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Category: Wit

Finding out the mother tongue- A Tenali Rama Story

In earlier stories of Tenali Ramakrishna we have seen how quick-witted Tenali Ramakrishna was and how he brought pride to the Emperor Krishnadevaraya time and again.

Every time Tenali Rama solved an issue/puzzle, his knowledge and fame spread far and wide. After all he had taken a boon from Goddess Kali to get both money and knowledge in equal measures!!

Once a person came visiting from one of the neighbouring kingdoms. He was a middle aged person and by his facial features, no one could make out which state he belonged to. As was the protocol, the man attended the Durbar of the Emperor with the gifts given by his king as a mark of respect.

The Emperor welcomed the visitor in chaste Telugu and enquired about his native.

The man smiled and replied in equally chaste Telugu, and said “My native and mother tongue is what the people of your court have to find out. I have mastered many languages but you will have to find out what is my mother tongue”.

The Emperor did not think it was a difficult job and called the courtiers who had different mother tongues to come and talk to the man. There was a question in Bengali, one in Tamil, one in Malayalam, one in Urdu, one in Odisha and one in even Kashmiri but the man answered all the questions in different languages with great ease. All the people who asked the questions and Tenali Rama who was watching were stumped. The accent and the intonation of all the languages spoken by the man were perfect.

“Well,” said the man addressing Emperor Krishnadevaraya, “I shall give your men a day’s time and challenge them to find out my mother tongue!”

The Emperor could not refuse the challenge.

Though he had agreed, the emperor was worried whether anyone could do this difficult task.

Tenali could sense the worry of the emperor. After the court has dispersed, Tenali met the Emperor.

“If you permit me your highness,” he said with great humility, “I shall try my best and try to find out the language of this man”

The emperor looked at him with gratitude and wished him luck.

Tenali Rama made enquiries as to where the man was staying.

That night, the man was tired after the long journey he had undertaken and after partaking the wonderful dinner he was provided at the place of his stay, he was so sleepy and went off to bed.

It was about two early in the morning. It was the new moon day and it was pitch dark outside. In those days, there was no electric lamps and lights with oil wicks were lit in houses. A small lamp was glowing in the room where the man was sleeping.

Suddenly, the light was blown off as if blown by a person. Then… a creature tiptoed near the man. The creature looked so devilish with a long black gown and its face was covered by a mask. The creature’s nails were long and it was moving near to the man who was sleeping.

Slowly the man felt something creeping under his feet.

“Hmph…” he said and withdrew his legs into his blanket and he turned to one side.

After a while, the man felt something tickling his ear. The man waved his hand near his ear and mumbled something.

He turned and lay flat his face facing upwards.

Then the creature slowly moved and kept its hand on the man’s throat and made a terrifying sound. The next moment the man opened his eyes, saw the creature. He shouted something, jumped off from the bed and scurried under the cot trembling. The creature was seen jumping out of the window of the room and the soon the guards who were outside jumped in through the windows and immediately a lamp was lit.

They called for the man and slowly he came trembling from under the cot. The creature had vanished and the man believed he had a nightmarish dream and requested the lamp to be lit and a guard to sleep in his room.

The next day, he came to the court without showing any sign of having had a nightmare that night. He was still eager to find out whether anyone had found his mother tongue. The hall was full and the Emperor looked at Tenali. Tenali came up, bowed to the emperor and the audience, looked at the man and said with confidence, “This man’s mother tongue is Tamil”. The man’s shock was apparent on his face. The emperor then asked the man, “Is Tenali saying the truth?”

The man nodded in affirmative and asked Tenali how he had found out the mother tongue.

Tenali looked at him and said “Sir, please share with this audience what happened yesterday night!” The man was even more shocked, but narrated the whole episode to the crowd.

“Well,” said Tenali Rama. “Do you remember what you shouted when the creature kept its hand on your throat?”

The man hung his head in shame that he had been outwitted.

Tenali Rama continued looking at the crowd. “Dear people,” he said, “I was the one who went like a devilish creature to frighten him. The moment he saw my gory face in the dark night, he yelled, ‘Amma amma, pei… pe…i. Kappaathunga… Kappaathunga…’ (Means mother… mother… ghost…ghost…save me  …save me…) and scurried under his bed. A person learns his mother tongue first before learning other languages. So when he or she is in distress, it is the mother tongue they use and not the languages learnt later and that is how I found out what this person’s  mother tongue is “

The emperor, the people and the man were equally surprised at this revelation. They were surprised at the sharp mind of Tenali Rama.

The emperor as usual gifted him with lot of gifts and was very happy that the challenge was overcome all went home happy.

