50. A Poor Man
A poor man lived a simple pious life, thinking of Lord Siva, working for daily wages, and caring for his wife and children. Yet he was miserably poor, and as he grew old he grew feeble. He needed money, but he couldn't bear to think of praying to God for money. Wouldn't God, who knows everything, know that his devotee is poor? If He wants to, He will give it all Himself, reasoned the poor man.
One day, Siva and Parvati were traveling through the world. Being father and mother to the world, they needed to know what was happening to whom. As they passed over the poor man's hut, Parvati said to Siva, “You know, don't you, that you have a great devotee here and that he is utterly poor? Aren't you going to do something for him?”
Siva said, “Yes, we must do something for him.”
Right outside that village was the temple of their son, the elephant-faced god, Ganapati. They went to that temple and called on Ganapati.
“Ganapati, there's a fine man here in this place and he's very poor. We want you to give him five thousand rupees.”
“That's all? That's easily done,” said Ganapati.
“We want you to do it right away. Don't dillydally.”
“No, I won't,” said Ganapati, “But I can't give it to him today. I'll surely get the money to him tomorrow.”
“Do that. Don't forget,” said Siva and Parvati, and mounted their bull-vehicle and went their heavenly way.
A silk merchant was hiding in the temple, planning to steal the jewelry on the Ganapati idol. He overheard the conversation between the gods, and he changed his plans. He thought to himself, “Stolen jewelry is no good. It's hard to get rid of.” Then he went straight to the poor man's hut and said, “I hear you're in need of money. Suppose I give you three thousand rupees today. Will you give me whatever money you get tomorrow?”
The poor fellow thought this was a strange bargain and said, “Yes,” not knowing what to make of it. He told the merchant that he was expecting to get nothing the next day or any other day. The wily merchant knew better, and said, “That doesn't matter. Give me whatever you get tomorrow.” Why should a poor man refuse such a good bargain when he was so desperately in need? The merchant gave him three thousand rupees on the spot.
Next day, the merchant went early in the morning to the poor man's hut, and sat outside waiting for Ganapati. He expected the elephant-faced god to arrive any hour and give the poor man his five thousand. But Ganapati didn't come that afternoon, didn't come that evening, and wasn't to be seen even at nightfall. The merchant was fretting and fuming, muttering that even gods don't keep their promises when it comes to money. By night, he was really angry. He went straight to Ganapati's temple. The door was shut. It was an old broken door. He kicked it and it fell open, but his foot got stuck in it. He tried to get his leg free, but he couldn't. He wriggled, he struggled, he jumped up and down, he pulled and pushed, but he couldn't work his leg loose. As he stood there fretting, Siva and Parvati stopped again at the temple on their way home and asked Ganapati, “Did you give the five thousand to the poor man?”
“O, yes. I've given him three thousand today. And I'll get him the other two thousand tonight,” said Ganapati.
“Do that. That's very nice of you,” said Siva and Parvati, and left.
The merchant, who was listening to all this, called Ganapati.
“O Ganapati, listen to me. Release me from this crack in the door, and I'll give you two thousand rupees.”
Ganapati released his leg from the vice in the door and warned him, “Don't give it to me. Give it to the poor man. If you don't give it as promised, your legs will get stuck where you stand. Beware.”
All that the merchant wanted was his leg back. He ran to the poor man's hut and gave him the two thousand rupees. That's how a poor man got five thousand.
[NKTT. Cf. Motif K 233, Trickster escapes without paying.]