The Money-Lender

Submitted by Chris Webster on Sun, 2010/08/01 - 06:56
A Suitable Boy

There was once a villager who was very poor, so poor that he did not have enough money to pay for his daughter’s wedding and had nothing to borrow against. He was in despair. At last someone said: ‘Two villages away there is a money-lender who believes in humanity. He will not need any security or property. Your word will be your bond. He lends to people according to their need, and he knows whom to trust.’

The man set out in hope, and reached the money-lender’s village by noon. On the outskirts of the village he noticed an old man who was ploughing a field, and a woman, her face covered, who was bringing food out for him, her utensils balanced on her head. He could tell from her gait that she was a young woman and he overheard her say in a young woman’s voice: ‘Baba, here is some food for you. Eat it, and then please come home. Your son is no more.’ The man looked up at the sky and said: ‘As God wills.’ He then sat down to eat the food.

The villager, puzzled and disturbed by this conversation, tried to make sense of it. He thought to himself: If she were the old man’s daughter, why would she cover her face before him? She must be his daughter-in-law. But then he was worried by the identity of the dead man. Surely, if it had been one of her husband’s brothers who had died, she would have referred to him as ‘jethji’ or ‘devarji’, rather than ‘your son’. So it must have been her husband who had died. The calm manner in which both father and wife had accepted his death was unusual, not to say shocking.

At any rate, the villager, considering his own purpose and his own problems, went on to the money-lender’s shop. The money-lender asked him what he wanted. The villager told him that he needed some money for his daughter’s wedding and had nothing to pledge in exchange.

‘That is all right,’ said the money-lender, looking at his face. ‘How much do you want?’

‘A lot,’ said the man. ‘Two thousand rupees.’

‘Fine,’ said the money-lender, and asked his accountant to count it out immediately.

While the accountant was counting out the money, the poor villager felt obliged to make some conversation. ‘You are a very good man,’ he said gracefully, ‘but the other people in your village seem peculiar to me.’ And he recounted what he had seen and heard.

‘Well,’ said the money-lender. ‘How would the people in your village have reacted to such news?’

‘Well, obviously,’ said the poor man, ‘the whole village would have gone to the family’s house to mourn with them. There would have been no question of ploughing your fields, let alone eating anything till the body was disposed of. People would have been wailing and beating their breasts.’

The money-lender turned to the accountant and told him to stop counting the money. ‘It is not safe to lend anything to this man,’ he said.

The man, appalled, turned to the money-lender. ‘But what have I done?’ he asked.

The money-lender replied: ‘If you weep and wail so much about returning what has been given to you in trust by God, you will not be happy about returning what is given to you in trust by a mere man.’


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