How Rama became Maryada Rama

In ancient Andhra Pradesh, there lived a young boy Rama. This boy was extremely smart, intelligent and shrewd and could analyse any situation and judge people accurately.

In those days, whenever there was any matter in dispute judgement was given by the judge in the court of the King or by the King himself. In the kingdom where Rama lived, there was no judge in the king’s court and so the King used to deliver justice.

One day while Rama was sitting at the mandap near the temple pond, and chatting, he saw an old lady pass by sobbing and she looked as if she was in great grief.

Rama called her and asked her, “Amma, what is the matter? Why are you crying?”

The lady started crying profusely and said, “Beta, where will I go and tell this injustice? The King has ordered me to give a potful of gold coins as a punishment. Where will I go for the gold coins?”

Rama was puzzled and asked her to tell him her story.

“I am an old woman living here and I am earning a living by selling milk. One day four young men came to my house and gave me a pot for safekeeping. The pot was sealed and they told me that I should give it back to them only when all the four asked for it together”

“Then what happened?” asked Rama.

“Well, one day I was milking my cow in the backyard when one of the men came and asked me for the pot. I told him that I would give him the pot only when all of them asked for it, for which he showed me the gate of my house and told me to ask the other three who were there. I shouted from the backdoor which is very far away to the three men out there and asked them what they wanted. “Pot” they shouted back. “Give it to him.”  So, I gave the sealed pot to him and he went away. After some time the other three came to the backyard searching for their friend and asked for ‘a’ pot.

I got worried and told them that I had already given the sealed pot to their friend. I had committed a blunder. They were asking for a pot to buy buttermilk and drink whereas the fourth fellow tricked me into giving the sealed pot to him and ran away with it. The other three men got very angry that their money had gone due to my mistake. They complained to the king who has now ordered me to pay them a pot full of gold coins. In fact I did not even see the coins as the pot was sealed. What will I do now? My fate is sealed”.

Saying this, the lady started sobbing loudly.

“What sort of a judgement is this? I cannot understand!” exclaimed Rama. “If I were the judge, I would have delivered real justice.   Hmm. I do not know what the poor old woman will do…”

So saying, he left the place.

Unknown to Rama, one of the senior ministers of the king had observed the whole episode hearing every word Rama uttered. He went back to the king and told him what he had seen.

The king was angered that a common man should comment upon the judgement he had made.

The next day, Rama was sent for by the King. Not knowing why he was called for a puzzled Rama went to the King’s court.

He was surprised to find the old lady and three young men in two separate enclosures facing each other. The King looked at Rama and said in a stern voice, “Oh, you are Rama, are you? Under whom did you study law Sir? I heard that you were criticising my judgement in the case of this lady and the three men there”, he said, pointing to the lady and the three men.

Rama was not frightened. Keeping a cool face, he replied, “Who am I to criticise your judgement Your Highness? I just said that I could not understand your judgement.”

“Then, in that case,” said the King, “you can give your judgement in this case right now, here!”

“I am ready your Highness” said Rama, “but for the sake of understanding of the people here, I would like to recapitulate the case”. He went on to repeat the story he had heard from the woman about how four men had given her a pot and told her that she should give it back only when all of them demanded it together, how she was duped by one of them even though she thought all of them were asking for the same pot.

“Now,” said he, “Our King has told this woman to give the three men the pot of gold as she did not follow their instruction and in the process, the pot has been taken away by one of the men”. He continued, “There is nothing wrong with the King’s judgement, but….”

“But what?” thundered the King.

“I am just going to slightly modify your judgement your majesty” said Rama with a smile. “The lady has to give back the pot to them…”

As he paused, the three men who were in the enclosure were surprised and puzzled and the old woman was worried. The King was also wondering what different judgement was this going to be, when Rama continued, “Provided all the four of them come together and ask for the pot. That was the agreement wasn’t it?”

There was a thunderous applause from the audience and the King was pleased at the sharp mind and prudent judgement delivered by Rama. The old woman had tears of joy in her eyes and the three men looked disappointed that their joy was short-lived.

“I am very happy at your judgement Rama” said the King, “I need a person like you to assist me in my judgements. You shall be known as Maryada Rama henceforth and all cases shall come to you first for judgement”.

Rama was extremely happy that he had saved the old lady from trouble as he knew that the fourth person who took the pot and ran away would never come back to join this gang again.

Maryada Rama was famous for all the judgements he gave. There is also the story of the lost diamond where Rama, with his shrewdness delivered an excellent judgement.

