wife, with a cunning smile said “Why don’t you bring him home one day huh?”

As Karalamukha was wondering when his wife had become so hospitable, she said, “I am dying to eat his heart.”

To a shocked Karalamukha who was thinking whether heard her right, she continued, “These fruits are so juicy and tasty and you say that your monkey friend eats them every day for all his meals. Did you not even imagine how sweet his heart would be … Ssssss…. How juicy and sweet his heart would be … I can’t wait to eat his heart. Bring him tomorrow, will you?”

Karalamukha was flabbergasted. Never once in all these days did he ever think of eating up Rakthamukha and in fact he liked his company and looked forward to meeting up with him every day and chatting and eating some fruits. And now, his dear wife wanted his friend for dinner, literally for dinner.

Karalamukha hesitantly looked at his wife. “It is true dear, that Rakthamukha’s heart would be sweet, but… but he is my friend and…”

“And what?” shouted Mrs.Karalamukha. “Your friendship is more important to you than your wife’s desire. That means you do not love me at all!”

“No, it’s not like that…” started Karalamukha.

“Now, if you do not bring that monkey for me, I shall stop eating and starve myself to death” she said.
Karalamukha was worried. Neither could he deceive his friend nor could he displease his wife. He thought for a long time and finally decided that he would obey his wife.

Off he went the next day to the tree but he did not chat as usual with Rakthamukha and was looking downcast.

“What happened dear friend?” asked Rakthamukha. “You seem to be upset about something. What is it?”

“Hmmm… well, my wife was very angry with me” said Karalamukha. “She ate the fruit I took for her yesterday and scolded me for not having taken you home even once when every day you are giving me such delicious fruits. She scolded me for being so selfish and told me not to come home without taking you with me” He put up a sad tone in his voice.

“How nice of her to think that way” said Rakthamukha. “But you could have told her that I cannot swim and therefore cannot go under water to you home”

“Well, actually, my house in on the opposite bank near some rocks and you will not need to go under the water. I thought that you could sit on my back and I could swim across and take you home, you see? And if I do not take you home today, I will not be allowed and also she will starve” he said in the same sad tone.

“Oh, okay then” said Rakthamukha. “I can come with you right now. Let there be no misunderstanding between you two on account of me. Are you ready to take me?”

“Yes” said a happy Karalamukha for he thought he was achieving his evil goal. “Jump on to my back.”

Rakthamukha jumped on to Karalamukha’s back and the crocodile started swimming. Ganges is a huge river with lot of currents and Karalamukha started going slowly.

After Karalamukha had completed half the distance, he thought Rakthamukha would not be able to escape even if he wanted to and started swimming faster and faster and the water splashed on Rakthamukha who found it very difficult to keep his balance on the crocodile’s back.

“Slow down my friend” shouted Rakthamukha. “Do not be in such a hurry. I am not so hungry”

With and evil grin, Karalamukha replied, “You are not hungry, but my wife is.” He then went on to tell the monkey the plan of his wife and how he was going to be killed and his heart to be devoured by her. Rakthamukha was shell shocked, but remained calm. He thought very quickly and pretending to be angry, he said, “Oh Karalamukha! What a fool you have been! Why did you not tell me this before I jumped on to your back huh? Had I known that your wife wanted my heart, I would have gladly brought it along!”

It was the crocodile’s turn to be shocked now. He was very confused. What was the use of the monkey without its heart?

As Karalamukha was thinking, Rakthamukha went on. “I usually store my heart in the hollow of the tree only since it is very sweet and precious. I can take it if you go back to the tree and we can come again” He sounded very convincing that Karalamukha believed every word of his. Rakthamukha also kept his calm while the crocodile made a ‘U’ turn and headed back to the tree.

The moment they neared the tree, Rakthamukha, with a giant leap got on to the highest branch of the tree. Karalamukha waited and waited. After a few minutes, he shouted, “Are you ready yet? Take your heart and come. My dear wife will be hungry and waiting”

“Humph” Rakthamukha gave a snort of disgust. “You fool of a crocodile, did you not know that one cannot survive without a heart and no one has two hearts? Would I be foolish enough to come with you again? Go away from here. I do not want to see your face again!”

