The Three Fools





Once upon a time three men were sitting at the foot of a tamarind

tree and a stranger came up to them with a bunch of plantains on his

shoulder and he put the plantains on the ground in front of them and

bowed and went away. Thereupon the three men began to quarrel as to

who was to have the plantains; each said that they were his because

it was to him that the man had bowed. So they started calling each

other "Fool" and after quarrelling for some time one said "Well, yes,

I admit that I am a great fool" and the other two asked why he thought

himself a fool and he said "Well one day my wife went to the jungle

with the other village women to get firewood and left our baby in my

charge; as she was a long time coming back the child became hungry

and began to cry; I walked him about but he would not stop crying;

I tried to feed him with rice and with rice water and with Gur

and with cow's milk but he would not eat or stop crying; I was in

despair when his mother came back and took him up and gave him the

breast and the child was quiet at once.



Seeing this I said to my wife "Human milk must be sweeter than

anything else." My wife said "Who can say whether it is nice; we

all drink it when we are infants; but when we grow up we cannot say

what it is like." Then I said that I would try what it was like and I

sucked her breast and found that it was much sweeter than cow's milk;

after that I formed the habit and used to drink her milk every day;

and as I left none for the child it died soon afterwards of starvation;

this shows what a fool I am."



Then one of the other men said "But I am a bigger fool than you." And

they asked him in what way; and he said "I was married and was very

much in love with my wife; once when she had gone on a visit to her

father's I went to fetch her home; and she was got up in all her

finery, with her hair well dressed and vermilion on her forehead

and red arta on her feet. On our way home it began to rain and we

took shelter in a village; and when the shower was over we went on;

and we came to a river which was in flood from the rain; the water

was up to a man's armpits and I decided to carry my wife across so

that the arta on her feet might not get washed off. So I took her

on my shoulder and to prevent her feet getting wet I held her feet

uppermost and as her head was under water when I got across I found

that she had been drowned; and if I had not been such a fool she

would not have been killed."



Then the third man said "And I also am a fool. I had quarrelled with

my own family so I lived with my wife in a house alone at the end of

the village and we had no children. Now I was very fond of smoking;

and one night I wanted a light for my hookah but there was none in the

house; so I started to go and ask for a light from some neighbour;

but as it was very dark I did not like to leave my wife all alone:

nor did I like to send her out alone to ask for the light; so at last

I took my hookah in my hand and set my wife astride on my shoulder

and went round from house to house like that, asking for a light;

and all the villagers laughed like anything; so I am a fool." Then

they agreed that they were all three fools and had better divide the

plantains equally among them and go home; and that is what they did.





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