The Fruit of Hard Work: Deepa Agarwal

Deepa Agarwal is an Indian
writer of books for children
Long, long ago, a priest named Ram Dhan lived in a village in the heart of India. He made his living by performing religious ceremonies for the villagers. But since the village was small and such ceremonies were required only once in a great while, Ram Dhan barely made enough money to feed his wife and himself.
     One evening as he and his wife, Sarla Devi, ate their dinner of two dry chapattis with a lump of salt, she said, “We deserve better than this, surely. I wish we had money to buy some vegetables at least.”
     Ram Dhan sighed. “There’s no way for me to earn more.”
     “Well,” said Sarla Devi, “I’ve heard our raja sahib is very generous. He gives freely to learned men like you.”
     Ram Dhan frowned. “Kings acquire their wealth by taxing their subjects or by looting their enemies in battle. I’d rather remain poor than accept such money in alms.”
     “I’m sure not all of his money is earned like that,” Sarla Devi insisted. “Why don’t you go to the palace and find out?”
     Ram Dhan thought for a long while. “All right,” he said finally. “But I’ll only accept money the king has earned by his own honest work.”
     The next morning he set off for the capital. When he reached the palace, he noticed a long line of men winding out form the central gates. Discovering they were all alms seekers like himself, he joined the queue.
     Inside the king was sitting on a jeweled throne. A huge diamond flashed in his turban, and his brocade coat shimmered with gold. Two attendants stood beside him, holding an enormous salver covered with coins. As each supplicant approached, the king picked up a handful of coins and poured it into the man’s cupped palms.
     After a long wait, Ram Dhan said, “Your Majesty, with all due respect, I would like to ask you a question. Have you earned this money by the sweat of your brow?”
     The king was so startled that the coins slid out of his hands back into the salver. “Earned?” he replied. “Don’t you know kings do not sweat to earn money like ordinary people?”
     Ram Dhan said, “Then I cannot accept this money. It is against my dharma to take money that has not been earned by honest labor.”
     The king paled. When he came to the throne, he had made a vow that a needy person would never go empty-handed from his door. If this Brahmin left without accepting alms from him, his vow would be broken!
     “Wait!” he called to Ram Dhan, who was already turning away. “If you come again tomorrow, I promise you will get money that I have earned by my own labor.”
     After the crowd had dispersed, the king went to his chamber and disguised himself as a common laborer. He then slipped out of the palace and began to look for work in the city. After knocking at many doors he found a job—fetching water for a householder.
     The king had never in his life lifted a finger to do any kind of work. Just filling the clay pot with water and carrying it on his head was exhausting. When he staggered back to the house with the full pot, he was ordered to fetch another. This was even more of an effort, but he thought of his vow and went on. However, as soon as he reentered the house, he stumbled and dropped the pot. It shattered at once.
     The householder was furious. “You useless fellow!” he cried. “Take this and get out. It’s more than you deserve!” he flung a couple of coins after him.
     The king picked up the coins gratefully. At least he would not have to break his vow.
     The next day, when Ram Dhan appeared, the king produced the coins. He said, “This is all I could earn by my own labor.”
     Ram Dhan touched the coins to his forehead, bowed to the king and said, “These coins are more precious than gold and jewels.” And he left for his village.
     His wife ran out eagerly as soon as she saw him arrive. “What did the king give you?” she asked.
     Ram Dhan produced the two coins. It was all he could earn by his own honest work.
     Sarla Devi was bitterly disappointed. But she took the two coins and placed them as an offering to the sacred tulsi plant, which grew in a pot in their tiny courtyard. It was her custom to light a lamp before the plant every night, in worship.
     One evening Sarla Devi noticed that another plant had sprouted in the pot beside the tulsi. It was quite different form the common weeds that sometimes took root there. Curious to see how it would grow, she decided to let it remain. The plant grew taller and taller as the days passed. Tiny buds appeared on its stems. The buds bloomed into little white flowers, so pretty and unusual that Sarla Devi was quite fascinated by them.
