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Grandmas bag of stories, p.2
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       Grandma's Bag of Stories, p.2

           Sudha Murty
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  Kavery and the Thief

  The children had gone with their Ajja to the paddy fields that morning. They were all city kids and did not know a thing about farming! On the way, Anand was surprised to see a bird’s nest on top of the tree. He said to Ajja, ‘I wonder how birds decide where and how to make their nests!’ Ajja said, ‘The straw in the nest is from the paddy field. Do you know, farming helps human beings as well as birds?’ Krishna replied, ‘Ajja, I thought wheat and rice can be just plucked from trees, like mangoes. But today I realized there is so much work in farming.’

  That afternoon, after lunch, when they gathered around Ajji for the day’s story, she looked sharply at the children. They had enjoyed learning about farming activities like cleaning seeds and separating the straw from paddy. In the city everything came from the supermarket, but here they had seen how things were really produced.

  Ajji said, ‘Farming is very important. If farmers do not grow any food, what will we all eat?’

  Anand said thoughtfully, ‘If farmers do such important work, why are they so poor?’

  ‘That’s true, my dear,’ Ajji sighed, fanning herself. ‘Of course there are rich farmers too, people who own lots of land. But many in our country till small pieces of land, and so make less money.’

  Then seeing the kids’ crestfallen faces, she put down her fan, sat up and said, ‘But I can tell you of a poor farmer woman who did not remain very poor. All due to her sharp wit!’

  ‘Tell Ajji! Do tell!’ the kids yelled. So Ajji started her story.

  Kavery’s lazy husband annoyed her no end. There she was working like a donkey in the fields, ploughing and watering and tending a hard, dry piece of land, while her husband snored away happily at home! Why, once when a stranger came asking for some food and water, he just pointed towards the kitchen and went back to sleep. The stranger, thankfully, was an honest man and took only enough for himself and his horse. Not that there was much to steal in Kavery’s little house. They were poor farmers with only a patch of land where nothing seemed to grow. Somehow Kavery tilled the land, did some odd jobs in the neighbourhood, and made ends meet.

  The land was right next to a temple. On some days her husband would come along with her on the pretext of helping her, but no sooner would her back be turned than she would find him stretched out near the temple courtyard gossiping with passing villagers.

  One day, as she was working in the field, trying to dig up the ground so she could sow some seeds, a thin man with a big moustache appeared beside her. He was a thief, and up to no good. Kavery, of course, did not know this. She greeted him politely and went back to her work. Now the thief wanted to steal the coins that were given as offerings in the temple and perhaps even the ornaments on the idol. The only way into the temple was by digging his way in from Kavery’s land. But how could he do anything there, with this tough, no-nonsense woman working away?

  Guessing Kavery was hard up for money, he whispered to her, ‘Sister, why are you working so hard on this barren land? I will give you one thousand rupees, sell it to me.’

  Kavery raised her eyebrows; why did he want to buy the land for so much money? Surely something was wrong . . .

  The thief sensed she was not about to sell it to him, so he raised his price: ‘A thousand and fifty? No? Two thousand? No again? FIVE THOUSAND? No?’

  Kavery kept shaking her head. She did not like this odd-looking man who was offering her so much money for the field. Clearly he had some evil plans. Finally, to keep him quiet, she made up a story. ‘I will never sell this land. You see, it belonged to my ancestors. Now we are poor, but I am told that once our family was very rich. Though we lost a lot of our money, much of it was also buried here, in this field by one ancestor, to keep it safe from robbers. Then people forgot about it for years and years. My husband found a clue to the location of the hidden treasure just a few days back. Why do you think I am digging this hard earth? Not to sow seeds, oh no, that’s just what everyone thinks. I am actually looking for hidden treasure!’

