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Clever Wrestler

2006-07-13 21:37

  There was once a young wrestler, called Pahalwan , who was know to be a hot-head. 'I am not a bit afraid of demons,' he declared one day in the middle of the marketplace. 'As for dwarf and sprite,' he kept on, 'I am ready to play ball with them.'

  'What about the monster?' the villagers asked as they crowded round him. 'Can you face the ones infesting in the Valley of Ire?' 'What are they like?' Pahalwan asked in his turn. 'And tell me, what's funny about the Valley of Ire?' There nothing funny about this Valley,' they replied. 'Surely you know what it is like. It's the barren tract between Narayangarh and Ramgarh'.

  Pahalwan murmured that he had a vague idea of the whereabouts of one of the two towns, Narayangarh and Ramgarh, but had not the faintest notion of monster-infested Valley. 'The road linking the two towns,' they explained, 'passes through the Valley.' 'It isn't much of a road,' someone added, 'for it is rugged and broken. It winds through most frightful cliff and deep ravines, and at places it tunnels its way through overhanging crags which shed stones on all passer-by.'

  'That's fine,' Pahalwan exclaimed. 'To use that road would be like swimming across a river full of man-eating turtles and cattle-gobbling crocodiles. Turtle and crocodiles don't frighten me, and there's no reason to be afraid of hanging crags.'

  But the villager said, 'you have heard only half of the story.' They then made it clear to him that though the natural dangers in the valley were enough they were nothing compared with the supernatural ones- the plutonic monsters who lived there. 'The ghouls,' they went on,'are horrid creatures that feed on carcasses. They waylay travelers and kill them. And the main trouble with them is that they can assume any shape they choose to mislead the unwary.'

  'When passing through the valley,' a mango-seller began, 'you may come across a cow or a camel, and you may well wonder, “What's that cow doing here?” or “Whose camel can it possibly be?” But before you have done with your wondering the cow or the camel turn into a giant to knock you down'. 'Maybe,' a melon-vendor added, 'the animal will take the shape of one of your friends and ask for a drink of water, and then suddenly change into a vampire to suck your last drop of blood out of you.'

  'In other words, 'Pahalwan interrupted the villagers, 'you don't know what a monster looks like. That's the plain truth. Well, I am off to the Valley of Ire this very minute. When I come back you will hear more about your famous carcass-eaters.'

  'Don't be silly,' they all cried. 'It would be sheer madness to venture into Valley all by yourself.'

  But Pahalwan refused to dissuade. Being a hothead he lost his temper altogether when the whole village wailed, 'you are only a middling good wrestler: how will you tackle a monster?' Never mind now: I'll do it,' Pahalwan growled. I'll make a fool of the first monster I come across.' He swore roundly as he hurried out of the village taking nothing with him but save a small packet, which a kind widow thrust into his pocket.

  This tiny parcel contained a lump of salt and an egg. Pahalwan smiled when he examined the widow's gifts. For this good lady was known for her eccentricity. She fed her hens with red lentils, red beetroots and other curious feeding stuff to get eggs with red yolk. 'I ought to have thanked her,' Pahalwan sighed. 'She is a mother of the prettiest girl of the village. Now, however, it is too late, for I am ready in the valley of Ire.

  Just then he heard a voice calling him by his name from a great distance. 'Friend Pahalwan!' the voice quavered, ' you are going the wrong way. You will get lost. I am your friend Ghansham. Come this way!'

  Pahalwan realized at once that the creature that was calling out to him was no other than ghoul. He was immediately on his guard. However, pretending to be unconcerned he shouted back, ' Where are you, my friend Ghansham? It is getting dark and I can't see far. Come near me, and show me the way.'

  And soon the monster, disguised as Ghansham, was by his side. Aha! Said Pahalwan. 'So here are you! My dear monster, I know you: you are a lying rascal, pretending to ghansham. Anyway, I am lucky. For you are just the creature I was longing to meet. And you know the reason why.'

  'Really, I don't, replied the ghoul, greatly surprised at Pahalwan's boldness. Rarely had he met a solitary wayfarer who did not tremble at the mere mention of the word 'monster,' and here was Pahalwan beaming with delight and declaring that he was lucky! It didn't make much sense. So he repeated, ' really, I don't know why you have been longing to meet me.'

  'That proves,' Pahalwan snapped, 'you are stupid monster. You can't read a man's thoughts. So you must be pretty worthless. However, even a stupid and worthless monster is better than no monster. Therefore you are welcome. As for me,' he went on,' I am a champion wrestler. I can easily strangle a cattle-gobbling crocodile, beat a man-eating turtle into jelly, and do many other things of this kind. But to tell the truth, I am sick of trying my strength on natural creatures. I want a supernatural being to fight with. Now do you understand why I am in this Valley all-alone?'

