A zamindar belonged to a very ancient and honourable family in a particular country. So the zamindar was sensitive about his family’s honour and would sacrifice anything for it. In other respects, the zamindar was not very bright; his chief recreation was playing with his pet monkey.
Now, this zamindar had a son named Mukund. One day, this boy took it into his head that he should marry the King’s daughter. He sought his father’s opinion and advice.
“My son,” the zamindar said, “whatever you do is agreeable to me, provided you do not bring shame to our family,”
So Mukund went to the King and said, “Your Highness, I have decided to marry your daughter, the princess. You know the great prestige of my family. Call your purohit and fix a good muhurta for our wedding.”
The King stared at the boy for a moment, turned to his servants and said, “Throw this muff out!” The King’s servants obediently threw Mukund out.
The zamindar heard about it and became disconsolate. His honour was trampled in the mud. He could no longer look anyone in the face. He forbade his son from showing his face to him.
Then he sent for the members of his clan and told them the sad news.
“What a shame! What a disgrace!” said his relations.
“This disgrace is not mine alone; it is yours too,” said the zamindar. “You think of the means for restoring our prestige and advise me what I should do!”
“Drive Mukund out, in the first place,” one advised.
“And then you can lie down on your deathbed. This sort of disgrace will not be wiped out except with blood!” another asserted.
“That is well said,” said others. This stain will not be washed unless someone is prepared to die!” This was very sound advice as far as the relations of the zamindar were concerned. Once Mukund was outlawed and the zamindar was dead, his property could be divided among these relatives.
“I could gladly die for the honour of the family,” said the zamindar, but I am reliably told by the astrologers that I am destined to live out a hundred years.”
“Don’t believe it,” said one of the relations. These astrologers are frightful liars.”
“Yet,” went on the zamindar, “I promise you that somebody will be sacrificed for the sake of the honour of our family.”
Then he sent his relations away, and he went to his wife and said, “You know, my dear, that our prestige has received a terrible blow; it is only proper that someone should lay down his life for it. Since I appear to be blessed with a very long life, it would be proper if you die instead. Having a son, you have fulfilled the role of a mother and going in advance of the husband is an extremely desirable thing for any woman. More than everything else, imagine the glory of dying for the family’s honour- a great opportunity ready to fall to you!”
“Must I die right now?” the lady asked. “Can’t I die later?”
“The sooner, the better,” said the zamindar, handing her a silk cord. “I advise you to concentrate on God when you hang yourself with this cord.”
The zamindar went away. His wife thought for a long while. She knew that her husband was an idiot. It would be foolish to die for his sake.
She called the cook and said to him, “Listen carefully. Last night, I had a dream in which Lord Sankarand Parvati appeared and said that if I died tonight, I would be re-born as an emperor’s daughter. And the one who died with me tonight will be my husband at my next birth! I must have sinned in my last birth to get a fool for my husband in this one. Now, you are a clever fellow, and I was hoping you could marry me at my next birth was hoping you cauldron and hang yourself. I am going to take poison and join you shortly.”
She gave the cord to the cook. “Excellent, madam,” said the cook, taking the line in his shaking hands. He returned to the kitchen and sat there thinking for a long time. At last, he was disturbed by some noise in the adjoining room and went there to investigate. There he saw Mukund in the act of filling a sack with gold and silver vessels.
“Is it you, sir?” the cook asked loudly, “May I know what you are doing?”
“Don’t shout, fool,” said Mukund in a hoarse whisper. “You don’t know what has happened. I brought disgrace to the family, which can be redeemed only with human sacrifice, so I intend to commit suicide. When I fill this sack, I shall tie it around my neck and jump into the river. If you start making a fuss, my parents will prevent me from dying, thus saving the family honour!”
“You don’t need that sack, sir,” said the cook. “Here is an excellent silk cord with which you can hang yourself from the beam above. It saves you the trouble of carrying the sack to the river.”
“That is a good idea!” said Mukund. Now you can go away; I assure you you won’t like seeing me hang. Go to bed and sleep well.”
The cook closed the door and went to sleep with a light heart. Another day dawned. The zamindar woke up and went to his wife’s room, where he found her not dead but in sound sleep. “Why?” he said, waking her up. “you didn’t hang yourself!”
“No,” said she. “I don’t know how to thank our cook. He volunteered to die in my place. I am afraid we owe him a great debt of gratitude.”
But they found the cook busy lighting the stove in the kitchen.
“So you are still alive?” the wife of the zamindar asked the cook in great surprise.
“It was not my fault, madam,” said the cook sorrowfully. “Your son insisted upon hanging himself. He snatched the cord from my hands and refused to listen to my requests.”
The zamindar stepped into the adjoining room and saw something hanging from the beam. It was his pet monkey.
“My dear,” he said to his wife, “is it our son that I see hanging from the beam?”
“I can’t see properly,” said his wife. “It is still dark.”
Just at that moment, the zamindar’s relations arrived to see if the proper sacrifice was made to restore the family honour. The zamindar told them what happened and showed them the creature hanging by the beam.
The dead monkey was brought down. The zamindar was very uncertain whether it was his Mukund that lay dead before him. “You bet it is he!” said the zamindar’s relations. “Look at his features. There is no mistaking his identity. We congratulate you on having such a fine son! He has saved the honour of the family!” The zamindar had to believe them.
The monkey was solemnly cremated, and funeral rites were performed according to the strict injunctions of the scriptures.
During the next twelve months, the zamindar, too, passed away, and his property was divided among his relations.
Mukund was far away when he received news of his father’s death, but he came to claim his father’s property.
“It is not fair,” he said to his relatives, “that you should divide my property among you. Hand it over to me.”
“Who are you?” the relations asked him.
“I am the zamindar’s son, Mukund,” Mukund replied.
“Ah, but Mukund was dead a year ago!” they said. “We performed his funeral rites. At the time of his death, we were told the zamindar’s monkey was missing: possibly you may be that monkey! Now, be off!” They drove Mukund away ignominiously.