Saying thus, Rakthamukha disappeared into the bushy branches of the tree which had been his saviour.

Kumati and Sumati – A Folktale

kum and sum story

Long long ago, in a village in Northern India, there was an old lady by name Kumati. Kumati had a daughter-in-law by name Sumati.

Sumati was a very nice girl. She was very soft spoken, humble, courteous, well trained in all household work, caring and possessed all other attributes a mother-in-law would look for in a daughter-in-law. Now, Kumati was a tyrannical mother-in-law and would on no account be satisfied with anything Sumati did. She found fault with everything Sumati did, be it cooking, sweeping, tending to the cattle, or any job for that matter.
“Your parents have not trained you well” she would shout at times.

“Are your hands made of butter huh? Can you not scrub the vessels harder you dud?” she would yell.

“You have not come here to eat and sleep. Do all the work before you sit to eat”, she would rave at Sumati just as the girl sat to eat her meal which already would have been very cold.

Sumati was trained by her parents not to talk back at elders and also Sumati did not like quarrelling and so used to keep quiet when Kumati shouted at her. Sumati’s husband Ramu was afraid of his mother and would not open his mouth at all when she shouted. More often than not he would slip out from the house the moment she started shouting.

Sumati, though she would not talk back would hold back her tears and cry alone at night.

One day Kumati had to visit one of her relatives who was very ill.

“Sumati”, she ordered in her pompous tone, “Make ghiya sabzi (bottle gourd vegetable) and rotis for lunch and make only as much as is needed. Do not make more. There is no food to waste here hmm…. I am going to my aunt’s house with Ramu and I will come by one o’ clock”.

She went off and Sumati, after doing the other chores, started making lunch as her mother-in-law had ordered.
When Sumati was almost done there was a knock on the door. Sumati went and opened the door to see a sadhu (mendicant) looking tired and weary standing at the doorstep. He looked at Sumati and asked, “Daughter, may I have some water to drink? I am so thirsty” The sun was blazing outside.

Sumati, courteous as she was, immediately called the visitor in. “Sure, please come in Swami!” she said. “You look very tired. Please be seated”.

She went in and brought a jug of cold sweet smelling water. In those days people used to keep water in earthen pots covered with a wet cloth which kept the water cold. They also put certain herbs in the water which gave the water a very pleasant fragrance. The man seemed glad to be getting a jug of cold water and drank it eagerly.
Sumati was very happy and asked him, “Swami, it looks you are on some pilgrimage. Have you had anything to eat?”
The man looked hesitant and said, “Well…. I will eat on my way… I am on a pilgrimage and I left my village early in the morning”. Saying so, he got up to go.

“Wait Swamiji!” said Sumati. “You must be hungry and there are no proper chavadis for the next many miles. Please wash your hands and feet and sit down. Please eat lunch and go!” (Chavadis were free public guest houses for travellers. In those days, many villages had chavadis as people cared for poor travellers. Food was also available at the chavadi).

The sadhu was happy and sat down. Sumati served the portion of rotis and subzi meant for herself and gave him some thick buttermilk to drink. The man was very happy and blessed Sumati with all his heart. “May God bless you with all good things!” said he and left the house. Just as he was stepping out, guess who were coming? Kumati was coming with her son Ramu. Kumati’s eyes bulged with anger to see a mendicant leaving happily from their house.

Unfortunately, just as the man passed by Kumati, he let out a big burp. Kumati’s suspicions were coming true. The daughter-in-law had wantonly disobeyed her.

Kumati barged into the house and started yelling at Sumati. “How dare you disobey me, you impertinent dunce? I told you specifically that there is no food to waste and you are happily feeding who so ever comes? Did you think this house is a chavadi huh? Will you father give money for all that you are wasting?”

Saying so, she rushed at a bewildered Sumati, pulled her by the shoulder and stopped short of slapping her.
“Out you go!” She shoved her out of the house. “Go to your father’s place you dud. Go and waste your father’s money”.

Sumati fell down and Kumati slammed the door on her. Sumati was sobbing and got up. Fortunately she did not get hurt much. She was very sad at this treatment meted out to her by her mother-in-law but sadder that her husband had kept mum.