  Pahalwan's patter made the monster speechless. He scrutinized our village wrestler carefully and finally said,' Well, between ourselves, you don't appear to be this strong.' 'Appearances are misleading,' Phalwan replied readily. 'Take your case. You appear to be Ghansham, but that does not prevent your being a rascally monster. Now let me give you a definite proof of my argument and of my strength as well. There, ' he said, picking up a piece of rock from the ground, 'take this stone and feel it. It appears to be dead and dry. But I tell you it is filled with a fluid. Squeezed it hard and see for yourself if I am right or wrong.'

  The monster took the stone and did his best to squeeze it, but after a short attempt returned it, saying, 'it is impossible.'

  'Quite easy, ' said Pahalwan, putting the stone into stone into his pocket and then taking it out again with the widow's eggs. 'Look here! See the blood of the stone oozing out because I have pressed it hard!

  The cracking of the egg made just enough noise to create the illusion that the stone was being crushed, and then the red yolk running through Pahalwan's fingers proved his point: 'Appearances are deceptive.'

  The monster was too astonished to notice how Pahalwan got rid of his broken eggshell as well as of the stone while picking up a pebble of dark color. 'Here, 'Pahalwan said,' here is something to prove further my strength, and what's more, my power of seeing through things. Take this dark pebble and tell me what you see.' The monster took it and after peering at it for a minute declared that he was no good at seeing things in the dark: the evening was already far advanced. But so far as he was concerned the pebble in question was a pebble and nothing more.

  'So,' Pahalwan sneered, 'you are as good as night-blind. True it has become dark, but not so dark as to hide the qualities of this pebble. This let me assure you, contains salt. Just crumble it between your fingers, and you will see what happens.'

  The monster looked at it again and tried his strength on it and finally confessed that he had neither the gift of discovering its qualities nor the power of breaking it between his fingers.

  'That's shame,' Pahalwan remarked. 'Give it back to me. I thought I was lucky when you greeted me, but now I know I am not really lucky. What's the use of challenging a weakling like you to a wrestling match in the dark? You will be floored in a minute.' He went on talking in this way while he dropped the pebble into his pocket and took out a lump of salt he received from the eccentric widow. 'Now,' he said as he crushed the lump between his fingers, 'now taste the powdered pebble and tell me if it contains salt or not'.

  The monster did as he was told and became alarmed: Pahalwan was right. What would happen, he asked himself, should the wonderful man exert his strength on him? There was no possibilities of escape by changing his form into that a beast. For pahalwan had warned him that if he started any such unfair dealing he would receive no mercy: he would be instantly slain by our village wrestler. 'Between ourselves,' Pahalwan had remarked of a few minutes earlier, 'I know monster are not after all, immortal, and even if you were, I should like to take you back with me to my village as my prisoner. My friends have never seen a monster and it would certainly be amusing for them to inspect you. But I believe in fair play. As you can't see well in dark I have no intention of fighting you tonight.' In the circumstances, the monster thought, the best plan would be to win the wrestler's confidence, take him home and see that he got to bed soon. 'Then,' he said to himself, I shall smash him to bits.'

  So he started talking to Pahalwan in an ingratiating way. 'Sir,' he said, 'I know of monsters who would be only too willing to be taken into captivity by a valiant wrestler like you. I know of others who would be your worthy match. But as for me, I am too insignificant a member of my tribe to deserve your attention. All the same,' he continued, 'since Providence has given me the opportunity of meeting you, may I request you to honor my humble residence with you presence? It is quite near. And a pleasant night's rest you will find every comfort and refreshment. After a pleasant night's rest you may resume your journey, and on your way back pick up as many monsters as you wish to take with you to your village.'

  'Friend ghoul,' Pahalwan replied, 'I have no objection to your proposal. But mind you, I am a short-tempered man. I brook no disrespectful word. Moreover, I can read people's thoughts clearly as I can see salt or blood hidden inside rocks. So take care that you harbor no wicked designs, nor use any foul language in my presence.'

  At this the monster swore by the head of the chief of his tribe that Pahalwan's conditions were accepted and the laws of hospitality would be carefully respected. Then he led our wrestler through a number of crooked paths and narrow gullies to a large cave, which was lit by innumerable shining gems and luminous precious stones. 'Here, sir,' he declared, 'is my humble adobe. Though poor it will furnish you with all you want for refreshment and rest. Let me now show you round my various apartments.'

  Though the entrance to the cave was nothing spectacular and rather narrow, it led to spacious galleries hollowed out of a cliff. There were large rooms filled to overflowing with every species of grain and all sorts of merchandise, the accumulated wealth of plundered caravans. There were also ample signs- bleached bones, for instance- to inform Pahalwan that the monster did subsist on the carcasses of travelers deluded or dragged into his den.

