All’s Well That Ends Well

Many centuries ago, there lived a handsome young man in Kashmir named Manichandar. He came from a wealthy family of landowners, but both his parents had died suddenly, which made the youth very unhappy. His home and his father’s estates no longer pleased him, so in the end, Manichandar decided to travel in the hope that new environments would obliterate the past.

Manichandar’ decided not to burden himself with servants and a bodyguard, so he started his journey alone, with just a pack horse to carry his personal belongings.

His journey was uneventful until he approached the city of Kasi, which he hoped to reach before nightfall. As he serenely cantered along a bridle path through a forest, mounted robbers galloped out of the thicket on either side. Although Manichandar attempted to escape, his horse was tired, and he was soon overtaken and hauled out of the saddle.

The robbers took everything he possessed, even the clothes he wore. They left him a few dirty and ragged garments, which smelt horribly, but he had to wear something.

Mid that night, weary and hungry, Manichandar reached the city of Kasi. Being too proud to beg, he took refuge in the stables adjoining the King’s palace, and in his sorry state, a pile of straw made a welcome bed.

At that time, Kasi was ruled by King Karusimha, whose only daughter, Vijaya, was a girl of exceptional beauty. For some months past, the King had demanded that his daughter should marry a prince of a nearby kingdom.

Vijaya hated the sight of this prince, but the King was adamant, and the very night Manichandar took refuge in her father’s stables, she resolved to run away. Vijaya had confided in a minister’s son, who promised to have horses ready and saddled for the princess to make her escape. But at the last minute, fearing the King’s anger, the minister’s son conveniently forgot his promise.

In the middle of the night, Vijaya groped her way into the stables. She dared not carry a light as that would quickly attract the attention of her father’s guards. At first, Vijaya could not see anything; she stumbled on a figure lying in the straw. Thinking it was the minister’s son, she shook him by the shoulder and whispered. “Wake up. Get the horses saddled, and let us go before we are discovered.”

Manichandar, bemused with sleep, though he had been mistaken for a stable hand, somehow managed to saddle two horses amid frantic whispers from the girl to hurry.

Mounting the horses, they went quietly through the streets until they reached the city’s outskirts, then Vijaya led the way at a head-long gallop across the fields. As dawn was breaking, they got a lake. Vijaya dismounted, and when she turned to speak to her companion, she was horrified to find that this was not the minister’s son but a stranger dressed in filthy clothes.

She dared not return home because her father, the King, would never forgive this escapade, and she would be bound to marry that hateful prince. So there was no alternative but to ride on with this vagabond.

Soon they came to a river which they had to cross by ferry. When they arrived at the ferry, there appeared to be an argument between the boatman and an older woman. The older woman seemed to have no money to pay her fare across.

Manichandar, who was always kindly disposed towards older adults, interrupted the argument. “Do not worry, mother. I will pay your fare.”

But when he put his hand in his pocket, he suddenly remembered he had no money. Vijaya saved his embarrassment by pressing a gold coin into his hand.

The older woman was now all smiles. “You two are very kind,” she said. “Please take me as your servant. I will cook and keep house for you.”

She was such a sweet old lady that they both agreed, though they had little money to pay a servant and no house to live in. They discovered the older woman’s name Bhavani, and she was going to Hela, where she hoped someone would need a good servant.

That afternoon the three travellers reached the city of Hela and were lucky enough to find a small house, which, although very humble in size, had at least been well cared for.

Whilst Bhavani bustled around to prepare some food, Vijaya sank into a chair and said, with a rueful smile. “What is to become of me?” Manichandar longed to comfort her as he listened to her sad tale. Then he told Vijaya of his misfortunes and promised to take good care of her until they had sufficient money for her to join distant relatives who lived in Persia.

Manichandar, who had a good knowledge of precious stones, set himself up as an expert valuer in the marketplace. Using some of Vijaya’s remaining gold pieces, he purchased suitable clothes, and although at first customers were hard to come by, his unerring ability in judging the value of gems soon spread, and the King’s jeweller, hearing so many good tales of this young man, induced Manichandar to become his assistant.

Hurrying home with the good news to Vijaya, Manichandar painted his prospects in glowing terms and assured Vijaya that they would soon have ample money to buy her lovely clothes and be able to continue her journey to her kinsfolk. But it all seemed to leave Vijaya quite unmoved, and she even looked dismayed at the prospect.

Poor Manichandar felt quite confused over Vijaya’s lack of enthusiasm, but he was still determined to prove that he would one day be rich.

Then soon afterwards, the jeweller received a summons from the King to visit the palace immediately to value a priceless diamond. The jeweller decided to take Manichandar with him, as the young man appeared to have an uncanny knowledge of gems and their value.

Arriving at the palace, they were promptly announced into the presence of the King, who his ministers surrounded, and all seemed mildly excited over something.

Catching sight of the jeweller, the King beckoned to him. “Come here, come here,” cried the King. “This diamond merchant has brought me this colossal diamond, for which he demands a king’s ransom. Tell me, how much is it worth?”

When the jeweller saw the diamond, he was amazed at its size and had to admit that he had little idea how to price its value. So he passed it to Manichandar, who scrutinized the diamond, studying its facets against the light. Then he suddenly burst out laughing.

“Your Majesty,” he exclaimed, holding up the stone. “This precious stone is worth exactly nothing.”

Everyone looked amazed, and the diamond merchant was nigh bursting with anger. “What humbug is this,” he protested. “How can this young man dare say my diamond is useless?”

“It is easily proved,” said Manichandar calmly, and he threw the stone on the marble floor, where it shattered into a hundred pieces.

“It is nothing more than a piece of glass,” roared the King, fixing the diamond merchant with a baleful eye, “For trying to hoodwink me, you varlet, you shall be flogged and imprisoned.”

As a reward for his services, the King appointed Manichandar keeper of the royal treasury.

When Manichandar returned home and told Vijaya the excellent news, she clapped her hands with delight. “Now, my wonderful protector, we can live in a big house and have lots more servants.”

“But,” stammered Manichandar, then words failed him because then, and only then, did he realize that he was deeply in love with Vijaya. So they were married and lived happily ever afterwards.

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