In the eastern part of India lies the State of Orissa. The area around the Mahanadi’s delta is a very fertile one with rich rice fields, forests and lush green grass which gives ample food for cattle.
Long ago there lived a Mahajan’s wife with her three sons and their wives. Theirs was a happy family which lived in peace.
“These lands and woods came from the hard work of your father,” the mother told her sons. “From the produce of the land and the timber, he bought the large herd of cattle and built this big house so that the family could live together in comfort.” There was a sense of pride in her voice. They were standing on a mound providing a view of the rice fields. The crops swayed in the breeze. They were ready for harvesting.
“Yes, I remember going to tend the fields every morning with father,” said Bidhu, the youngest son. “I used to love the work.”
He was the farmer son who had followed in his father’s footsteps. He had plenty of hard work to do—managing the labour, collecting the produce, finding a suitable market for them, and so on. Yet, the land was his first love.
“Sadhu and Radhu wanted to go to college and study,” continued his mother looking at her two elder sons, “and he was glad that they had also become so successful. Yet, he always appreciated your love for the land and died a peaceful man. His dying wish was that the property should not be divided and that you should all live together in this big house.”
“Of course, Mother,” replied Sadhu, “there is no reason why we should do anything against his wish.”
Sadhu, her elder son, was a scholar and earned a good income. People in and around the village sought him for advice. Radhu was a lawyer and he too earned a good income through his profession.
The problem was that Bidhu’s work was the hard, physical kind. He had to stay out in the fields from morning till evening at all times. The other two brothers led a fairly comfortable life compared to him. This made Bidhu’s wife unhappy.
“There is a letter from my brother,” began Bidhu’s wife one night as Bidhu returned from the fields. Bidhu was relaxing on a cot after his dinner. “He has invited us to his house for a holiday. He has built a new house and is going to have the Grahapravesha (house-warming ceremony).”
“How can I go?” asked Bidhu in a tired voice. “There is so much work to do.”
“You always say this,” his wife was a little annoyed. “Does that mean we can never go anywhere?”
“I did not say that. I will make all arrangements for you to go.” “No,” Bidhu’s wife was stubborn, “either both of us go or none goes.”
“All right,” replied Bidhu trying to prevent a yawn.
“Why is it that you have to work hard while your brothers take it easy?” Bidhu’s wife sounded irritated. “After all, you look after their share of the land too. While they are able to go on holidays with their families, we are always stuck at home. This is not fair.”
Bidhu’s sleep had deserted him.
“Listen to me,” continued his wife.”Ask for the property to be divided and let us live separately. That will give you more free time.”
With this advice being dinned into his ears every day, Bidhu started thinking that what his wife said was true. `My work is more important than my brothers. It is because of me that they have so much wealth, and can afford such a comfortable life,’ he thought.
One morning while they were having breakfast, Bidhu told his mother and brothers that he wanted his share of the property.
“What is this, Bidhu?” asked the shocked mother. “Your father always wanted you to be united and stay together. What has happened?”
“If that is what Bidhu wants, let us do it,” said Sadhu philosophically.
“All right,” agreed the mother, “but let me tell you one thing, Bidhu. No work is high or low. Though I do agree that farming is a very important and difficult profession, other professions too are equally important and no less noble. You will realize this soon.”‘
All the necessary documents were gathered on which the division was to be made. Bidhu took a lot of interest in this while his brothers looked on.
Then one day his mother said, “My sons, it is the custom in our family to go to Puri and pray to Lord Jagannath before undertaking any important work. We shall leave tomorrow and on our return we will divide the property.”
The sons agreed and set off on their journey next day with their wives and mother.
After visiting the temple they were on their way back when the mother said, “Sons, I am very tired and hungry. Let us eat something here and rest for a while before continuing our journey.” They were on the outskirts of a village near an old temple. There was an eatery nearby.
When the sons searched for the moneybag they could not find it. “Oh,” said Sadhu, “I remember giving it to mother.”
The mother too searched for a long time in vain. There was no sign of the moneybag.
“What shall we do now?” asked Radhu.
“There is no other way but one,” advised the mother. “I shall stay in this temple with your wives. The three of you will have to go into the village, get some work and earn wages. Without money we can neither eat nor proceed any farther.”
The sons agreed to this suggestion.
The three brothers branched off in different directions going towards the village. Bidhu met a group of people discussing something seriously. “What is your problem, my friends?” querried Bidhu. “Can I help?”
“This piece of land is always water-logged and we are unable to grow anything in it. Yet we have to pay taxes to the king,” explained a villager.
Bidhu thought for sometime and said, “If I tell you how paddy can be grown in that field, what reward will you give me?”
“A hundred pieces of silver,” the villagers answered very generously.
Expert farmer that he was, Bidhu then explained. “Make balls of cowdung and earth mixed together and keep them wet and soft. Put in a few seeds in each of them and let the balls dry,”
The villagers listened to him with rapt attention.