Not knowing what to do with herself, she decided to go to her father’s house. But her father’s village was quite far away and it would be late night when she reached. But there was a shorter route through the forest nearby. It was a bit scary, but Sumati thought she would reach by evening if she went through this route.

Wiping away the tears streaming down her cheeks and sobbing, she started to trudge along the forest path. She walked for about an hour when suddenly, cold breeze started to blow. There were dark clouds and there was the roar of thunder. It became very dark and big rain drops started falling plop… plop… and in a matter of minutes, the shower became heavy rain. With nothing to shelter herself from the rain, Sumati ran hither and thither to protect herself from the rain and suddenly, she saw a hollow on the trunk a big tree. Without a thought, she ran to it scrambled up and jumped into the hollow. Fortunately, it was not at a height.

Frightened and cold, she was shivering and huddled inside. The rain was pounding outside. Very tired, Sumati fell asleep.

Suddenly she was rudely awakened by the sound of screeching laughter, on the tree top. Holding her breath, she gingerly peeped outside. It was night and the rain had stopped. The crickets and frogs were singing. The sky was clear and moon was out. In the dim light, she saw two monstrous forms sitting on a branch. She could make out they were rakshasis (demonesses).

“Hee hee hee…” screeched one. “I want to go to Swarna Dweep (Gold Island) and enjoy. Come on, let’s go!” she said to the other.

The other one was not very enthusiastic. “I am very tired” said she. “Today I had to run a lot on the mountains to catch some sheep to eat. I am not coming”

“Don’t worry sis!” said the first one. “I will make the tree carry us. You don’t need to put in any effort! We will fly back on the tree tomorrow.”

“Fine” said the other. “Then come, let’s go”

Suddenly Sumati was shaken by a jerk that she fell down inside the hollow and before she could realise, she felt the tree shake and felt as if it was moving. Slowly, with difficulty she got up holding the sides of the hollow and peeped out and the tree was rising like an aeroplane!

Shocked and surprised, Sumati sank to a corner of the hollow praying fervently to god. The tree kept moving for many hours and suddenly she realised that it was dawn and the sun was coming up fast. The roar of the ocean was heard and she knew it must be some beach. Suddenly there was a bright reflection of what appeared like sand and the tree landed with a “THUD”.

“Come on let’s go…..” cackled one rakshasi and soon Sumati saw both of them running on the golden sand and after a while they disappeared. Sumati waited for some time but felt very sick, holed in the hollow for so long.

She slowly got out of the hollow carefully looking out for the rakshasis but they were nowhere to be seen.
She looked down and found the sand to be strangely bright. She picked up a little in her hand and WOW! It was gold. Surprised as she had never seen anything like that before, she hurriedly filled up the front portion of her pallu (loose end of the saree) with the gold sand as much as she could. She knotted the pallu carefully and looked around with awe at the sparkling sand and the roaring sea and there were no human beings around.

After a while she got into the hollow once again waiting for the rakshasis to come and fly back. It looked like ages and at last after nightfall, the rakshasis came back. They had no reason to suspect Sumati’s presence and the tree flew back as it had come. It landed in the same place in the woods from where it had been taken. Sumati waited for day break patiently. Just as it was dawning, she saw the two rakshasis flying in another direction. Then after the sun had come up and the forest was bright, Sumati slowly got out of the hollow and walked back home.

Her mother-in-law was outside quarrelling with some vegetable vendor. The moment she saw Sumati, her face became crimson with fury. “You fool, did I not tell you to get lost to your father’s place huh?” She yelled.

Sumati did not reply but quietly entered the house. Ramu was sitting there finishing his breakfast.
Kumati hurried behind her, raising her hand and yelling. Sumati suddenly turned around and quickly went to the door and slammed it shut.

“Shhhhh….” Said Sumati to her puzzled mother-in-law. “Speak softly, Amma! I’ve brought something for us. Nobody should know.”

Calming down a little, Kumati asked, “What is it? You must have brought some stale sweetmeat from your father’s house! Did I ask you to come back, you dud!!!”

Sumati said, “No Amma! It is not sweetmeat but gold!!” Saying so, she opened the knot of her pallu and the room was lit up with the brightness of the golden sand!

Kumati’s jaws fell open in surprise and she looked at Sumati unbelievingly. “Where did you get that all from?” she demanded running her hand through the pile of the golden sand.

