The Foolish Sons

: Part I.
: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

There was once a man of the blacksmith caste who had six sons; the

sons were all married and the whole family lived together. But the

sons' wives took to quarrelling and at last the sons went to their

parents and proposed that they should set up separate households,

as the women folk could not live in peace.

The blacksmith and his wife did not like the idea at all and pointed

out that it would be most ina
visable; while, so far, there was plenty

of food and clothing for all, they would find it much more expensive

to have seven separate households and split up what was quite enough

so long as they lived together, and what was to become of their old

parents who were now too old to work? The sons protested that they

would support their father and mother as long as they lived, even

though the family separated.

At last the old man said that he would put them to the test and see

whether they were clever enough to manage their own affairs and smart

enough to cheat people into giving them what they wanted. "I will

see," said he, "how you would manage to support the family in time

of famine or if we fell into poverty. I and your mother have managed

to bring up a large family, and you know nothing of the anxiety that

it has cost us; you have merely had to enjoy yourselves and eat your

meals; if you insist on it, I will let you separate, but don't blame

me afterwards. However to-morrow I will take you on a journey and

find some means of testing your cleverness."

So the next morning they made ready for the journey; their father only

allowed them to take one meal of rice tied up in their cloths and he

gave each of them one pice, which he said was their inheritance. They

set off and after travelling some way they sat down and ate up their

rice and then went on again. By the middle of the afternoon they

began to feel hungry, so the father proposed their going to a bazar

which was in sight; but between them and the bazar was a channel of

stagnant water, very deep, and with its surface covered by a coating

of weeds. They tried to cross, but directly they set foot on it they

sank through the weeds, and it was too deep for wading. So their father

said they would all camp on the bank and he would see whether they were

clever enough to get across the channel and bring food for a meal;

if they could do that he would believe that they could support their

families in time of famine.

So the old man spread his cloth on the ground and set down and watched

them try their luck one by one. The eldest brother first jumped up

to try but he could not cross the channel; everytime he tried, he

sank through the weeds, at last he gave up in despair and admitted

that he could not feed the party. Then the other brothers all tried

in turn and failed. At last it came to the turn of the youngest; he

modestly said that he was not likely to succeed where his elders had

failed but he would have a try, so he went to the edge of the water

and spreading out his cloth on the weeds lay down on it so that his

weight was distributed; in this position the weeds supported him and

he managed to wriggle himself across on his face to the other side.

Once across, he went to the bazar, and going to a shop began to

talk with the shopkeeper; after a little he asked for the loan of an

anna; the shopkeeper said that he could not lend to a stranger; the

blacksmith's son gave the name of some village as his home and pressed

for the loan, promising to pay him one anna as interest within a week

and pulling out his pice he said "See here, I will pay you this pice

as part of the interest in advance." At this the shopkeeper suffered

himself to be persuaded and lent him the anna.

With this the blacksmith's son went off to a second shop and begged

for the loan of four annas, as he had pressing need of it; he promised

to pay an anna a week interest, and to pay down at once the interest

for the first week. After some hesitation the shopkeeper was deceived

into lending the four annas. Then he went off to another shop and

borrowed a rupee by promising to pay eight annas a month as interest

and putting down four annas as advance.

Then he went to a Marwari's shop and asked for the loan of ten rupees;

the Marwari asked for interest at the rate of one rupee a day; the

blacksmith's son protested that that was too high but offered to pay

one rupee every two days and to pay one rupee of interest in advance;

the Marwari hesitated, but after being given a name and address--which

were however false--he gave way and took his signature to a bond

and lent him the ten rupees. At this the blacksmith's son set off in

triumph to rejoin his brothers; he crossed the water in the same way

as before and took the ten rupees to his father.

Then they all went on to another bazar and bought dried rice

and sweetmeats and curds and had a grand feast. Then their father

proceeded to point out to his sons how, except the youngest, they were

all useless; they had been unable to cross the channel or to make

anything of their own pice of capital; they had nothing to answer,

and all went home and from that day nothing was heard of any proposal

to divide the family until the old father and mother died.