Long ago in Punjab, the Land of the Five Rivers, there lived a lamp-oil seller who was always running short of money. He borrowed 100 rupees from a banker.
Every day, the banker came to the oil seller’s house asking, “Do you have my money today?” With interest the debt grew until the oil seller owed 300 rupees.
Desperate, the oil seller sneaked out of town. He didn’t want to sleep on the ground, for he was afraid that demons might harm him. So he climbed into a tree with big, wide branches and thick leaves. Here he was comfortable, and soon fell asleep.
At midnight, demons grabbed the tree -- oil seller and all -- and carried it far away to an island. The roots grew into the sand as if they had always been there. Then the demons flew off to do more mischief.
The oil seller was too terrified to move until he saw some things sparkling on the ground. Hanging onto a low branch, he reached as far as he could without leaving the tree and managed to pick up an object, hard like a stone, about the size of a grape. He tucked it away in a fold of his loincloth and managed to gather three more.
Just before dawn, the demons returned and carried the tree back to its original place. The oil seller ran home as fast as he could. His wife was none too pleased.
“Where were you last night? That banker showed up again!”
“Never mind him! See what I have!”
“Stones! What good are stones?”
Just then the banker, who had been watching the house, came to the door.
“Do you have my money?”
“Would you take these in exchange?”
“Hmm,” the banker said. “What makes you think four stones could possible repay a debt of 300 rupees?”
“Please. These are all I have.”
The banker sighed. “You’re lucky I’m in a generous mood.” He wrote the oil seller a receipt canceling the debt and took the four stones.
The oil seller was delighted because his debt was cleared. The banker was delighted as well, because he knew what the stones really were.
“Four large diamonds! Hmm, what should I do with them? I can’t take them to the jeweler; he’ll ask too many questions. I’ll sell them to the chief wazir, the rajah’s adviser.”
He went to the palace a few days later.
“These are magnificent!” the wazir said. “Would you take 10,000 rupees?”
“For you, old friend, I’ll let them go for that.”
The banker left the wazir thinking, “This gets better and better. Now I have 10,000 rupees!”
The wazir was thinking, “Such a bargain! A fortune in diamonds for only 10,000 rupees!”
He presented the diamonds to the rajah.
“Such a magnificent gift deserves great reward. I give you and your heirs the annual income from 10 villages.”
The wazir was delighted. “I am a wealthy man!”
The rajah was also delighted. “For such a small reward, I have a fortune in diamonds worth 10 times that!”
He gave the diamonds to his wife for her birthday.
“They are beautiful!” she said. “All I need is eight more to make a necklace.”
“Eight more? Where shall I get them? You don’t find diamonds lying on the ground, you know.”
“From the same place you got these, silly. If I can’t have a diamond necklace, I’ll simply die.”
“Oh no, we can’t have you dying. You shall get your diamond necklace.”
The rajah went to the wazir.
“I need eight more diamonds like the four you gave me.”
“I don’t have any more.”
“Then get them! My wife shall not die for the lack of eight diamonds!”
“Perhaps the banker has more.”
The rajah and the wazir went to the banker.
“We need more diamonds. The rajah’s wife will die unless we get more diamonds.”
“I don’t have any ... but I know where I might be able to get them.”
He summoned the oil seller.
“We need more diamonds like the four you gave me or the rajah’s wife will die.”
The oil seller was dumbfounded. “Those were diamonds? I had no idea ... I was in a tree that was carried by demons to a mysterious island covered with twinkling stones.”
“COVERED?! What night was this?”
“I ... I don’t remember. But my wife might.”
Oh yes, she certainly did remember.
“That was the time you didn’t come home all night and that banker came demanding his money. It was the Sunday during the time of the new moon.”
On the next Sunday during the new moon, the rajah, the wazir and the banker followed the oil seller down the road until they came to the tree. Each man carried empty bags. They climbed into the tree and hid.
At midnight, the demons lifted the tree into the air and carried it to the same island. They set it down and the roots grew into the sand. The men saw the sparkling diamonds, climbed down and began filling their bags.
The oil seller was thinking, “I only needed four diamonds and I was able to clear my debt. If I had a whole bag full of diamonds, I could leave town! I could become a banker, loan people money and charge outrageous sums of interest!”
The banker was thinking, “I only needed four diamonds and I got 10,000 rupees. If I had a whole bag full of diamonds, I could be a wazir and advise the rajah!”
The wazir was thinking, “I only needed four diamonds and I got the income from 10 villages. If I had a whole bag full of diamonds, I could be a rajah and employ wazirs of my own!”
The rajah was thinking, “My wife wants eight diamonds for a necklace. Here are enough diamonds for thousands of necklaces! I could buy elephants, I could hire mercenaries, I could be the most powerful rajah in the world!”
Their bags grew heavy, but still the men gathered the jewels of the night. The sky began to lighten. The men saw the diamonds better than before and gathered them even faster.
They didn’t even hear the demons return.
Then they saw their tree flying away, leaving them there on the island with a fortune in diamonds ... and nothing more.
[Courtesy: Daily News. Edited for sikhchic.com]
July 10, 2012