The Curse Of Wealth
AT one time, a part of the Dandaka Forest was called the Kumbhaka Forest. It was believed that a demon called Kumbhaka owned it and that he had an underground castle in the forest. No one ever saw him, nor was he known to molest any forest dwellers. But some of them had unexpected strokes of luck, like finding gold in a bush, coming upon a sandalwood tree amid ordinary trees, or finding packets of jewellery in the trunks of trees which were felled. In such cases, Kumbhaka was credited with the gift of fortune. The forest folk always thought of the demon with affection.
Those who built cottages here and there and lived in the forest were always poor. But the woods gave them almost everything they needed, and those who could work hard led a contented life. Now and then, they would come upon strangers. Such of the foresters who exchanged a friendly word with these strangers and helped them had a stroke of good luck sooner or later, and it was surmised that Kumbhaka himself had met the forester in the shape of a stranger.
One of those who lived in this forest was called Kardama. He lived in a cottage with his wife Revati and his year-old son Gopal. Kardama was about twenty-five years old and a man of great strength. He would spend all day in the thick of the forest cutting firewood or sawing timber, which got him a decent income. As for foodstuffs, the forest was full of them. He was very fond of his wife and child, and every day, on his way home, he would collect a bunch of fragrant wildflowers or fresh lotuses and some fruit for them.
One evening, Revati was engaged in preparing the evening meal. She gazed at the flames under the pot and fell into a trance. “We are quite happy, it is true,” she thought. “But I hate that my man should toil from dawn to dusk. Particularly during this winter, it breaks my heart to see him come home tired, hungry and shivering! If only we had enough money! If only these golden embers would become real gold.”
Her train of thought was disturbed by a loud rap on the door. It was not yet time for her husband to return, but she opened the door all the same.
There was an older man outside. He had a sack on his back, and it appeared to be heavy. Revati noticed the old man was shivering from the cold and said, “Who are you, grandad? Step inside!”
“Ah, noble lady,” said the old man. “Let me sit near your fire for a few minutes, and I shall be on my way again. My old bones are freezing with the cold.”
Revati let the older man sit near the stove. She then took out some vegetables and began preparing food for the guest.
After a time, the old man said, “How are things with you, madam? Are you quite happy?”
“Why not, grandad?” Revati replied. “The forest provides us with everything we need.”
Soon Revati finished her cooking. She thought it was time her husband returned and wondered what made him tarry in the forest.
“Why is it that Kardama is not home yet?” said the old man, as though he listened to her thoughts. “Does he always come so late?”
Revati started and said, “Do you know him, grandad ?”
“Why not, my child?” the old man replied with a smile. “I know everyone that lives in this forest. I must have passed by your cottage dozens of times.”
Presently Kardama came home. He saw the older man but did not appear to recognize him, nor was he surprised.
“I see we have a guest,” he said to his wife. “Let us eat; I am starving.”
After the meal, the old man said to Revati, “My child, I thank you for the nice meal you gave me. Let me bid you goodbye now.”
“Where will you go in this cold?” Kardama said to the guest. “Sleep here for the night. You can go away in the morning.”
“Yes, grandad,” Revati put in. “I shall give you a mat and a rug. You can sleep by the stove.”
The older man was quickly enough persuaded to stay. He lay down in the corner near the stove and slept. Soon the cottage was filled with his loud snoring. Kardama, Revati and the baby slept together in another corner.
Revati felt that her husband was laughing to himself in the dark and asked why he was laughing.
“Look at this, Kumbhaka,” he whispered. “He has a marvellous fort in the nether regions and all imaginable luxuries and servants. What makes him eat our poor fare and sleep in our miserable cottage by the side of our stove, covering himself with a rough blanket?”
“You mean the demon Kumbhaka?” Revati asked in terror. “Had I known that, I would not have let him in!”
“On the contrary,” Kardama said, “you did very wisely in receiving him as a guest. For he is a good fellow. He does immense good to those who are nice to him. He might have done us some mischief if you had turned him out. Since you have given him food, there is nothing to fear from him.”
But Revati could not get the older man out of her mind until she fell asleep.
After a time, she opened her eyes and noticed that the morning was far advanced. Though Kardama was always in the habit of going out before dawn, she found him still sleeping. She woke him up, saying, “See how late it is! The old fellow must have gone away without bidding us goodbye.”
“But he has left his sack behind,” Kardama said. “Perhaps he left something in it for us. Shall we see what it contains ?” He pulled the sack into the middle and opened it.
Revati’s eyes dazzled at the sight of thousands of gold coins of which the sack was full.
“Didn’t I tell you?” Kardama said. “He was Kumbhaka, all right! Who else has so much gold? But it will not be safe for us if anyone comes to know that we have all this gold. Let us keep a hundred coins for our use and bury the rest under the tree in our yard.”
