Ranga The Faithful
On the banks of the Godavari, there were two villages be- longing for two Zamindars who were not only relations but also good friends. They were in the habit of visiting each other every so often.
One day the younger Zamindar arrived at the elder’s place to stay for a few days. In the evening, both the friends sat in the open, enjoying the evening air and chatting when Ranga, the shepherd, brought home the cattle from the pasture.
The elder Zamindar looked up and asked his shepherd, “Where is the ram, Rangą?”
“It is coming, master,” Ranga said. He gave a shrill whistle at which a giant, snow-white ram ran in, skipping and making a pleasant noise with the jingling bells around his neck. He stopped near Ranga and went up to his master, the Zamindar, who took a handful of peas out of his pocket and fed them to the ram.
After the ram was gone, the Zamindar turned to his guest and said, “This ram is more precious to me than all the other cattle put together. I would not part with it for a thousand rupees. There is no equal to him around these parts. Of course, it is Ranga that is responsible for rearing him and looking after him. I don’t think there is a more honest fellow among his class.”
The guest laughed loudly at these words.
“If you ask me,” he said, “there cannot be any honesty in his class. They are all cheats. They never speak the truth and trick us whenever they find an opportunity.”
“No, no!” the elder Zamindar protested. “My Ranga is quite different. He would rather die than utter a falsehood.”
“Don’t say that,” the younger Zamindar said. “Do you believe that he has never lied to you?”
“He never lied to anyone, for that matter,” the host asserted.
“I must say,” said the guest, “you are too gullible. Give me only three days, and I’ll prove that your Ranga can lie like anyone else. What do you say to that now?”
“I’ll say that you will not be able to do so!” the host retorted. Then they fell to arguing and finally ended up with a bet. If the younger Zamindar proved that Ranga uttered a lie, the elder Zamindar was to pay him a thousand rupees. If the younger Zamindar failed, he would pay a similar amount to his host.
“I shall collect the thousand rupees from you without doubt,” the guest said. “But let no one know about our bet until the three days lapse.” The elder Zamindar agreed.
But that very night, the younger Zamindar called his servant Soma and told him about the bet. “Tell me how we can win the bet without fail,” he asked Soma.
Soma was in a fix. If he agreed to help his master, he could guile. So he cautiously replied, “I am not competent to advise you about such things, master.”
The Zamindar understood why Soma was hesitating. To put his mind at rest, he said, “Look, if you can help me in this matter, you shall have a hundred rupees bakshish.”
“Well, master,” Soma said, “I am sure this Ranga is like any other human being. He would do anything for money.”
“Take two hundred rupees and try to buy the white ram from Ranga,” the younger Zamindar suggested to his man and handed him a couple of hundred rupees.
Soma spent a whole day nosing into Ranga’s affairs and acquainted- ed himself entirely with them. He also devised a plan by which he was sure he could entangle the honest shepherd.
In the village, there was a girl called Lakshmi whom Ranga had wanted to marry for a long time. Both of them were willing to marry, but her father did not like his daughter marrying a pauper without even a roof over his head.
“I do not mind your marrying my daughter,” the old man told Ranga. “But have a hut of your own first. I will not listen to your offer until you have a home and a small yard.”
This Ranga could not do. He would see Lakshmi frequently, chat with her and finally ask her, “How about you and I getting married?” Lakshmi would re- mind him of what her father had said, and Ranga would depart with a bowed head.
Soma learned about this affair. He got Lakshmi alone and talked with her.
“I am glad to hear,” he said, “that you will wed Ranga. You’ll make a perfect couple.”
“Only, we may never marry here on earth!” Lakshmi replied. Then she explained Ranga’s trouble.
Soma pretended surprise. “Ranga could obtain a home and yard with only a couple of hundred rupees. Why does he postpone the marriage? Can’t he raise that much money?”
Lakshmi replied, “He tried his best and failed.”
“Why you are no more practical than Ranga,” Soma said. “Let him sell me the white ram, and I will give him the two hundred rupees he needs.” He took out a sack and jingled the coins.
Lakshmi’s eyes grew bright when she heard the jingle of money. “But the ram belongs to the Zamindar,” she said weakly. “How can Ranga sell it?”
“That is all nonsense!” Soma said. “It was Ranga who looked after the ram, and it is his. Please take it as a gift from him. You can sell me the ram yourself. Here is the money in advance!”
Lakshmi quickly fell into the snare set by Soma. That evening, when Ranga called upon her, she said to him, “what about our marriage? It is really up to you to arrange it, you know!”
“Up to me?” Ranga said in surprise. “I have tried my best to obtain a house and a yard and have failed!”
“Somebody is now offering a good price for your ram,” she said. “You’ll get two hundred rupees for it, and it is enough to get you a house and yard. We can get married right away,” Lakshmi said enthusiastically.
“Forget it, my dear Ranga replied. “It is not my ram, and I cannot sell it. It is far better that we should remain unmarried than that I should sell that ram.”
Lakshmi looked hurt. “Well, then, don’t sell it,” she said. “Give it to me as a gift. I never asked you for things, don’t deny me this.”
Ranga registered intense pain in his face.
“Lakshmi,” he said imploringly, “ask for my life, and you shall have it, but not the ram. Don’t think ill of me because I say so!” He turned to go.
Lakshmi called him back. She was shedding tears. “You are very unfair to me,” she said. “I was so sure you would not deny me the ram that I sold it, taking the price in advance! Now I will be a disgrace.” She showed him the money which Soma had thrust upon her so cleverly.
Ranga was stupefied for a moment. Then he asked suspiciously, “Who gave you the money?”
“Soma, the neighbouring Zamindar’s man!” Lakshmi replied.
“You shall not be disgraced, Lakshmi,” Ranga replied. “It is better to die than go back upon one’s word. You shall have the ram about noon tomorrow. You can fulfil your bargain.”
Before the evening of the following day, the ram changed hands. The two Zamindars were seated in the open as usual when Ranga arrived with the flocks.
The elder Zamindar’s hand went into his pocket as he said to Ranga, “Where is the ram?”
“I have sold it, master!” came the reply.
The Zamindar stared at his servant speechlessly and then exclaimed, “What is that? Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you do it?”
“Master,” Ranga replied, “don’t condemn me in haste. I was fooled by the girl Lakshmi whom I was thinking of marrying. But she had been fooled by another rogue. I shall not reveal if he deigns to return the ram in a gentlemanly manner.” As he said this, he eyed Soma coldly and told his master what had happened.
At the end of his recital, the younger Zamindar turned to his servant Soma and said, “So this is what you have achieved, you filthy pig! Ranga did speak the truth, and I lost my bet after all. He is a trustworthy man. Give him back the ram at once. Ranga, you can keep the price of the ram. Get a house and yard with it, marry your girl and be happy!”
The elder Zamindar did his bit in connection with his marriage, and the wedding took place at last to the satisfaction of everyone concerned.