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The Old Woman's Money-Bag
|by Minal Saran & G.F. Wear|
A Birbal Story
There lived in the city an old woman whose husband had died, and she had no one to care for her. One day she decided to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi. She took out her money-bag, which was full, for she had saved money all her life. Part of the money she kept for her expenses on the way, the rest she exchanged in the market for gold-mohurs. She marked these in a certain way, then put them into her money-bag, which was made of cloth. She went to an important citizen, a man who attended to matters of religion.
She said to him, ‘Sir, I am going to Kashi on a pilgrimage, and I am afraid I may be robbed on the way. May I leave my bag of money in your safekeeping?’
‘My good woman, why do you bring the money to me? I have enough troubles.’
‘It will not be any trouble. If I return in three years or before, I shall take the bag again. If I do not return in that time, take the money and give it to the poor.’
This man was much respected and considered to be a good man. He agreed at last to look after the bag.
‘I never touch money myself,’ he said. ‘Take the bag and bury it yourself in that corner of the room. When you return, you can dig it out yourself from where you have buried it.’
The old woman went to the corner and buried the money-bag. She was careful to mark the place.
‘Go now,’ said the man. ‘May God bless you! When you return, don’t forget to get me something from the temple.’
A year and a half went by. The man began to think the old woman would never return, so he took out the bag, emptied it of the gold mohurs and put copper pieces in their place. He had the bag sewn up exactly it was before. Then he buried it again in the corner of the room.
After about two and a half years, the old woman returned to the city. Next day, she took what she had brought from the temple and came to the citizen’s house.
‘You see, sir, I have not forgotten,’ she said, as she gave him what she had brought.
‘How are you, my good woman? I see you have returned safely after all. Thank you for bringing this from the temple at Kashi.’
‘Thanks to your wishes and blessings I am safe,’ she continued. ‘Now may I please have my money-bag?’
‘You know I never touch money,’ he replied. ‘You buried the bag yourself; you had better get it out from where you put it.’
She went to the corner, found her mark, and dug up the bag.
She was pleased to see it sewn up as she had left it. But when she got home, she was frightened to find that the bag contained copper pieces instead of gold. She went back to the man’s house.
‘Sir, what is this?’ she asked. ‘The bag now contains only copper. I had put gold mohurs into it.’
‘Look, my good woman, I have not touched your bag. I do not know what it contained. It was exactly the same as when you went away.’
‘But, sir, the gold mohurs were my life’s savings. Perhaps some servant did this.’
‘No servant knew anything about the bag or even where it was buried.’
‘Sir, I beg you. If you like take half the gold mohurs for keeping the bag for me, but give me the other half.’
‘I am a man of religion. I have no money; I certainly haven’t got yours. I think you had better go.’
She began to cry, and through her tears told him that God would punish anyone who treated an old woman so, but it had no effect. The man called a servant to throw her out.
At her home, her friends advised her to see Birbal, so, a few days later, she went to see him. She told him the story, and Birbal sent for the citizen.
The man sat with folded hands. ‘Sir,’ he told Birbal, ‘about three years ago or less, this woman came to me with her bag of money. She wanted to leave it with me while she was away on a pilgrimage to the temple at Kashi. It is, as you know, against our religion to touch money, so I did not want to keep the bag, but she begged me so hard that I let her bury it herself in my house. You may ask her if this is true.’
‘It is true, said the woman, ‘but when I buried the bag, it contained gold mohurs. When I dug it up it was full of copper pieces.’
‘How did the gold turn to copper?’ asked Birbal.
‘Sir,’ answered the man, ‘the bag was of cloth, sewn up, and could not have been opened. The woman must be mistaken. The memory of old people is not always good.’
The way the man described the bag made Birbal feel doubtful. He told the woman not to worry and let the man go.
That night Birbal made a small cut with his scissors in the sheet on his bed. In the morning, the servant who was making the bed saw the cut. It was a new sheet and the servant was afraid that his master would be angry. He found from an older servant that a tailor called Rafiq could mend it well; he was very good at mending old clothes. The servant took the sheet to Rafiq and got it mended. At night Birbal examined the sheet but could not see where he had cut it. He called the servant, who was at first frightened on being questioned about the sheet and the cut.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Birbal. ‘I did it myself. But I should like to know who mended it so well. I cannot see where the cut was.’
‘His name is Rafiq,’ said the servant.
‘Send him to me. I want to thank him,’ said Birbal.
Next day Birbal saw Rafiq, and after saying how well he had mended the sheet, he gave the old woman’s bag to the tailor.
‘Do you remember this bag?’
‘Yes,’ replied the tailor after examining it. ‘Some time ago, two years or more, the servant of a man’ (and he named the citizen), ‘came to me with this bag to mend a hole in it. This is the place. I mended it cleverly and gave it back.’
‘What was in the bag?’ asked Birbal.
‘Only some copper money.’
‘No gold mohurs?’
‘No, sir, only copper.’
Birbal immediately sent for the citizen, and told him what had been said. ‘Now what have you to say?’ he demanded.
The citizen could not say anything. He knew he was caught.
‘I know you do not touch ordinary money,’ said Birbal, ‘but perhaps gold is different. Gold is pure and clean, isn’t it? A pure, clean man like you should not be with people who are not the same. Perhaps they are not honest.’
He called a guard to take the man away. The citizen then became frightened. He realized that he might be sent to prison and so told the truth.
‘Yes, I took the gold mohurs. Here they are.’ He gave the money to Birbal, who sent for the old woman and gave her money back to her. Although he did not go to prison, the citizen lost the respect of other people. He became ‘that old man’.
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