Sonapur was a small village. It was famous for its little temple. The temple had no deity. All it had was the imprint of a pair of feet. According to folklore, these were of a pious sage. A diya burned brightly, night and day. Seven beautiful bells hung in the little temple, gleaming brightly in the light cast by the diya.

The villagers of Sonapur were content and happy. Their fields yielded abundant crops. Earnings were enough to meet the needs of each family.

The villagers firmly believed that so long as the temple bells chimed, no harm could come to Sonapur.

How to Bell a Thief [Illustrations by Kusum Chamoli]
How to Bell a Thief [Illustrations by Kusum Chamoli]

One day Kaalu, the chieftain of a gang of thieves, wandered through Sonapur. He saw this happy looking village and was convinced that the villagers must be wealthy. He returned to his hideout and discussed a plan with his gang members to raid Sonapur.

“Those people of Sonapur are rich!” exclaimed Kaalu. “Today we will strike gold!”

His men grinned. They would wine and dine after they had looted the village, they thought.

“Men! Follow me!” ordered Kaalu.

They stealthily crept into the village. The villagers were forced out of their houses at gunpoint.

“Where is your wealth?” shouted Kaalu angrily as his frustrated men searched house after house and still found no gold or silver.

“Huzoor!” pleaded Sohanlal, the village chief. “We are poor folk. All we have is our house, farms, ploughs, bullocks, and cows. Our wealth is that little temple.”

Kaalu was very angry. But no matter how much they threatened the villagers, no gold or silver was recovered from them. Angry and tired, the thieves left the village. The villagers quickly rushed back into their houses scared that the gang would come back again. Kaalu paused a moment before the temple.

Something shone in the dark. It was the glow of the metal temple bells. They shone like silver in the light cast by the solitary diya.

“Aha!” gloated Kaalu. “Those bells are made of silver. Now we will be rich!”

He made his men dismantle the bells. Then they made their escape. Kaalu could hear the loud chimes of bells. He was puzzled. He looked back at the little temple. No bells pealed in it. He looked at the bells his men carried. No chimes came from them. Kaalu thought he had imagined the sound of chiming bells. He and his men planned about what they would do with the cash after selling their precious booty. A few days later, Kaalu sold the bells in a town far away from Sonapur. The bells were not made of silver. But they did fetch a price as they were heavy and beautifully carved.

Just as he pocketed the money, Kaalu heard the loud chimes of bells again! Petrified, he looked at the shopkeeper. The man seemed unconcerned. It meant he heard no unusual sound. Shutting his ears to block out the harsh sound of angry, clanging bells, Kaalu rushed back to his hideout.

His men were happy with the money Kaalu had got by selling the temple bells. That night they decided to raid another village. The moment they stepped into the village they heard the loud chime of bells. Kaalu and his men stood still, scared out of their minds!

“Who’s there?” shouted a voice.

“Must be thieves!” exclaimed another voice.

“Men!” shouted another voice. “Come out with your lathis! Someone has entered our village!”

Kaalu and his men fled. They were not cowards but the harsh sound of bells frightened them. The loud chimes followed them for quite a distance.

Suddenly, there was silence.

“What was that, Master?” asked Bittoo, his voice quavering with fear.

“Nothing!” replied Kaalu, wondering why he had been scared, “just some
silly bells. Maybe the villagers were doing pooja.”

“I hear that sound often!” muttered Bittoo. “It frightens me!”

“I hear it too!” said Montoo. “It scares the daylights out of me!”

“Listen! Those were just bells in the village. They just happened to ring when we were there!” shouted Kaalu angrily.

His men kept silent. Their plans had been thwarted. They had returned
empty handed.

Kaalu and his gang of men now faced harrowing times. Every time they tried to commit a dacoity, bells would chime and would keep chiming till they fled from the place! It seemed as if their gang was jinxed!

“Must be some bhoot (ghost)!” said Bittoo. “Peecha nahi chhodta (doesn’t leave us alone)! This spirit will follow us forever!”

“I am not coming next time we plan to loot another village!” declared Montoo.

Kaalu did not know what to do. Slowly his gang dwindled as man after man left. The shrinking gang had little money now, as they could never commit a robbery, thanks to the chiming bell.

One day it so happened that Kaalu was passing by Sonapur village. His eyes fell on the little temple. He made his way there. Bells chimed. He glanced up. There were no bells! Just a solitary diya burned.

“Go away!” muttered Kaalu, closing his ears to block out the loud ringing of bells.

“Not till you replace the bells you took!” said a voice.

Kaalu looked around furtively. There was no one there!

“I must be going mad!” thought Kaalu. “First I hear things, then I can’t see the things I hear! It’s awful!”

“Return the bells!” repeated the voice. “But remember that they have to be bought with money earned by hard work. Not through robbery.”

The sound of bells seemed to become louder and louder. Kaalu was sure he would lose his hearing! In that instant, he knew what he had to do.

Kaalu went back to his hideout. He told his remaining gang members that he did not want to be a thief any longer. He planned to earn money the honest way. Bittoo and Montoo promised to help him. They too were sick of the chiming bells that now seemed to chime non-stop everyday!

The trio worked hard. Somehow they managed to save enough money to buy seven bells. Tired and worn out, they made their way to Sonapur with their precious cargo — seven gleaming metal bells.

Kaalu stepped into the little temple. With trembling hands he put up each bell. Just as he hung up the seventh bell he felt a strange feeling of peace wash over his body. Slowly the bells began to swing to-and-fro, chiming softly. The sound grew louder and louder as Kaalu burst into hysterical laughter, tears streaming from his eyes. Bittoo and Montoo watched him tearfully.

The villagers came one by one to the little temple. Their bells were back!

“Baba has blessed us again!” said the village chief as he bowed his head in homage.

“Son!” said an elderly man to Kaalu. “You have brought back our lost wealth. May God bless you!”

Kaalu fell at the old man’s feet, crying bitterly. His penance was complete. Never again would he rob anyone. Never again would he raid a village. Never again would he loot a temple.

The chiming bells had taught him a lesson he would never ever forget!

1196 words | 11 minutes
Readability: Grade 4 (9-10 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: stories
Tags: #money, #wealth, #silver, #temple, #thieves

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