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The Story of A Leaf

2006-07-14 00:17

  Banbhatta was a great poet at the Court of King Harsha at Kanauj. Bana was the son of a poor, but learned Brahman. He was a clever boy, and son finished his education. Even while a boy he showed signs of becoming a great man, and as he grew older his poetic genius became known to all.

  Everyone spoke highly of him as a young man except his father. This made Bana very sad, and he often complained to his mother about his father's treatment of him.

  On one occasion he became so angry with his father that he made up his mind to take his life. He hid himself with a sword near his father's room. while he was in hiding, he heard his mother taking to his father. She was charging her husband with being unjust to their son.

  The old man listened for a while and then said, “Woman, you do not understand at all my treatment of our son. He has no equal, but I will tell you why I do not praise him. Everyone else is quite right to praise him, but he is very young, and too much praise is bound to spoil him. He may become too proud. That would mean his fall. You think I am jealous of his great fame. I am not; rather I am very proud of my son.”

  Bana heard his father and mother talking thus, and he now realized that he was quite wrong in thinking that his father did not like him to rise high in life. He went into his father's room, and fell at his feet. He confessed that he had made up his mind to murder him, and said that he was sorry for his folly. He also asked what he must do to be forgiven.

  His father said, “I am pained to learn all this. The only way by which you can obtain forgiveness is to live for twelve years in the house of your father-in-law, but during this period, you must be silent and utter not a word.”

  “You have set me this easy task because you love me,” said Bana. “Will you not give me something much more difficult to do?” “No, my son,” said the old man sadly, “You do not know how difficult is the test which I have given you. Farewell. May God give you strength and courage to bear your trial with cheerfulness!”

  At this time, Bana had been married for about two years. During this period he had never been to his father-in-law's house. So when he reached there uninvited, the whole family was very pleased. Bana's mother-in-law and his wife asked him many questions, but he uttered not a word. The only replies he gave them were by means of signs. They were puzzled why Bana did not speak, and were anxious to know what had happened to him. They thought that if he was not dumb, he must have gone mad.

  The faithful young wife tried her best to find out why her husband would not speak. When she spoke to him, he wept bitterly, looked at her in a pitiful way, but said nothing. She was certain in her own mind that he was not mad, but why would he not speak?

  Everyone, except his wife, soon became tired of him. The relatives taunted him day and night and made his life miserable. At last Bana and his wife were driven out and forced to take shelter in a temple of Shiva. The wife begged for food, and supported herself and her husband.

  One day at the end of twelve years, when the period of his trial was over, Bana's wife was surprised to hear her husband speak to her when she returned from the bazaar after begging. He said, “My dear, the task imposed upon me by my father has come to an end, and now fortune will smile upon us. Give me a pen and ink, and a plantain leaf.”

  His wife was unable to get any ink, but she opened one of her own veins, and brought the blood from it to her husband. The poet then wrote upon the plantain leaf two lines of poetry, and said to his wife: “Take the leaf to the market place and sell it. Ask a lac of rupees for the poetry. Do not accept anything less.”

  She went to the market place and sat in a corner, clad in rags. She offered the plantain leaf for sale, on which were written two lines of poetry. No one made her any offer for the leaf. At last in the afternoon, the manager of a very big firm came to her and asked the piece of the leaf. She told him that she could not accept less than a lac of rupees for it.

  The manager had orders from his master to buy goods which were unsold, but the price the woman asked for the leaf seemed to him to be very much more than it was worth. However he gave her one rupees and told her she would be paid the balance the next day. He also said that the owner of the firm was away, and that he wanted to show the leaf to his mistress.

  The mistress took the leaf and hung it beneath a large picture of Durga, where it could easily be seen.

  The merchant had been away from his home for nineteen years, trading in distant lands. Just after he went away his wife had given birth to a son, and of course the merchant did not know this until he came back. The very evening that his wife had hung the leaf beneath the picture of Durga the merchant returned secretly and in disguise to the city, and went to see his wife.

  From the outside, he looked into his wife's room, and saw her talking to a young man. This made him very angry, for he thought that the young man was his wife's lover. So he rushed into the room with a drawn sword in his hand in order to kill her. The first thing that came to his notice was the writing in blood on the leaf at the foot of the picture.

  'Do nothing rashly in haste;For it is the root of all evils.

  He stopped and asked his wife who the young man was. Turning to the youth, she said, “My son, how down to your father: he went away into distant lands just before you were born.” How sorry and ashamed the merchant was when he realized the true state of things! He asked his wife from where she had got the writing on the leaf which had prevented him from committing a rash act.

  The story of the leaf was told to him, and the next morning the merchant's wife and her son went to the temple of Shiva, and fetched the poet and his wife to their home. They gladly paid the price for the leaf, and the merchant's son maintained the poet in comfort for the rest of his life until he became the personal friend and court poet of King Harsha.

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