The Book of Noodles - Chapter 6


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[As a sort of supplement to the sayings and doings of the silly son, the following highly diverting Indian tale is here inserted, from the Abbé Dubois' French rendering of the Tamil original, appended, with others, to his selections from the Panchatantra. The story is known in the north as well as in the south of India: in the Panjábi version there are, however, but three noodle-heroes. It will be seen that the third Bráhman's tale is another of the numerous silent couple class, and it may possibly be the original form.]


IN a certain district, proclamation had been made of a Samaradanam being about to be held.[1] Four Bráhmans, from different villages, going thither, fell in upon the road, and, finding that they were all upon the same errand, they agreed to proceed in company. A

[1] A Samaradanam is one of the public festivals given by pious people, and sometimes by those in power, to the Bráhmans, who on such occasions assemble in great numbers from all quarters.


soldier, happening to meet them, saluted them in the usual way, by touching hands and pronouncing the words always applied on such occasions to Bráhmans, "Dandamarya!"or "Health to my lord!" The four travellers made the customary return, "Asirvadam!"and going on, they came to a well, where they quenched their thirst and reposed themselves in the shade of some trees. Sitting there, and finding no better subject of conversation, one of them asked the others, whether they did not remark how particularly the soldier had distinguished him by his polite salutation. "You!" said another; "it was not you that he saluted, but me." "You are both mistaken," says a third; "for you may remember that when the soldier said, 'Dandamarya!' he cast his eyes upon me." "Not at all," replied the fourth; "it was I only he saluted; otherwise, should I have answered him as I did, by saying, 'Asirvadam'?"

Each maintained his argument obstinately; and as none of them would yield, the dispute had nearly come to blows, when the least stupid of the four, seeing what was likely to happen, put an end to the brawl by the following advice: "How foolish it is in us," said he, "thus to put ourselves in a passion! After we have said all the ill of one another


that we can invent--nay, after going stoutly to fisticuffs, like Sudra rabble, should we be at all nearer to the decision of our difference? The fittest person to determine the controversy, I think, would be the man who occasioned it. The soldier, who chose to salute one of us, cannot yet be far off: let us therefore run after him as quickly as we can, and we shall soon know for which of us he intended his salutation."

This advice appeared wise to them all, and was immediately adopted. The whole of them set off in pursuit of the soldier, and at last overtook him, after running a league, and all out of breath. As soon as they came in sight of him, they cried out to him to stop; and before they had well approached him, they had put him in full possession of the nature of their dispute, and prayed him to terminate it, by saying to which of them he had directed his salutation. The soldier instantly perceiving the character of the people he had to do with, and being willing to amuse himself a little at their expense, coolly replied, that he intended his salutation for the greatest fool of all four, and then, turning on his heel, he continued his journey.

The Bráhmans, confounded at this answer, turned back in silence. But all of them had deeply at heart the distinction of the saluta-


tion of the soldier, and the dispute was gradually renewed. Even the awkward decision of the warrior could not prevent each of them from arrogating to himself the preeminence of being noticed by him, to the exclusion of the others. The contention, therefore, now became, which of the four was the stupidest; and strange to say, it grew as warm as ever, and must have come to blows, had not the person who gave the former advice, to follow the soldier, interposed again with his wisdom, and spoken as follows: "I think myself the greatest fool of us all. Each of you thinks the same thing of himself. And after a fight, shall we be a bit nearer the decision of the question? Let us, therefore, have a little patience. We are within a short distance of Uharmapuri, where there is a choultry, at which all little causes are tried by the heads of the village; and let ours be judged among the rest."

The others agreed in the soundness of this advice; and having arrived at the village, they eagerly entered the choultry, to have their business settled by the arbitrator. They could not have come at a better season. The chiefs of the district, Bráhmans and others, had already met in the choultry; and no other cause being brought forward, they proceeded immediately to that of the four Bráhmans,


who advanced into the middle of the court, and stated that a sharp contest having arisen among them, they were come to have it decided with fairness and impartiality. The court desired them to proceed and explain the ground of their controversy. Upon this, one of them stood forward and related to the assembly all that had happened, from their meeting with the soldier to the present state of the quarrel, which rested on the superior degree of stupidity of one of their number. The detail created a general shout of laughter. The president, who was of a gay disposition, was delighted beyond measure to have fallen in with so diverting an incident. But he put on a grave face, and laid it down, as the peculiarity of the cause, that it could not be determined on the testimony of witnesses, and that, in fact, there was no other way of satisfying the minds of the judges than by each, in his turn, relating some particular occurrence of his life, on which he could best establish his claim to superior folly. He clearly showed that there could be no other means of determining to which of them the salutation of the soldier could with justice be awarded. The Bráhmans assented, and upon a sign being made to one of them to begin, and the rest to keep silence, the first thus spoke:


Story of the First Bráhman.

