THE MISERLY OLD WOMAN
An Indian folk tale retold
Once in a village in India lived an old woman. She was extremely miserly. Nothing in the world counted at all except money for her. She was made like that and nobody could change her. She did not trust anyone. If anyone was friendly with her, she would immediately think that he or she was after her money. So slowly, people avoided her and she lived all alone. Did she spend anything for herself? Actually she was so miserly and so fond of her money, almost mad about it , that she ate little. She hated to spend her money . She wore her tattered dresses and kept her money intact. She did not even have a decent house to live in spite of the fortune that she had.
People often wondered what would happen to her money, when she passed away and to whom she would give that money. She had no children. She had never given them anything and they had left her one after the other and she saw to it that they never visited her.
She was alone and always with her money in her hut and with her meager belongings.
One day, a crook and cunning young fellow came to the village in search of some loot. When he heard of the old woman, he decided that to charm her would be easy money and she had to give her money to somebody after all, why not he?
He went up to her house and knocked the door. A harsh voice answered , “ Go away!”
But the young crook was not to be discouraged. He was confident of himself and he had a plan. He stayed put and from that day, he did all the house hold chores- getting the water, washing her clothes, fanning her, even cooking her meager meals. Initially she resisted but slowly she gave in. The crook tried hard to guess where she had hidden her fortune but she was always extremely careful and always around. The young man was not worried. He had only to wait and later he could enjoy.
One day, the old woman was seriously taken ill. The young man got her medicines but her condition worsened. One evening she called him and said to him, “ Dear son, I know I am going to die this life is over. You can take all that is here but I have a pillow and I have had that pillow since my childhood. Please put that pillow on the funeral pyre and she took a promise from him that he would do so.
That night the old woman breathed her last. The young man felt sorry for her, after all she had called him her son and left everything to him. He performed the funeral rites and as he had promised put the tattered pillow too in the fire. He watched till the last bit of the fire was extinguished. Then with a sad feeling went to his house, the house that the old woman had given him. Actually the crook had a good heart deep within him.
That day he searched for the money in the house- in the vessels she never allowed him to touch, in the attic he had never probed, under the bed he had never peeked , among her few clothes, in the cupboard she always kept locked and to his amazement, he found no money anywhere. He intensified his search , searching in the oddest of places- in the thatched roofs, in old pots, in the dried up well outside. There was no money anywhere. But it had to be somewhere and why wold she hide it? Had she not called him her son? And suddenly in a flash he understood what had happened, the old woman had indeed taken the money with her, she had sewn all the money in the pillow. The pillow was her fortune.
The young man was numb with shock for days at the extreme miserliness of the woman.