A Fisherman's Net And Wit – A (Very) Short Story For Children

King Khusro of Persia was very fond of fish. One morning he was sitting on a terrace with his wife Shirin when a fisherman came in and presented a fish to him. It was large and of a rare kind. The king was quite pleased. He summoned his servants and ordered them to pay a hundred silver pieces to the fisherman.

Shirin was annoyed that the king was gifting away so lavishly. As soon as the man went out of sight and hearing, she said, ‘Look, a hundred silver coins for a fish? Ridiculous. You’re setting up a precedent – you’ll be expected to pay on this scale for all time to come. Now call this man and return the fish to him on some pretext and take the money back.’

‘But dear, it doesn’t become of a king to ask for the money back. Let this pass for now.’

‘This shall not pass. There’s a way to deal with it without appearing to be mean. Call him and ask if this fish is a male or a female. If he says it’s a male, ask for a female and if it’s a female, ask for a male, and cancel the payment.’

Not wanting to displease his dear lady, the king acting upon her counsel called the fisherman back and asked him the question.

The fisherman bowed before the king and said, ‘This fish, my lord, is both male and female, lays eggs all by itself.’

The king burst out laughing. And quite instinctively ordered another hundred silver coins to be given to the fisherman.

As he walked out with the bounty, the man dropped a silver coin that fell and rolled out of sight.

The man stooped down searching high and low for the missing coin. Quite a while later, he managed to find it which he put away safely with great care.

All this happened in full view of the royalty reposing on the terrace.

‘What a mean guy? See how he goes down looking for one measly coin instead of letting it go for some poor man to find it!’ Shirin observed.

The king called the fisherman back and berated him for his meanness:’…with all those coins from me, yet you were not generous enough to let some miserable chap find one…’

The man bowed before the king: ’My lord, if my king picks up from dust a fisherman like me worth nothing, is it any wonder I pick up a coin fallen to the ground? Also, the coin on one side has my king’s image engraved and his name inscribed on another.  How could I abandon the coin to be found god know when if ever. And what is to prevent someone carelessly step on it?’

Amused by his cleverness and wit, the king offered him another hundred silver coins!

The lady had no further counsel to offer in the matter.

End

Source: A story in Chandamama, August, 1955, lightly edited. Image from financialexpress.com

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

Vikram And Betaal – A Story For Children

Vikram Aur Betaal or Vedalam stories are well known and the staple of many a story teller, grandma’s included.

It is originally based on ‘Betaal Pachisi’, written nearly 2,500 years ago by Mahakavi Somdev Bhatt. These are spellbinding stories told to the wise King Vikramaditya by the witty ghost Betaal.

The fabled King ruled over a prosperous kingdom from his capital at Ujjain. He had immense love for learning as well as for adventure. He was brave, fearless and with a strong will. Everyday he received many visitors who always brought gifts for him. Among such visitors was a mendicant who presented the King with a fruit on every visit. The king would hand over the fruit to the royal storekeeper. One day while handling the fruit, it broke and from the pop came out a ball of brilliant ruby. The surprised King ordered checking all the fruits, and, yes, from all of them yielded a fine ruby. He decided to meet the mendicant. However, the mendicant set a condition that the King must meet him under a Banyan tree in the center of a cremation ground beyond the city, at night, on the 14th day of the dark half of the month.

The King met him as decided. Asked the mendicant why he was doing this. There upon the mendicant said there was a task that only a King like Vikramaditya could accomplish. The King had to visit the northern-most corner of this ground where he would find a tree immeasurably old. There would be a corpse hanging from one of its branches. He must fetch it for the mendicant; for, the mendicant was seeking certain occult powers he would get only if a King brought down this specific corpse to him and if he practiced certain rites sitting on it.

Vikramaditya, obliged the mendicant. He would remove the corpse from a treetop and carry it on his shoulder. En route, the spirit in the corpse (Betaal) would narrate a story to the laboring King and on completing the story Betaal would pose a query. If he (the King) knew the answer, was bound to respond lest his head exploded into a thousand pieces. But if he did speak out, he would break the vow of silence and Betaal (in the corpse) would fly back to the treetop, leaving the King short of his destination! The King would go after the ghost and start all over again. And so on and on.