“Then?” they prompted.
“Cast them into the field. The balls will sink and the seeds will sprout.”
The villagers thanked him and gladly paid the money with which he returned to the temple.
Radhu, while on his way, saw a man with a sad face sitting under a tree. Though he looked prosperous, there seemed to be some problem that was worrying him.
“What worries you, my friend?” asked Radhu. “You look dejected. Can I help?”
“If you can,” sighed the man. “We are four brothers,” he started. “When our father died we divided the property equally amongst us. There was one black cat which we did not know how to divide. So we said that it will belong to all of us but each brother will be the owner of one of its legs,” he paused.
“Fair enough,” answered Radhu.
“Urn…as luck would have it, one day the cat fell from the roof and broke the leg that belonged to me.”
Radhu was getting very interested.
“I tended the wound and tied it with a bandage soaked in oil. The cat, being fond of warmth, went to sleep near the hearth.”
“How could that make you so miserable?” asked Radhu getting curiouser.
“That was the beginning of my misery. A spark from the fire fell on the oily cloth and it caught fire.” He stopped to look up at Radhu.
“Then what happened?”
“From there the fire spread to the nearby houses and burnt them down. The neighbours put the whole blame on me and took the case to the Panchayat.”
“What did the Panchayat say?”
“They said that since the cat’s wounded leg which belonged to me had caused the fire, I have to pay the damages. I don’t have that much money to pay all of them.”
Radhu, the lawyer, thought deeply and found an easy solution. He said, “Cheer up, my friend. If I get you out of this scrap, what reward will you give me?”
“Five hundred pieces of silver,” answered the man.
“In that case go and call your neighbours and the village elders. I shall join you soon.”
When Radhu reached the village, there was a large crowd under the banyan tree.
After listening to them he said, “Is it true that the cat caused all the damage and it was due to the bandage on its wounded leg…” “Yes,” said the villagers.
“Do you also agree that it was because the cat ran that the fire spread and the houses burnt down?” asked Radhu.
“We do,” answered the villagers.
“The cat cannot run on its wounded leg. It is the other three good legs that enabled it to run…” Radhu stopped here and waited for the effect of his words to sink in.
“Yes, it is true. It was because of the three good legs that it could run.”
“Therefore…let the Panchayat judge who should pay for the damages caused by the fire.”
Everybody wondered at his wisdom while nodding in agreement. It was decided that the owners of the three good legs should pay the damages. The owner of the wounded leg was very happy and paid Radhu the promised five hundred pieces of silver.
Radhu returned to the temple with the money.
Meanwhile, Sadhu, the eldest brother, heard somebody’s cries from a house. It was a big house and there was a guard outside it.
“Why is somebody in this prosperous looking house crying? Who lives here?” he asked the guard.
“The king’s minister lives here, sir,” replied the guard.
“Will you kindly take me to him?”
The guard went in to get permission and then came back to accompany him inside the house. It was the minister himself who was in tears.
“What is the matter, Honourable sir?” asked Sadhu. “If you tell me your problem, perhaps I can help.”
“Strange are the whims of the royalty indeed,” the Minister replied guessing from Sadhu’s appearance and words that he was
a learned man. “My king has asked me to find the weight of his elephant. If I fail to do so, my head will be cut off.” The minister started crying again.
Sadhu thought for sometime then said, “Please do not cry, sir. If I help you to find the weight of the king’s elephant, what reward will you give me?”
The minister being a minister could afford to give a reward befitting his position. “A thousand gold pieces!” he announced grandiosely.
Sadhu asked the minister to take him to the place where the elephant was. From there it was taken to the riverside where there were a number of boats.
“Please ask the mahout to make the elephant stand inside a boat,” Sadhu requested. When this was done, the boat started
sinking into the water, and then stopped. “Please mark the level
to which the boat has sunk,” he requested the officials who looked on curiously. “Now take the elephant out of the boat and fill it
with big stones,” said Sadhu. As the stones were filled, the boat started sinking again. “Fill it until it sinks to the level marked earlier,” he said.
When this was also done, he said, “Weigh the stones. The weight will be the same as that of the elephant’s.”
The Minister was so happy that he not only gave the thousand gold pieces but also made other gifts.
Sadhu returned with them to the temple where the others were waiting for him. They all had a hearty meal and got ready to return home. At that moment the mother took out the lost moneybag and showed it to her sons and their wives.
“I had deliberately hidden it,” she said in a serious tone. “I only wanted to show you all that each work is important and has its own benefits. Bidhu, I hope you have realized that your brothers too earn a lot of money which is pooled into the family’s income.”
Bidhu and his wife were sorry for wanting to divide the family. They returned home and lived together as a one family for a long time.
The wise mother was glad that the small crack that had appeared in the family’s relationship was set right.