  'Will this be sufficient for your honor's supper? ' The monster asked Pahalwan as he took up bag of rice as big as a barge. 'A man of your strength must have a corresponding appetite.' 'True,' Pahalwan said. 'But I am a professional wrestler, and my trainer taught me to be moderate. I live virtually on one meal a day, and that is pretty modest: only one whole sheep and a bag of rice of about the size you have just taken up. But I had my meal before starting on my journey. So I don't really need anything for tonight. However, for your sake- to keep the laws of hospitality and friendship- I shall take a handful of rice. Only a handful.'

  'I must boil it for you,' said the monster. 'For surely you do not relish grains or meat raw like me. Here is cooking pan,' he continued as he fished out one from a heap of plundered property. 'And I will now go get some wood and light a fire in the kitchen, while you might perhaps fetch some water with that.' A gigantic leather bottle was pointed out to Pahalwan: it was made of the hide of several oxen.

  Wrestler waited till his host had gone out to fetch some firewood. He then tried to drag the monstrous leather bottle, or bag to a fountain in the corner of the cave. With great difficulty he managed to drag it some distance and then he thought, how was he to take it to kitchen when filled with water. 'I can hardly manage it when it is empty,' he said to himself. 'It would demand a hundred like me to carry it when full.'

  So he decided that it would be easier to carve a tunnel across the floor, from the fountain to the kitchen, and picked up an instrument resembling a shovel, edged with sharp diamonds. His idea was not bad, and the instrument sufficiently sharp to cut stone. But it was a time-taking job to scoop out a tunnel of hundred feet or so- the distance between the kitchen and the fountain. In an hour's time he managed only a couple of feet.

  'What are you doing there?' roared the monster when he found Pahalwan busy with his shovel, 'I asked you to bring a drop of water to boil a handful of rice, you have been about it for an age. Can't you fill the leather bottle to bring it away?' 'Certainly, I can,' Phalwan replied. 'Not only one bottle but a dozen if I were content to give a show of my brute strength. But that would be a poor way of manifesting my liking for you. But here, he continued, pointing to the channel he had started for conducting the water of the fountain, 'here is the beginning of something of permanent interest, a sound token of my appreciation of your hospitality. This canal, through slender, will spare you the bother of moving to and fro with that uncouth leather bottle. But please leave me alone till it is finished. I shall work on it all night, if necessary.'

  'Nonsense,' growled the monster impatiently, as he seized the leather bag and filled it. 'I will carry the water myself. And it would be against all laws of hospitality if I allowed you to remain awake all night. You must go to bed as soon as you have finished your supper. Toil on your canal tomorrow all day if you like.'

  Pahalwan congratulated himself on his narrow escape, and readily followed his host to the kitchen. He had a hearty meal and then went to repose on a bed made of richest coverlets and pillows taken out of one of the storerooms of plundered goods. However, though the bed was most comfortable it was impossible for him to sleep. Terror and anxiety kept him awake.

  But as for the monster, as sooner had he laid himself down than he fell asleep and ere long began to snore peacefully. Now Pahalwan got up gently and stuffed a long bolster in the middle of his bed to make it appear as though he were still there; he then tiptoed to a corner to hide himself behind a tapestry and watch from there the monsters proceedings. The latter woke up with the sunrise and then softly went towards the bed of his guest, carrying in his hand a staff as massive as the main mast of a big boat, and with this struck a terrible blow on what he thought to be Pahalwan's head. And not hearing the least groan, the monster smiled, thinking that he had deprived his guest of his life. But to make sure of his end, he struck six more blows, each as vigorous as the first one. Then satisfied with his work he returned to his couch and covering his head with his bedsheet settled himself to sleep again.

  Pahalwan now crept back to his bed and pushed away the bolster and raising his head cried out, 'Friend monster! What strange insects do you breed in your cave? A bug woke me up with its flapping. Of course it had neither bitten me nor harmed me in any way. Still it is most annoying.'

  The monster fright at hearing Pahalwan speak at all was great, but it turned to panic when he heard his seven mightiest blows referred to as seven flaps of a mere insect's wings. There is no safety,' he said to himself, 'near so forcible a wrestler.' So without uttering a word he jumped up and fled from the cave, leaving Pahalwan its sole master.

  It needed a string of hired camels from Narayangarh and several teams of requisitioned mules from Ramgarh to remove the property Pahalwan had acquired. After making restitution to such caravan-owners as were still alive to identify their goods, there was enough left to make him a man of great wealth.

  'A monster,' Pahalwan declared when he returned home, 'a monster has no form or shape of its own. Nevertheless it is most forcible creatures. It is as strong as a giant is and as disagreeable as an monster.' He then called on the eccentric widow who had given him the tiny packet containing egg and a lump of salt. He thanked her and asked for the hand of her daughter.

  'But for you, mother,' he told her, 'I should have been a monster's food the moment I entered the Valley of Ire. God be praised, it was a stupid monster I came across.

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