Seven Jars Of Gold

Once upon a time, there lived a barber in a city in central India. He was working at the king’s palace. He was a happy go lucky fellow and so even though he did not earn much he was always happy and cheerful. The king liked him for his cheerful attitude as he liked to see cheerful faces in the morning.

The barber’s house was quite far away in a village and he had to pass through a forest every day while going for work and coming home. He used to pass by a huge banyan tree in the jungle every day.

One day, when he was passing by the tree, he heard a booming voice. “Halt”, said the voice. The barber, though not frightened, was startled a bit by the voice.”Who are you?” he asked, looking around, as he could find no human being nearby.

“I am a Yaksha living in this tree”, the voice said. “I see you going past this tree everyday and I think you work in the city. Where do you work and how much do you earn?”

“I work in the palace and I earn just enough to make ends meet”, said the barber. “Why do you ask?”

“Well”, said the voice, “I am the guardian of seven jars of gold in the hollow of this tree. I like you and I want to gift them to you. You can take them to your house and if ever you do not need them, you can bring them back to me.”

The barber could not believe his luck. “I shall take them”, said he and eagerly peeped into the hollow of the tree trunk. To his utter surprise, he found that there were indeed seven closed jars. Without opening them, he took them back home and told his wife about his luck. The wife was indeed happy and eagerly opened the jars. To their surprise the barber and his wife found six jars full of shining gold coins, but the seventh jar however was only half full. They were disappointed at this discovery.

“I shall ask the Yaksha tomorrow. Maybe the balance of gold coins is in the hollow of the trunk itself!” said the barber to his wife. Already his mind was full of curiosity as to why the seventh jar was only half full. He could not stop thinking about the jars and his luck and could not sleep at all.

Early in the morning he left to meet the Yaksha. As he neared the tree he heard the Yaksha call out,”Hello friend, what is it that brings you here so early? It is not your usual time yet” “Er…well,l want to ask you something… One jar out of the seven is only half full. Why is that?”

The Yaksha replied,”It is like that only. You can fill up the jar with your earnings. And if ever you do not need the jars bring them back as they are, okay?” The barber nodded his head though he was puzzled and went home.he told his wife what the Yaksha told him.The husband and wife picked up a few coins from the seventh jar and the level reduced and they hurriedly put back the coins in the jar. The wife said,” Do not worry my dear! From now on we shall save whatever we earn and put it in this jar and fill it up fast.”

The barber went for work with a confused mind. He didn’t talk much, to the surprise of the king.He was also not smiling as usual. The king had never seen him this way but anyhow thought that he must be having some domestic problem and therefore did not ask him anything. The barber took his day’s wages and went home. His wage was a gold coin.

As soon as he went home, he dropped the coin in the half full jar. He told his wife,”For the next few days, we shall eat with whatever provisions are available, for, I want to fill the seventh jar.” “Okay”, said the wife. “The provisions at home will last for three days. But there are no vegetables for tomorrow.” “Never mind”, said the barber. Pluck the greens from the garden and cook them.” The wife agreed as she also wanted to see the seventh jar full.

Over the next two weeks the barber’s earnings went straight into the jar. The jar however seemed to be absorbing all that was put into it. The level of gold coins did not rise by even a millimeter. The barber and his wife were puzzled and worried. Why the jar was not getting full was the only topic they discussed amongst themselves late in the nights. The barber decided to do extra work and went to the market in the evenings to help another barber and thereby earned extra money. The wife took up a job as domestic help and earned some money.

However they spent a miniscule portion of what they earned towards their needs and put the major portion in the seventh jar. The coins in the jar however remained at the same level as it was on the first day. Due to their extra occupation, the couple hardly talked to each other these days. The barber had lost his cheer and wore a very worried look. He hardly joked or laughed when he heard anything funny.

The king was noticing the behavior of the barber. Initially he had ignored it but as days went by it was difficult for him to ignore the barber as the barber’s sullen face was affecting the king too. He did not feel good to see a constantly worried face with lot of mental burden every day in the morning.

One day the king decided that enough was enough. He asked the barber what the matter was. Though initially reluctant, the barber blurted out the cause of his worry. The king was quiet for some time. He was a wise man and could empathize with others and so felt sorry for the barber. “Do you want to be happy once again?”, he asked the barber. “Yes. Your majesty”, said the barber, his eyes filled with tears. “Will you do as I say?”said the king. “Yes Sire” said the barber willing to do anything for getting relieved from this mental torture. “Well then”said the king.”Go and. give back the jars of gold from wherever you got them from”

The barber knew that that was the right solution and he had also contemplated this. He had realized that the jars were the primary reason for his change in attitude and lifestyles and lack of cheer from his life. Almost instantly, he agreed to do what the king said and went home straight. “Bring the jars”, he told his wife, “let us give them back to the Yaksha.” The wife also had realized their folly and willingly brought the jars out.

