the good old days there once lived a mason. The days were good enough except
in one respect - there was not enough work for artisans of his kind. In
summer he would be busy for almost twenty days a month. In cooler weather
his services were in less demand and in winter he was confronted with a
period of prolonged hibernation. Little wonder, therefore, that he looked
emaciated. He was a good and clever workman but not all his cleverness
enabled him to make a regular living.
This good mason
had some rough and ready means of making some discrimination between his
clients. As far as possible he declined to work for people who were not
thorough gentlemen. Early in his career he had suffered once when he had
worked for a man of suspicious character. Later his client got involved
in a theft case and the mason's name was cited as a witness. He did not
have the patience or the ability to face interrogations by magistrates
or cross questioning of hair-splitting lawyers. He tipped the police officials
and effected his escape. "It cost me a whole month's wages," he used to
say by way of explaining why he was squeamish about his clients. "Dishonesty,"
he said, "has a chain reaction."
not even the best of us can always afford to stick to our foolproof principles
in this imperfect world. This practice on his part begot a reaction and
his clientele shrank. On one occasion he found starvation staring him in
the face. Though he did not mind his own privations, he could not stand
the hardships of his family, the sobs of his wife and the sunken eyes of
his children. While he found himself in a tight corner, he was once approached
by a man in need of his services. Though the man had no ostensible profession,
in fact he was reported to be a thief and burglar, the mason welcomed this
opportunity without any hesitation and started working for the man at his
residence. He was required to build a couple of underground cellars in
the basement of the house, provide ventilation for them and make arrangements
for lighting too. His client told him that he wanted to get the work done
much earlier but had not been able to see it through owing to his (the
mason's) reluctance to undertake the work. He obviously knew his objections
and waited till the time was opportune. He paid a tribute to his skill
as an artisan.
In the course
of a few weeks the work was completed. The master scrutinized it and found
no fault in its execution. While giving them solid form in brick and mortar
the mason had in fact been able to surpass the fancies of his client. The
latter was completely satisfied and said so. "This is why," he added, "I
was eager to engage your services for this particular job."
A job well
done deserves a reward and the thief knew it as well as any other man of
intelligence who is aware of the value of proper public relations. He asked
the mason to dinner the next day and added that he would then offer his
humble reward. The mason was much impressed with the conduct of the burglar
all through the period. He had been paid his wages every day and given
refreshment too in accordance with the practice of the day. The client
was all courtesy besides. The mason recalled to mind an ancient maxim which
means "live and learn even though you have attained a ripe old age." What
he meant was that his earlier opinion about people of shady character seemed
to be antiquated and deserved an early revision.
He came to
the burglar's house the next morning. He was the only guest. The preliminary
greetings being over, he suspected that his host's temper was somewhat
He felt nervous
and was reminded of the fable of the giant and the dwarf. In a few moments
he found the atmosphere surcharged with tension and felt increasingly uneasy.
He wished he had excused himself but there was no way out at the moment.
In a few minutes the uncertainty was ended when his host started to belabour
him. It did not come to the mason as an entire surprise but he was remorseful
that he had accepted this position against his better knowledge. His host
was most relentless and appeared to be in one of his worst moods. The mason
cried and entreated the burglar on bended knees to excuse his fault if
"I shall return
to you every pice taken in wages," said he, "and the greatest reward for
me is to let me go." But the appeal fell on deaf ears and the host relished
every lash he gave to the mason. The latter invoked all the holy angels,
the Holy Book and God to rid himself of the present misfortune. At last
the burglar seemed to have got tired and stopped.
The mason felt
very unhappy that circumstances had forced him to bargain his long practiced
principle. His very heart was bleeding not so much of the physical pain
as of the mental torture it had resulted in. He quietly got up to go home
but was prevented by the host, who in a stern voice bade him sit down.
The mason had not the nerve to disobey and crouched again. In a few minutes
the meal was served. It was a dinner of choice dishes but the mason, his
body smarting under the lashes, could least relish it. The dinner over,
the host presented to the guest a malmal (turban) and a five rupee
note by way of reward. The mason was confused beyond redemption by this
paradoxical behaviour of the burglar. But he quickly accepted the gift
for fear of a more unpleasant one and begged leave to go.
"I shall be
most happy to bid you good-bye after I place a valuable and an everlasting
gift at your feet," said the burglar. In his renewed confusion the mason
continued, "You did not ask me why I belaboured you so heartlessly?"
The mason was
filled with mortification but said nothing.
the burglar, "what I gave you as tokens of my appreciation will last a
short while and disappear. What I want to give you now will last for ever
and is sure to pass from one generation to another, and why I gave you
a beating thus was to imprint the lesson indelibly on your mind and body
so that you never lose sight of the great truth. The lesson I want you
to learn is that you need not fear thieves and burglars as long as your
doors and windows are well bolted and hasped. On the basis of my professional
experience my advice to you is that you should always keep your windows
and doors properly hasped and bolted at night to be free of the fear of
thieves. You will please excuse me for the beating but the lesson had to
be rubbed in thoroughly."