As the name ‘Betaal Pachisi’ suggests the Betaal told the King twenty-five stories. However, looking at the determination of Vikramaditya, Betaal finally disclosed the true motive of the mendicant. The mendicant’s plan was to practice certain rites sitting on Betaal (in the corpse) but he would also kill the King to get all powers to rule over the world. This put the King on the alert. In the end Betaal proved to be right and the mendicant tried to kill the King. However, Vikramaditya outwitted the mendicant and killed him.

Over a period of time many more episodes were added by imaginative story tellers that it grew into a big collection it is today. The stories piqued the young minds with those questions coming up at the end and the King’s intelligent responses.

Here’s one based on a vague recollection of the plot-line of a story I had read many decades ago in, yes, where else but Ambulimama (Chandamama):

**

Part 1

Once again, Betaal spoke up from the shoulders of Vikramaditya: ‘Hey, King, why are you engaged in this infructuous and risky enterprise?’ Eliciting no response from the King, Betaal continued: Looks like you are not going to be dissuaded. Okay, let me once more tell a story to take your mind off this tiresome task you wouldn’t give up. And, as always, ending with a question for you. You know well you answer it wrong and lose your head or you answer it right and you’re right back where you started. Here you go, listen carefully.

Once upon a time the kingdom of Kasigarh in the northwest was ruled by King Jayachandra.

The land was fertile fed by a perennial Himalayan river coursing through, the harvests bountiful. The subjects were content and happy under the fair and just rule of their King.

No surprise the neighboring kingdoms cast their covetous eyes on Kasigarh though no one made any moves.

All this changed when the evil Ugrasena came to power in the neighboring kingdom of Sooryadhara. It all began with sporadic incidents of their villagers, emboldened by the support of its soldiers, stepping over the borders and stealing cattle. Soon it became more frequent and escalated to harvesting standing crops on this side of the border. Resisting villagers were beaten up blue and chased away.

The news of these incidents of transgression reached Jayachandra along with a plea for protection from the affected.

Independently the King also received news from his sources in Sooryadhara of Ugrasena secretly mobilizing his forces for action against an enemy unspecified.

He was alarmed at these developments. The pacific minded King did not command a large army of soldiers to confront in conflict the much larger and powerful neighbor. He immediately sought the counsel of his ministers. It was decided to send out without delay an emissary to talk peace, even concessions, and restore normalcy on the borders.

The emissary returned snubbed – he didn’t even get an audience with Ugrasena.

By now the intentions became clear. Jayachandra had no option but to gather his forces together for a possible action, fully realizing they were far fewer and no match for their foes-to-be.

Not satisfied with the arrangements he had made, the King called for a session with his ministers on what else could be done to strengthen their defenses.

Many ideas were put forth. Of them, the ones deserving more serious attention were:

Could they buy peace? But then at what price? Also Ugrasena did not seem to be in a conciliatory mood. May be they should reach out to those advisors if any who had his ears.

Did Ugrasena make any powerful enemies they could tie up with? After all an enemy’s enemy is a friend.

Could they hire mercenaries to bolster their numbers? Were there any other force multipliers they could bring to bear upon the offender?

These were pursued with haste only to draw a blank at the road’s end. All, categorical no-go’s. They were not able to identify such advisors with access to Ugrasena who was rearing for some bare-faced aggression and nothing less. The kingdoms around Sooryadhara were all small like Kasigarh and would not dare to get into a confrontation. And, there were not many mercenaries around available for hire to make a difference to the numbers.     

Luckily this was when monsoon broke out over the land providing them some respite. For another couple of months, the river – a natural line of defense – swollen with stiff currents would be almost impossible to cross, the land would be rendered too boggy under their feet for men and horses.

But to what avail? While the gods for their part had done their job, the men still hadn’t a clue on how to save themselves from a certain defeat and depredation lying in wait.

The days rolled by.

With the rains showing signs of weakening, clearly time was running out for them.