The barber took the jars and hurried to the banyan tree. He placed them in the hollow and addressed the Yaksha in a cold voice, “Here! Take your gold coins back! I was a fool to have accepted them. They have robbed me of my happiness and have given me only sorrow”

The Yaksha replied, “You were a fool to have added all your earnings in the jar! And you cannot have them now as I already told you that I want the jars as I gave them to you.” The barber angrily turned to go back when he heard the Yaksha’s booming voice again.

“But you have to thank me , friend, for now you are wise to know that it is always better to enjoy what you have rather than going after what you do not have”. The barber went back, finally relieved and wiser and remained so for the rest of his life.

Birbal Again!

Birbal, as we all know was a master in the art of using the right words/ sentences at the right time. This combined with his sharp intelligence and brilliant wit earned him the adulation of the Emperor and all others and of course he also got what he wanted. We shall see two such instances.

Emperor Akbar, on an occasion when Birbal had pleased him announced that he would give him a piece of land in a posh area of the city. However it was never granted. The Emperor had not forgotten about it, but every time when Birbal broached the subject, he pretended not to hear and turned his neck as if to observe what was going on, on the other side. After a few months Birbal stopped talking about the plot of land, but was waiting for the right moment when he could get it from the Emperor.

Now, one day, the Emperor was going for a stroll in disguise, along with Birbal. Both were walking through the country side. They spotted a group of camels there as camels were very much used in carrying goods and passengers in those days. One of the camels in the group had a crooked neck and appeared to be turning its neck and looking away.

Akbar was curious. “Birbal”, said he, “look at that camel. Why is it turning its neck and looking on the other side?”
Pat came the reply from Birbal. “Huzoor”, he said in a very polite voice, “May be the camel has also promised land to somebody and does not want to give it now”

Akbar was amused and also surprised at the clever way in which Birbal had got his point through. The very next day, Birbal got his piece of land!

On another instance, the Emperor got a talking parrot as a gift from another king. The parrot was an intelligent bird, for not only it could repeat what anyone said, but it could give replies to questions too. It was very charming and beautiful too and the Emperor instantly took a liking to it.

“Arrange a golden cage for the parrot!” he ordered his men. “He should be fed with the best fruits and food and taken care of extremely well”

“Yes, your highness!” said the courtiers to whom the order was given. “We will do everything as you wish”

“And” said Akbar, “once again I am telling you, he should be given the best care and…If any one of you comes and tells me that the parrot is dead, I will not hesitate to execute you!”

When Akbar was angry, he would really do what he said and the courtiers knew it and so off they went and arranged a beautiful big golden cage for the bird They fed it with exotic fruits and food and gave it sweet water and were always guarding it.

Despite all the good care given to it, unfortunately, the parrot died one night. The courtiers panicked. Not because the parrot died but one of them had to go and report it to Akbar! And their head would go next!!

The courtiers discussed among themselves and instead of going to Akbar, ran to Birbal. Birbal was surprised on seeing two courtiers coming puffing and panting at such a late time in the night.

He asked them in and told them to have a seat. “Now, may I know what brought you here at this time of the night?” he asked.

“Sire…. Sire…” they hesitated.

“Tell me. Fear nobody. What is the matter?”

Both the courtiers fell at his feet pleading. “Save our lives Sire” they said. “You can only grant us the gift of life”
Birbal knew that these were the two who were in charge of the parrot. “What happened” he asked. “Is all well?”

“The parrot died Sire…..” the first man broke down.

“In spite of taking so much care, the parrot is gone” continued the other, “but Sire if we go and tell the Emperor that the parrot has died, we will be hanged”. He started sobbing and narrated what the Emperor had told them.

Birbal knew that the King loved the parrot so much and may do what he had said. “I will take care” he said. “Both of you go home and rest. Go… Go and do as I say. I will take care”

The men left hesitantly.

The next morning, Birbal, with a pensive look went to the Emperor. Akbar looked at him and asked, “What happened Birbal? Why is the worried look on your face?”

“Nothing, your majesty. A strange thing happened. Your parrot is neither eating anything, nor drinking anything. It is neither moving its wings nor moving its beak. It is neither sitting up nor seeing anything…”

“The parrot died?” asked a shocked Akbar.

“You said it your majesty. I did not say it with my mouth” said Birbal.

The Emperor was so amused at the clever way in which Birbal broke the news and forgave the courtiers and rewarded Birbal!

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