Panchatantra: The Mice That Ate Iron

This is one of the stories from the Panchatantra tradition that made its way into the poetry of La Fontaine via the fables of Bidpai, and as a result is is known all over Europe. Here is an illustration by Granville for La Fontaine's poem:

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Panchatantra unit. Story source: The Panchatantra of Vishnu Sharma, translated by Arthur W. Ryder (1925).

The Mice That Ate Iron

In a certain town lived a merchant named Naduk, who lost his money and determined to travel abroad. For

The meanest of mankind is he
Who, having lost his money, can
Inhabit lands or towns where once
He spent it like a gentleman.

And again:

The neighbour gossips blame
His poverty as shame
Who long was wont to play
Among them, proud and gay.

In his house was an iron balance-beam inherited from his ancestors, and it weighed a thousand pals. This he put in pawn with Merchant Lakshman before he departed for foreign countries.

Now after he had long travelled wherever business led him through foreign lands, he returned to his native city and said to Merchant Lakshman: "Friend Lakshman, return my deposit, the balance-beam."

And Lakshman said: "Friend Naduk, your balance beam has been eaten by mice."

To this Naduk replied: "Lakshman, you are in no way to blame, if it has been eaten by mice. Such is life. Nothing in the universe has any permanence. However, I am going to the river for a bath. Please send your boy Money-God with me, to carry my bathing things."

Since Lakshman was conscience-stricken at his own theft, he said to his son Money-God: "My dear boy, let me introduce Uncle Naduk, who is going to the river to bathe. You must go with him and carry his bathing things."

Ah, there is too much truth in the saying:

There is no purely loving deed
Without a pinch of fear or greed
Or service of a selfish need.

And again:

Wherever there is fond attention
That does not seek a service pension,
Was there no timid apprehension?

So Lakshman's son took the bathing things and delightedly accompanied Naduk to the river. After Naduk had taken his bath, he thrust Lakshman's son Money-God into a mountain cave, blocked the entrance with a great rock, and returned to Lakshman's house.

And when Lakshman said: "Friend Naduk, tell me what has become of my son Money-God who went with you," Naduk answered: "My good Lakshman, a hawk carried him off from the river-bank."

"Oh, Naduk!" cried Lakshman. "You liar! How could a hawk possibly carry off a big boy like Money-God?"

"But, Lakshman," retorted Naduk, "the mice could eat a balance-beam made of iron. Give me my balance-beam, if you want your son."

Finally, they carried their dispute to the palace gate, where Lakshman cried in a piercing tone: "Help! Help! A ghastly deed! This Naduk person has carried off my son his name is Money-God."

Thereupon the magistrates said to Naduk: "Sir, restore the boy to Lakshman."

But Naduk pleaded: "What am I to do? Before my eyes a hawk carried him from the river-bank."

"Come, Naduk!" said they, "you are not telling the truth. How can a hawk carry off a fifteen-year-old boy?"

Then Naduk laughed outright and said: "Gentlemen, listen to my words.

Where mice eat balance-beams of iron
A thousand pals in weight,
A hawk might steal an elephant;
A boy is trifling freight."

"How was that?" they asked, and Naduk told them the story of the balance-beam. At this they laughed and caused the restoration of balance-beam and boy to the respective owners.

(600 words)

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