Once there was a King who was generous and kind. He was interested in the welfare of all his subjects and it was his greatest wish that all should live in peace and happiness and none should have any cause to grumble. So he wandered about the country incognito to learn the true condition of his people.
One day, when he was in disguise, he saw a strange sight. A farmer was vigorously ploughing his field but instead of a pair of oxen, he had yoked a woman to the plough. The King’s blood boiled. He could barely control his anger.
“What are you doing?” he demanded sharply. “Haven’t you any oxen? Why are you making this woman draw your plough?”
“She is my wife,” quietly replied the farmer.
“Your wife!” screamed the King. “What do you suppose a wife is – a slave or a beast of burden?”
The farmer replied, “You can afford to talk like that. You rich people with your horses and carriages do not know what poverty entails. I have become so poor that I had to sell my oxen to make ends meet. But a farmer must till his land to earn a living. So I have asked my wife to do the job of a bullock. She is not complaining.”
The answer did not satisfy the King. He said firmly, “I will not tolerate this. Whatever you may say, it is most inhuman to use a woman in this way. I will give you enough money to buy a bullock, but you must immediately release the lady.”
It was now the farmer’s turn to be angry. “Who are you to order me about?” he asked curtly. “Why should I accept your money? I am not a beggar!”
The King then spoke gently, “Please unyoke my sister.”
The farmer laughed derisively. “If you feel so sorry for your so-called sister, why don’t you take her place?” If you are willing to do that, I shall immediately release the lady.”
The King at once agreed. That farmer had no alternative but to unyoke his wife and yoke the King to the plough. The King started to draw the plough through the field, but he was not used to manual labour and so part of the land was badly ploughed. When the crop ripened, the farmer found that this part of the field yielded poor and small ears of corn.
The farmer turned to his wife angrily. “See what your so-called brother did. He did not work with all his strength. The result is that the ears of corn are underdeveloped.”
But when they cut the harvest, they found that the small cobs contained pearls instead of seed.
“You were hasty and impudent to curse my brother. Look at the rich crop he has given us – a crop of pearls!” the farmer’s wife exclaimed with delight.
Her husband was full of remorse. “Your brother has performed magic. He must have supernatural powers. But I don’t think we can claim these pearls. They belong to the man who created them. We must return them to their rightful owner.”
“How can you do that? You never even asked him his name,” his wife replied.
“We cannot keep the pearls. They are not ours. I must take them to the King,” the farmer said firmly.
So tying the pearls in a bundle, they left for the King’s palace. On arrival, they went straight to the royal court. Here the King sat on the throne with his ministers and noblemen on either side.
The farmer and his wife approached the throne with the bundle of pearls and bowed respectfully.
Then raising their heads they said together, “Your Majesty, we…”
They did not complete the sentence. They stood speechless. The King was none other than the stranger who had insisted on replacing the farmer’s wife and ploughing the field himself!
The farmer stammered, “The King! I made the King toil like an ordinary ox! He will never forgive me!”
Then he fell on his knees and kissed the King’s feet again and again. “Your Majesty, please forgive me,” he beseeched. “I made a grave mistake. Please forgive me.”
The King too had recognised the couple. He smiled gently, “Why do you ask for forgiveness? You gave me an opportunity to see the problems that besiege my subjects. I am glad I was able to help you.”
The farmer placed the bundle of pearls at the King’s feet and said, “These pearls were reaped from that portion of the field which you had ploughed. They do not belong to us. Please accept them as the fruit of your labour.”
The King refused. “These pearls grew in your field because of your hard work and your constant vigilance of your crops,” he said.
But the farmer was still reluctant to accept the pearls. “These pearls are the fruit of your love and sympathy. They could not be a product of my cruelty,” he insisted.
The King then picked up the bundle of pearls and went up to the farmer’s wife. “I have called you my sister. I should give you a bhai-duj present. Will you please accept this little gift?”
Neither the farmer nor his wife could now refuse the gift. And so the dispute was settled amicably.
First published by National Book Trust, India