The Good Priest

In a particular village, a priest was in charge of a temple. Being a kind-hearted man, he would treat the common ailments of the poor, arbitrate disputes, and console those in trouble. He made himself famous.

He lived with his aged mother in the tiny house near the temple. He had neither a wife nor a child. The temple had a property of two acres, and he lived on the income from that land. He saved whatever he used to get from the villagers now and then. He had been the temple priest for over twenty years, and the villagers either held him in great respect or looked upon him as a father.

In the same village, there lived a peasant called Kanaka. He started life as a feeble man, lost his father in his childhood, herded sheep to maintain himself, became an agricultural labourer, and managed to save money pie by pie. This money, which he held by starving himself, he invested in the milk business and other trades. Soon he became one of the rich men in the village, built a good house for himself and acquired lands.

Of all the villagers belonging to his rank, Kanaka was quickly the richest. Everyone admired his capacity for thriving, but no one liked his extreme greed. He had a bad name as a miserly man. Even after becoming wealthy, he would count every pie he spent and spend the minimum on clothing and food. Besides starving himself, he starved his wife and son too.

Govind was the only son of Kanaka. He was of marriageable age. Kanaka had two sisters, and both had daughters, one of whom could become Govind’s wife. Of the two girls, Kamala, the daughter of Kanaka’s younger sister, was a beautiful and good-natured girl too. Govind was very anxious to marry her. But Kamala’s mother was destitute. After her husband died, she did chores to support herself and her daughter.

Kanaka’s elder sister was better off. Her husband had a tract of land, of which he had sold a portion to Kanaka for a hundred rupees. Kanaka still owed him the money. Being a miserly man, Kanaka decided to marry his elder sister’s daughter Lakshmi to Govind and keep the hundred rupees as dowry.

As soon as Govind learned that his father intended to marry him to Lakshmi, not Kamala, he went to see the priest and told him everything.

“I don’t see why you should worry yourself,” the priest said. “Go to your father and tell him straight that you want to marry Kamala alone.”

“If I say that,” Govind said, “my father will drive me out. Oh, he can be very mean about money. He would never sacrifice a hundred rupees under any circumstances. As for my young- er aunt, she can never give me even a pie of dowry. It looks as though I am not destined to marry Kamala!” “Speak to your mother,” the priest advised the boy. “If she fails to change your father’s mind, we shall try another source.” Govind went away disappointed.

That evening the priest was sitting in the pavilion in the temple yard when he saw someone go up the steps in the dark and enter the temple. He, too, went in and saw Kamala kneeling before the deity and praying. He saw tear stains on her cheeks and felt an odd sensation in his heart.

The priest was immersed in deep thought for a long time after Kamala departed, and then he came to a decision.

He woke up early the following day and counted the money he had saved. Keeping back only a tiny fraction of it, he took the rest of the money and started for the town. Here he went to a goldsmith, bought fifty gold coins with his cash and returned to his village.

Kanaka was surprised to see the priest visit him. “You’re welcome, sir,” he said. “It must be something important that has brought you to my house.”

“I want your advice,” the priest said, taking a seat. “A charitable person has given into my hands fifty gold coins on condition that I bestow it upon a maid of marriageable age. He had no daughters of his own. I am an old bachelor myself. How can I decide who the most deserving maid is? It would be improper to seek the advice of those who have daughters. Now, you are a man of the world. So I have come for your advice.”

Kanaka pretended to think. He mentioned confident girls, but all of them were either married, rich or of questionable character. The priest shook his head at each name.

“Why,” said Kanaka, as though he had just thought of it, “there is my elder sister’s daughter, Lakshmi. She is not very rich. She is a good girl and not married yet.”

“If it comes to that,” the priest said, “is not your other niece, Kamala, more deserving than Lakshmi? Her poor mother has to slave to keep herself and the girl alive. I think that we shall give this gold to Kamala. Yes, she seems to be the correct person. I shall make up my mind in a day or two. In the meantime, will you please keep this gold for me? You see, I have no iron safe with me.”

As he said these words, the priest undid his bundle and revealed the shining coins.

The gold dazzled Kanaka. He gathered and locked them up in the safe with the utmost respect. The whole day, the lustre of gold would not go out of his eyes. How fine his safe looked with the gold inside it! The gold would be taken away in a day or two, and the safe would never be the same again.

That evening, Govind paid the priest another visit.

“Did you tell your father that you are going to marry Kamala and none else?” the priest asked the young man.

“No, I did not,” Govind replied. “It will be of no use. My mother, too, said the same thing! It seems Kamala has not touched food since yesterday.”

The priest suppressed a chuckle and pretended to get angry with Govind. “You fool,” he hissed, “are you going to let poor Kamala starve to death? Go to your father at once and demand that you should marry Kamala. Your father dare not refuse you!”

These words of the priest put some courage into Govind. He went home and said to Kanaka. “Father, I will not marry Lakshmi. Let me marry Kamala. If I can’t marry her, I prefer to remain unmarried.”

At first, Kanaka was taken by surprise. But, on second thoughts, he felt that everything was happening for the best. The fact was, ever since the priest had said that he intended to give the gold to Kamala, Kanaka knew no mental peace. He worried about how he could change the priest’s mind and get him to provide the gold to Lakshmi.

Now that Govind desired to marry Kamala, Kanaka felt great relief. The gold would now be his. It was a stroke of luck that Govind should suddenly decide to marry Kamala; he had never uttered her name before.

“All right, son,” he said at last. “If you want to marry Kamala, I will not stand in your way.” The same day he sent for his younger sister and told her about his intention to marry his son to her daughter, Kamala.

Lakshmi’s father heard about the new decision. He went to Kanaka and asked, “Have you not agreed to have my Lakshmi for a daughter-in-law? Why did you change your mind?”

“I never changed my mind,” Kanaka replied. “To me, both the girls are the same. Only, Govind insisted on. Marrying Kamala. What could I do?”

Soon the marriage took place. The priest bestowed fifty gold coins on the bride. But not a soul in the village knew how the excellent priest had brought about the marriage of Kamala and Govind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *