In a certain village in the land of Kutch, there lived a young man called Ali. Ali worked as a carpenter and all the villagers liked him. His parents had died when he was a small boy and so he lived alone.
Every evening, after he had finished with his chores, Ali would sit alone by the village pond and wonder what it would be like to have a family of his own. His only other living relative was an elderly aunt who stayed four villages away. Ali had met her just once, many years ago.
One day Ali decided that he would visit his aunt. After all, she was quite old and might be unwell. He was sure she would welcome a cmpanion in her old age. Ali began to picture in his mind her joy on seeing him, and the tears of happiness that would come to her eyes.
The very next morning, before sunrise, he set out for his aunt’s village. His friend, Vimal, the potter, tried his best to dissuade Ali not to go. “Think once again,” Vimal told him, “it has been ages since you have met your aunt. She may not be that pleased to see you. I have heard from a cousin who stays in her village that she is a wealthy widow who hates to spend even a single paise. She may even think that you are visiting her just for her money.”
Ali, however, was determined to make the trip and nothing Vimal said could stop him.
He did not own a mule of his own and so he walked the whole way along the hot and dusty road, stopping only at noon to rest for a while under the shade of a few palm trees. Tired and hungry, he arrived at his aunt’s village at dusk. As he entered the village, he saw a cobbler who was gathering his tools together at the end of the day, and asked him the way to the home of his aunt. The cobbler looked at him curiously.
“You walk straight down this road until you come to a huge mansion which looks as if it will collapse any moment,” he said. “I hope you are not expecting a warm welcome and a hot
meal,” he added. “The widow who stays there is a terrible miser who chases away even the children who try to pick the fruit that has fallen in her garden.”
Ali continued slowly towards his aunt’s house. Suddenly he was unsure of himself. Had Vimal been right after all? As the house came into sight, his heart sank. The walls of the house were a dirty yellow, and the paint was peeling off. The tiles had fallen off the roof, and the courtyard was littered with rubbish. There were weeds all over the garden which had evidently not been swept for a long time. A thin, sad, brooding donkey was tied to a pole near the gate which was broken. The donkey looked starved. It had the unhappiest-looking eyes Ali had ever seen, and when it looked directly at Ali, it seemed to be pleading for food. Ali took pity on the donkey. He felt he just had to gn back down the street to the nearest shop and buy the donkey a bundle of hay. When he returned and placed it in front of the donkey, it ate the hay hungrily as if it had not eaten in days.
“Who is out there?” he heard a shrill voice demand. “What do you want with my donkey?”
Ali turned around and saw a thin, white-haired woman. ‘So this is my aunt,’ he thought to himself. She was clad in a dull, white sari, and had deep liness etched on her forehead from constant frowning.
Ali introduced himself, but his aunt was not at all pleased to see him. Just as Vimal had warned, the aunt assumed that Ali had come for her money.
“I am a very poor woman,” she said. “I have no money. I have hardly enough to feed myself. What can I offer you if you turn up like this on my doorstep?”
Ali was terribly disappointed but did not show it. All that he wanted was a little warmth and affection. That night he slept on the kitchen floor, feeling hungry and very much alone in the world. His aunt had fed him with just a bowl of thin, lukewarm gruel and, when he had told her that he would return home the next morning, she had not tried to change his mind.
At dawn, just as Ali was about to leave, his aunt decided that she would walk with him till the next village.
“Today is Tuesday—it is market day in the village,” she said. “I am going to sell that useless donkey of mine. That creature costs me a fortune to feed, and is just a lazy bag of bones.”
Ali and his aunt led the poor donkey (which was too thin to carry either of them!) to the market. People from all over the countryside had gathered there. Buyers and sellers were bargaining at the top of their voices. There were crowds of people milling around stalls with all kinds of colourful wares on display; bright clothes, decorated pots, different kinds of fruits and vegetables, and wooden toys for children.
Ali and the old woman went towards the centre of the market where several other sellers had brought their animals. In her shrill ‘voice, she announced that she was willing to give the donkey to the highest bidder.
Ali was surprised to see quite a few traders come forward and bid for the animal. He realized that the donkey was, in fact, quite well-built with a broad back. If fed properly, it would be of great use to whoever bought it. A rich merchant with a loud, arrogant voice made a good offer for the donkey.
The donkey raised its head and looked straight at Ali. It was as if the creature was begging Ali to buy it for himself. “Look at the rich man,” the donkey seemed to say. “He has such a cruel look and he will surely whip me and treat me even worse than your aunt.”
“I will take your donkey,” Ali suddenly said to his aunt.
“Then give me fifty rupees more than the rich man’s offer,” the widow replied, realizing thatAli wanted the donkey badly, and would pay all that he had for it. That was indeed all the money that Ali had with him but he could not resist the plea in the donkey’s eyes, and so he gave his aunt what she demanded.
Ali walked back to his village leading the skinny donkey. As soon as Vimal saw them, he burst into laughter. “You went to find your aunt and returned with a donkey so thin I can see its bones,” he chuckled. “Perhaps next time you will listen to my advice, Ali!”
Ali went about feeding the animal properly. Soon it put on weight and became strong. He began to use the donkey to help him carry loads. He would spend his time talking with the creature which seemed to understand not only what he said, but his feelings, too.
The expression in the donkey’s eyes was always one of gratitude. Ali did not regret the purchase, for the donkey became a very important part of his life. He no longer felt lonely in the evenings, when all the other villagers had retired into their homes.
A few months later, Ali received news that his aunt had died. Since he was her only relative, Ali felt duty-bound to see that she got a proper funeral. He left immediately on his donkey to attend to all the arrangements. After the funeral was over, Ali spent the night at his aunt’s house for the last time. He walked across the courtyard to untie the donkey from the tree to which it was tethered. It had been restless since morning, and Ali felt that the place perhaps brought back unhappy memories of the times that his aunt had ill-treated it.
As he loosened the rope, the donkey walked across to a far corner of the courtyard and began to paw the earth.
`It must be hungry,’ Ali thought and gave it fresh hay.
The donkey continued to paw the earth.
`It must be thirsty,’ Ali decided, and gave it some water.
The donkey did not drink the water. Instead it continued to dig the ground in front of it.
“What do you want?” asked Ali growing irritated for he had had a tiring day.
The donkey looked at Ali helplessly.
Suddenly, Ali thought of a spade. ‘Spade? What do I need a spade for at this time of the night?’ he asked himself. Then a wild hope grew in his mind. Was the donkey trying to tell him something? Was it trying to persuade him to dig the ground?
A very excited Ali then began to dig exactly where the donkey had been continuously pawing. He had dug about a metre when the spade hit against a hard object and Ali heard the clang of metal.
He continued to dig frantically, until he finally spied a metal chest. Binding it with rope, Ali managed to hoist it up. He opened it, his heart beating rapidly. The trunk was full of silver vessels and gold jewellery. Ali realized that this was the treasure chest in which his aunt had hidden all her wealth. The donkey must have seen his aunt burying it in the ground.
Ali threw his arms around the donkey’s neck. “My friend,” he cried out in joy, “thank you for such good fortune.”
The gentle eyes of the donkey expressed gratitude.
Ali returned to his village with the trunk on the donkey’s back. He started a shop and soon became a prosperous and honest businessman. He never forgot that it was a simple act of kindness that had led him to such good fortune in life.