Tell Me a Story

The Innocence of a Boy (An Indian Tale)

Once upon a time there lived a widow who supported herself and her son by grinding corn. Every day she baked the leftovers of the corn into a loaf of bread that tasted coarse and hard and was full of dry hulls. But her little boy loved his daily bread. He had never tasted anything else, and he grew healthy and strong.

One day the widow's neighbor gave birth to a beautiful baby, and the family was overjoyed. The father was so happy and proud he sent gifts to all the neighbors. To the widow's house he sent a bowl of rice with sweet milk.

The widow gave her son the whole bowlful, and he ate it in almost one gulp.

The moment he finished, he looked at his mother with serious eyes. "Mother," he said, "that was delicious. I shall never eat anything else."

The widow was glad her son enjoyed his treat, but never for one moment did she believe his words. The next day, as usual, she gave him his bread, but he wrinkled his nose.

"What did I tell you?" he scowled. "I will eat only rice and sweet milk."

"Don't be bold," his mother said. "Eat your food."

He stuck out his chin. "I won't. I'll eat rice and sweet milk or nothing!"

His mother could not believe her son's attitude. He had always been a good boy, and she had never dreamed he could be selfish and rude. "You know I can't afford such a treat," she said. "Only Devi can grant such a gift."

Very near their hut was a temple of Devi, a rundown place people no longer visited. But the widow had told her son about the great goddess, the gentle and radiant giver of fortune and success. It was the goddess, she said, who was endowed with the power to make earthly wishes come true.

Filled with longing and desire, the boy ran to the temple. He made an offering of wildflowers and then flung himself at the feet of the eight-armed statue of Devi. He stayed there for four days, praying and weeping to the stone statue. Finally, on the fifth morning, the goddess stirred.

A faint glow of life touched her face. It spread through her body and the stone statue of Devi came to life!

"What would you like?" she asked the boy.

"Rice and sweet milk every day," he said. "Please," he added.

The goddess was touched by such a modest request, and she understood this boy was wise indeed. "It shall be," she said. "But is there nothing more you wish to have?"

The boy thought for a moment, but at last he shook his head.

Devi laughed with delight and kissed his brow and handed him a berry. Then she transformed back into stone.

The boy studied the berry and wondered what to do. He hurried home and gave it to his mother and said, "Rice and sweet milk, please."

His mother recognized this fruit from the amla tree. This was the fruit of immortality, and when she saw it she laughed with joy.

"You shall have anything you wish," she said. "Take this to the palace and give it to only the Rajah. I promise he will grant your wish."

The boy hurried to the palace. The guards agreed to take this innocent child to the Rajah. What harm could he do? The boy handed the berry to the Rajah and said, "My mother says you will give me the treasure of the world in exchange for this. I wish to have rice and sweet milk every day."

The Rajah was astounded at the sight of this fruit that glowed with life's greatest gift. He ordered his servants to give the child what he wished. "And his mother too," the Rajah added. "In exchange for this, they must never want for anything."

Alone again, the Rajah began to think about this treasure. Eternal youth was a dream. Alas, immortality could be exhausting. As he continued to think about his life, he thought of his beautiful wife, Rani, the flower of his joy. If she ate the berry, she would be young forever. How grand to give her immortality. He took it to her and when she saw the berry, she was overjoyed. "My love, thank you!" she said.

But secretly Rani was in love with the royal horseman. That very night she slipped out to the stable and gave her beloved the berry, for she hoped this would persuade him to love her too. He gave her thanks, stowed the berry in his coat, and when she had gone, he hurried into town and gave the berry to the girl of his dreams.

This girl was amazed by such a gift, but when the horseman was gone, she thought of its importance, and she became very distressed. "My life is not worthy of such a great gift. This fruit must belong to the only man who is worthy, the Rajah, the father of our people."

The girl hurried to the palace and asked to see the Rajah, and when she gave him the berry, he stared in amazement. "Where did you get this?" he asked.

"Your horseman gave it to me," she said.

In that moment the Rajah understood that both his wife and the horseman had betrayed people who loved them. Then he thought of the boy whose only wish was for rice and sweet milk, and he understood it was the boy in his innocence and joy who was truly wise. The Rajah wished for that kind of wisdom, and so he placed the fruit upon his throne and left the palace.

The Rajah became a wandering sadhu, a monk dedicated to achieving wisdom through meditation and contemplation and simplicity. The boy and his mother lived comfortably ever after, and no one knows what happened to the unfaithful queen!

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