True Friendship

Many years ago, in a village on the banks of the river Ganga, there lived two young men named Sangay and Pratap, who were devoted friends. When they came of age and had finished schooling, they set out in different directions to find suitable employment.

Sangay eventually found himself in the kingdom of Amaranath and, through hard work and loyalty, rose to high office in the King’s service. Pratap also did well in the realm of Ujjain.

Twelve years passed, and although the two friends had not seen each other, they took advantage of every opportunity to send messages and gifts. Then Sangay decided to travel to Ujjain to visit his friend, and what a happy reunion it was. They spent days just sitting and talking about the old days in their native village.

But after a time, Pratap became worried because his friend Sangay became pale and drawn. He merely toyed with his food, and it is evident that he was not sleeping well, as Pratap often heard his friend pacing up and down in his bed chamber.

At last, Pratap, with great concern for his friend, asked, “What ails you? If you are feeling ill, let me send for the doctor.”

Sangay wearily shook his head. “I am not ill, but I have fallen in love with a girl in your household. If she does not marry me, I see no point in continuing to live.”

Pratap could hardly hide his dismay, for he knew that Sangay must be referring to the girl Rama, who he hoped one day to marry. But he was so devoted to his friend he arranged for the two to marry. After the wedding ceremony, the bridal couple returned to Amarnath.

Soon after, the King of Ujjain died and was succeeded by his son, who had no love for Pratap. The new King was only too pleased to hear any false accusation against Pratap, so it was not surprising when Pratap was summarily dismissed from service and all his possessions confiscated.

Now somewhat destitute and without a solitary friend in Ujjain, Pratap decided to go to Amarnath and see if Sangay could help him in his hour of need.

It was a long journey, and having very little money, Pratap was forced to walk most of the way and relied on villagers’ generosity for something to eat.

When he eventually reached Amarnath, it was late at night, and in his bedraggled plight, Pratap loathed to call at his friend’s house at such a late hour. Stumbling through the dark street, he came to the city graveyard and, seeing an old thatched shed, decided to sleep there for the remainder of the night.

During the night, he was awakened by angry voices, and when Pratap quietly looked outside, he could discern two men violently quarrelling. In the uncertain light of the moon, Pratap was horrified to see that both men had daggers in their hands, but before he could move or call out, there was a terrible scream, and one of the men collapsed on the ground. The other ran off into the night.

Unfortunately for Pratap, others had heard the violent quarrel, and when they rushed to the scene and found Pratap near the dead body, they naturally concluded that he was the assailant. Pratap’s pleas of innocence were of no avail, and the angry crowd hauled him through the streets to the guard house.

The following day Pratap, heavily guarded, was marched to the palace to stand trial for murder. In the country and Sangay happened to be passing, and although Pratap was unkept and dressed in dirty, torn clothing, Sangay recognised his friend and demanded from the captain of the guard why this man was under arrest.

“Your Excellency”, replied the captain. “This prisoner is accused of murdering a man in the graveyard last night.” “This man is innocent,” Sangay protested. “It was I who murdered the man last night.”

Pratap hears his friend. Intervene tried to break loose shouting. “The man lies; I am the murderer and readily admit it.”

The captain of the guard was puzzled as to why two men should confess to the same murder but then, shrugging his shoulders, decided it was not his responsibility to determine who was who and promptly took both the men in front of the judge.

Having listened to both men’s renewed confessions, the judge, who was in a bad temper that morning, pronounced in a scornful voice: “Obviously, one of these two men is the murderer, and the other must indeed be mad to confess to a crime he did not commit. So I sentence that both are to be hanged immediately.”

Followed by a large crowd of morbid spectators, the two friends were taken to the place of execution. In the group was the man who was guilty of the crime. The killing on the previous night was already preying on his conscience, and the sight of two innocent men about to be hanged for their offence was more than he could bear. Breaking through the guard at the foot of the gallows, he threw himself at the feet of the captain of the guard. Two men are innocent,” he protested, pointing to Sangay and Pratap. “I alone am guilty of the crime.”

This was too much for the captain in one day, so back to the palace, he took all three men to see if the judge could solve the riddle.

When the three men stood before the judge, Sangay and Pratap admitted they had no part in the killing.

Turning to Sangay, the judge asked. “If you did not commit this crime, why did you say you were the culprit ?”

“Your Lordship,” Sangay replied. When I saw my dear friend Pratap in custody for murder, I presumed he was guilty. So I confessed to the -crime, as I could not face my friend being hanged.”

Hearing this, Pratap was entirely overcome and, with tears in his eyes, said. “I swear I never killed anyone. But how wonderful it is to have a friend who willingly sacrifices his life to save mine.”

Now the judge turned to the third man. “You publicly announced that you are guilty. What have you to say?”

“I did kill the man, but it was in self-defence,” the man replied. “The man was an utter rogue. He owed me a hefty sum for years but always evaded payment. Last evening he asked me to meet him at the graveyard so that he could pay me what he owed. When I arrived, he started to curse me, then drew his knife to kill But I was too quick for him, and I swear I had no intention to kill the miscreant.

The judge asked the captain of the guard whether anything was known of the dead man. When the captain said the dead man had a bad record of robbery with violence, the judge pondered for a while, then announced, “Here we have three men all accused of committing the one crime. But it is reasonable to assume that the man was killed in self-defence, so I order all the accused to be set free.”

Soon afterwards, Sangay used his influence at court to get his friend Pratap the position of Keeper of the King’s Treasury. And the two men were inseparable friends for the rest of their lives.

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