Mangal Das the Miser
Mangal Das was a cloth merchant in a small town named Banga in Punjab and was famous as a penny pincher. One day on returning home when he learned that his wife had thrown away the watermelon rind, he made her fish the pieces out of the drain. She had to wash the cook them.
He had to go to the city on some business and to save the bus fare he walked. To pay the lowest ferry fare he picked the cheapest one on the waterfront. On his return river crossing the decrepit boat developed a leak and quickly began to sink when it was right in the middle of the river. Mangal Das was terrified because he did not know how to swim. He began to mumble his best prayers and promised to feed 1000 Brahmins if the Lord Vishnu would spare his life.
The boat sank and Mangal Das was sinking in deep water. Noticing a log floating a couple of feet away he put his arm securely around it and began to float. But with the return of hope for his life the thought of feeding 1000 Brahmins began to vex him. He reasoned, ‘well, I was rash in making such a large commitment. Perhaps the gods will be just as pleased if I fed 500.’ After floating some distance he felt a large rock under his feet and stood up. The shore was now near and the danger much less. His mind shifted to the promise of feeding 500 men. ‘It cannot be necessary to feed 500. A hundred should be quite enough’ he thought.
After some rest he again rode the log and soon touched sand on the shore. After a big sigh of relief, to feel even better, he reduced the number of Brahmins to just one. He was still worried because he knew that most Brahmins were gluttons. Cleverly, he decided to invite Pandit Rikhi Ram known for his small appetite.
Mangal Das went to Rikhi Ram’s house to request him to do a thanks-giving puja at his house. To avoid giving in to the demands of the ‘greedy’ Brahmin, Mangal Das instructed his wife to feed Rikhi Ram and send him off with a small dakshina (Brahmin’s fee). He slipped away the previous evening on the pretext of some urgent work in another village.
Rikhi Ram too was alert and well informed by his spies. He quite correctly predicted Mangal miser’s mind. At the crack of dawn he knocked Mangal’s door. His wife Paro was surprised. To ease her mind Rikhi Ram said, “I know I am early, but I must tell you to cook for at least 10 Brahmins for the puja will otherwise be ineffective.”
Rikhi started the puja after putting all the food before the idol and asked Paro to put a hundred rupee note on top of the food as cash offering to the gods. Paro had not been briefed in detail and having had no previous experience of such things she complied. After the puja the pandit put the cash in his pocket, ate his fill, packed the remaining food to take home. He then asked Paro for his dakshina of Rupees 200 and said that without it the whole effort would be wasted. Paro did as she was told and pandit Rikhi Ram left feeling pleased with his take for the day.
Rikhi Ram knew that Mangal Das would be raving mad on hearing of his exploits. So he hatched a plot, briefed his wife, and went to sleep. On hearing how the pandit had swindled him Mangal Das came close to having a heart attack. He rushed to Rikhi’s house carrying a heavy bamboo stick. He heard Rikhi’s wife wailing, “Oh God, my husband is dying. He ate at Mangal Das’s house. The food must have been poisoned.”
The stick fell from Mangal Das’s hand. He was deathly worried, ‘if Rikhi dies I will be put in prison. Who knows I may even be hanged.” He tried to pacify Rikhi’s wife and went in to see the patient. Rikhi was lying in bed unconscious but he was alive. This gave Mangal some hope. He asked Rikhi’s wife to call a taxi and take her husband to the best hospital in town. He must hot die. She replied, “I too wanted to do what you say, but I will need at least a 1000 rupees. No hospital will admit such a serious patient without money.” Then she began to wail, “oh, I am ruined, I am going to be a widow at such an early age.”
Mangal Das was desperate. He could not think straight. Despite his niggardliness he said to the crying woman, “Look, this is not the time to haggle. Send your son with me and I will give him a thousand rupees. But you must act fast.”
Next morning the story spread all over town and soon to nearby villages. You would hear it even today if you went to Banga!
Most people had a hearty laugh at Mangal Das and said it was a good lesson for him. One wise man said, “You cannot cheat God for long, can you?”
March 31, 2007