An Ideal Couple

In the city of Prayag, there once lived a merchant who was both rich and generous. His wife was as noble as her husband. They were a perfect couple; the only blot on their happiness was their only son, Sasi-Ketu.

Sasi-Ketu was an incorrigible fellow. Very early in his life, he went under the influence of evil friends and took to cruel ways. All his father’s warnings and his mother’s pleas were of no avail. He not only did not change but went from bad to worse. His parents were perpetually grieved and ashamed because of him.

The merchant had a close friend in a pujari, and the former sought the latter’s advice regarding his son’s future.

“I am afraid,” said the merchant, “that I made a blunder in thinking that Sasi would be cured of his evil ways as he became older. Instead, he seems to become worse as he grows up. Now that hope is lost. Please tell me what I can do to improve his nature. My wife is ill mostly because of worry regarding the boy. Unless he improves soon, she is sure to die!”

“I must speak out the truth,” said the pujari gravely. “It was the best of both of you who spoiled the boy. Even now, he feels the security of your goodness when he does all sorts of unmannerly things. Send him away to a distant place where he will not have any security or money to squander away. He will be forced to fend for himself and will learn responsibility. Under such circumstances, he is bound to turn a new leaf, acquire good habits and become competent.”

The merchant was satisfied with this suggestion. He called and said, “My son, I want you to go to a distant place and make good. Where would you like to go?”

“Please send me to Banaras !” Sasi-Ketu replied. He had learned from his friends that Banaras was a city with unlimited scope for adventure and the perpetration of evil.

The pujari had a relation at Banaras. So he gave Sasi-ketu a letter of introduction with which the boy started for Banaras.

The idea of sending the boy to a far-off place appeared to have borne fruit for a time. The pujari got letters from his relation at Banaras, and they spoke well of the boy. The pujari read these letters to the merchant and his wife. The couple were happy that their son was finally showing signs of improvement.

And then, without warning, the tragedy occurred. Sasi-Ketu and some drunkards were gambling when they quarrelled. The quarrel resulted in a scuffle, and Sasi-Ketu was stabbed to death. The pujari received a letter from his relation explaining all the details.

It was now plain to the pujari that Sasi-Ketu never changed. He did not know how to tell his friend, the merchant. He decided to tell the sad news to the merchant alone since the old lady was ailing in bed.

Hearing about the tragic death of his only son, the merchant was stunned. But he did not shed tears over it. “I have been anticipating such calamity for a very long time,” he said to the pujari. “So this was not quite unexpected. We thought he would mend himself in a distant place, but he didn’t. He was not one to change so easily.”

Then he requested the pujari to keep the news from his wife. “She is very ill,” he said. “Her heart will break if she knows of the boy’s death. She is not going to live long. Let her be happy in the thought that her son is prospering somewhere. I request you to read to her letters from your relation and assure her of the boy’s progress.”

“Yes, of course!” the pujari said. “I shall do even as you say. Let us do what we can to make the rest of her days as pleasant as possible.”

Once a month, the pujari would go to the merchant’s house and say, “Another letter from Banaras! Your son wants you to know that he is doing well. My relation assures me that your boy will be engaged at Court any day now!”

Another time he would say, “It is all settled. Your boy will be a courtier from the next Full Moon day.”

Then he would say, “I am thrilled to inform you that the King is interested in finding a suitable bride for your boy! Ah, the lucky fellow!”

And then he said, one day, “Your boy is extremely anxious to see both of you. He has asked for leave and is starting as soon as the leave is granted.”

The pujari was the most welcome person in the merchant’s house. The couple listened to every word he uttered with happiness and eagerness. Though the merchant’s wife was bedridden, she showed some amination, hid all her pains, and talked enthusiastically in the pujari’s presence.

“How I am deceiving this noble lady!” the pujari would say to himself. But he reasoned that what he did was correct when he noticed the pleasure with which she heard his false reports about her son. “Considering the happiness of the poor soul, what I do is quite correct,” he would tell himself.

Four years it has elapsed. All the time, the merchant’s wife grew steadily worse, a victim of consumption.

Now she was very near her end. The pujari got information that she would die within a few hours and went to see her. The merchant was gone out at the moment.

“I am departing!” she said to the pujari. “please look after the old man!”

“That is all nonsense!” the pujari assured her. “You are going to get well yet. Why is your son even now on his way here? I have just received a letter. Some pilgrims from Banaras brought it. You are going to see your Sasi soon.”

The patient smiled weakly. “That is true enough!” she said. “We shall be soon seeing each other in the other world!… Do not be surprised! I have known for a long time that my Sasi was dead. But I want to thank your relation who is in Banaras. He is so noble! If the older man had known of Sasi’s death, he would not have recovered from the blow! Now promise me that you will keep the secret from him as long as he lives. I cannot die peacefully unless you make the promise. Let him never know that Sasi is dead. That is my only wish!”

Then she closed her eyes forever.

The pujari was not sad; he felt greatly elated.

What a perfect couple! To keep each other happy, they had concealed in their breasts a terrible fire that must have caused more pain for want of sharing.

The pujari went home, blessing the noble merchant and his equally noble wife.

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