One day, a distraught man turned up at the court of Rayar (Krishna Deva Raya) seeking justice.
His story came out haltingly amidst a lot of sniveling:
‘We are four sons to our father. On his death, we divided his property, cash, jewels…everything into four equal parts, one for each of us.’
Rayar sought: ‘Excellent. That’s how families need to be. So, what is the problem?’
‘You know it is this blessed cat that was dear to my father.’
‘Don’t tell me you divided…I don’t see the cat.’
‘No, no, we didn’t harm the poor thing. And it isn’t here. We claimed one leg of the cat for each of us.I got the right foreleg. So it was all settled…’
‘Young man, get hold of yourself. No one goes away from the court of Vijayanagaram Empire without getting due justice. Proceed.’
‘Everything was fine, my Lord, until the day this creature had a fall and broke my leg.’
‘Broke your leg…a cat did that?’
‘No, my Lord, I mean it broke its leg that was mine.’
‘Man, come to senses – its leg is your leg?’
‘Yes, my Lord, if you recall its right foreleg belonged to me.’
‘Oh, yes, you did mention…the strange arrangement.’
‘My brothers said since it was the right foreleg, it was on me to attend to it. So I had the leg swathed in an oil-soaked cloth as prescribed by a vaidya.’
‘You did the right thing by the poor animal.’
‘Yesterday evening there was a bit of chill in the air. The dumb cat laid itself near a lamp for warmth.’
‘Can’t blame – it was a bit nippy even here for us, I remember.’
‘Unfortunately a spark flew from the fire and landed on the oil cloth setting it ablaze.’
There was a collective gasp in the court.
‘The cat panicked, ran helter-skelter before jumping into a water tub.’
Rayar saw it for what it was: ‘Under the circumstances, most sensible thing to do, I say.’
‘But, my Lord, that’s when my troubles began.’
‘Don’t see how…’
‘The mutt got into the tub not before running wild through a couple of neighbors’ houses setting them on fire.’
Rayar saw the underdog’s point of view: ‘Well you would do more if it was your leg on fire.’
Ignoring Rayar’s levity, the woebegone man carried on: ‘Now the neighbors are holding the cat responsible for the damages. And my brothers are laying it squarely outside my door since the houses were torched by the cat’s right foreleg.’
‘Well, looks reasonable to…’
‘My Lord, you’ve got to help me out of this mess.’
‘It’s certainly an improbable sequence of events. But I can’t see how…’
Tenali Raman stood up: ‘My Lord, I’ve a thought. If we can call his brothers and the neighbors to the court…’
Beleaguered Rayar glanced at Raman with gratitude; he knew enough to take Raman’s suggestion seriously. Instructions were issued to round them up and produce them in the court.
When the court reassembled after a while with all the stakeholders present, Raman summed up the matter based on what the man had told the court earlier. Everyone agreed those were the facts. The neighbors stood their ground demanding compensation; and the brothers holding the injured right foreleg and hence the complainant responsible.
Raman addressed the King and the court: ‘My Lord, unfortunate but undeniable is the damage wrought by the hapless creature. The claims of the affected neighbors cannot be disputed a whit. But to hold this man responsible…that’s a different matter. In fact the shoe is on the other leg. Let me explain – pause for a moment and think who carried the cat to its incendiary activities?’
Frowns on faces. The man had not said anything about anyone making a torch of a cat on fire.
Raman dispelled the fog that had momentarily enveloped the court: ‘It’s those three healthy legs that set the cat on the binge.’
A mild flutter at what was hinted.
‘It’s my submission the owners of those legs be called to account instead.’
The ensuing commotion took a while to die out.
Source: Seeded from shortstoriesshort.com and images from daily motion.com and topyaps.com