Meanwhile, the subjects, becoming aware of their looming misery, began packing up and moving to safer places. The deserted streets – only making it easy for the enemy to march to the palace for the denouement.

And then one morning

Part 2

A commoner stood before the palace wanting to meet the King, claiming he could save the kingdom!

His clotheswere not of an itinerant.

He was taken to the court where the King and his ministers had assembled to ‘stir up a pot that had no stew.’

Asked to explain, he said he had a cousin, Shailendra, a great sculptor, taught, according to family sources, by none other than Vishwakarma himself up in the Himalayashis stone-works were so life-like.

Wait, is this the time to talk abouthis audience stopped him in irritation.

But he had not finished yet. Known only to the family, Vishwakarma had also blessed him with the siddhi – art, science and mantra – of breathing life into his pieces in stone!

Truly incredible! Was this possible? But what was it to their current predicament? His audience silent, incredulous and unclear yet where he was heading with this…

Thinking for his audience he said: ‘Just imagine, he makes a few fearsome monsters like fire breathing dragons and then

Suddenly the fog lifted. They gasped in comprehension. That’s itif that was possible, good heavens, it would completely turn, nay, overturn the table on Ugrasena and his forces. They couldn’t but smile seeing visions of the invaders fleeing in fear, death in their eyes like the proverbial bats out of hell.

Without further ado, at the King’s bidding, the man took them to Shailendra’s workshop.

Shailendra was taken aback to see the royalty suddenly appearing at his doorstep.

When he learnt about the purpose of their visit, he was even more aghast. He had never talked about it to anyone – of course the family knew about it – and, worse, he had never put it into practice even once before.

When he so expressed himself, the King pleaded with him to do it for the sake of the kingdom and all its subjects. And if he failed in his efforts, no harm would come to him, he was reassured.

Needless to say Shailendra finally agreed to undertake the exercise for the larger good of the people. 

On the following day, the plan was discussed in detail: What kind of monsters? How many? Where to position them? Etc.

And, Shailendra was left alone to chip away without any distraction.   

When done to perfection, his wards (in stone) were moved to their appointed station.

They waited for the assault to commence.

The rains had ceased, the river tame and the ground dry – just right for the invaders.

And then it happened

Part 3

To cut the long story short, the plan worked flawlessly exceeding their expectations.

The invaders ran for their lives and did not stop until they were far back into their land – for long after, they were in a daze muttering incoherently, their eyes fixed in fear and disbelief.

The job done within a few hours of action, the monsters now stood at their station lifelessly serving as a permanent and nightmarish reminder for the aggressors to stay away for now and ever.

The King showered Shailendra and his kin with lavish gifts. Made him a minister in his court. Allotted him living quarters within the palace.

It took a week or so for normalcy to return, people coming back to their abandoned homes, etc.

And then, Shailendrawent missing! Nowhere to be seen, neither in his new quarters nor in his old workshop. Nor anywhere in the kingdom.

All attempts to trace him failed.

It was rumored he was sighted by some, sneaking away on a horse-back heading for the hills under the cover of darkness.

So, my friend, that’s the story, concluded Betaal.

Now the question for you: Why did Shailendra walk away from all that one could dream of achieving in one’s career and life – recognition, honor, awards, wealth, royal patronage, etc. etc.? Think well before you respond. You well know it’s either your head or a repeat of a burdensome task for you. Over to you, Sir.

Vikramaditya broke his silence: The lesser of the reasons was he worried about being unceremoniously sacked very soon for non-performance as a minister – he was never equipped for it, but the King wouldn’t listen. The main reason however was: Though the King himself was fair and just presently, Shailendra wasn’t sure if the next request for his siddhi would necessarily be for public good. Power – more so, this kind of power – was very likely to corrupt. The sculptor may not have the choice to refuse – that’s why, he took the easy way out.’

Betaal lauded the astute King for his intelligence and flew back to his abode leaving the King short of his destination.

End

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikram_Aur_Betaal, merisaheli.com and Cambodian lions.

