King Vikram stepped over the clawing roots of trees as he made his way out of the graveyard, with the heavy corpse on his back. The Betaal mocked him. “Listen, O King Vikrama! Why did you agree to this task? Do you even know if the hermit is really a hermit or at least a good man? Did he tell you what you have wanted to hear? Is that why you come to carry me off to him? Let me tell you the story of the man who got used to sweet words. Sometimes, speaking the truth can cause trouble. ”
Speaking the Truth
The village of Chandrapur was surrounded by dense forests. The forests were lush, and a river, the Chandramathi, flowed through it. With so much fresh food available, the forests were home to many animals and birds. Several canals connected Chandrapur to river Chandramathi.
The village of Chandrapur was surrounded by dense forests. The forests were lush and a river, the chandramathi, flowed through it. With so much fresh food available, the forests were home to many animals and birds. Several canals connected Chandrapur to river Chandramathi.
Both the river and the forest provided a lot of revenue for the villagers. They ferried the fruits, lumber and even animal skins to bigger towns along the river. As a result, the villagers were quite wealthy. Every year after the monsoons, the village hosted a mela or fair for a whole week. Merchants came from far and wide to Chandrapur to attend the fair. They knew that the wealthy villagers would buy a lot of their goods.
The mela was a colorful affair. You could buy almost anything you wanted for your house and your business. There were stalls selling silks and jewellery, fancy knickknacks for the house, furniture, and food. If you had a mind to, you could buy cattle, goats and horses and birds. Some others sold machines and metalworks.
The mela was no different this year. Coracles floated on the river like giant lotus leaves, bringing crowds from nearby towns and villages. Two brothers, Anand and Kumar who set up stalls for the first time this year. Unlike the others, they did not sell any merchandise. Anand set his stall near the stalls selling animals. He put up a large colourful sign. “Let Master Anand’s special powers work their magic on your animals. Bring them to him and he will bless them for a long life!” The sign had pictures of children holding animals, small and large.
Kumar set himself up next to the jewellery section. He had an equally large poster. “Bring your diamond jewellery to Master Kumar to find out if it is a lucky gem or not.” There were pictures of people wearing beautiful jewellery on his poster.
The day the mela opened, the crowds flocked to the stalls. Parents and children made their way to stall selling clothes and jewellery and toys. Young people secretly bought gifts for someone they loved. Working Men and women made their way to the stalls selling vegetables, fruits, and animals, machines or metalworks. Everyone was stocking up.
A little while later, there was a steady line outside both Anand and Kumar’s stalls. People put a silver coin in a box and led their animals to Anand. While most were adults, there were a few children holding their new pets. He said some prayers, blessed them and gave each animal something to eat. He also blessed the owners and wished them well in their business.
The customers outside Kumar’s stall were a little different. They carried their special items carefully. Some of them even had guards standing beside them. Here, the people put 2 silver coins in the box there and waited while Kumar inspected their jewels. Fortunately, he never did find any diamond with bad luck and all his customers went home happy with their purchases.
In this village lived a merchant named Vijay. Vijay was one of the richest people in the village.
He owned many boats that carried the goods on the river to all the other stops on the river. He had the biggest house, loved to buy horses, fine clothes and jewelry for his wife and kids. Vijay did not flaunt his money but he was quite powerful because he involved himself in all the affairs of the village. He was an important man in the village.
Vijay brought his family to the mela and they too bought a lot of things at the fair. Mala, his seven year old daughter wanted a goat kid for a pet. When they bought the animal and stepped out, her eyes fell on the sign in front of Anand’s stall. Vijay didn’t really want to go there, but because his daughter was so excited, he took them all to get Anand’s blessing.
Vijay’s wife had bought herself a beautiful nath, a nosering, with seven diamonds set in a circle. She was very pleased with the jewellery and stepped out of the shop all smiles. As she looked about happily, there loomed Kumar’s sign! She felt that it was talking to her. “Ooooh, that is a sign! What if my diamonds are unlucky?” Her smile turned to a frown and she wanted to get her diamonds checked out for bad luck! “We can’t return the jewels anyway,” Vijay started to protest. Then he noticed Rani’s worried face and changed his mind. “I’m sure these are excellent gems and also lucky. But Let’s go check your diamonds if that’s what you want to do.”
They lined up and waited patiently outside Kumar’s stall. When it was their turn, an attendant made sure that they were seated comfortably. “Would you like some tea or coffee?” Another attendant took their order. Kumar looked at her diamonds with a tiny microscope. He twisted it this way and that and gave a long speech about the diamonds, the cut and how perfect everything was. Rani face beamed with happiness. It was their good fortune that they had bought such a lucky and beautiful piece of jewellery.
Rani didn’t want to walk around the mela with the jewellery bag. So they decided to go home and come again another day to explore other stalls.
A few days later, Vijay came back to the mela. He stopped at a stall selling horses. There were many people interested in the horses there. The horse trader knew that Vijay was rich but not a very good rider. Someone had pointed him out earlier. He hoped to sell at least one animal to him. Everybody was talking about a beautiful stallion that the merchant had brought with him. Curious, Vijay approached the trader’s assistant. “I hear you have a stallion here. Will you be bringing it out soon?” The trader’s assistant remarked loudly, “Oh, everyone thinks that they can ride the stallion. But only someone who is a particularly good rider can tame this animal. You should get something gentler!”
Vijay’s face turned red. He did an about turn and walked out of there immediately.”
The trader was furious with his assistant. “But I was only speaking the truth,” the assistant protested. “I wanted him to buy a gentler animal so he wouldn’t get hurt!”
Betaal spoke to King Vikram directly, ”Oh King Vikrama, both Anand and Kumar were making money by promising something that no one could see or prove. Yet Vijay took his family to both their stalls and spent money and time there. The horse trader’s assistant was speaking the truth when he said that Vijay should not buy the stallion because the stallion was too strong for him. Why did Vijay get angry and walk away? If you know the answer to my question, you must answer it. If not your head will shatter to pieces. If you don’t know the answer, I’ll go with you.”
Vikram replied, “Both Anand and Kumar made other people feel good. They did not have any goods to sell but they made people feel good about the things they bought at the mela. Vijay knew very well that there was more to keeping the animals healthy and safe than just Anand’s blessings. But his daughter wanted it for her animal. Vijay agreed to take them there to make her happy.
Vijay knew that the idea of luck was all in the mind. He agreed to Rani’s wish to have Kumar inspect the diamonds to keep her happy. Kumar didn’t disappoint. He knew that it was in his best interests to say the gems were lucky. Otherwise, the jewellery merchants would have him thrown out of the fair.
The horse trader was not selling something to make others feel good. Vijay knew he was not a very good rider. He may not have chosen the stallion at all. He only wanted to look at it because everyone was talking about it. But when the trader’s assistant pointed out that he was not a good enough rider for the stallion, he embarrassed Vijay in front of all the other people there. Vijay was an important man in the village. He could have let vijay see the stallion and later guided him to a gentler animal. It may seem like the trader’s assistant was speaking the truth. Nobody asked him to comment on how Vijay rode. In reality he was rude to a customer and he lost his business. If you want someone to do something for you, you must know how to talk to them. Even if we know something about the other person, we mustn’t blurt it out when it is none of our business.“
As soon as he answered, King Vikram felt a load lifted off his shoulder. He turned quickly to see the Betaal flying at a distance, back to its home!
Click here to listen to other episodes of Vikram and Betaal:
Vikram and Betaal: Introduction Part 1