The Exchange

In Suraj-Pur, there lived a very, very rich man called Daulat Ram. He had a son. Both father and son were such great misers that they kept the goddess of wealth under lock and key and lived like very, very poor people, eating the cheapest food and wearing the most affordable clothes.

It so happened that a group of bandits began to loot the surrounding villages. They killed several rich men and set fire to their houses. This news spread far and wide.

These bandits might fall upon Suraj-Pur any day. So Daulat Ram and his son thought of a plan to save their wealth.

“Let us take all our wealth at night to the burial ground, bury it in a recognisable spot and come back home while it is still dark,” said the father to his son. The son agreed.

That night, they took their bags of wealth, a pick, and a spade and made for the burial ground.

Now, there was a very, very poor man in this same town. He had no home. He wore rags for clothes. He never had a square meal, so he was thin and starved. He searched for work all day and begged for food from door to door after dark. He ate what he got and slept on the pavements.

This night the beggar could not close his eyes because he had nothing to eat and the cruel pangs of hunger kept him awake. He saw two men pass along the street. They had bags on their shoulders and were walking on tiptoe without making the slightest sound. The beggar suspected they were up to something, and he began to follow them at a distance.

In one corner of the burial- ground, the misers lowered their bags. The father began to dig a pit with the help of the pick. The beggar crawled along the ground like a lizard and began to watch from behind a tree.

Suddenly, Daulat-Ram stopped digging, looked up and said to his son, “That thing near the tree looks like a man’s head. Do you see it?”

While the son came forward to investigate, the beggar closed his eyes and made his body rigid like a corpse.

Daulat-Ram’s son was convinced that it was only a corpse since the beggar was more emaciated than some corpses. Still, to be on the safe side, he took out a knife and cut one of the ears of the beggar. The beggar bore the pain and never uttered the slightest sound.

“It’s only a neglected corpse,” the son told Daulat-Ram. “I cut off its ear to make sure, and here it is.”

“Let me test it. Give the knife here,” said Daulat-Ram. He too was sure that it was only a corpse. But, to be on the safe side, he tested it by cutting off its nose and was satisfied.

They finished the hole in the ground, buried the bags, covered it up again, noted its location, and went home. Then the beggar got up, uncovered the hole, removed the bags and took them away after filling them again. He took shelter in a poor hut until his ear and nose healed. Then he went out and got himself some decent clothes. Then he changed his name, bought a big house and began to live like a rich man.

In the meantime, the bandits were put down. People from several villages organised themselves into fighting bands and encircled the bandits. All the rascals were caught with their loot and were handed over to the king’s soldiers.

“Now we have nothing to fear,” said Daulat-Ram to his son. “Let us go to the burial- ground and bring back our treasure.” But when they went there, the goddess of wealth was gone. Like fools, they dug everywhere till daybreak before they fully realised their wealth was stolen.

“That thing which we took for a corpse must have been a live man after all”, said Daulat- Ram. “As soon as our backs were turned, he made away with our treasure.”

“In that case,” said the son thoughtfully, “there is a rich man somewhere who has one ear and nose missing.”

“You said it!” said the father. “Go into the city and find out if any new rich man has taken his residence. He is our man if he also lacks an ear and a nose!”

After careful inquiries, such a man was found in a particular street. He was new; he was rich, and he was short of one ear and nose.

Daulat-Ram went to the king with his son and filed a charge against the rich man accusing him of having robbed his wealth. The king summoned the plaintiffs and the defendant to the court and went into the case.

“Your Highness,” Daulat- Ram deposed before the king. “For fear of bandits, we buried all we had in the burial ground. This man followed us like a thief and looted our wealth with which he now lives luxuriously. We want justice

“Is it a fact that you saw them bury their treasure and dig it up?” the king asked the defendant.

“That is quite true, Your Highness,” the ex-beggar said.

“In that case, return to them what you took from them,” the king told him.

“Your Highness, I am no thief. I shall return what I took from them if they return what they took from me. I exchanged my nose and ear for their bags of wealth.”

The ex-beggar showed the king his missing ear and nose to prove what he said.

Then the whole story was narrated in the court and having heard it, the king said, “This man is innocent. He has paid for the wealth more than anybody could have paid. Let the plaintiffs give him back his ear and nose before asking him for their money.”.

Chandamama November 1955 | S N Mishra

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