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The Merchant of Hyderabad - contd

by Sowmya Suresh
(Nanuet, United States)

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From within his gut rose a feeling he would later describe as an unrecognized mix of wonder and anger. Did the Goddess really think she had the right to test him further? Did this personification of wealth, which he would hitherto always concede was a result of a well-meaning opportunist’s plan to tap into mindless drivel with the aim of channeling its magnetism towards the greater good, think she could fool him? He didn't know what brought her here to his door, or how she knew he was badly in need right now, but he wasn't about to bow down before a power that he’d written off as imaginary. Yet he remembered his earlier conclusion about sticking with the general populace’s idea of what it meant to be a good man.

What would a good man do? What would he really do to help a woman with no money?

“Your jewels look real, can't you exchange those for money?” He asked.

“Oh alas, these are mere imitations. I have to keep up the pretense while staying safe. Thieves and all that.”

“Tell me the truth? Do you have any money at all?”

“I do. I do!”


“Lady. I would love to help you but as you can see, I am not that well-off myself. If you wait awhile I might be able to fill up your bowl of plenty, and make sure your passage is ensured. But I cannot leave you standing at the doorstep while I do that. Do come in and rest while we go out and beg on your behalf. I am sure we’ll cut a more convincing ensemble.”

She agreed and stepped into his humble abode.

The merchant stepped out with his wife and his children and the bowl and quickly locked the door shut. He ran up to the main house and entered with his spare key. As luck would have it, his tenant was out. His wife looked up at him incredulously and asked what was going on. He had her in his arms, having lifted her right off the cot.

“Your problems are over. The Goddess, your Goddess chose to help you, us.”

She nodded, “I realized that. You are truly blessed.” She seemed to be feeling better already. “Put me down and fill her bowl quickly. My knowledge of the Goddess if right says it will bring us back our lost wealth.”

“All I have to do is fill this bowl with food?”

“Or money, yes. It is mere alms. They call it the ‘bowl of plenty’ because a single drop of water when in that bowl, rewards the holder with prosperity tenfold!”

“So what happens when I return it?”

“Well, what you get by filling it once should be enough. You are brilliant enough to use it to continue making more money.”

“I am brilliant. That is why she came to me. Doesn't the legend also say she comes down but once in a lifetime? This bowl is now mine, ours. I will keep it full and continue replenishing the tried out contents. It will be our little secret.”

“No!”

“Why?”

“That is not what they say you should do. That is like tricking the very Goddess!”

“She tried to trick me first! This bowl is rightfully mine. I have earned it.”

“But what about the woman in the basement?”

“What woman? Isn't she an omnipotent Goddess according to you? If she really is a poor vagabond, that is the best place for her. She will be well-fed and safe right there.”

His wife couldn't argue with that logic. A Goddess with special powers could easily escape, seep through locked doors and vaults. A Goddess determined to take her artifact back could grab it right out if her husband’s hands.

Satisfied, she smiled brightly and forgot her ailments. Being of a weak constitution, she did not have the mental agility to seek out the truth about what was really in the basement. To do her part anyway, she always left food and water by the opening that doubled as a window and kept an eye out for signs of distress. She never heard or saw anything untoward.

Her husband kept his promise and fed the ‘bowl of plenty’ regularly.

He was soon able to solve the puzzle of the missing money lender. An employee overcome by remorse confessed to aiding and abetting. The employee along with certain other people who had once worked for him had all heard whispers about his recent brush with godliness.

His money returned, his principles intact and his reputation back on track, the merchant of Hyderabad had returned for good, and he remained prosperous forever.

At the end renderers, of this tale and others like it, like to add their own morals. It is usually something like this – ‘No matter how much money you have wisdom is what helps you hold on to it, but if you lack the wisdom then you better hope for divine intervention, else all is lost.’

The merchant himself, this author likes to think, would have told the moral differently. ‘Give in to prevalent beliefs only when you absolutely have to, and even then find a way to redeem yourself.’

A sharp and thorough investigator might have come up with other explanations, like a well-meaning friend, a Shayar, who perhaps lent his dramatist wife to a preplanned course of action for the evening, for some radical, life-changing acting. He might have found a trail leading out of the basement door, especially if he’d been looking for some missing imitation jewelry.

As is, it is just a great story that leaves one with a sense of a certain kind of enlightenment.

***



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Nov 20, 2016
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Loved the story
by: Shobana ojha

A really good short story. The subtle humour in the story is the highlight.

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