This was the story that launched me, half a century ago, on the voyage of discovering the folk tales of different lands. Tell me a tale became the signature tune of my life. Now this story is nowhere to be found. No anthology of folk tales contains this story. The book I had read it from is also lost to termites. I had to write it from memory for posterity, as I think it is pay back time for me. Obviously I have a great fondness for this story.Hope you too will like it, dear friends.
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One day a Brahmani, the widow of a Brahmin, while washing the family utensils and dishes in the village pond, saw a large shoal of small fish swimming in the pond. Instantly a wish came to her mind and she said to herself, “ How tasty a fish curry could be prepared with these fish with mustard and spices if they could only be caught !” She thought she could easily eat double her usual quota of food with such a delicious curry.

It so happened that the Brahmani died that day, shortly after returning from the pond. The messengers of Yama, the Lord of Death, came and took her soul away with them to the abode of Yama, far high up in the sky called Yamalok. She was presented before Yamaraj sitting on his throne in his Durbar. Yamaraj asked Chitragupta, his trusted minister and also the keeper of Records of virtues and Vices of each one of his subjects, to read the accounts of the Brahmani from the August Ledger. Chitragupta, after opening her page from the great ledger sat speechless and wonderstruck, while repeatedly striking his hands on his own forehead. Yamaraj became impatient at this delay and asked Chitragupta about its reason. Chitragupta replied, “ Your Majesty ! This Brahmani is a great sinner. In spite of being the widow of a Brahmin she has committed the unpardonable sin of wishing to eat her dinner with fish curry made of lot of small fish. Even the desire to eat just one fish is sufficient to punish her by casting her into hell; but the wish to eat a lot of small fish made into a curry is sufficient to condemn her to an eternally burning hell. So the enormity of her sin made me speechless for a while. Now It is upto You, your Majesty, to deliver the final verdict on her”.
Yamaraj delivered His final verdict. It was eternal damnation in a burning Hell.
The Brahmani was listening to the proceedings silently thus far but after seeing her fate sealed in this way, in such a drastic manner, she couldn’t contain herself any longer. She was not a great speech maker, not a great demagogue. So just a sentence escaped from her mouth. But in that silent and dignified atmosphere of the Lord Of Death’s court everyone present could clearly hear it unmistakably.

It stunned everyone including the Yamaraj. Yamaraj ordered her to repeat what she said as none from the beginning of the world had the occasion to think so or dared to speak so. It was clearly an indictment against the Yamaraj and His methods and ways of imparting justices . After all He was not the God Of Death only He was also the Impersonal and Just dispenser Of Divine Justices. His name could not be sullied in this way by an illiterate Brahmin widow of just eighteen years old. He thundered at the Brahmani to repeat what she had just said. Brahmani replied, cutting out all Your Highnesses and your Majesties from her address and quite bluntly said, “ If only my brother Ravi was here he would have taught the Yamaraj a lesson He so deserved for doing this kind of dictatorial and worthless justice.”

Yamaraj was beside Himself with embarrassment and livid with anger. How dared a mere mortal raise fingers at Him and his method of doing justice ? He would now take the Brahmani at her own words and make her eat them. He ordered his trusted messengers to run to the Earth and bring the Brahmani’s brother Ravi to his court. He instructed them to bring Ravi alive in his own body as his time in the Earth had not been up. The messengers reached the Earth in no time and presented themselves before Ravi and ordered him to set forth with them immediately for Yamalok. But Ravi won’t move an inch. He put a condition before the messengers for his compliance. If the messangers accepted his condition then only he would be pleased to comply, otherwise not. The messengers first didn’t take heed of his condition at all, only tried to impress upon him about the urgency of their task. But Ravi won’t move an inch. Their task this time was an unusual one too, they had to take him alive and they soon realized that that couldn’t be accomplished without his consent and cooperation. So they asked Ravi what was his condition. Ravi said, “ Let me first know why I am required by Yamaraj.”