  The thief was stunned. He felt this woman was really innocent, giving such important information to a stranger. He thought, why should I not take advantage of this situation? Here he was, hoping to steal a few coins from the temple, and this woman was telling him about hidden treasure! He replied in a very humble way, ‘Yes sister, I understand; after all it is your family treasure. Only you should get it.’ He pretended to walk away, and went and hid himself a little way down the road.

  Night fell; Kavery packed up her tools and headed home. The temple, too, emptied out and the priest locked it up for the night. Then at midnight, when all was quiet and the night creatures were coming out of their homes, the thief crept into the field.

  All night he dug and dug, looking for treasure, but of course there was no sign of it as there never had been any treasure to begin with! By the time dawn broke he realized Kavery had made a fool of him and all he could do now was get away from the field fast.

  When Kavery reached the field she grinned to herself. Just as she had expected, the thief had spent the night digging up the land nicely for her. All she needed to do now was sow the seeds. She worked hard in the field for the next few months and managed to grow a good crop. She sold those and finally they had some money. With a part of this money Kavery bought some jewellery.

  Many months later, the thief decided to show his face in the village again. He was careful to disguise himself, though. He trimmed his long moustaches, tied a colourful turban and pretended to be a travelling salesman. No sooner had he stepped into the village than he saw Kavery going about her work. But what is this . . . Instead of the simple, unadorned lady he saw last year, she was now wearing jewellery which looked as though it had been in the family for years! Surely she must have located that missing treasure finally! He was determined to look in her house and find the rest of her money and treasure.

  That night, he appeared at Kavery’s house and said to her husband, ‘I am a traveller and don’t have a place to spend the night. Please give me shelter for the night.’

  Kavery’s husband agreed immediately. Kavery, however, glimpsed the man from inside the house and saw through his disguise. She knew he must be planning some robbery, so she said in a loud voice, making sure the visitor heard her, ‘Oh dear, your dear aunt is all alone at night and has asked us to come stay with her. You know how the dark scares her when your uncle is not there. Come, let us go there for the night.’ Then lowering her voice a bit, yet making sure she was heard clearly, she continued, ‘Don’t worry about the jewels. I have hidden them in little holes in the house walls. No one will suspect the hiding spot.’ Then she came out and in her normal voice told the thief, ‘Brother, you can sleep in the veranda. The house will be locked. Here is some food and water for you. We will come tomorrow morning.’ The thief smiled to himself at Kavery’s foolishness.

  Her husband, meanwhile, stared at her with an open mouth, wondering which aunt and what jewels she was talking about. When she firmly walked off, he followed obediently.

  The thief could not believe his luck. He had the entire night to comb through the house, tap all the walls and look for the hidden stash of gold ornaments. So he started. Tap tap tap. Kick, punch and shove. He prowled and he tapped, he kicked and he pushed the walls, hoping to spot the jewels. Finally he tore down all the walls. But, of course, there was nothing he could find. Exhausted he fell asleep and woke only with the crowing of the cock as the sun rose. Quickly he found his little bundle of things and ran off. Within minutes Kavery and her husband returned.

  ‘Oh Kavery, see what the bad man has done to our house! You gave him food and shelter and made me come with you leaving the man alone in the night,’ her husband wailed. But Kavery was smiling! Then she broke into peals of laughter and said, ‘Don’t worry. I had planned this all along. You see, I saved money from our last crop to rebuild the house. I needed to call in some labourers to help tear it down, but our guest has done it for us! Now we can make a large
r house for ourselves, just the way we always wanted.’

  The whole village heard the story and started marvelling at her intelligence. Many months flew by. The thief was burning to take revenge. How dare that village woman trick him, that too not once but twice! He realized that she was very clever.

  One day, he dressed up as a bangle seller and started wandering in the village. Kavery spotted him and knew who he was at once. She said to her friends who were crowding around the bangle seller, ‘Oh dear, I would have loved to get some for myself. But ever since that good-for-nothing thief tried to steal all our money by tearing down our house, I have hidden everything in a little hole in a tree in the woods.’

