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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Ten Simpletons

By U San Shwe Bu

According to the old saying that birds of a feather generally flock together, so there once met in a village, by some strange fatality, ten simple rustics of similar tastes and disposition. One day while they were having breakfast under a large and shady tree, one of them began counting the number of those who were present. But forgetting to include himself he could not get beyond nine. So after going through the same process three or four times he eventually told the others that a misfortune had happened because out of ten, their original number, only nine remained, and that one of them had mysteriously disappeared. One or two disbelieved this, as they were fully certain that no one had left them form the time they first assembled together under the tree. So to satisfy themselves they began counting over again, and to their astonishment they could not get beyond the number nine, for, like the first men, each of them excluded himself in the telling. Many were the reasons put forward to account for so strange a disappearance, but somehow nobody could be fully convinced.

While these things were taking place, an old man happened to pass by that way. Seeing the men in hot dispute over something or other he addressed them thus; “My sons, if you are not actually quarrelling, you are at least very much excited and are on the verge of coming to blows. Tell me, I pray you, the nature of your dispute so that I may, if it lies in my power, settle it amicably.” So one of the men replied, "Grandfather, you are just the person we are looking for. My friends and myself are disputing as to our actual number. Some say we are only nine; but other stoutly refuse to accept this; and hence all the present excitement." "very well," said the old man, " If I can convince you that you are not nine really but ten as you originally were, will you became my slaves?" To this they all agreed. They did not care what manner of works they did, provided they could be certain that all their friends were together. So the old man told each of them to bring him a stick. When this was done the men were told to count the sticks. They all counted ten, and when they were fully satisfied that their number had in no way diminished, they greatly marveled at the wisdom of the old man. So they willingly became his slaves and followed him home.

At that time the paddy was just ripe. One morning the old man sent for his newly acquired slaves and said to them. "My sons, I want you to do some reaping for me today. Don't do the job in bits, one here and one there, but you should all keep together to one side of the field and gradually work up in a line till you come to the other side." Unfortunately these instructions were too technical and too complicated for their simple pates, for they contained a phrase which when literally rendered meant "Put a hamadryad on one side and reap". So totally misunderstanding the phrase, the poor rustics began their work by searching high and low for the elusive reptile. From early morn till dewy eve this went on until night approaching rapidly, the old man in his anxiety at their delay went out to investigate for himself. He found them in the midst of their fruitless search, and on enquiry one of them replied, "Oh grandfather tell us what we are to do now. The whole day long we have been searching for a hamadryad to enable us to begin our operations on the field. We have not succeeded and hence all this delay." The old man was astonished and after having cursed their gross stupidity he explained to them what was really meant by his particularly puzzling instructions.

The next day reaping began in real earnest. By sunset the whole business was completed. When the labourers returned home with sheaves of corn on their heads the old man was unfortunately away from home. So not knowing where to deposit their loads they asked the old lady, who was then engaged in weaving, where they should do so. She happened to be extremely cranky at the time, and so she shouted at the top of her voice, "You fools, do you mean to say that you really do not know where such things are usually placed? If so place them on my head." No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the men, impatient to relieve themselves, began discharging their loads on the hapless old lady. The result was disastrous; and her soul was instantly carried off on the wings of death.

When the old man returned home he enquired after his wife. They told him all that had happened and pointed out the spot where she was lying, at her expressed wish, beneath the sheaves of corn. Instantly he was flinging aside the heavy bundles, and, as he feared, he found his better half lying cold in death. What was to be done? The utmost he could do was do abuse them roundly for their gross stupidity.

The next day the men were ordered to go to the forest to cut firewood for the proper cremation of the body. Having arrived at the place the simpletons first selected a tree of proper girth and proportions. One of them sent up to the branch of the tree for the purpose of playing the flute so that the rest might be amused. Another was told to cut the trunk, while the remaining eight men stood in a row to receive the tree on their shoulders.