Sumati told her story to her unbelieving mother-in-law and husband.

Kumati, though happy inside, did not want to show her appreciation of Sumati. Instead she asked her “Why did you bring so little you silly girl? Had I gone, I would have brought enough to last seven generations. Where is that tree? I will go with the rakshasis and show you how to do things smartly. If a dumb one like you can bring this much, let me show you how much a smart woman like me can bring. Come on, show me the tree. I want to go!”

Sumati protested. “This is enough for us Amma” she said. “This will last us for generations! Those rakshasis are dangerous, and it is very tiring to travel in the tree Amma. You are old also.”

The moment Sumati uttered the word “old”, Kumati was doubly furious.

“You are calling me old, you good for nothing goose? How dare you call me so? Will you show me the tree in the jungle or shall I pack you to your father’s place once again?”

Sumati knew it was futile to talk to her mother-in-law anymore.

“Ok Amma. I will take you to the tree in the afternoon”, she said.

“Afternoon? What afternoon?” shouted Kumati. “I am telling you I want to go NOW. Come on.”

Knowing that there was no other solution, Sumati took Kumati to the jungle to the tree, accompanied by Ramu.
As soon as Sumati pointed out to the tree, Kumati hastened and almost ran and climbed into the hollow with great difficulty, since she was plump unlike Sumati, who was slim.

“Do not make any noise Amma” said a concerned Sumati. She was worried that her mother-in-law’s loud mouth would cost her dearly. “And be careful to climb out of the hollow only after the rakshasis have gone very far okay?”

“I know, you stupid girl. You think you know everything huh? Remember that I am twice your age, now go home both of you, and do not forget to keep what you brought in the steel almirah and lock it” said Kumati.

Sumati and Ramu went home worrying for her safety.

Kumati waited impatiently till night peeping in and out of the hole every now and then. With her big figure, it was very uncomfortable inside but it was her doing and so she could not complain.

At last she heard a ‘swoosh’ sound and the tree jerked as the rakshasis sat on their favourite branch. Kumati was frightened at the sight of them but sat silently.

For a long time, they were talking and talking, with screeching laughter in between and Kumati was getting impatient. “When will they go to Swarna Dweep?” she wondered.

Suddenly she heard the word “Dweep” and sharpened her ears. The rakshasis were planning the trip.

“It’s a long time since I had Hilsa fish, I feel like having a feast of Hilsa now” said one rakshasi.

“Why not sis?” said the other. “We will go to ‘Matsya Dweep’ (fish island) now and have it. We can ride on the tree like yesterday” said the other.

Kumati was horrified. To fly all the way to pick fish! What would her son and Sumati think of her? She imagined her son Ramu and Sumati making fun of her when she returned and laughing aloud. She imagined the other villagers joining with them and laughing at Kumati.

The tree shook and took off. Kumati came back from her imagination but it was a bit too late. The tree had risen.
“Go to Swarna Dweep, go to Swarna Dweep!” Kumati yelled.

The shocked rakshasis looked down to see from where the sound was coming and were aghast to find a human being peering at them from the hollow.

“Who are you? And what business do you have to take shelter in our home?” roared one of them as she hung down from the branch upside down and brought her face near the hollow of the tree. The tree was flying at a slow pace.
A terrified Kumati started crying and put her hands on her eyes not able to face the gory rakshasi.

“Drop her down sis!” said the other rakshasi. “We will go as scheduled”.

“Yes! With pleasure!!” said the other and she jumped from the branch and held the tree like a rattle, turned it horizontally and shook it, shrieking loudly. The tree was passing Kumati’s house then.

Kumati fell down from the hollow and in few moments, she fell in the pond behind her house with a big ‘pachaak!’ Water splashed out of the pond. The pond was not so deep and it had clayey soil and so Kumati was not injured, but with great difficulty, she gathered herself and with clay and mud splashed on her she looked so comical.

Sumati was worried about her mother-in-law and could not sleep. Just as she heard the ‘pachaak’ sound at their backyard, she woke Ramu up.

“Husband, I heard a big sound at our back yard. Please wake up and see, please” she said. Ramu woke up groggily and with the help of a fire torch went to the back yard only to see a plump figure wet and smeared with clay pulling herself towards the house.

