King Vikramaditya : All from a desire to be rich
The cremation ground presented an eerie spectacle on that dark night. The moon was hidden behind the clouds, and it was drizzling intermittently. The pitch darkness was relieved only by occasional flashes of lightning that lit up the sombre scene, causing an eerie dance of jerky shadows in the cremation ground. Occasionally, a jackal’s spine-chilling howl or the blood-curdling laughter of some invisible evil spirit cut into the silence that hung like a shroud over the area.
Altogether, it was a scene that would strike terror into the bravest of hearts. But nothing could daunt the intrepid King Vikram. Once again, he made his way to the gnarled tree from which the ancient corpse was hanging. Bones crunched under his feet, and a screeching ghost rose from the dust in shuddering frenzy as he marched determinedly ahead.
Oblivious to everything but the mission at hand, he brought the hanging corpse down by cutting the rope with his sword.
Slinging the corpse astride his shoulder, he had just begun his return journey when the vampire that possessed the corpse said, “O King! In this state, even your enemy will pity for you. Are you doing all this for your own good or for the good of someone else? I’ve come across many persons who spend much labor for their welfare, but becoming desperate and abandoning their efforts just when they were about to achieve their aim.
When I see you so adamant, I doubt whether you aren’t taking all the trouble only to keep a promise you made to someone. It looks as though you’re being charitable where it is not deserved. You’ll understand this better if you listen to the story of Pushkar and Vilas. It’ll also drive away the monotony of your undertaking.” The Vetala then narrated the story.
Pushkar would toil hard the whole day, but earned meager wages and so would go half-starving. He was sad about this sorry state of affairs and often felt frustrated. One day he got employment at a Kalyana Mandapam (where facilities are provided to perform weddings). His job included drawing water from the well and washing vessels used in the kitchen.
The weddings attracted several guests; they were all served sumptuous food. They would praise the tasty food. Pushkar invariably got a share of the food. Therefore, he was quite enthusiastic in carrying out his duties. One day, he went up to the cooks and said : “I must say, your cooking is great! You must be getting orders for cooking from many places. Do you think you can take me into your team? I shall do whatever job you give me, you’ve only to give me food two times a day. Would you consider my request?”
The chief of the cooks laughed, “You seem to have a gargantuan mouth. But I’m sorry we cannot engage you every time we get cooking assignments. For one thing, we aren’t engaged like this every day. And for another, wherever we go for preparing feasts, there’ll be local hands to help us. And, there’ll also be volunteers from the bride’s or the groom’s family.
If you’re looking for a place where you can get sumptuous food every day, you should have been born in a rich man’s family!” Pushkar was not aware that he would get such good food in a rich man’s house. On seeing his look of surprise, the cook asked: “Haven’t you worked in a rich man’s house before? Probably you don’t know, all rich people wear only silks; they eat rich food; and they sleep on silken beds.” The cook painted a glorious picture of life in a rich family.
Pushkar wondered whether his life till then had not been worthless. He was now determined to become rich hook or by crook. He came to know that a sanyasi had come on a visit to the village. Pushkar called on him and narrated his experiences and told him of his desire to become rich.
The sanyasi smiled. “My son! The mango tree stands alone and bears sweet fruit. A river makes gurgling sounds as she winds her way through villages and cities carrying sweet water for everybody. In this universe, everything has a pattern. Nothing is more or less. Whoever you consider rich are really not happy. Similarly, whoever you think are in misery are not wholly unhappy. You must realize one truth; those who toil hard need not hope to get one square meal a day. All this is decided by the Almighty.”
Pushkar was not ready to be carried away by the sanyasi’s words. He pleaded : “O holy one, please make me a member of a rich family.”
The sanyasi contemplated for some time and then pulled out the roots of a plant and said, “In the adjacent village, there is a rich man called Vilas. He lost his wife two years ago. Both his sons are abroad on business, and so one of his relations is looking after him. You go and meet him. If both of you catch hold of these roots together and pray, you can exchange your bodies.” “O holy one, didn’t you tell me that Vilas is a rich man? Would he be willing to enter my body?” queried Pushkar.