The tree was eventually cut; and in the act of falling the eight men were crushed to death and at the same time the flute player was dashed to pieces. The only survivor was the one who undertook the cutting. Sad and dejected at the loss of his friends he resolved to die also. He therefore laid himself down by the bodies of his friends and thinking that the simple process of death consisted in keeping quite still, he soon fell off to sleep.

By and by a mahout, riding his elephant, while passing that way, came across these men stretched out on the ground. Not knowing whether they were dead or alive he tried to find out by probing each prostrate figure with the iron goad he had with him. Of course there was no response from the dead; but when he touched the man who pretended to be dead and who was in reality asleep, the men jumped up in extreme surprise. He looked upon the iron goad as a marvelous instrument capable of resuscitating the dead; for was not he quite dead a little while age, and was not he now fully alive by being simply touched with the wonderful goad? So he addressed the mahout in these words, “Good mister mahout, I should very much like to posses your goad if you will let me have it; and in return I am willing to give you all the dans and axes I now have with me.” The mahout was much pleased inwardly at having come across such a simpleton, and blessed the star that guided his footsteps to that place. His goad was not of much value while the dahs and axes were far more valuable. Without therefore saying a word he handed over his goad and received the other things the man offered him, and departed.

Armed with the goad the men set out on his travels determined to earn an honest living by means of his new possession. After several days of wandering he entered a large and prosperous village where he found all the people in the deepest grief. Being very curious he asked a person what it was all about. “Don’t you know,’ replied the man, “that the richest person in the village has lost his only daughter? Being a very good and influential man in these parts we are all expressing our grief for his sad loss. Where could you have been to, so as not to have heard about this before?” Our traveler replied, “Friend, I am the stranger to the place; please overlook my ignorance. If this rich man’s daughter is dead and still in the house I have means of bringing her back to life. Go and inform him, I pray you, about my presence here, so that it he wishes it I am willing to raise her from the dead.”

For some moments the villager remained dumbfounded. Then with a long indrawn breath he ran as fast as he could towards the rich man’s house, eager to impart the wonderful information. Arrived there he related everything to the bereaved parent who, unable to believe his ears, caught the man by the arm and hurried him to the spot where he left the marvelous being. When they reached the place the rich man said “Worthy stranger, is it true that you can restore life to the dead? If so I pray you to come to my house and perform the operation without delay. I will give you such a reward as will enable you to live in comfort for the remainder of your life.”

Arrived at the house the man looked upon the serene face of the dead. He ordered a thick curtain to be placed over it so as to prevent the corpse with his goad. After the first few applications he was surprised to see that there was no response from the dead. So in the eagerness he probed the body with all his might, tearing the flesh everywhere. This went on for quite a long time. At last the bereaved parents, growing impatient to learn the result of the cure, raised the curtain to see how far the man had succeeded. To their horror and indignation they found that instead of the dead coming back to life, the remains of their daughter were mutilated beyond recognition.

The servants of the house were hastily summoned and were told to take the man outside the village and after thrashing him soundly to drive him away. When they had carried out their instructions they told him as a parting piece of advice that it would have been better for him if he had joined them in weeping and mourning from the time he first entered the village. But now, since he pretended to be what he was not, he had been justly punished.

Much puzzled and grieved at the failure of his goad he left the village. For several days he walked aimlessly on and at last he came to another village where a marriage procession was passing along its main street. He stood in the middle of the road and calmly waited for it to come up to him. As soon as it was sufficiently near he began weeping very loudly and rolled himself in the dust. He did this because he was told to do so by the people of the last village. Where upon the people who formed the procession became very angry. For they looked upon such evident signs of grief as some thing out of place, and being highly superstitious they considered the man’s conduct to be very unlucky. So they beat him severely and told him that on such occasions he should never weep but should shout, laugh and sing with gladness.

He then left the village with the parting advice fully remembered. On the way he had to pass through a thick jungle in which he saw from a distance a trapper wholly absorbed in his work. The man was hiding behind a tree trunk and was intently looking at a bird about to fall into his trap. Of course our simpleton knew nothing at all about this. As soon as he saw the man he began to shout, laugh and sing as previously advised; and on the whole he made so much noise that the bird near the trap flew away in fright.