They carried the sack to the tree before their house and buried it there. That day, instead of going into the forest, Kardama took the gold and went to the city to make purchases.
Revati was very happy. Her man need not be enslaved anymore; There was enough gold to last forever. If he did not return home in time, she used to be agitated that a poisonous snake might have bitten him or that a tree had fallen and crushed him; now, all that was passed. For he need never leave the house, he could talk to her all day and play with the child.
She went on imagining all sorts of nice things. They would build a much bigger house with plenty of timber and have a fine garden. The child could have the best toys and clothes.
She was still dreaming of nice things when Kardama returned, driving a cart full of items he had purchased in the city. She was thrilled when she saw the things he had bought.
“I bought the cart,” Kardama told his wife. “We need it for making trips to the city. It is too far to walk.”
Revati guessed that her husband had had some liquor in the city.
“How much of the gold is left?” she asked him. “Or have you spent it all?”
“What if I spent all of it?” Kardama said light-heartedly. “We have ever so much more buried under the tree.”
“That does not mean that we should squander it away in a reckless manner,” Revati protested.
“What is it to you what I do with the gold?” Kardama shouted angrily at his wife. “I shall spend the entire lot today if it pleases me. Take that for your impudence!”
Saying this, Kardama hit his wife. Poor Revati was shocked at the change in her husband, who had never uttered a harsh word to her. She thought that it was her mistake that she should try to teach him.
From then on, Kardama would dig up some of the gold buried under the tree and drive to the city in his cart daily. He spent all the gold on purchases, got drunk, and came home.
Soon, so many things were bought that the cottage could not hold them. They were left scattered around the house, exposed to shine and rain. If Revati tried to protest, Kardama gave her a good thrashing.
With the coming of prosperity, Revati noticed a decline in her happiness. Now, Kardama had no more affection for her or the child. His mind was occupied only with gold and drink. He behaved as though he was anxious to spend away all the gold in the shortest possible time; he bought such high-priced but useless things.
“We were once delighted,” Revati thought. She felt that there would soon be no gold left unless she took some steps to save it.
“You have no right over this gold,” she said to her husband one day. “It is mine-all, mine! The demon left it only for me! You spend so much daily, but I cannot get one thing I want.”
“Tell me your requirements,” Kardama said to her. “You don’t know how to handle gold.”
“I want a bigger and better house!” Revati said.
At once, Kardama got masons and workers from the city and started building an enormously large mansion. Revati knew after a time that this mansion would never be finished and that the gold would be exhausted long before that.
One day, when Kardama was leaving, she called one of the workers and asked him to dig under the tree. He dug and searched until the sack was found. But there were very few gold coins left in it.
“Is this all that is left ?” Revati said, shaking the sack. Well, she had known all along that something like this would happen, and it did happen.
But that very day, another thing happened, compared to which the depletion of gold was a minor evil. The King’s men came asking for Kardama, who was dead drunk.
“It appears that you found a buried treasure,” they said. “Why did you not inform the King at once? We have orders to arrest you and take you away.”
“Would you arrest me, scoundrels?” Kardama shouted and, picking up his axe, attacked the King’s men. They drew their swords and pierced Kardama to his heart. Revati saw her husband fall, uttered a piercing shriek, and fell into a dead faint.
In that condition, she became conscious and was aware of someone calling her by name, and she opened her eyes.
“Revati, Revati?” It was her husband. It was still dark, but dawn was visible in the east. She saw the older man still sleeping by the stove. There was no trace of the King’s men.
“Why, you are sobbing!” Kardama exclaimed. “Have you had a nightmare?” Then he smiled.
Everything was as usual, including her dear husband.
Revati felt a sense of happiness surge over her.
“Yes,” she said, drying her eyes. “I had a frightful dream!” The older man, too, awoke.
“The sun is going to rise,” Kardama said. “I must be on my way. Give me some gruel.”
“Let me also bid you goodbye, my daughter,” the old man said.
“Have a little gruel before you go, grandad. There is no knowing when you will be eating again,” Revati said.
“Thank you, child,” the old man replied. “But I must be going now.”
“You have forgotten your sack, old one!” Kardama shouted after the departing guest.
“Oh, it is too heavy,” the old man replied. “Anyway, I don’t need it. See if you can find anything useful in it.”
“What did I tell you?” Kardama said, turning to his wife and smiling. “It is his gift for you!”
“No!” Revati screamed, “I don’t want any gift. Let him take it away.”
“God! How heavy it is!” Kardama said, lifting the sack from the corner. ‘Maybe, it is gold!”
“No, no!” Revati shouted in agony. “We are quite well off as it is. For heaven’s sake, run and hand it over to the old man.”
“As you wish!” Kardama replied as he went out with the sack.
Revati heaved a sigh of relief. She had already known what a curse wealth could be.