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The Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain
by Ramendra Kumar
A Chinese Folktale retold

This is the tale of a very old man who was ninety years of age. He lived behind the Taihang and Wanwu mountains. These mountains were hundred thousand feet height and covered a distance of several hundred li (Chinese unit of length).

The man was called the Foolish Old Man of the North Mountains. He was a happy and contented man of simple needs with only one grouse. One day he called the members of his large family and addressed them, “Whenever we go south the Taihang and Wangwu mountains block our way. We have to go around them. For all of us this is tedious but for a man of my age and health this can be both tiring and tiresome.”

Everyone nodded for they knew the old man was telling the truth.

“I have an idea. Why don’t all of us work hard to level the two mountains. This way there will be a direct route from our home to the south.”

The old man’s wife expressed her doubt, “You are old and feeble of strength. You will not be able to move even a small hill let alone tackle huge mountains like Taihang and Wangwu. Moreover where will you deposit the earth and rocks?”

“They can be carried to the shores of the Bohai sea,” suggested a few.

The work started in due course and in the beginning there were only two persons out there with the Old Man to help him in his great task – his son and grandson.

The three of them started breaking rocks and digging the earth. The carried the rubble in the baskets and dustbins to the shores of the Bohai sea and dumped it there. The seven year old son of a widow, one of the old man’s neighbors, came to help them. It was back breaking work but they toiled on. One trip to the sea took them a long time – they left in winter and came back in summer.

The Wise Old Man of the River Bend had been watching the old man and his team at work for quite sometime. He stopped the Old Man and said in a voice dripping with amusement, “How foolish you are Old Man ! At your age and with your failing health how can you even imagine removing these mountains. The very attempt at shifting so much earth and rock is laughable.”

The Old Man heaved a long sigh and replied, “You are so arrogant that you cannot see reason. Even a widow and a child who have seen nothing of the world, as compared to you, seem wiser.”

“What do you mean I can’t see reason?” demanded the Wise Old Man greatly annoyed at the Old Man’s reply.

“I’ll explain. When I die my work will be continued by my son and grandsons. And when they are no more their sons and grandsons will work on the project. And so on and on, the task will be continued by my progeny till the mission is accomplished. But remember though my progeny will keep growing the mountains will not grow. Now tell me why is it then not possible to level the great Taihang and Wangwu mountains?”

The Wise Old Man of the River Bend just stood there stunned by the simple logic of the Old Man who had always thought of as foolish.

The Old Man’s words were heard by the God of Snakes. Scared that the Old Man would actually succeed in leveling the two mountains he rushed to the God of Heavens. He told the entire story to his leader. The God of Heavens was moved by the determinations of the Old Man. He called two of his assistants and told them, “Shift Taihang and Wangwu mountains to either side so that a path is created between them.”

The order was carried out and thus the Foolish Old Man of the North Mountain succeeded in the mission who everyone thought was impossible.  

Image under license with Gettyimages.com

12-Oct-2008
 
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