The Procurator

When Brahmadult was the ruler of Banaras, the Bodhisatva was employed as the king’s procurator.

The procurator’s job was to buy the properties and commodities required for state purposes. He had to be an expert in estimating the value of things.

The Bodhisatva would buy elephants, horses, gold, silver and so on for the kingdom and pay the merchants who brought them.

As a procurator, the Bodhisatva was capable, so the royal stores were always filled with the best. He was also very thoughtful and foreseeing in his purchases so that the administration was never held up for want of a particular commodity urgently needed. He was also very fair-minded in his dealings with merchants and traders from other countries, so Banaras’s name was respected in far-off places.

Now, King Brahmadutt was a miser. He thought his procurator was paying too much for everything and squandering away the state money. At this rate, I shall be bankrupt in no time,” he said.

The next act of the king was to dismiss the Bodhisatva and appoint someone else in his place. This he did in the easiest possible manner. He opened the window of his chamber and looked down. There were some of his attendants standing about. He selected one of them at random and ordered him to come up. When this unknown and insignificant fellow came up, the king told him, “From now on, you are my procurator.”

The king hoped that a joint fellow without rank or status would buy nothing without higgling and haggling and would be more economical in his purchases. But this man was quite a fool, and the king didn’t know.

The new procurator could not distinguish between a donkey and a horse, but he was an expert in offering meagre value for anything he had to buy.

The merchants from far-off countries could hardly kick up rows with the king’s official. So they used to sustain giant tosses on state purchases. They had to make good these losses somewhere else.

In his anxiety to buy cheap things, the new procurator bought useless and unwanted things. These began to accumulate in the royal store. Even when some of them were stolen, no one felt their loss.

The foolish procurator could not guess what commodities would be required shortly. The administration was often held up for want of something urgently needed. Above all, the name of Banaras acquired a terrible reputation abroad, and good merchants stopped going to that city for fear of the procurator.

One day a merchant arrived at Banaras with five hundred horses of perfect breed. The king came to know of it and instructed his procurator to buy them up.

The procurator called for the merchant, looked over the horses and fixed their price a measure of rice!

The merchant was astounded but did not protest. But he immediately sought the Bodhisatva, the ex-procurator, and told him what had happened.

“The new procurator seems to be a queer person. I depend upon you to see that I get justice,” the merchant said.

The Bodhisatva pondered over the problem for a while and said:

“When you go to court tomorrow to receive the value for your horses, ask the procurator what he will pay. When he says, s measure of rice, ask him what the value of a measure of rice is. Let us see what will happen next. I, too, shall be in the court.

The merchant put his faith in the Bodhisatva, thanked him and took his leave.

The next day, the merchant addressed the procurator in court and said, “Sir, you bought from me five hundred horses of the best variety. May I know before witnesses what I will be paid for them?”

“Why, a measure of rice, of course. I told you so yesterday.” replied the procurator.

This reply amazed everyone in the court, including the king.

The merchant put his next question, “And may I know before witnesses what the value of a measure of rice maybe?”

“Ah, anyone can tell you that. The value of a measure of rice is exactly equal to the value of the kingdom of Banaras and her dependencies,” said the procurator.

Like anyone considered a good bargain, the procurator was exaggerating the value of what he was paying and depreciating what he was buying. But being a born fool, he overdid it. That was all.

The entire court resounded with peels of laughter at the stupidity of the procurator.

Some even made jokes about it by estimating how many kingdoms each could buy with rice stored in their houses, how many days a good eater could gobble up a domain, and so on.

The only persons who could not enjoy the joke were the foolish procurator and the ashamed king who employed him. When some of the courtiers asked the procurator to buy them a couple of palaces for a handful of rice, the king bent his head in mortification.

The Bodhisatva decided to put a stop to this jocularity. He stood up and said:

“Do not mock a man for his ignorance. When a man is entrusted with a job for which he is not qualified, he is bound to make a laughing stock of himself sooner or later. It is not this poor fellow’s fault that he was made the procurator.”

The king raised his head and said. “The fault was mine. O Bodhisatva, I have learnt my lesson. No one can do wrong except the king.”

The king removed the new man from the job of procurator and put the Bodhisatva back in his place.

Chandamama July 1955

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