  ‘Which tree?’ her friends asked.

  ‘Oh no, I am not saying which tree, but it is at last safe and sound out in the forest.’

  The thief looked at her. Yes Kavery was wearing an ordinary sari with no ornaments at all.

  Her friends turned around in astonishment at the crash with which the bangle seller flung down his collection of bangles and made off for the forest. Only Kavery watched with a grin on her face.

  Out in the forest, the thief searched high and low for the jewels. He climbed trees, poked around in bushes, got bitten, scratched and growled at, but he would not give up. The jewels were there somewhere and he had to find them.

  So that is where we will leave him, prowling around in the forest, looking for money and gold that don’t belong to him. Everyone praised Kavery for her quick wit in ridding the village of the thief. She continued to work hard and made more money from her farming and became a rich old lady. Even her husband was shamed into giving up his lazy ways and helping her. As for the thief, who knows, perhaps he is still in that forest, looking for what was never his. Now if only he had learnt to work hard like Kavery—he would have been as rich!

  The children laughed and laughed when the story was over. ‘The poor thief!’ Meenu and Krishna giggled. ‘Maybe he got eaten by a tiger!’

  Ajji grinned. ‘See,’ she told Anand, ‘sometimes with a bit of luck and lots of pluck, people can change any situation in which they find themselves!’

  Who Was the Happiest of Them All?

  Meenu was upset. She pouted and sulked and would not talk to Ajji. But how can any child be angry with Ajji for very long? Their grandmother was just too loving and affectionate for anyone to not tell her what was wrong.

  ‘Ajji, it’s been three days, and you have not told a story about a king yet!’ Meenu grumbled.

  Ajji nodded. ‘It’s true, Meenu. That was my fault; I should have told you a story about a king right away!’

  ‘And I want a good, nice king, who does good, nice things for his people—not horrible things like punishing them and jailing them,’ Meenu sat straight and demanded.

  ‘All right, dear. Here’s a king, just as you wanted . . .’

  And Ajji began her story.

  King Amrit loved his people and looked after the affairs of his kingdom well. His minister, Chandan, was a wise man who helped the king in his work tirelessly.

  One day, King Amrit and Chandan were taking a walk on the terrace of the palace. The terrace offered beautiful views of the surroundings, and they could see far into the distance. They spotted the weekly market from up there, with people in colourful clothes buying and selling all kinds of things. There was plenty to buy and people had money to buy, too. There were no poor people to be seen anywhere. The king watched with a smile on his face. He was delighted to see the prosperity of his kingdom. Like any good ruler he was happy when his people were happy.

  He turned to Chandan and said, ‘See how contented my people are. But I want to check this first-hand by talking to them. Tomorrow, summon people from all walks of life to the court, and I will ask them myself how they are doing.’ Chandan was used to the king’s strange requests, so he nodded and went off to carry out this order.

  The next day, the king arrived in court humming a happy tune to himself. Seeing all the people gathered there waiting for him, he was even more pleased. He cleared his throat and said in a loud voice, ‘I have called you here to ask you a very important question. As your king, I need to know if all of you are contented. Do you have enough for your needs? Do you know anyone who is not happy about anything?’

  The citizens looked at each other, thought for a while and slowly one by one they came forward to answer. One after the other they all said how happy they were—their kitchens had enough food, their trades and businesses were doing well, the king had made them feel safe. The farmers had grown good crops and the rivers and ponds were full of fish. What more could they ask for?

  The king became more and more pleased as he heard this. Only Chandan, his minister, watched and heard everything with a frown on his face. Why? What was wrong? Soon he walked up to the king and whispered something in his ear. King Amrit’s eyebrows rose up in astonishment. Surely, Chandan could not be serious! But he looked at the minister’s face and found no trace of this being a joke.

