(Last Updated on : 01/01/2009)
Many Indian folktales are woven around the theme of justice. They uphold the view that a person wronged must get justice. Thus thieves, cheats and other wicked people should be punished and an honest person should get a reward. But the justice shown in these stories is a kind of poetic justice. No legal discussions are involved. There are no lawyers. Instead, the judge catches the culprit by setting a simple trap.
'Tables Turned' is an old story from Tamil Nadu
. It reflects the traditional marriage customs of that state and the importance enjoyed by elephants in olden times. The elephant is still very popular in Tamil Nadu and other parts of south India. It is a mount of choice on all special occasions. And flowers of course remain a must for the Tamil people.
In a town in Tamil Nadu there lived a potter. He had only one child, a son. The potter was by no means a rich man but he had great plans for his son. He spent good money on food and clothes for the boy and sent him to school. In due course the boy grew up to be a young man and was able to earn a living. It was time to get him married.
The potter looked at his son and his heart swelled with pride. He had planned for a grand Indian wedding
for his son with best musicians, decorations, flowers and food. After the wedding is over he would take his son and his bride around the city in a grand procession. They would ride an elephant, like the children of wealthy landowners. In the same locality there lived an oil merchant who owned an elephant. He hired out this elephant to people on payment of a certain amount of money. The potter went to the oil merchant and took the elephant on hire for a day.
That night a grand procession was taken around the city. The bride and groom, dressed in all their finery, were seated on the elephant, which had been specially decorated for the occasion. They were followed by a happy, cheering crowd of men, women and children. Drummers and musicians walked alongside, playing on their instruments with gusto. In the middle of all this fun the elephant suddenly fell down and died.
The potter was shocked. The elephant had been fine. Nobody understood what happened suddenly. The potter kept thinking of the problem right through the night. Next morning he went to the oil merchant and said that he was sorry that the elephant died. He promised to either give him the full price or another elephant in return.
The oil merchant was a quarrelsome man by nature. He stood up and began to shout, and demanded that he wanted the same elephant that he had lend. Naturally, the potter could not bring back the same elephant. So the oil merchant went and lodged a complaint against him in court. The case came up for hearing. The judge asked the oil merchant about his complaint. The oil merchant said that the potter had borrowed his elephant for a day but did not return it.
The judge turned to the potter and asked why he had not returned the elephant. The potter explained the whole story and put forward the same offer he had made to the oil merchant. The judge thought that the offer was very fair indeed. He tried to reason with the oil merchant. But the fellow flatly refused to listen. He was adamant that he wanted only his elephant and asked the judge to compel the potter to return the same.
The judge was a wise man. He saw that it was no use arguing with the oil merchant. So he postponed the hearing till the following day. When the oil merchant had left, the judge called the potter and told him that he knew that the potter was making an honest offer. So he provided the poor man with a plan. And the judge whispered something in the potter's ear. The potter nodded and went away smiling.
When court re-opened the following morning there was no trace of the potter. The oil merchant was hopping up and down complaining that the potter had run away. After waiting impatiently for some more time the oil merchant said to the judge the potter is probably hiding at his house as he is scared to come to the court. He seeked permission from the court of law to allow him to personally go and bring the potter. The judge agreed at once and ordered a junior court officer to accompany the oil merchant.
They reached the potter's house and the oil merchant knocked at the door. Good and hard. There was no reply. He hammered at the door with his fists and called out the potter's name at the top of his lungs. But there was dead silence within. The oil merchant lost his temper. And with that he gave the door a mighty push. Little did he know that the potter had stacked a whole lot of earthen pots against the door! With the push they all came crashing to the floor. And that very minute the potter came charging out of the back door crying aloud for his pots. He shouted at the oil merchant that he had destroyed his ancestral pots and he went to the judge to complaint.
When they came before the judge, the oil merchant offered to pay for the pots or to replace them. But the potter turned up his nose at the offer. He declared that his ancestors had given him those pots and that they are irreplaceable. So he demanded for the very same pots. Now the oil merchant was in a fix. At last he offered that if the potter dropped his demand for old pots, he would not ask for the elephant.
The potter pretended to be unwilling. But finally he accepted the offer and the case was settled. Thus the quarrelsome oil merchant lost on both counts. He lost an elephant and got no money either. Even the potter lost a few pots. But they were not of so much value. In a week's time he had made a whole lot of new ones to replace them.