Sumati ran to her, opening the backyard gate. “Amma, what happened Amma? Are you okay? Did the rakshasis harm you Amma? Are you hurt anywhere?” she asked her and put her hand comfortingly on Kumati’s shoulder. Ramu was also shocked at her appearance and chided her for not listening to them.

Kumati was surprised that instead of making fun of her, they both were genuinely concerned about her. She realised her folly and also realised that her loud mouth had landed her in trouble.

She realised that “Silence is Golden”

From that day onwards, Kumati was completely a transformed woman and they lived happily ever after.

 

 

 

When Providence Smiles At You – A folktale from Ancient India

In a village, in ancient India, lived a lad by name Boppanna.

Boppanna was very good at heart and wanted to be smart and good at studies like his classmates, but somehow, studies eluded him. He simply did not have the capacity to grasp even something that his classmates found damn easy.

His father was always worried about this. He tried all methods to make him study, but as I already said, studies simply eluded him. His father used to get very angry and shout at him. “Mandooka Mandooka”, he would yell at him.  “If you don’t study you will remain a like a Mandooka in the well” he would always say.

Mandooka means frog in Sanskrit and somehow the word has become synonymous with stupidity. Being like a Mandooka meant being like a frog in a well, not aware of anything happening in the outside world, and the stupid stare of Boppanna reminded his father of a frog’s eyes. So, Boppanna was more often called Mandooka, than by his own name.

Boppanna grew up and became a young man. He did odd jobs here and there as he did not get any good job for he did not possess good qualification. He could read and write though and that was all that he had acquired in all the years of his studies.

In due course of time, Boppanna’s parents got him married to a naïve girl from another village nearby. Now, that he was married, his income was not enough to support them.

One day, his wife had an idea. “Listen, my husband”, she said, “I hear that the King rewards people who write good poems. Why don’t you go and meet the King and write a poem for him? “

Boppanna was in a dilemma. He did not want to spoil his wife’s image of him, but he barely knew to write, leave alone write poems!!

Not able to refuse his wife’s idea, he set out with a palm leaf and quill to the palace. He had to pass a wooded area on the way and he wanted to rest for a while. As he sat down by the shade of a banyan tree, he saw a big boar near a tree on the other side of the pathway. The boar was rubbing its body against the rough bark of the tree to relieve itself of its itching. Boppanna was wondering what would happen if the tree got uprooted due to the force and fell on the boar.

He looked at the boar, and said pitifully, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger…”

Unable to think of anything else to write as sunset was fast approaching, he took out the palm leaf and scribbled the words he had told the boar, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger…”

Boppanna reached the city late in the night. Early in the morning, Boppanna went to the palace and met the security guard outside. “Here is an important document for the King. Please give it to him immediately” said he.

The guard immediately took the leaf and went into the chamber where the King was sleeping. The King was just then waking up. The King’s barber was already present in the chamber making preparations for the King to shave. The guard handed over the palm leaf to the King. “It seems this is an important document for Your Highness!!” he said and left.

The King read the message, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger” over and over again but could not make any sense out of it. Wondering what it meant, the King said aloud, “Do not rub too much. Your life is in danger”. The very next moment, the barber dropped his knife and the stone on which he was rubbing it and fell at the King’s feet.

“Forgive me Your Highness!” he cried, “I have been driven by greed and lust for money, as otherwise, I would have never dreamt of doing this heinous crime. Forgive me… please…” He was sobbing uncontrollably.

On enquiry, it came to be known that the barber had colluded with a minister to kill the King with the sharp knife used for shaving, that day. The palm leaf had saved the life of the King !!. The King got his security men to find out Boppanna and rewarded him with lot of gold and silver and gave him a house to live and made him his official astrologer !. The minister and barber were punished severely and banished from the kingdom.

Life was going on when one day, the diamond necklace of the queen got stolen. The queen was very upset since it was gifted by the King for their wedding and it was her favourite necklace. She could not rest in peace till it was found and she was looking so gloomy and sad all the time.

