Who is Honest?
As usual, the king, Maharaj Krishnadevrai was seated on his throne, holding the court with his courtiers who were enjoying an interesting discussion going on there. The topic was: “Who is more honest, the rich or the poor?”
The royal priest, Rajguru said: “Your Majesty! When the poor man is forced by his adverse circumstances, he becomes dishonest. But he is helpless because his poverty makes him do so!”
Then Tenali stood up and refused the royal priest’s contention: “Your Honor! I don’t agree with what he says!”
The royal priest developed frowns of anger at his forehead. And the courtiers began to discuss the issue in whispers. They had a variety of opinions. Some said that the priest was right while the others believed that Tenali must be taking this occasion as an opportunity to browbeat his arch rival Rajguru. But still they were curious to know whiff Tenali had said so.
Then Maharaja said: “Can you prove, Tenali that whatever the royal priest says is wrong?” Tenali replied: “I can prove, Your Majesty, but I want some time!” Maharaja said: “How much time you want?”
Tenali: “About a week – a little more or little less depending upon the circumstances?” Maharaja” “What do you want to do?”
Then Tenali whispered something into the king’s ear, hearing which the later said: “All right! I’d make arrangement and if you could prove contention to be true, I’d award you also!”
Later, in the presence of the king Tenali asked for some gold coins from the royal treasury. After counting them he put them into two small bags. Then he said to the Maharaja, I’ll throw them on two different ways Maharaj! One at the path trodden by the Nagarseth (the most moneyed man of the city) to the river Tungbhadra to have his bath early in the morning everyday. And the other on the path taken up by a very poor man early in the morning in search of work. Now, let us see which of these two bags return intact.”
The king expressed his consent. Then, next day morning Tenali threw a bag on the moneyed man” path. Then Tenali hid himself behind a tree and began to watch the way.
As usual, at dawn the Seth came out of his house, and left for the river to take his bath. But when he espied a small bag full of money lying on the way, he stopped and exclaimed” “Arre! What sort of bag is this? I must open and see what it contains!”
And as he opened the bag, many gold coins came out making a clanking sound, and fell on the ground. He was bewildered. “Oh my God! These are gold coins! How! What an auspicious day is today for me. I must take away these gold coins before anyone sees me doing so!”
The Seth quickly gathered the gold coins and instead of going to take bath, he left back his home hiding the gold coins in the fold if his kurta (shirt). In his mind he thanked the Goddess Lakshmi for showering her grace on him.
Next day Tenalirama threw the bag on the poor man’s way. When the poor man spotted the bag lying on his way, he immediately lifted them up in surprise and exclaimed: “Arre! Who threw this bag here so early in the morning? Let me see what it contain?”
And when he did so his eyes almost burst out of his sockets seeing the gold coins. “Oh! My God! So much of money? Of! What should I do with it?”
While the poor man was returning home, the gold coins stirred a commotion in his conscience. “Oh God! What should I do with these? Should I use them for my benefit or return?” Now the poor man was in fix. He was thinking: “lest these be belonging to someone needy like me. May be, these coins are his lifetime’s saving? I must return them. But whom I should return these to? I can’t keep them either or else I’d committing a sin.”
Then after a prolong deliberation the poor man decided to deposit them in the royal treasury. He did so and took the receipt of the deposit thus made. But these operations took his entire day and he couldn’t earn even a dime that day.
There, Tenali waited for many days but the other bag didn’t return. Then Tenali informed the king: “Maharaj! Only one bag has come back.”
“Really,” exclaimed the king and asked: “Who returned the bag!” “The Poor man!”
“All right! Now send for Seth,” ordered the king and added: “I’d asked him what he did with that money he got lying on his way to the river! Also send for that poor man.”
When both the wanted persons reached the royal court, the king first asked the Seth: “What did you do with the money you got lying on your way to the river?”
“Oh… That money,” the Seth began rather hesitatingly: “That I have invested in my business!”
“Why didn’t you try to return the money to its legitimate owner?” the king asked sternly.
Why should I have done that,” the Seth questioned. “I got the bag lying on my way, Maharaj! Deeming it to be a token of the grace of Goddess Lakshmi I brought it home!”
“But you’d return that money to state treasury as it was the royal property,” the king announced.
“Have mercy on me, Your honor!” pleaded the Seth: “How can I return that money now? That is used up in my business! And I suffered heavy loss in my business!” the king kept quite for sometime and then asked the poor man.
“Why didn’t you use that money. If you wanted you could have easily removed your poverty with that money!”
“My conscience didn’t allow me to accept it! I thought, possibly that money might be the life’s total earning of some person like me. In that case, by using that money I would have committed a grave sin, Your Majesty!” the poor man explained.
In the evening when Tenalirama went to Maharaj’s Chamber he said: “Didn’t I tell you, your Majesty, that it’s only a poor man who’s honest and not a rich man!” “you’re very much right, Tenali” admitted the king. “Really the poor men are more honest than the rich men. By your test you’ve proved it conclusively.”
The king’s this remark brought admiration for Tenalirama while the Rajguru cut a very sorry figure. Then Tenali said: “Your Honor! As you promised that if I be found correct, you would award me!” “Yes Tenali,” said the king: “Not only you but that poor man also deserve an award!”
Then the king asked the royal cashier to bring that bag which was duly returned and summoning the poor man the king gave that bag containing gold coins to him saying: “This is the award for Your honesty and higher sense of morality!” The poor man happily accepted the award and went home. Then the king ordered the cashier to bring another bag containing equal amount of gold coins. “And this award is for you Tenali, for your sound judgment of basic human nature!”
Tenalirama happily accepted the reward. the Seth was asked to return that money to the royal treasury. This was his punishment for being dishonest and greedy. The Rajguru was again defeated by Tenali’s sound judgment.