It was a dark, moonless night. Occasional flashes of lightning lit up the somber scene, causing an eerie dance of jerky and frightening shadows in the cremation ground. Occasionally, the spine-chilling howl of a jackal or the blood-curdling laughter of some unseen evil spirit cut into the silence that hung, shroud-like, over the area. Altogether, it was a scene that would strike terror into the bravest heart. But nothing could daunt the intrepid King Vikram. Once again, he made his way to the ancient gnarled tree from which the corpse hung. Bones crunched under his feet and a screeching ghost rose from the dust in shuddering frenzy as he marched ahead.
Oblivious to all this, he reached the tree and brought down the corpse. Slinging it astride his shoulder, he had just begun his return journey when the vampire that possessed the corpse said, "O King! No doubt you're a very courageous and determined man to be out here on this midnight errand. But sometimes, determined and learned men like you have been known to abandon their learning and go to desperate limits in pursuit of their goal. Let me tell you the story of a famous astrologer who had to seek the advice of an ignorant youth when it came to taking a personal decision."
The story narrated by the vampire was as follows-- Shantaram of Sitapur village had a handsome, robust, and good-natured son named Bhaskar. Dinakar, a peasant from the same village, was attracted by the youth's good qualities and desired to give his daughter in marriage to him.
However, when he approached him with a marriage proposal, Bhaskar demurred, saying, "Sir, I am to Matangpur. When their search for a house yielded no results, Bhaskar met a rich man and asked, "Would you please let us stay in your house? I'm looking for a job, and shall pay you the rent with arrears as soon as I get one!"
The rich man looked Bhaskar up and down, and finally replied, "My house is a big one, and can easily accommodate you. But before that, I'll put you to a test. Four men " Ram, Som, Naresh and Kiran" have taken loans from me, but evade all my efforts to realise the loans, on some pretext or the other. Today I want to recover the dues from at least one of them. You must tell me which of them I should meet to get my money."
Bhaskar was flabbergasted. How could he answer such a question, about four men whom he had not even met? But he had to say something, and so at length he blurted out, "Go and meet Naresh, he will repay your loan in full."
The man followed his advice. To his surprise, the hitherto evasive Naresh welcomed him warmly and handed over the full amount, exactly as predicted by Bhaskar!
This incident proved a turning point in Bhaskar's life. Not only did he get the accommodation promised to him, he was also hailed as an astrologer with uncanny powers of foresight!
From then on, people began flocking to Bhaskar, requesting him to use his astrological skills to solve their problems. He listened attentively, drew out all the facts by asking questions, and then suggested solutions after giving considerable thought to the issue. As a result, his words generally came true. By and by his fame spread, until he was making a comfortable living in Matangpur by his fortune-telling.
One day, his wife Sandhya suggested, "You're a really good astrologer. Why don't we leave this place and settle in the capital? There you'll be able to come up by the patronage of the king and the nobility, and we'll soon become rich."
Bhaskar laughed and said, "I don't know astrology; nor do I believe in it. My words are coming true because luck is on my side. Yes, we can move to the capital and do some business there. It will prosper as long as my lucky streak continues." But Sandhya persisted. "You don't know your own strength. Pandit Sridhar had recognised you as a gifted astrologer. You mustn't give up astrology without consulting him."
As they were talking, who should come in but Pandit Sridhar himself! They received him courteously. The elderly astrologer complimented Bhaskar, saying, "Son, you're truly a gifted astrologer. Your skill goes beyond mere science."
"Sir, your visit comes at a juncture when I myself was thinking of coming to meet you," said Bhaskar. "May I know what brings you here?"
Sridhar replied, 'I've come to consult you in your professional capacity. Lakshman, a farmer of Sitapur, has five acres of farmland, which he wants to dispose of in order to go and live with his son, who has recently secured a job at the king's court.
The land is worth 500 gold coins at the most. But he wants me to purchase it for a thousand gold coins." "But why is he making such an unreasonable demand?" asked Bhaskar. "That's a long story," replied the Pandit.
"Some time ago, Lakshman came to me in great distress. His crops had failed; he was heavily in debt; his son was jobless. To console him, I made my calculations and told him that things would soon change for him. He would get a bumper harvest and thus be able to repay his debts; his son would get a good job with the king; he would unearth a hidden treasure on his land. And the tide did turn for Lakshman.
Except for the one about the treasure, all my predictions came true. Now he argues that I will be compensated for the price by the treasure, which will surely be worth much more. But as matters stand, the plot is not worth a thousand gold coins. I don't know what to do. That's why I've come to seek your advice on the matter."
"But how can I help you?" asked Bhaskar in surprise. "If you confirm my prediction about there being a hidden treasure in the land, I shall buy it," asserted Sridhar. "Sir! When I was wandering about, jobless, it was you who guided me to take up astrology for my vocation. How can I know something which you don't?"
"Son, your words will come true! I may be learned, but you have luck on your side. I believe in you. Tell me whatever comes to your mind!" Unable to refuse this request, Bhaskar finally advised Sridhar to go ahead with the purchase. Sridhar thanked him and returned to Sitapur.
Sandhya, who had been closely following the whole conversation, now told Bhaskar, "You better give up astrology. Let's go to the capital and start a business." Bhaskar laughingly asked his wife, "So, you've finally lost your blind faith in my astrology?"
"Not at all," said Sandhya. "What I have in mind is this " through the business, we can quickly make enough money to buy the plot from Pandit Sridhar. We can dig out the hidden treasure, which then becomes rightfully ours!"
Bhaskar and Sandhya shifted to the capital, where they started a business. It prospered, and very soon they had earned no less than 10,000 gold coins.
Taking this money, they went to Sitapur. Bhaskar's father, Shantaram, happily welcomed the couple and said, "You've come at a good time. Today Pandit Sridhar, the astrologer, is throwing a grand feast for the whole village.
You see, he recently unearthed a rich treasure on his land! It seems he knew of the existence of the treasure beforehand, by applying his astrological skills. Isn't it a real windfall " finding a treasure of 50,000 gold coins on a plot of land purchased for a mere thousand gold coins?"
Bhaskar was dumbstruck by this piece of news. He was in a dilemma as he should whether to resume his business or to return to practising astrology.
Concluding the story at this point, the vampire demanded, "O King! Sridhar was undoubtedly a learned astrologer; why then did he consult Bhaskar about buying the land? Did he lack confidence in his own knowledge? As for Bhaskar, he had no knowledge of astrology whatsoever. Then how did his predictions come true? Answer my questions, or else your head will shatter to a thousand pieces!"
The king replied, "A wise man is always alert and observant. Even a great physician, when he himself or one in his family falls ill, calls in another physician instead of giving the treatment himself. Similarly, there is nothing wrong in a learned astrologer consulting another astrologer before deciding on a serious personal issue. That is just what Sridhar did. As for Bhaskar, he was no astrologer, but his words came true because luck was always with him. Sridhar took his advice because he believed in his luck."
No sooner had the king finished speaking than the vampire, along with the corpse, moved off his shoulder with a jerk and flew back to the tree. With a little sigh, King Vikram squared his shoulders and retraced his steps towards the tree, his dogged determination evident in his steady gait.