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.