As may be imagined the trapper was furious. With one great bound he came up to our hero and ruined merciless blow of his face and body. Then with a final kick he said, “You utter idiot, didn’t you see I was trying to catch a bird, and that to do so it was necessary to remain absolutely quiet? You should have done the same as I was then doing. But now you have spoilt it all, for which you have been justly punished. On the next occasion it will pay you to remember my instructions.” The poor simpleton begged and prayed to be excused and informed the irate trapper that his conduct was due to a piece of advice he had previously received. After faithfully promising to do all he was told he left the forest with a sad weary heart.

The next place he reached was a small village of dhobis. Now in this community there had been several thefts of late and the people were particularly careful about strangers lurking about in the nighbourhood. So when he saw from the distance that the people were engaged in washing clothes, he stealthily approached them by taking advantage of every available cover as was told to him by the trapper.

Being broad daylight the dhobis saw him soon enough. At once their suspicions were aroused and they caught him and tied him up to a tree and flogged him severely, taking him to be the thief who had robbed them. The man howled with pain and told them he was no thief but a mere traveler. He said that he approached the village in the manner he did because he was told to do so by a man he met on the way. The dhobis, finding out their mistake, soon released him; but at the same time they told him that it was entirely his fault. They said that what he should have done was to join them in their work to do exactly as they did. He would have then been given food and shelter for his services. Instead of which he now received, for his foolish conduct, a punishment he justly deserved.

Early next morning the man left the village to take up once more the course of his interrupted travels. After walking all day, and just as the sun was about to dip itself beneath the western horizon he saw a lone hut by the bank of a small stream. Instinctively he knew something was wrong there, for even from a distance he could distinctly hear the sound of blows and angry voices. He rapidly approached the hut, and in it he was amazed to see a man and woman, apparently husband and wife, engaged in a desperate struggle.

Mindful of what he was told previously in the dhobis’ village he rushed into the house and began beating both of them in turn. He did this because he really believed that it was the only way of ingratiating himself with them. But the irate couple, seeing a total stranger interfering in their affairs without any rhyme or reason, soon forgot their own differences. A common enemy had come on the scene. It was their bounden duty to get rid of him as soon as possible. So they both attacked him with curses and blows; and before long the intruder howled for mercy.

On being questioned as to the cause of his strange conduct, he told them the details of his last adventure. He said that it was because he was told to do exactly what he saw others doing and thereby earn their gratitude, that he joined them in their quarrel. “Unfortunately,” said the owner of the house, “that advice though it may do in certain cases, does not apply here at all. The proper thing for you have done was to separate as by coming in between and then to make up the quarrel by sweet words and phrases.” The man faithfully promised to do so on the next occasion. After properly aplogising for what he had done he left the house that very evening.

When night had fairly advanced he entered a dense forest. The path could not be properly seen because of the darkness. So more in prudence then in fear he climbed up a tall tree and passed the remainder of the night in fitful slumber. When day broke he was again on his legs walking rapidly through the forest. At last he came out to an open field and paused a while to consider what direction he should take. Suddenly his attention was drawn to the sight of two buffaloes charging each other with lowered heads. This went on over and over again till he was thoroughly convinced that they were really fighting.

What was he to do? He knew full well what he did on the least occasion and how badly it ended for him. So he at once decided to act on the farewell advice given by the owner of the hut he last visited. When the buffaloes separated once again before charging each other he rushed in between them. Fling wide apart his arms in opposite directions he shouted to them to stop and not to lose their temper over a trifling affair. But the maddened beasts took no notice of his antics. They came on with the furry of a tornado, and just met at the place where our hero was standing. The result was disastrous. His body was crushed and the weary soul, shuffling off its mortal coil, joyously soared away to that realm in which the nats have their uninterrupted bliss.

Ref: Kogreekyaw

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