“Certainly,” the sanyasi assured him. “In fact, he had been looking for a young person like you. He’s getting old and he would appreciate if you can pass on your youth to him.”
“I’m not bothered about old age. I want a life of happiness. A long life like that of a crow does not interest me; I prefer a short life like that of a swan,” said Pushkar. The sanyasi warned him. “Don’t compare the crow and the swan. What does the crow miss which the swan has? Take time to arrive at a decision.” Pushkar went to meet Vilas. He confided his wish to him. Vilas was very happy.
“I’ve been looking for a person like you. From today you can have my body, and I shall enter your body straight away. You can remain in it as long as you like,” said Vilas. By holding the roots together, they were able to change bodies. Pushkar was now the lord of the big house while Vilas became his servant. As he had a craze for sweets, Pushkar (in Vilas’s body) asked his sister to make sweetmeat for him.
She made twenty laddus and placed them before him. She said: “Fortune seems to have favoured you. Eat whatever you feel like. But, one thing, you must eat in front of the lord.” (Evidently, she was not aware that her relation Vilas was now a servant.) “He’ll be happy to see you eat sweets which he himself could not eat.”
Pushkar just ate four laddus and said, “Really, I haven’t tasted such nice sweets. Even if I were to fall ill, it doesn’t matter; I must eat these laddus.” He was about to eat a fifth laddu when Vilas’s sister caught hold of his hand. “Brother, what’re you doing? Don’t you know that you can’t eat so many sweets? Now you’ll have to go for a long walk by the side of the river. That was what your doctor had wanted you to do. Unfortunately, you’re lazy and do not like to walk. It’s not good for your health! Come, I’ll go with you.” Pushkar and Vilas’s sister went out for a long walk.
The real Vilas in Pushkar’s body by now had started feeling miserable. He was being put to hard work and not being given enough food. Earlier, he had only to call for food, and whatever he would ask for would be spread in front of him. He now hated doing any work. He wanted to sit idle. But, he was even asked to take care of Pushkar.
One day, Vilas in Pushkar’s body exploded. “Because of me, you’ve become by boss. It’s your duty at least to show respect to me. You may look for another servant.”
Pushkar in Vilas’s body retorted. “If you don’t do whatever I ask of you, it’s better that we change bodies again and become what we were “ Vilas and Pushkar.” But Pushkar was not willing for a change, as he was enjoying the best of life. One long year went by. The sanyasi, who was on his way back, now called on them. Both of them paid their obeisance and narrated their experiences. The sanyasi asked Pushkar, “You’ve been enjoying your life in Vilas’s body; why don’t you go back and get into your own body?”
Vilas in Pushkar’s body said, “O holy one, I would have kept Pushkar as my servant. Pushkar in my body is an ungrateful wretch. Though he became the lord of this house, he put me to hard tasks.”
The sanyasi understood their problems. “Both of you have gone through mental as well as physical torture,” he said. Producing roots of a plant, he asked both of them to catch hold of them together. Lo and behold, Pushkar became the servant keen to get a job in a rich man’s house, while Vilas once again became the sickly old man.
The Vetala ended the story there and turned to the king. “O King, don’t you think the decision of the sanyasi was unjust and unfair? Didn’t he err when he accepted Vilas’s contention that Pushkar was ungrateful? Wasn’t his prescription just a stop-gap solution to a bigger problem? If you know the answers and still decide not to open your mouth, your head will shatter to pieces, I warn you!”
Vikramaditya said, “The sanyasi not only had uncanny powers, but an insight into human character. When the ageing Vilas got into Pushkar’s body, he understood what his weaknesses were. He became lazy and did not continue to do what his doctor had prescribed, like walking and exercise. On the other hand, Pushkar in Vilas’s body went on to enjoy life and put Vilas to hard tasks. In a way, Pushkar had done much to help Vilas to regain his health. So, he can’t be called ungrateful.”
On hearing the king’s answer, the Vetala jerked himself off Vikramaditya’s shoulder and flew back to the ancient tree, taking the dead body with him.