Once upon a time, a baniya, or a moneylender, overtook a farmer on his way down a country road. The moneylender was constantly muttering something to himself. Apparently, he hadn’t had a single chance to make money that day. Suddenly, it dawned on him that he could probably use the farmer to earn some money.

He walked back to the farmer and greeted him. The farmer greeted him back.

The moneylender said that he could keep the farmer company since they seemed to be headed in the same direction. At this, the farmer politely said that he wasn’t sure if a well-off, educated man would relish the company of a poor farmer.

Hearing this rather modest reply, the moneylender suggested that they both tell each other the weirdest tale known to them. The first person to raise a doubt about the other’s story would give the storyteller a hundred bucks.

The farmer agreed. The moneylender decided to go first. Meanwhile, the farmer made up his mind to not ask any questions, no matter how weird the tale sounded.

‘Once, as I was walking down the road, I ran into this merchant who was traveling with a trail of camels laden with goods.’

The farmer replied at once, ‘Yeah, I think I’ve seen something like that, too.’

‘There were a hundred and one camels, all tied with a single rope from nose to tail. This train of camels stretched along the road for about half a mile.’

‘Oh, that’s nice,’ replied the farmer.

‘Suddenly, a kite swooped down on the first camel and made off with it. Tied by a single rope, all the remaining hundred camels followed the first camel in the air.’

‘The kite must have been pretty strong, I’m sure. But what did it do with all those camels?’ the farmer asked.

‘Do you doubt it?’ the moneylender queried.

The farmer replied that he didn’t.

The moneylender carried on with his absurd yarn. ‘The kite, along with the one hundred and one camels, flew past the palatial garden. The princess of the kingdom was sitting out there, having her hair combed by her maid. When the maid tugged at her hair with the comb, the princess looked up, her head tilted back. Meanwhile, the camels suddenly started kicking, making the kite lose its grip. The whole trail of camels dropped straight into the princess’ left eye.’

‘Oh my, it must have been pretty painful for the poor girl,’ the farmer remarked.

‘The princess stood up and began crying, complaining that something had gotten into her left eye.’

Still unwilling to express any doubts about this made-up story, the farmer urged the moneylender to go on.

‘The maid came to her aid. She twitched the eyelid of her left eye and pulled out a camel. The maid then put it into her pocket. Then, with the corner of her head cloth, she drew out all the remaining hundred camels and shoved them into her pocket.’

The moneylender paused to take a breather. The farmer, however, was in no mood to give up. He asked the moneylender what happened after that. Incredulous, the moneylender replied that the story was over. He then asked what the farmer thought about the story.

‘Well, I don’t doubt the tale. It sounds completely plausible.’

Frustrated, the moneylender now asked the farmer to share his weird tale, which the farmer began.

‘My father owned five cows, six oxen, six buffaloes, and several goats. However, it was a mare that was the dearest to him.’

‘One day, he rode the mare with a torn saddle to the market. When they got back home, the mare had a big sore on her back.’

The moneylender was already losing his patience to put up with this nonsensical story.

The farmer, however, was determined to go on. ‘As it was the month of June, rain and dust storms wreaked havoc in the region. Dust penetrated the mare’s wound. And, besides the dust, some grains of wheat also got stuck in there. With all the dust and moisture, the wheat grew.’

‘I see,’ replied the moneylender.

‘A lot of wheat! In fact, we had to hire twenty men to reap it. We ended up reaping four hundred maunds of wheat from the poor animal’s back.’

The moneylender accepted it with a murmur.

The farmer then added, ‘Around that time, your father dropped by and requested my father to lend him sixteen maunds of wheat as he hadn’t had anything for a week.’

The moneylender glared at the farmer.

‘My generous father asked yours to take whatever he needed, adding that he could repay whenever he could. He took all the wheat with him, but never really gave it back.’

By this point, the moneylender was simmering with anger. But the farmer continued.

‘He remains indebted to this day. I have been wondering if I should get legal help in the matter.’

The moneylender nervously clasped his hands. The farmer asked if anything was the matter. At this, the moneylender offered to settle the debt. He paid one hundred rupees as per their initial deal.

And, to this day, when a person owes someone something in those parts of the country, they say, ‘Give me the money. Otherwise, at least give me the wheat.’

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Kalai Selvi, Folk Tale writer at Ameya
Kalai

Kalai is passionate about reading and reinterpreting folk tales from all over the country. Write to her at kalai.muse@gmail.com to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from fairytalez.