I am poorly provided with clothing, as you see; and it is not to-day only that I have been covered with rags. A rich and very charitable Bráhman merchant once made a present of two pieces of cloth to attire me--the finest that had ever been seen in our village. I showed them to the other Bráhmans of the village, who all congratulated me on so fortunate an acquisition. They told me it must be the fruit of some good deeds that I had done in a preceding generation. Before I should put them on, I washed them, according to the custom, in order to purify them from the soil of the weaver's touch, and hung them up to dry, with the ends fastened to two branches of a tree. A dog, then happening to come that way, ran under them, and I could not discover whether he was high enough to touch the clothes or not. I asked my children, who were present, but they said they were not quite certain. How, then, was I to discover the fact? I put myself upon all-fours, so as to be of the height of the dog, and in that posture I crawled under the clothing. "Did I touch it?" said I to the children, who were observing me. They answered, "No," and I was filled with joy at the news. But after reflecting a while, I


recollected that the dog had a turned-up tail, and that by elevating it above the rest of his body, it might well have reached my cloth. To ascertain that, I fixed a leaf in my loin-cloth, turning upwards, and then, creeping again on all-fours, I passed a second time under the clothing. The children immediately cried out that the point of the leaf on my back had touched the cloth. This proved to me that the point of the dog's tail must have done so too, and that my garments were therefore polluted. In my rage I pulled down the beautiful raiment, and tore it in a thousand pieces, loading with curses both the dog and his master.

When this foolish act was known, I became the laughing-stock of all the world, and I was universally treated as a madman. "Even if the dog had touched the cloth," said they, "and so brought defilement upon it, might not you have washed it a second time, and so have removed the stain? Or might you not have given it to some poor Sudra, rather than tear it in pieces? After such egregious folly, who will give you clothes another time?" This was all true; for ever since, when I have begged clothing of any one, the constant answer has been, that, no doubt, I wanted a piece of cloth to pull to pieces.


He was going on, when a bystander interrupted him by remarking that he seemed to understand going on all-fours. "Exceedingly well," said he, "as you shall see;" and off he shuffled, in that posture, amidst the unbounded laughter of the spectators. "Enough! enough!" said the president. "What we have both heard and seen goes a great way in his favour. But let us now hear what the next has to say for himself in proof of his stupidity." The second accordingly began by expressing his confidence that if what they had just heard appeared to them to be deserving of the salutation of the soldier, what he had to say would change their opinion.

Story of the Second Bráhman.

Having got my hair and beard shaven one day, in order to appear decent at a public festival of the Bráhmans, which had been proclaimed throughout the district, I desired my wife to give the barber a penny for his trouble. She heedlessly gave him a couple. I asked him to give me one of them back, but he refused. Upon that we quarrelled, and began to abuse each other; but the barber at length pacified me, by offering, in consideration of the double fee, to shave my wife also. I thought this a fair way of


settling the difference between us. But my wife, hearing the proposal, and seeing the barber in earnest, tried to make her escape by flight. I took hold of her, and forced her to sit down, while he shaved her poll in the same manner as they serve widows.[1] During the operation she cried out bitterly; but I was inexorable, thinking it less hard that my wife should be close-shaven than that my penny should be given away for nothing. When the barber had finished, I let her go, and she retired immediately to a place of concealment, pouring down curses on me and the barber. He took his departure, and meeting my mother in his way, told her what he had done, which made her hasten to the house, to inquire into the outrage; and when she saw that it was all true she also loaded me with incivilities.

The barber published everywhere what had happened at our house; and the villain added to the story that I had caught her with another man, which was the cause of

[1] In a Sinhalese story, referred to on p. 68, it is, curiously enough, the woman herself "who has her head shaved, so as not to lose the services of the barber for the day when he came, and her husband was away from home." The story probably was introduced into Ceylon by the Tamils; both versions are equally good as noodle-stories.


my having her shaved; and people were no doubt expecting, according to our custom in such a case, to see her mounted on an ass, with her face turned towards the tail. They came running to my dwelling from all quarters, and actually brought an ass to make the usual exhibition in the streets. The report soon reached my father-in-law, who lived at a distance of ten or twelve leagues, and he, with his wife, came also to inquire into the affair. Seeing their poor daughter in that degraded state, and being apprised of the only reason, they reproached me most bitterly; which I patiently endured, being conscious that I was in the wrong. They persisted, however, in taking her with them, and keeping her carefully concealed from every eye for four whole years; when at length they restored her to me.

This little accident made me lose the Samaradanam, for which I had been preparing by a fast of three days; and it was a great mortification to me to be excluded from it, as I understood it was a most splendid entertainment. Another Samaradanam was announced to be held ten days afterwards, at which I expected to make up for my loss. But I was received with the hisses of six hundred Bráhmans, who seized my person, and insisted on my giving up the accomplice


of my wife, that he might be prosecuted and punished, according to the severe rules of the caste.