  He turned back to the court and made a most unusual announcement. ‘I am delighted that all of you have said you are happy. But I want to test this. Tomorrow, I want all the happy people of this kingdom to come and meet me in the royal gardens. But I have a condition. All of you will have to enter the garden from the main gate, walk across and meet me by the gate at the rear of the garden. I will wait for you there. When you enter the garden you will be given a sack each and you can pick whatever fruits or flowers your heart desires.’

  An excited buzz broke out among the crowd. It sounded like a lot of fun. No one was usually allowed to enter the king’s special garden. He had planted trees from all over the world in that garden and it was said to be filled with all kinds of beautiful and strange plants.

  Right on time the next day, everyone gathered at the gate of the garden. At the time the king had told them, the guards opened the gates and handed out the sacks. Men, women and children started roaming around the beautiful garden. They spotted juicy apples and plump mangoes hanging from trees. They picked these till they saw ripe pomegranates bursting with juice, grapes and colourful flowers no one had seen before. People went about picking whatever they wished for and filling their sacks with them.

  But as they walked further into the garden it became wilder, more like a forest, and there they saw trees laden with apples of gold, mangoes of silver and flowers studded with gems and jewels!

  Everyone emptied their sacks of the fruits they had collected earlier and started madly filling them up with these precious fruits and flowers. They all forgot that they had said they had more than enough for their needs at home. Greed took over, their minds and all they could think about was adding more and more valuables to their sacks. The fruits which they had picked earlier, and had tasted to be as sweet as nectar, now lay in heaps around the garden—forgotten and left to rot.

  Then with their sacks filled right to the top, the citizens made their way to the rear gate of the garden where the king was waiting. But what was this? To their astonishment they found a raging stream stopping their way. Water gushed down from behind some rocks and rushed over pebbles and big boulders through the garden. The stream was narrow, but the current was strong. There were no boats to take the people across. Clearly, the only way was to swim. But how could they swim with such heavy sacks filled with gold and silver fruits?

  The people stood by the stream for a long time scratching their heads. Then one young man did what they all knew needed to be done. He simply abandoned his sack by the stream, waded into the water, then swam across to the other side. Slowly the others, too, followed suit. Sadly, some wailing in distress, they left their sacks filled with what they had thought was the riches of a lifetime, and dived into the stream. Then they walked up to their king—wet, unhappy and angry.

  King Amrit and Chandan watched them trudge up in their soaking clothes. Chandan had a small smile on his lips, while the king looked sad. When they had assembled in front of him, he said, ‘When I
asked you yesterday if you were happy with your lives, all of you said you were contented and did not need anything more. Yet, today I can see the sadness in your faces when you had to leave behind the riches you had gathered in my garden. If you were really happy with your lives, why did you gather the jewel fruits, and why are you so sad now?’

  Everyone looked down, ashamed at their behaviour. Only the young man who was the first to cross the stream after leaving his sack behind seemed to be unconcerned. Chandan spotted his cheerful face in the crowd and beckoned him forward. Then he asked, ‘Tell me, are you not sad you had to leave behind so much of wealth that suddenly came your way?’

  The man said, ‘I didn’t pick the jewelled fruits and flowers. I had picked some of the lovely, tasty fruits and had eaten my fill of them. In my sack I had kept some others for my little daughter who is at home. I had thought she would enjoy these tasty apples and mangoes. But when I saw there was no other way to go across the stream, I did not think twice about leaving my sack by the river. My little girl can get tasty fruits from some other garden, too! But I am so happy the king let us all wander around his garden, looking at the trees and plants and animals. He is a great king for having created this place of beauty, and it was a pleasure walking around there.’

  Finally a smile appeared on King Amrit’s face. Chandan turned to him and said, ‘Your Majesty, I hope you now realize that people’s contentment does not end with having enough food or money. They also need to be truly happy inside. Only then will they not be swayed when they gain or lose wealth. That is a lesson that everyone—whether a king or a commoner—needs to remember.’

  The king nodded, as did his subjects. This was a lesson they would not forget in a hurry!

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