The Panchatantra – Story 18

WHEN MICE ATE IRON

In a certain country, there was a merchant called Natuka. He lost all his money and thought, it has been said, “He is the most worthless of men who, having enjoyed great prestige and different kinds of pleasures in his native place with wealth earned by his own exertions, continues to reside there after all his wealth has gone and he cannot retain his original status. He who used to spend money like water and proudly enjoy different kinds of pleasures becomes contemptible when he has to cringe to others and to speak in pitiable terms to excite their charity.” I certainly shall not descend to this level. I shall go abroad, earn some wealth, and return. Having made this resolve, he made preparations for leaving. He had m his house an enormous ancestral balance made of two hundred and fifty pounds of iron. This had been used for weighing bulky articles in days when his trade was prospering. He now entrusted it to his friend Lakshmana Chetty and went abroad. 

After having wandered about in foreign countries for a long time and made enough money for maintaining himself in comfort for the rest of his life, he returned to his native city and going to his friend’s house said, ‘ Lakshmana return my balance ‘ Lakshmana replied, ”Oh, Natuka, I regret to inform you that mice ate away your balance.’ Hearing this, Natuka was wroth in his mind, but, concealing his real feelings, said. Friend, you are not to blame if the mice ate It up. This very existence is like that. Nothing is permanent here below. Now, I want to go and bathe in the river. So, please send your son Dhanadeva with me to carry the bathing materials.’ Lakshmana, fearing that, if he refused, his fraud in respect of the balance would be suspected since his old-time friendship would be proved to have ceased, told his son ‘Child, your uncle Natuka goes to the river for his bath. So, go with him with the bathing articles.’ Truly have the wise men said, ‘Nobody does any service for another through mere devotion or love. The motivating force is always some fear or avarice or desire to accomplish some cherished object. Whenever great respect is shown without any particular motive or desire to get an object accomplished, then a doubt should be entertained regarding the person who shows it as it will be beneficial in the end,’.

Dhanadeva took the bathing materials and went with Natuka with a joyous heart. Natuka finished his bath and then, on the way back, put Dhanadeva in a cave in an adjacent hill and securely covered the mouth of the cave with a huge stone. Then he returned to his friend’s house. To his friend’s query as to where his son was? he replied, ‘O, Lakshmana, a hawk swooped on him and carried him away while he was on the river bank.’ Laksh- mana said, ‘ O, Natuka, oh liar, how can a hawk carry away a stalwart youth like Dhanadeva?’ Natuka replied, ‘Lakshmana, that is what actually happened. So there is no use your arguing about it.’ Hotly quarrelling with each other, the two went to the court. Lakshmana said to the judges in a loud voice. 

My lords, great injustice has been done to me. My son Dhanadeva has been kidnapped somewhere by this Natuka. The judges said to Natuka, “Give his son back to Lakshmana.’ Natuka replied, ‘What can I do ? A hawk swooped on him on the river bank and carried him away.’ The judges said, ‘Oh, Natuka, you are not speaking the truth. How can a hawk carry away a stalwart youth of fifteen ?’ Then Natuka replied smiling, ‘ My lords, when mice can eat away an iron balance weighing two hundred and fifty pounds, is it impossible for a hawk to carry away a boy of fifteen ?’ The judges said, ‘What is all this? Explain yourself.’ Natuka told them the whole story. The judges laughed heartily and ordered the restoration of the balance to Natuka and the son to Lakshmana. 

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