The Lawful Heir
Once there was a learned man named Puneeth. Sudam was his only son. This boy made no progress in his studies and took to evil ways. Puneeth had a house, a yard, and some cash. But his son, Sudam, began to spend away all the money.
Puneeth thought that his son might change if he was married. He found a good-looking wife for Sudam and performed his marriage. Over time, Sudam became the father of children. Even then, he did not give up his evil and wasteful ways.
Now Puneeth knew that nothing would change his son. With this worry, he took to bed and eventually died. With his father out of his way, Sudam went from bad to worse. He spent away all the money, sold his house and yard to a specific bania merchant and left the village with his wife and children.
Wherever he went, ill luck followed Sudam, and he was reduced to begging in his last days. Finally, he died a miserable death in a far-off place.
The merchant who bought Sudam’s house was not very lucky either. He suffered a massive loss in his business, and by the time he died, he had only the house and the yard to call his own. His son Ram Gupta came into possession of this house and yard.
Ram Gupta was a wise and well-behaved man. Though his father left him no wealth, he impressed the rich people of his community with his honesty, and, with their help, he set up a small store in the Bazar. He found the yard attached to the house lying waste. He thought of digging it and converting it into a modest kitchen garden.
One evening he closed his shop earlier than usual and came home. He took up a crowbar and began digging the yard. The crowbar struck something in one place and made a metallic noise. It was a treasure trove consisting of two sealed and linked brass vessels. Ram Gupta took the plates inside and showed them to his wife. But when the seals were broken, the couple was greatly disappointed. Both the vessels were filled to the brim with dead scorpions.
“We have no right to this property. It belongs to someone else,” Ram Gupta said. “Who wants such property?” said his wife. “Throw it away!”
“It is all gold, my dear,” Ram Gupta told his wife. “Make no mistake about it. But it will not manifest its true appearance until the lawful heir comes to claim it.”
“I don’t believe it,” said his wife. “Show it to every person, and if no one can see that it is gold, throw away the lot.”
Ram Gupta took four scorpions to his shop and hung them in the four corners by strings. His customers saw the scorpions and asked him, “What made you hang these scorpions in the shop?”
“I am a poor man,” Ram Gupta replied. “They say scorpion is a symbol of wealth. They may bring me luck.”
“May they truly bring you luck,” the customers said.
One day a young man came to this shop to buy some provisions. He was Sudam’s last son. He looked up and saw the scorpions hanging at the four corners of the shop. He turned to the shop owner and said, smiling, “The respected shop owner is so rich that he hangs costly ornaments by threads to decorate his shop. Why can’t he gift away some surplus gold to a poor man like me?”
Ram Gupta was struck dumb for a moment. Then he stood up, saying, “Why not, sir? There is plenty of gold in my house. Come and take it.”
Seeing that the youth did not believe him, Ram Gupta said again quite seriously, “I am not joking; believe me. Come to my house and take the gold.”
The youth followed the merchant to his house, and Ram Gupta placed the two brass vessels before him and said, “Please take them.”
The youth looked into the vessels. They were filled with gold. He could not guess why the merchant gave him so much gold. After all, the house looked relatively poor, and the merchant could not be wealthy.
“Why don’t you keep some of it yourself?” the youth asked Ram Gupta.
“Sir,” said Ram Gupta, “What’s the use of keeping that which refuses to be of any value?” He narrated to the youth the entire story of the treasure trove.
“So this house was once ours. I know that my grandfather used to live in this village. My father sold away all the property and left this place. I never knew anything but poverty since my childhood. It was only luck that brought me to your shop. Now, I shall accept your gift on one condition.”
“What is it?” asked Ram Gupta.
“You must take half of it back as my gift,” the youth said.
The youth’s generosity touched Ram Gupta, and the kid departed with only one vessel of gold. Then Ram Gupta and his wife hastily emptied the other boat on the floor. They saw a heap of shining ornaments of gold instead of dead scorpions.
Chandamama November 1955 | K L Nanda