Wisdom of the young

From the ancient city of Baghdad once ruled a wise and just caliph. His people trusted him and his amazing ability to give a fair judgement in disputes that often arose in families or among neighbours. However, there once came before him a quarrel on which even he could not give a judgement; at least not without the help of some children.

As the story goes, Abu and Iqbal were not just good neighbours but also good friends. They shared all that they had – food, money and thoughts and secrets.

One summer though, Abu decided to go on a long voyage around the world. He bid his friend goodbye saying, “My dear Iqbal, do me a favour – please allow me to leave my trunk of clothes and a large jar of pickles in your house. I shall return in a couple of years to collect them.”

“Abu, would I not do that for my best friend? Take good care of yourself. I will be waiting eagerly for your return.”

Two years passed and another three more but Abu did not return. Iqbal grew anxious about his friend. Another year went by and Iqbal gave up all hopes of Abu returning home. He remembered the trunk of clothes and the jar of pickles.

“I will give Abu’s clothes to the poor and keep the pickles for myself,” he thought to himself.

When he opened the jar, the pickle had turned black and mouldy on the top. But when he scraped off the top layer, he found much to his astonishment that the jar was actually filled with gold coins with a layer of pickles just enough to cover the gold. Iqbal sat lost in thought
for a long time. Was the money his? Should he take it? “Yes,” said his greedy mind. He cleared his conscience by believing that Abu was probably not alive. Abu would surely have wanted him to have the money in that case.

Iqbal emptied the jar and filled it with fresh pickles. He rubbed his hands gleefully as he thought of a great life ahead for himself.

A few months later though Abu returned. The two friends greeted each other warmly and spent many hours recounting all that had happened in the years they were not together. At the end of the day, Abu left with the two items he had kept with Iqbal’s. Just as Iqbal had
nervously anticipated, a furious Abu returned.

“You thief! You have taken all my gold coins and now filled it with pickles! Give me back my gold,” he demanded.

“I do not know what you are talking about. A jar of pickles is what you gave me and that is what I returned to you!’

Now, the two friends became sworn enemies. They took the matter to the Caliph, who Abu believed would find out the truth and who Iqbal thought would never be able to.

The Caliph was a great judge. He heard both accounts but could not tell who was lying and who was not. He told them to return after a month for his verdict. He needed time to think.

It wasn’t just the Caliph who thought about this case but the entire city of Baghdad. Some thought Iqbal was a thief; others thought Abu was not telling the truth. Everybody debated the issue but no one could tell who was wrong. Hence, the Caliph was quite taken aback when he heard a judgement from a young boy.

Outside his palace garden, a group of children were doing a mock play of the quarrel. He secretly watched; and at the end, the little boy playing the role of the Caliph said, “Iqbal, you are a thief! Return the gold coins to your friend at once! Soldiers, throw this man in jail!” ordered the “Caliph” as he walked out of the stage. The play was over.

The watching Caliph called the boy who had played his role in the play. “Little Judge, how do you know Iqbal stole the gold?”

“Simple, Sir! The pickles in the jar were fresh, not black and mouldy and six years old!” he said smartly as he ran off to play with his friends.

The Caliph smiled; the logic of the young was clear and simple.

Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. July 14, 2012

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