     She was even more intrigued when the flowers began turning into fruit, the oddest fruit she had ever seen. Little white balls, hard, with a wonderful sheen.
     “Do you think this fruit has any use?” she asked Ram Dhan.
     “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
     Soon the plant was producing so much fruit that it fell and scattered all over the courtyard. Every day Sarla Devi swept up a big handful. The little balls were so unusual that she didn’t feel like throwing them away, so she collected them in a mud pot.
     One day she heard the fruit seller calling out, “Guavas, fresh guavas!” Sarla Devi’s mouth watered. It was years since she had eaten a sweet guava. But she had no money. As she stood there wondering what she could do, she suddenly had an idea.
     She ran and got some of the strange fruit and went to the fruit seller. “Leelabai,” she said, “would you like to exchange these for some guavas?”
     Leelabai turned the white balls over in her hand. “What are they?” she asked, perplexed.
     “I thought you would know,” Sarla Devi replied.
     “Well, I’ve never seen this fruit before. But it’s so pretty that I don’t mind giving you some guavas in exchange.”
     The fruit seller took the strange fruit to the village grocer. As soon as he saw the little white balls, he exclaimed, “Where did you get these?”
     “From Sarla Devi, the priest’s wife. She says they grow on a plant in her courtyard. Do they have any use?”
     The grocer’s face grew guarded. “Maybe,” he said. “I’m not sure. But they look very nice. I don’t mind giving you provisions in exchange for them.”
     Now Leelabai began to give Sarla Devi fruit and vegetables in exchange for the gleaming white balls. In turn, she passed the little balls on to the grocer.
     One day, on a visit to the city, the grocer heard the sound of the town crier’s drum. “Hear all! Hear all!” he proclaimed. “The marriage of Her Highness Princess Roopvati has been arranged. Her wedding dress is to be embroidered with fine pearls. His Majesty the king will pay handsomely for the best pearls, so if you possess any, bring them forth.”
     The grocer rushed home. He took all the little white balls he had, put them in a silken pouch, and hurried back to the city.
     When the king saw them, his eyes gleamed with delight. “These pearls are incomparable,” he said. “Where did you get them?”
     The grocer told him about the strange plant.
     “Impossible!” cried the king. “Pearls do not grow on plants. You are lying!”
     “I speak the truth!” the grocer pleaded, terrified. “There is such a plant.”
     “Then I must see it for myself.” The king set off for the village at once.
     “Show me the wonderful plant that bears pearls for fruit,” the king demanded, as soon as Sarla Devi opened the door.
     For a moment she was confused. Then she cried, “Pearls! I knew they were something rare!”
     She ran and got the pot of tulsi. The king took it from her and looked at the pearl-bearing plant. “This is truly a miracle!” he cried out, amazed. “But how is it possible?”
     As he tilted the pot this way and that, it slipped form his hand and fell to the floor. The pot broke, scattering soil and exposing the plant’s roots.
    “The coins!” Sarla Devi exclaimed. “It is growing out of coins!”
     Ram Dhan came forward. “Your Majesty,” he explained, “you gave me these coins in charity. It was money you earned from your own honest labor.”
     The king was wonder-stricken.  “Of course, I remember,” he said. “It was the first and only time I labored with my own hands.”
     “These pearls are the fruit of that work, Your Majesty,” said Ram Dhan.
     “You are truly the wisest man in my kingdom,” declared the king. “You shall be the royal tutor and teach my sons all you know. Particularly the value of hard work.”
     Ram Dhan and Sarla Devi went to live in the palace. They never lacked for anything again.

Bahadur, K.P; Folktales of Uttar Pradesh, Sterling Publishers, New Delhi
There is a variation of the theme of duty or hard work being rewarded with a miracle of pearls in a story from the state of Uttarakhand. A dutiful daughter-in-law finds the drops of water she squeezes from her father-in-law’s dhoti after washing it turning into pearls.

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