World’s Shortest Horror Picture-Story…

with world’s largest cast – in fact, everyone of us:-((

Here’s what 9-years old Kuzhali thought of the subject in a recent competition held in Chennai under the auspices of Bharath Scout And Guides:

It’s interesting how the surface features like trees, farms, factories…are shown on the spherical globe conveying the universality of the problem and the solution!

End


Source: Image from Science Lovers in FB. I found Kuzhali’s drawing in a FB post by her dad, the eminent author of children’s stories, Vizhiyan.

An Old Story And New Insights

A story most from my generation must have heard as children sitting on the lap of their grandma (don’t know what is said to them these days). It goes generally like this:

In a village an old woman sitting under a tree prepared vada’s for sale.

A crow sitting on the tree waited for an opportunity.

When the woman was looking away, the crow swooped down and flew up and away, picking up a delicious vada in its beaks, all in a flash.

As it sat on a branch of a nearby tree, ready to savour its booty, a fox came along. .

Espying the crow atop with the vada in its beaks,the scheming fox spoke:

‘Oh my friend there, news got to me you’re blessed with a very sweet voice that has the koels go away in shame! I have come from a long distance only to hear your voice. Could you kindly sing a song for me? Won’t you? Please don’t disappoint me. ’

The crow was thrilled to hear these words. Not to disappoint its appreciative audience, the crow obliged.

As it opened its mouth going ‘kaa kaa’, the inevitable happened.

The fox grabbed the fallen vada with alacrity and quietly slipped away leaving the crow in a daze.

Usually the grandma, a simple soul, finished the story and made her demand like the child should now go to sleep or eat its food without further fuss…The moral of the story was not explicitly stated. And we simply understood it as: the crow was foolish and the fox wily.

Grandma’s, in the generations that followed, grew more articulate. They would point out how it was unwise of crow to foolishly embark on what it was not capable of, falling a victim to flattery.

Some crow lovers, not happy with the story, added a second round where the crow, learning from its experience, would hold the vadaunder its claws and belt it out raucously to the fox’s dismay.

A few die-hard purists steered the story back to its original course: In a third round, the fox would request the crow holding the vada in its claws to perform a dance. Yes, it meant the foolish crow…

In some versions, the smart crow, till the end, holds fast to the vada while obliging the fox with song and dance.

In all these versions the story is one of getting into deep waters and followed optionally by learning from one’s experience and getting out unscathed.

The one moral of the story, right before us in plain sight, yet strangely missed by most, was pointed out by Dr Sudha Seshayyan in one of her programs I watched today:

Ill-gotten gains are never enjoyed.

At one stroke this invalidates the versions that let the crow get away with the vada.  All said and done the crow was a thief stealing it from the old woman. Unintended consequences of tampering an old tale?

End

Source: image from YouTube

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Watch this short clip here, don’t miss.

Vide Gopalswamy

End

Jottings From The US: If You’re Jaded For Fun and Surprise, Try This…

…You wont be disappointed! Of course you’ll need…

For us, talking to/engaging this eight year old was an endless source of fun and surprise.

It was family time for watching TV, after dinner and all school work duly completed for the following day. Usually it’s a movie or a serial picked in deference to our – visiting them – likes.  And sometimes it’s what the children wanted.

Today it was an English serial with a smattering of violence and romance.

It also let me witness the play of an unusual but purposeful parental ‘rule’:

‘Close your eyes,’ the dad said when one of those scenes came up.

This was easier done and less stressful for the adults, I thought, than remaining alert all the time and fast-forwarding past whenever it popped up.

Ne (the 8 yo) this time did something more. She got up from her seat with alacrity. Keeping her back to the TV, she quickly marched up to where I was seated, climbed up next to me and, considering me as equally ‘vulnerable’, shielded me by closing my eyes with her small hands!

**

On another occasion her dad was talking to her on evils of procrastination and advising her against it. He summed up finally: ‘You know, Ne, time and tide waits for no man.’

She looked contemplative, nodding her head in agreement. However there was a solitary crease on her small forehead as she inquired tentatively: ‘Dad, but this time and tide…may not be such a difficult thing for us, girls?’

**

End