The messengers flatly denied that no reasons could be given to him as that was strictly confidential. But this much only could be informed that his presence was required in connection with the Great Court’s proceedings. But this reply brought no change in Ravi’s demeanor and he chose to dig his heel in. At last the messengers had to completely give in, finding that nothing less satisfied this obdurate, impudent, insolent and recalcitrant mortal. So Ravi collected all the details about why he was required to be physically present at a place where nobody before him had the opportunity and privilege to be present while alive. The messengers now begged him to hurry as the Court proceedings had been halted till their arrival. But Ravi was in no hurry. He insisted that they walked with him for a mile through his village which he would be glad to show them around. The messengers had to oblige him by accompanying him because no argument cut ice with this insouciant mortal.

While passing through his village they came to a large tank with bathing ghats where many men and women were bathing on the large and long steps leading to the water. On seeing this Ravi exclaimed, ” I have got this tank dug for the villagers. It has cost me a fortune. But every penny is well worth it.”
They moved on. Then came the village school. Ravi said, “I have set up this school for the villagers.”
Then came a hospital for men and women, a hospital for cattle, the village market place in that order. On each occasion Ravi remarked the same thing, “I have set up this for the villagers.”
Thus they came to the end of the village whereupon Ravi gave his consent to ride the specially designed vehicle they had brought to take him to the Yamalok.

Thus they reached inside the Yamaraj’s court. Without wasting any more time Yamaraj ordered that the proceedings be resumed. He said, ” Ravi, your sister has expressed great dissatisfaction with the way of my meting out justice to her. She thinks you could do better justice than me. You may not have known it. But the truth is this that she had wished to eat fish curry being the widow of a Brahmin, which is , you will agree, an unpardonable and grave sin fit for eternal damnation in a burning hell. I have done just that, as per the book. What do you have to say on that ?”
Ravi replied, ” Sir, I am an honorable man. I have spent my life by doing many virtuous deeds for people. In fact my life is dedicated to the betterment of the people of my village. In my humble opinion, mere wishing for a fish curry doesn’t amount to a sin. My sister has not actually eaten any fish curry after she was widowed. She should be acquitted of all charges as no sin has been committed.”

Suddenly Chitragupta , the great account keeper, lifted his face from the ledger and blurted out, “Your Majesty, this man here is a great liar, a man of no importance and consequence, a village loafer, a cad, a charlatan, has never done anything for anybody in his life..” Probably Chitragupta would have gone on for some moments more if Ravi had not interjected, ” Sir, If I am not believed, please ask your own messengers ,ask them what they have seen while at my village. They will testify to all the good works that I have done in my village.”
Yamaraj called the messengers to the witness stand and they all testified that Ravi’s assertions were true. He had actually done much for his villagers.

Chitragupta summarily rejected his assertions by saying, “ All your good and bad deeds are recorded in my Ledger. Nothing can escape my notice. Everything is accounted for. But good or bad deeds only go into your account. By saying only you have done this and that no virtue is earned. Nobody becomes virtuous by claiming or wishing so. You have to back it up with actions. Your actions speak that you are a loafer, a charlatan and nothing else.”
Just then Ravi quipped, ” If my sayings could not earn me any reward nor make me virtuous, how could my sister’s saying to herself only make her a sinner and earn her punishment ? My sister was right in condemning your interpretation of Laws. Certainly Yamaraj and you are fools and when I return to the Earth I will tell everyone about your ways. Thereafter people will not worship you any more.”

Now Yamaraj was at His wit’s end. He could realize that Ravi and his sister had a point. He was impressed by the flawless logic of Ravi. He knew that if Ravi reported this matter to others on the earth then his image as the Yamaraj and the Dharmaraj would get a serious drubbing. Anarchy would then be ruling the Earth. He thought of ways to salvage His reputations. He offered to exonerate his sister of all sins, on condition and in return Ravi won’t be telling anything about this matter to any one on the Earth. Ravi disagreed. He wanted to remain shut up on one condition only. His sister’s life had to be spared and returned to the body lying lifeless on the earth. Yamaraj had to agree to his condition. His prestige was at stake. He knew it very well that a good king ruled not by force only but by finetuning with people and their perceptions. People matter most and their perceptions too. He could not afford to play with their perceptions. He should not only be just but seen to be just too. So both brother and sister were returned to the earth and with the blessings of Yamaraj they lived long and happy lives thereafter.