When The Gold Went On A Trip – A Children's Story

Part 1

In a village off Ujjain, there lived a merchant Sukhdev. He had a shop in the town selling fabric and garments. He did brisk business and built up his wealth over the years.

Presently, a spate of robberies took place in his and neighbouring villages targeting the community of merchants and traders. When the King’s soldiers were brought in, the robbers would lie low; and resume their nefarious activities once the soldiers withdrew.

It made Sukhdev nervous; he knew for sure sooner or later he would be visited too.  A mitigating factor in his favour was: being a miser by nature, his Spartan household and life-style gave no hint of his affluence or the gold he had hoarded.  Nevertheless he decided to act.

One day, his son and he loaded the casks with his gold on a couple of donkeys, threw some clothes over to make it appear he was taking merchandise to the market. They marched off to a jungle just beyond the village. Keeping their eyes peeled for any observer or follower, they reached an abandoned temple inside the jungle, a place no one ventured to. Holes were dug in the ground with the help of the tools they carried. Carefully, without making noise, they carried the casks and lowered them one by one into the hole. Half-way through the job, the son paused.

‘Father, I think there’s someone out there. Let me go and look,’ he said, pointing to a thicket at some distance.

‘Take these with you, there could be some wild creatures,’ the father gave him some small tools.

After a while the son returned: ‘Just as I suspected, there’s a man lying there. Looks to be a beggar. Not to worry, he’s dead. Probably starved without food. Just to be sure, I nicked his ear. No sound or motion, dead as stone.’

They moved more casks.

This time it was the father: ‘Let me also go and check. It’s better to be doubly certain – this is my life-savings.’

He too returned in a few minutes, ‘You’re right, Son, the poor guy is gone. Like you did, just to be sure, I nicked his other ear. He won’t be needing them anymore.’

They finished their job, all the casks lowered into the hole. The hole was filled back with the dug-out earth, the surface flattened, dead leaves spread over, all to leave no signs of the spot having been dug up.

That night and the following, they slept peacefully.

Part 2

The man was not dead yet. A destitute who had hit the end of road and did not even have the energy to carry out what he contemplated – suicide. Starving for several days, he had fainted near the bush.

The sharp pain on his ear-lobe woke him up to see someone attack him with a sharp tool. Fearing worse, he simply played dead biting the pain somehow.

His attacker withdrew to a spot ahead where an elderly man was burying in the ground some urns.

Ignoring the pain he watched the proceedings.

After a while he saw the elderly man heading in his direction.

Quickly he resumed his posture.

He felt being kicked a couple of times and then a sharp pain this time on his other ear.

With great difficulty, he once again played dead.

Luckily for him, the elderly man went back to the spot without inflicting anymore damage.

And in a short while he saw them both leave all the time looking around for any prying eyes.

He waited. They could come back looking for something they had forgotten.

Once the coast was clear, he mustered his last ounce of energy, not minding the throbbing pain, made it to the spot, clawed away the soil with bare hands to reveal close to the surface the lid of a cask.

He took the lid off and peered into the cask. Thrust his hand in and grabbed a fist full of coins in gold and silver. That would set him up nicely to begin with, he thought.

Part 3

Monsoon arrived with a bang in Ujjain and the surrounding villages. Torrential rain caused streams of water to wash away anything in their way.

Sukhdev was worried. It would be calamitous if the top soil was carried away and the casks were exposed.

At the first instance of the rains letting up he son and he went back to check if the casks were safe in their place.

To their shock they found the hole uncovered and the casks missing. They looked around for any clues and found none.

They returned home devastated.

His son gathered his wits and said: ‘Father, we’ll find him and recover our treasure.’

‘How? We don’t know who took it.’

‘Did you notice one thing – we never got any news at any time of a dead-body being found in these parts? Because he was not dead. He saw us burying the casks…took them away after we were gone. That’s him, the guy we saw.’

’‘Be it so, how do we find him? We know nothing about him.’

‘Nothing? Father, don’t forget we nicked his both ears.’

‘How do we still find him in the multitude? Do we go around entire Avanti looking at people’s ears? You’re forgetting one more thing. Even if this guy walks right past us, we won’t figure out.’

‘Why so?’

‘Simple, because he is head would be encased in a turban. Notched ears are no badge of heroism to flaunt about.’

The old man had a point…in fact, several points, the son thought.

Part 4

Days, months passed. The son was no nearer to figuring out a way.

Two years later,

It was a Sunday. It was a once-a-month ritual: The old man was sitting there in the back-yard getting his hair cut by a barber. To be followed by an oil bath.

The man was not his usual self looking woebegone.

Sensing it, the barber tried to perk him up by engaging him in small talk and some village gossip: ‘I shouldn’t be saying this…but you know your neighbour’s son is losing hair at his young age…’

Suddenly an ‘Ah’ moment. Who would know but the personal barber?

He checked if the barbers networked among their kind.

They did, it turned out, directly or indirectly.

That’s it – he tasked the barber to find out through his network, for a handsome fee, the whereabouts of a man in thirties, possibly quite rich, with both his ears nicked.

Part 5

It was about one long month before they struck pay dirt.

On the far side of the city, he was spotted. His ex-barber whom he had dismissed recently spilled the beans. The man was a top jeweller in the city claiming several royal families among his clients.

The father and son rushed to meet the dismissed barber. They assured themselves the jeweller was indeed their man. It was easy to find out where he lived. It was a huge mansion guarded like a fortress by armed staff.  All their attempts to gain an entry or even get a message through to him failed.

They thought enough about the options and decided to approach the King. Though the King himself could be one of the clients for the jeweller.

The King holding a public court was easier to reach; he heard them out and summoned the jeweller to appear before him.

When he arrived, the father and son recognized him despite his opulence. But he could not; for, he had only seen them from a distance and when they stood close on that occasion his eyes were shut playing dead.

The King briefed him on why he was summoned to the court.

The jeweller looked at the complainants for a few moments. And then he readily admitted:

‘Yes, I did take those casks away from where you had buried. I used part of the gold in one of the casks as capital to start and build my business in gems and jewels. And whatever I’m today, it is the fruit of my labour. The remaining stuff, in fact, remains in a safe room even today untouched. Was planning to…’

The father and son breathed a sigh of relief. At least good part of their hoard still remained intact.

The jeweller further offered: ‘…it is okay by me for you to cart away your stuff anytime you wish as long as I’m adequately compensated for what you did to me.’

The son countered: ‘What you took from one of our casks – wasn’t that already an adequate compensation? We thought you were dead – why didn’t you scream when you were hurt?’

’I feared for my life. You were two, ready with tools and here I was sprawled on the ground…’

The wrangle was cut short by the King.

‘Listen, folks, here’s what I think,’ the King turned to the jeweller: ‘Thankfully you admitted to it without any run-around. Knowing you to be an upright person of ethical practices, I want to be fair to you. There’s a choice for you: Either you similarly nick the ears of these two and return all the casks, making good what you took from them or simply let them go with their casks as they are now.’  

The jeweller thought for a moment like a businessman he was. Was notching the two worth the gold he had taken? He decided against and opted to return the casks as-was.

When they received the casks, the father and son checked: five carried their original seals.  The sixth with its seal opened…

…too was full to its brim.

It was his ‘Thank You’ for starting him off to a meteoric success.

End

Source: Inspired by a story in Chandamama (1955), Images from Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin’s, Inc. and shutterstock.com