The Clever Princess
by Lakshmi Menon
Raju's mother sat beside him to help with his homework. When she was helping him she saw a new eraser in his box. It looked different from the other erasers he had. It did not look like it had been made in India. She also knew that his father had not brought it for him. Neither had other relatives presented Raju with such an eraser. To set her mind at rest she decided to ask him.
"Raju, where did you get this eraser from?"
"From the school," pat came Raju's reply.
"School...? Who gave it to you?" persisted his mother.
Now Raju was in a dilemma. He wondered whose name he could use.
"Madan gave me this," said Raju, after a moment's thought and looked at his mother to see whether she was satisfied with his reply.
"Madan...?" He does not sit next to you. Doesn't he sit in the front bench? So why did he give you this?"
"Mummy, I want to finish this homework soon and go to play," said Raju hoping to avoid answering his mother's further questions.
"Raju, my dear son, first answer my question," said his mother.
"He didn't give it to me. I saw it lying on the floor. So I took it," answered Raju, without looking at his mother.
"Raju! How can you take it even if it was lying on the floor? It's not correct."
"Why? What's wrong in it?"
"As a good boy you should have given it to Madan, if you knew that it belonged to him. Otherwise you should have given it to your class teacher who would have handed it over to the owner. You have no right to take somebody's property from the classroom and keep it with you. If someone had seen you taking it what would they think of you?"
Raju smiled victoriously. "No one was there, Mummy. The whole class had gone to play. I was all alone at that time. So nobody had seen me picking it up."
"Raju, my son, you cannot say that nobody was watching you. Somebody is always watching you and your actions. Not only you, every one of us are being watched all the time. Please remember that."
Raju looked as if he did not believe his mother.
"I will tell you a story and you can decide for yourself whether you are watched or not," said his mother.
"Once there was a king who had a beautiful and intelligent daughter. When she grew big the king decided to get her married. The princess did not like any of the bridegrooms chosen by her father. She found fault with every one of them. Her father then decided to let her choose her own husband.
"I want to marry a very honest person. I will conduct a test and if I am satisfied that he is honest I will marry him," said the princess.
The king was delighted. He promptly agreed to his daughter's wish.
Hearing the news, the very next day the kingdom was flooded with young men claiming to be honest and wanting to marry the princess.
The princess gave every one of them a coconut and said, "You should break this coconut and come back. But there is one condition... no one should see you breaking it. I'll marry the first person who fulfills this condition."
The eager young men collected the coconuts and went away to break it where no one was watching them. Most of them came back within minutes, some within hours, and yet some at night. Each of them said that no one had seen them breaking the coconut. But the princess rejected all of them because she did not trust any of them. The king was disappointed that he could not find a honest person in his own country.
Then the minister said, "Maharaja, there is still hope left. We have counted the coconuts and there is one missing."
The king and the princess looked at each other and smiled. They waited anxiously for that person's return.
Days passed but the person did not return. The king and the princess soon lost hope of finding a honest man.
But after a fortnight, a tired young man, looking undernourished, came back with an unbroken coconut and said, "Your Majesty, I couldn't break this coconut as per your condition. I could not find a place where no one was watching me."
The king got angry. He thought the young man was teasing him. "In this big world you could not find a place where you could break this coconut without any watching you? I can't believe it. You have taken two weeks! Shame on you!" shouted the king.
"Maharaja, please believe me. I'm telling you the truth. Many times I was about to break it hoping that no one was there. But every time I saw a new face watching me with a smile. I don't know from where they came even though no one was around. I think it was God who was watching me everywhere. So I could not hide from Him and break the coconut. Please forgive me."
The princess however was pleased. She knew now that this man was really honest. She married the young man and the king was very happy to leave his kingdom in the hands of a honest person."
Raju's mother looked at her son. "Now son, tell me whether any one saw you taking the eraser?"
"Yes, Mummy, God must have seen me taking it and keeping it for myself. I'm sorry. I will not do such things in future," Raju promised his mother. "I will return the eraser to Madan tomorrow itself. Thank you for telling me such a wonderful story."
(This story was published in Deccan Herald some years back).