54. Rich Man, Poor Man
The priest of the Monkey God temple was a poor man. He was very devoted to the god, worshiped the god every day, and kept the temple in order. But he was very poor. One day he thought of sewing up his torn shirt. But he had neither needle nor thread. So he sent his wife to the weaver's house to get a yard of thread. Then he went personally to the rich gowda's house to borrow a needle. Before lending him the needle, the gowda said, “Look here, you may borrow our needle if you wish. But if you lose it, I'll take away your buffalo.”
The poor man agreed and came home with the needle. Meanwhile, his wife had brought the thread. But the priest suddenly remembered it was time to offer worship to the god. So he said to his wife, “It's worship time. I've got to go. Take this needle,” and threw her the needle before he left for the temple. She was careless and lost it. When she swept the floor, it went out with the garbage.
Next day, the gowda sent his servant to collect his needle. When he heard that the needle was lost and couldn't be found, the gowda drove the poor man's buffalo to his own house and tied it in his shed. But the buffalo was sickly and got sicker by the day. So the gowda ordered the buffalo to be driven to the untouchable colony, where they would kill it and skin it. The priest, when he heard this, came running to the gowda's house, begging for the hide of the dead buffalo. The gowda told the untouchables that they could kill the buffalo and eat the meat, but they should give the hide to the poor priest. So, when they slaughtered the buffalo, they gave him the hide. He dried it and thought of selling it at the market.
He walked all day. He was tired, and it was evening. He found a great big tree in the woods and thought of resting there. He climbed it, put the buffalo hide on a branch, and fell asleep on another next to it.
Now, it so happened that a gang of robbers used to bring their day's ill-gotten loot there every evening and divide it up among themselves under that tree. That day, they had broken into a rich man's house and stolen a lot of gold, silver, and cash. Late that night, as they sat under the tree counting their day's plunder, a wind sprang up and shook the branches.
The violence of the wind dislodged the buffalo hide from the branch and it fell from branch to branch making a loud dadal! dadal! sound. The robbers saw it coming down at them and fled in panic, calling out to each other, “It must be some ghost or goblin! Run, Bhimya! Run, Kariya! Yamanya, don't leave me behind!”
Their noisy exit woke up the priest, who came down the tree, found to his delight a great treasure lying before him, waiting for him to gather it—which he did, scooping up every last coin and jewel. When he came home and wanted to measure his good fortune, he went again to the gowda to get a rice measure. The gowda was suspicious and gave him the measuring vessel with a little beeswax stuck to its bottom. The priest didn't notice it. He measured all his gold and silver and returned the vessel. A silver coin had stuck to the wax. The gowda looked at it and asked the man, “Hey, where did you get these coins?”
The priest replied, “I sold my buffalo hide in the market and they gave me a lot of money.”
The gowda said to himself, “If a single sickly buffalo's hide can fetch so much money, how much more will my cattle fetch? Our house is full of cattle and I will be even richer than I am now.” So thinking, he sent all his cattle to the untouchable colony and asked them to slaughter them all and bring him the hides. Dreaming of big money, he carted the hides from market to market. Who would give him big money for them? He hardly got a couple of hundred rupees for all the hides.
A few weeks later, the priest, no longer poor now, went to the gowda and asked him, “ Gowda-re, give me the coconut shells you've thrown in your backyard.” And he burned them, collected the ash in a large bag, loaded it on a bullock, and took to the road.
He crossed two or three towns and decided to camp in a Bullock God's temple outside the fourth town. At that time, another man, a merchant, came to the same temple to rest for the night. He was carrying a bagful of pearls and diamonds. When they fell into a friendly conversation, the merchant asked him, “What do you trade in?”
“O, mostly gold dust,” answered the priest casually.
Then they went to sleep. When the priest was fast asleep, the merchant planned to exchange his bag for the priest's and leave town. So he sneaked out in the middle of the night, took the priest's bag from his bullock, placed his own on it, and left. He didn't even check the contents of the bag he took. In the morning, the priest found that the bag looked different and heavier. He opened it and was delighted by the pearls and diamonds in it.
Again he went to the gowda's to borrow the rice measure. Again, the gowda stuck a piece of beeswax on it and gave it to him. The priest measured his pearls and diamonds, and this time a pearl and a diamond stuck to its bottom. The gowda looked at them, and asked him in astonishment, “Where did you get them?”
“I sold a bag of ashes,” said the priest.
The gowda was furious. He screamed, “You took the coconut shells from my backyard and got the ashes, didn't you? I'll burn your house and get my ashes!”
And he ordered his men to burn down the priest's house and gather the ash in bags. When he took the ash to the market, nobody would buy it. At the end of the day, a potter bought the ash for a quarter of a rupee.
On his way back, the frustrated gowda badly needed a cup of tea. He went to the tea shop, drank his tea, and looked for the quarter to pay for it, but he had lost it somewhere in his anxiety over the ashes. He almost got beaten with shoes over the price of a cup of tea.
Meanwhile, the merchant who had stolen the priest's bag of ash fared no better. He had taken it into his town market and poured it out, bragging that it was all gold dust. When mere ash poured out of the bag and flew into everyone's eyes, people beat him up with their shoes.
The gowda was now angry. He decided to throw the priest into the river. He and all his people shut up the priest in a trunk and took it to the riverbank. Just as they were getting ready to throw it into the water, two beautiful deer appeared. The party got excited and everyone wanted to hunt them. While the hunt was on, the trunk with the priest in it sat on the riverbank unattended.
A shepherd driving a herd of three hundred sheep happened to come that way. His eye fell on the trunk. When he opened it, he found the priest crouching in it.
“Why are you lying in a box like that?” he asked.
The priest said, “They're taking me to my wedding.”
“Really?” said the shepherd, who had never found a woman to marry him.
“If that's so, take all my sheep and let me take your place. I want so much to get married. I'll be so grateful.”
The priest began to feign reluctance.
“What do you think? Don't I want to get married?” he protested.
But after making the shepherd beg and cry and insist, the priest climbed out of the box with his help, got him to sign the sheep over to him, and put the shepherd in the box, asking him to make no sound. Then he drove the herd of three hundred sheep to some distance.
The gowda and his party hurried back after a futile hunt and threw the trunk into the river without a thought. A little while later, lo and behold, there was the priest happily coming towards them, making driving noises like “ chigaa! chigaa! ” at a herd of three hundred fat sheep. They were astonished, and the gowda asked him where he had gotten the sheep and how he had gotten out of the trunk at the bottom of the river. He said, “O gowda-re, how can I tell you how wonderful it was? I am grateful to you. But you dropped me in shallow water. So I got only three hundred sheep. If you had thrown me in deeper waters, and in a trunk that had heavier stones, I'd have brought back many more sheep. I would be even more grateful to you if you would throw me into the river again. Will you please?”
The gowda laughed at him. “Are you crazy? Don't you think we want sheep too? We'll also bring some back from the river. You throw us into the river. If you don't show us the right place, we'll kill you,” he said.
Then the priest asked them to get some trunks. They brought ten or fifteen. The whole party was in a hurry and got into them, urging him to weigh them down with big rocks. The priest put locks on them and got them thrown into the river, one by one, slowly, and with great satisfaction.
Then he came back to the village and began to live in a mansion as big as the gowda's own. Soon he became the gowda himself and began to rule the village.
He is there and we are here.
[AT 1535, The Rich and the Poor Peasant; AT 1653, The Robbers under the Tree.]