The Half Anna

In the city of Patali, there once lived near the North gate a feeble man who made his living by carrying water. He fell in love with a woman who lived near the South gate. She, too, lived by moving water. They got married.

Living as they did at the two extremities of the city, they could see each other occasionally. Water-carrying occupied most of their time.

There came a day of celebration. The water carrier finished his work early and went to see his woman near the South gate.

“Today is a holiday,” she said to him. “Everybody is celebrating. Let us do the same. I have a half-anna. How much do you have?”

“I, too, have a half-anna,” the water carrier replied. “I hid it in a gap between the bricks of a wall near the North gate.”

“That is fine!” the woman exclaimed. “We shall buy flowers and perfume with half-anna, and the other half-anna will do for a drink. We can celebrate nicely!”

The water carrier was overjoyed at his woman’s suggestion. It looked like the finest thing in his life, he and his woman celebrating a holiday. “Wait while I go and get the half-anna I hid near the North gate.”

The water carrier started running to the North gate. It was almost noon. The sun was beating down very hot and mercilessly. Underfoot the sand was like burning coals. But, in great excitement, the water carrier did not feel the heat. Even while he ran, he skipped, danced and sang like a lark.

The road from the South gate to the North gate went past the King’s palace, which was in the middle. Standing on the upstairs balcony, the King was surprised to see the water carrier singing and dancing along the road, not at all mindful of the great heat. He wondered what fortune could have brought him such joy. Intending to discover the secret, he called his servants and said, “Do you see that man who is going with a song on his lips? Bring him to me.”

The King’s servants approached the water carrier and said, “Come, the King wants you.”

“I’ve no business with the King,” the water carrier replied. “I don’t know him even.”

He was about to go on his way, but the King’s servants seized him and took him to the King by force.

“Well, my man,” the King asked the water carrier, “where do you go in this great heat, unmindful of your head and feet scorching in the sun?”

“Sire,” the water-carrier re- plied. “A desire burns in my breast, which is much hotter than any sun.”

“What is that desire?” the King asked him in wonder.

“Sire,” the water carrier replied. “Today is a holiday. My wife has a half-anna. I, too, have a half-anna hidden between the bricks of a wall near the North gate. We have one anna between both of us. We shall buy flowers, perfume and drink and celebrate the holiday. I am going to get my half-anna. I must take it out of its hiding place and return to the South gate where my woman is waiting. Please detain me not.”

The King was amazed at this.

“My man,” the King said, “you have already come such a long way, and you must go as long to get your half-anna. The return trip to the South gate. It will be exactly double that. To save you all this trouble, I shall give you a half-anna. Take it, return to your woman, and celebrate the holiday.”

“Sire,” said the water carrier, “give me the half-anna. But I shall get my half-anna too.”

“I am prepared to give you four annas if you return to your woman,” said the King.

“Give me the four annas, sire,” said the water carrier. “But let me take my half-anna too.”

The King raised his bid. He wanted to make the water carrier give up his half-anna. The request rose from a rupee to a lakh of rupees. But the water carrier still kept begging the King to let him take his half-anna.

In utter disgust, the King said, “If you are prepared to forego your half-anna, I will make you King of half the city! Are you agreeable?”

The water carrier agreed.

The King at once sent for his Minister and said to him, “Kindly prepare a document making this man King of half the city.” The Minister divided the city into two halves, the Northern and the Southern.

“Tell the Minister which half you would like to have so that he can prepare the document making you King of that half,” the King said to the water carrier.

“Sire, I choose the Northern half,” the water carrier promptly replied. People said that he had chosen the Northern half of the city for the sake of his half-anna which, he had hidden near the North gate, and when he became King of the Northern City, everyone referred to him as the Half-anna King.

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