In Karnataka, there was a venerable pandit called Sudhamati. Having spent forty years of his life studying at Banaras, he thought of marriage in his fiftieth year because he was a well-educated man and quickly found a wife.

This man naturally had several students with him. His young wife was a genuine, innocent creature. She freely talked and joked with her husband’s disciples, and Sudhamati began to be tormented by suspicion regarding his wife’s conduct.

Torn by the fangs of suspicion, he decided to seek peace by running away from home. One night he left, his disciples discovered his flight early in the morning. Four of them were very anxious to study under this learned man; they once started searching for him and overtook him in a particular village.

“Why are you after me ?” said the learned man to his disciples. “I am dissatisfied with my wife’s conduct and hence going away.”

“What is wrong with her conduct ?” the young fellows asked their teacher. She is like our own mother, so kind to us. What made you suspect her? In any case, we are determined to be with you. We want you alone for our teacher.”

The learned man was glad to know that his suspicion was groundless. He started back home along with his four disciples. On their way, they arrived at a town. The sun was already hot, and all of them were tired. To have some rest, they sat on the road and began to fan themselves. There were shady pills in front of all the houses along the road, but it did not occur to them to seek shelter.

Presently a lady came along the road. She had a water pot in her hand. She was going to the well. She saw the men resting on the road and inquired, “Who are you, gentlemen?”

“Mother,” they replied politely, we are foreigners.”

“You are not foreigners,” said the lady. Then she went away.

The five of them looked at one another in surprise. When they saw her returning, they said, “well, then, we are wayfarers.”

“No,” she said. “You are not wayfarers.” Then she went away.

When she went by on her second trip to the well, they said, “Will you please agree that we are travellers?”

“I won’t,” said the lady, and she passed.

The disciples discussed the whole thing among themselves and concluded that this lady was a sage woman indeed, and they must find out who they were. So they stopped her as she went home with the water and asked her, “You see, we are fools, but….”

She did not allow them to finish. She smiled and said, “No, no. You are not fools either.”

“Then”, said the young boys in anguish, “for heaven’s sake, do tell us who we are!”

“I shall tell you who you are,” replied the lady.” But it is time for you to have a bath and a meal. First, follow me to my house and prepare your food.”

They were not aware of the fact that they would be needing a meal quite soon. They were pleased with the invitation. The lady took them to her house, showed them the kitchen and told them, “My husband has gone to read puran to the King. He will be returning by noon. He is a suspicious man, and you must finish bathing, praying and eating before he returns.”

The guests agreed, but lacking worldly wisdom, they went on bathing and praying at their own tedious pace. The lady’s husband turned up long before the guests departed.

This Brahman was indeed a very suspicious man. He had long suspected his wife of being unfaithful to him. He made several attempts to catch her red-handed but failed. Now he was convinced that he had caught his wife red-handed. He saw some men in the kitchen and locked the door from outside. He then went round the house. And saw his wife busy in another room. He closed this room too. Then he went to the King. Seeing the Brahman return so soon, the King asked him what the matter was,

“O King, I told you repeatedly that my wife is immoral. I requested you to punish her. But you insisted upon proof. If you come with me, I can show you proof of my wife’s faithlessness. She has hidden five lovers in the kitchen,” said the Brahman.

The King followed the Brahman to his house, very upset at this news. The kitchen door was unlocked, and the five frightened innocents were seen huddled together like rabbits.

“Who are you, my good men?” the King asked them.

“If we knew that,” said the strangers, “we need not have come here. The good lady of the house promised to tell us who we were after we had our food.”

They told their tale to the King, who was convinced they were entirely as innocent as the lady her husband suspected unnecessarily.

He then asked the Brahman to bring his wife out.

“Dear lady,” said the King, “I know you are innocent. But tell me, why did you deny the strangers were foreigners ?”

“Sir,” said the lady to the King, “while going for water, I saw these men sitting and taking rest on the road while there were pills and shade all along the road. I knew they were innocent and, to have a pretext for inviting them to my house, I asked them who they were. And they said that they were foreigners. Now, those who speak our language cannot be foreigners to us. So I denied their statement.”

“That is true enough,” said the King. “Why did you deny that they were wayfarers and travellers ?”

“Because,” replied the lady, “way-farers know where to rest, and travellers use a road for travelling alone.”

“I see,” said the King. “Why did you object to their saying that they were fools? Fools,s they certainly were!”

The King saw her hesitate and encouraged her, saying, “Do not be afraid. I shall see that no harm comes to you. Clear my doubt, please.”

“Sir,” the lady said, “however ignorant of the world and its ways, it is not proper to call learned and guileless men fools. In my opinion, that word should be applied to one who suspects his wife of hiding five lovers together in the kitchen at midday and a king who believes it and comes in person to see this evidence of a woman’s faithlessness.”

The King bent his head in disgrace. The Brahman said, “O King, punish me for being a victim of foul suspicion.”

“O King,” said Sudh-mati coming forward, “I, too, had been polluted with suspicion. I deserve whatever punishment you give to this Brahman.” He narrated his tale to the King.

“At least, in future,” said the King, “you’ll do well to treat your wives with respect.”

Chandamama September 1955 | G S Nayak

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