I solemnly attested her innocence, and told the real cause of the shaving of her hair; when a universal burst of surprise took place, every one exclaiming, how monstrous it was that a married woman should be so degraded, without having committed the crime of infidelity. "Either this man," said they, "must be a liar, or he is the greatest fool on the face of the earth!" Such, I daresay, gentlemen, you will think me, and I am sure you will consider my folly [looking with great disdain on the first speaker] as being far superior to that of the render of body-clothing.

The court agreed that the speaker had put in a very strong case; but justice required that the other two should also be heard. The third claimant was indeed burning with impatience for his turn, and as soon as he had permission, he thus spoke:

Story of the Third Bráhman.

My name was originally Anantya; now all the world call me Betel Anantya, and I will tell you how this nickname arose. My wife, having been long detained at her father's house, on account of her youth, had cohabited


with me but about a month when, going to bed one evening, I happened to say (carelessly, I believe), that all women were babblers. She retorted, that she knew men who were not less babblers than women. I perceived at once that she alluded to myself; and being somewhat piqued at the sharpness of her retort, I said, "Now let us see which of us shall speak first." "Agreed," quoth she; "but what shall be the forfeit?" "A leaf of betel," said I. Our wager being thus made, we both addressed ourselves to sleep, without speaking another word.

Next morning, as we did not appear at our usual hour, after some interval, they called us, but got no answer. They again called, and then roared stoutly at the door, but with no success. The alarm began to spread in the house. They began to fear that we had died suddenly. The carpenter was called with his tools. The door of our room was forced open, and when they got in they were not a little surprised to find both of us wide awake, in good health, and at our ease, though without the faculty of speech. My mother was greatly alarmed, and gave loud vent to her grief. All the Bráhmans in the village, of both sexes, assembled, to the number of one hundred; and after close examination, every one drew his own conclusion on the accident


which was supposed to have befallen us. The greater number were of opinion that it could have arisen only from the malevolence of some enemy who had availed himself of magical incantations to injure us. For this reason, a famous magician was called, to counteract the effects of the witchcraft, and to remove it. As soon as he came, after steadfastly contemplating us for some time, he began to try our pulses, by putting his finger on our wrists, on our temples, on the heart, and on various other parts of the body; and after a great variety of grimaces, the remembrance of which excites my laughter, as often as I think of him, he decided that our malady arose wholly from the effect of malevolence. He even gave the name of the particular devil that possessed my wife and me and rendered us dumb. He added that the devil was very stubborn and difficult to allay, and that it would cost three or four pagodas for the offerings necessary for compelling him to fly.

My relations, who were not very opulent, were astonished at the grievous imposition which the magician had laid on them. Yet, rather than we should continue dumb, they consented to give him whatsoever should be necessary for the expense of his sacrifice; and they farther promised that they would reward


him for his trouble as soon as the demon by whom we were possessed should be expelled. He was on the point of commencing his magical operations, when a Bráhman, one of our friends, who was present, maintained, in opposition to the opinion of the magician and his assistants, that our malady was not at all the effect of witchcraft, but arose from some simple and ordinary cause, of which he had seen several instances, and he undertook to cure us without any expense.

He took a chafing-dish filled with burning charcoal, and heated a small bar of gold very hot. This he took up with pincers, and applied to the soles of my feet, then to my elbows, and the crown of my head. I endured these cruel operations without showing the least symptom of pain, or making any complaint; being determined to bear anything, and to die, if necessary, rather than lose the wager I had laid.

"Let us try the effect on the woman," said the doctor, astonished at my resolution and apparent insensibility. And immediately taking the bit of gold, well heated, he applied it to the sole of her foot. She was not able to endure the pain for a moment, but instantly screamed out, "Enough!" and turning to me, "I have lost my wager," she said; "there is your leaf of betel." "Did I not


tell you," said I, taking the leaf, "that you would be the first to speak out, and that you would prove by your own conduct that I was right in saying yesterday, when we went to bed, that women are babblers?"

Every one was surprised at the proceeding; nor could any of them comprehend the meaning of what was passing between my wife and me; until I explained the kind of wager we had made overnight, before going to sleep. "What!" they exclaimed, "was it for a leaf of betel that you have spread this alarm through your own house and the whole village?--for a leaf of betel that you showed such constancy, and suffered burning from the feet to the head upwards? Never in the world was there seen such folly!" And so, from that time, I have been constantly known by the name of Betel Anantya.

The narrative being finished, the court were of opinion that so transcendent a piece of folly gave him high pretensions in the depending suit; but it was necessary also to hear the fourth and last of the suitors, who thus addressed them:

Story of the Fourth Bráhman.