The King sent word for Boppanna. “Boppanna, please use your skills and find out who has stolen the necklace, for I cannot bear to see my dear queen grieving for her necklace.” Boppanna was at his wits end. How on earth was he going to find out who stole the necklace?

Anyway, he pretended to be calm and cool and told in a very calm voice, “Your Highness, please do not worry. I shall surely find the culprit but I need a secluded room and I will need a few days’ time too. There should be no guards or anyone in the room. I will have to do some meditation to pin point the culprit”

“Done!” said the King. He granted Boppanna a  room in a secluded part of the palace.

Boppanna went in and shut the door. He was lamenting at his fate. He decided that his wife was to blame for all that was happening. “Oh woman!” he cried out aloud, “See the fruit of your action. You will become a widow shortly. Already your husband has escaped once but now there is no chance to escape. I can see death coming. Alas!”

Suddenly he heard the door banging. Alarmed, he went to the door and opened it with great hesitation. The next moment, a lady barged in and fell at his feet and caught hold of his feet. She was a maid in the queen’s palace.

To a shocked Boppanna she said, “Sir, I heard that you had been asked to find out the thief and so I was following you and was hiding near the window. Sir, how did you know that it was me and my husband who have robbed the necklace and how on earth did you know that earlier we had robbed a gold ring which went unnoticed?”  She continued sobbing and said, “Sir, we will give the necklace and ring back, please tell the King to forgive us.” She was crying loudly.

Boppanna was amazed at the turn of events. He could not believe his luck.Here he was blaming his wife for his ill luck and the words had exactly matched the thief’s action!

Regaining his composure, he said, “Hush, hush woman.. Do not cry. I will try to speak to the King. He then went to the King and said, “I have found out the culprit, but I request you not to award them death sentence. You may punish them otherwise”.  The King agreed and the necklace and ring were returned and a heavy fine was imposed on the lady and her husband.

Boppanna was given a bigger bungalow and more gold coins and his fame spread far and wide.

One day, a messenger from the neighbouring Emperor’s Kingdom came to the palace. The King welcomed him with the usual protocol as his Kingdom was under the domain of the Emperor. On enquiry about his visit, the messenger said, “Our Highness, the Emperor has heard of your new astrologer and so has given me a task. I have brought this locked box with something inside. Will your astrologer be able to find out what is in it?”

“Why not?” said the King. “I will ask him to come to the court just now. He will surely predict precisely what is in this locked box!”

So, word was sent to Boppanna who was alarmed to the core. With his heart beating at top speed he came to the palace where in the Durbar there was a seat for him and on the opposite side the man with the locked box was sitting.

The King explained to Boppanna what was expected of him and Boppanna closed his eyes in fear. On the one side, he dreaded the punishment which he would receive if he did not predict correctly and on the other, he remembered images of his childhood and his father’s figure yelling “Mandooka” at him.

Repenting for not remaining in his village and for coming to the King in the first place at the insistence of his wife, Boppanna, in a quivering voice, hitting himself on his forehead said, “Oh! Mandooka… You should have remained in the well… Why at all did you come here? Ho…Ho…” He was crying aloud, when suddenly his opponent got up and hugged Boppanna with a great look of surprise. He immediately opened the box and PLOP! , there jumped out a frog. The box was containing a frog and the people thought Boppanna was crying at the fate of the frog and so there was rejoicing over his accurate ‘prediction’.

There was loud cheering from the crowds and Boppanna could not comprehend what was going on!!

“Boppanna, Boppanna… Long live Boppanna….” the crowds shouted. The King came up to the platform where the two were seated and handed Boppanna a big bag of coins.

Taking the coins Boppanna did the most sensible thing then. He bowed to the King and said, “Your Highness, when I was born, it was predicted that I would become a famous astrologer but would give only three correct predictions. Now that I have delivered all the three, kindly, allow me to proceed to my village where I will pursue the occupation of agriculture. I do not want to continue here as I will not be able to give correct predictions anymore!”

The King was shocked but nevertheless happy that Boppanna had told him the ‘truth’ and was not greedy to enjoy a royal life. So the King also let Boppanna go but not before he loaded his cart with gold coins and jewellery!!!

Boppanna thanked the Goddess of luck and returned home, a happy, rich and wiser man!!

He had realised that Providence may not keep smiling at him forever.

 

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