The maiden to whom I was betrothed, having remained six or seven years at her father's


house, on account of her youth, we were at last apprised that she was become marriageable; and her parents informed mine that she was in a situation to fulfil all the duties of a wife, and might therefore join her husband. My mother being at that time sick, and the house of my father-in-law being at the distance of five or six leagues from ours, she was not able to undertake the journey. She therefore committed to myself the duty of bringing home my wife, and counselled me so to conduct myself, in words and actions, that they might not see that I was only a brute. "Knowing thee as I do," said my mother, as I took leave of her, "I am very distrustful of thee." But I promised to be on my good behaviour; and so I departed.

I was well received by my father-in-law, who gave a great feast to all the Bráhmans of the village on the occasion. He made me stay three days, during which there was nothing but festivity. At length the time of our departure having arrived, he suffered my wife and myself to leave him, after pouring out blessings on us both, and wishing us a long and happy life, enriched with a numerous progeny. When we took leave of him, he shed abundance of tears, as if he had foreseen the misery that awaited us.

It was then the summer solstice, and the


day was exceedingly hot. We had to cross a sandy plain of more than two leagues; and the sand, being heated by the burning sun, scorched the feet of my young wife, who, being brought up too tenderly in her father's house, was not accustomed to such severe trials. She began to cry, and being unable to go on, she lay down on the ground, saying she wished to die there. I was in dreadful trouble, and knew not what step to take; when a merchant came up, travelling the contrary way. He had a train of fifty bullocks, loaded with various kinds of merchandise. I ran to meet him, and told him the cause of my anxiety with tears in my eyes; and entreated him to aid me with his good advice in the distressing circumstances in which I was placed. He immediately answered, that a young and delicate woman, such as my wife was, could neither remain where she lay nor proceed on her journey, under a hot sun, without being exposed to certain death. Rather than that I should see her perish, and run the hazard of being suspected of having killed her myself, and being guilty of one of the five crimes which the Bráhmans consider as the most heinous, he advised me to give her to him, and then he would mount her on one of his cattle and take her along with him. That I should be a loser, he


admitted; but, all things considered, it was better to lose her, with the merit of having saved her life, than equally to lose her, under the suspicion of being her murderer. "Her trinkets," he said, "may be worth fifteen pagodas; take these twenty and give me your wife."

The merchant's arguments appeared unanswerable; so I yielded to them, and delivered to him my wife, whom he placed on one of his best oxen, and continued his journey without delay. I continued mine also, and got home in the evening, exhausted with hunger and fatigue, and with my feet almost roasted with the burning sand, over which I had walked the greater part of the day. Frightened to see me alone, "Where is your wife?" cried my mother. I gave her a full account of everything that had happened from the time I left her. I spoke of the agreeable and courteous manner in which my father-in-law had received me, and how, by some delay, we had been overtaken by the scorching heat of the sun at noon, so that my wife must have perished and myself suspected of having caused her death, had we proceeded; and that I had preferred to sell her to a merchant who met us for twenty pagodas. And I showed my mother the money.

When I had done, my mother fell into an


ecstasy of fury. She lifted up her voice against me with cries of rage, and overwhelmed me with imprecations and awful curses. Having given way to these first emotions of despair, she sank into a more moderate tone: "What hast thou done! Sold thy wife, hast thou! Delivered her to another man! A Bráhmanari is become the concubine of a vile merchant! Ah, what will her kindred and ours say when they hear the tale of this brutish stupidity--of folly so unexampled and degrading?"

The relations of my wife were soon informed of the sad adventure that had befallen their unhappy girl. They came over to attack me, and would certainly have murdered me and my innocent mother, if we had not both made a sudden escape. Having no direct object to wreak their vengeance upon, they brought the matter before the chiefs of the caste, who unanimously fined me in two hundred pagodas, as a reparation to my father-in-law, and issued a proclamation against so great a fool being ever allowed to take another wife; denouncing the penalty of expulsion from the caste against any one who should assist me in such an attempt. I was therefore condemned to remain a widower all my life, and to pay dear for my folly. Indeed, I should have been excluded for ever from


my caste, but for the high consideration in which the memory of my late father is still held, he having lived respected by all the world.

Now that you have heard one specimen of the many follies of my life, I hope you will not consider me as beneath those who have spoken before me, nor my pretensions altogether undeserving of the salutation of the soldier.


The heads of the assembly, several of whom were convulsed with laughter while the Bráhmans were telling their stories, decided, after hearing them all, that each had given such absolute proofs of folly as to be entitled, in justice, to a superiority in his own way: that each of them, therefore, should be at liberty to call himself the greatest fool of all, and to attribute to himself the salutation of the soldier. Each of them having thus gained his suit, it was recommended to them all to continue their journey, if it were possible, in amity. The delighted Bráhmans then rushed out of court, each exclaiming that he had gained his cause.

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