There was an old man who had stationed himself on the sidewalk of a busy street. There he was selling very ripe and delicious mangoes to the passersby. He did very brisk business and soon five mangoes were all that remained. Suddenly a young man came and snatched away the mangoes without paying. The old man cried, “What are you doing?”
The young man haughtily replied, “Look, I am the servant of a very important person. If you do not believe me, you can ask anybody. My master lives in a splendid tent near the palace. He is such a great man. So why should I have to pay you for these mangoes? On the contrary, you should be very proud that I am taking your mangoes for my master.” So saying, the young man left the vicinity with his stolen goods.
The old man cried bitterly. Then he decided to take his case to the king because he knew that the king was extremely kind-hearted. As soon as he appeared before the king, the king asked, “Please tell me why you are crying. What has happened to upset you so badly?”
The old man replied, “I am crying because five of my mangoes were just stolen. One young man came and took them for his master. He said that his master is a very great man and I should be proud to provide mangoes for him free of charge. He also told me that this master of his lives near your palace in a most beautiful tent.”
“Then I can easily trace him,” said the king, and he sent his bodyguards to search for the tent of that important person. If they found even one mango inside, then it would be taken as proof of the old man’s story.
The bodyguards went out of the palace and easily located that particular tent. Inside it were the five mangoes, still uneaten. When they reported their discovery to the king, the king summoned the owner, who happened to be a very wealthy man. The king asked him, “Do you own the five mangoes that my guards found inside your tent?”
The rich man said, “Yes, they are mine.”
The king asked, “Then where did you obtain them?”
“Oh, I do not know,” answered the rich man.
“If you did not buy them, who did?” continued the king.
“My servant presented me with these mangoes,” said the rich man. “I have no idea what he paid for them or where he bought them.”
The king said, “I would like to speak with your servant.”
“Your Majesty,” said the rich man, “I have sent my servant on an errand.”
The king asked, “When will he return?”
“It may take a little time,” said the rich man, “but I assure you, I have not stolen these mangoes. As for my servant, I simply have no idea whether he paid for them or not.”
The king said, “I believe you. You are innocent, but your servant is so bad. Now listen to me, kindly return the mangoes to this old man. Still you deserve more punishment. I order you to be the slave of this old man for five days — one day for each mango. Whatever he asks you to do, you have to do immediately. And if he makes any complaint against you, then I will punish you further.”
So for five days the rich man and not his servant had to be the slave of the old mango-seller. Anything that this old man asked him to do, he had to do.
After a few days, the servant-thief completed his errand and came back to the tent. He saw that his master was not there and he made enquiries as to his whereabouts. In this way, he came to learn what had befallen his master. The servant immediately ran to the street where he had first seen the old mango-seller, and there he discovered his master doing some menial work.
“You rogue!” said the master. “I gave you money to buy mangoes for me, but you told this poor man that you did not have to pay because you were my servant. Since I am such an important person, you told him that you were entitled to take the mangoes for me. Then this old man lodged a complaint with the king himself. Now I am being punished for your misdeed! Tell me the truth — do you still have the money I gave you for the mangoes?”
The servant quickly produced the money. Then the rich man asked the mango-seller, “If I pay you for the five mangoes, will you allow me to go back to my home?”
The mango-seller said, “I cannot make any decision on this matter. It is in the king’s hands. I would not have dared to make you my slave, but the king has ordered it. If you want to be released before the end of the five days, you must ask the king.”
Since the rich man was still the old man’s slave, his servant went to the king on his behalf. The servant cried and cried. He confessed to the king, “I did have the money, but I did not want to part with it. Therefore, I told the old man lies.”
The king said, “Now the punishment will be that you have to be the old man’s slave for five months. For each mango, you have to be a slave for one month. You will start when your master has completed his five days. On that day, you will go and take his place as the old man’s slave and he will be free to go home. One thing more I am adding — if you come back before five months has ended, then you will be his slave for five years. And if I receive any complaint from the old man against you, then the term of your punishment will increase even more!”
So the master completed his punishment of five days, and the servant became the slave of the old man for five long months. During this time, he performed all his tasks very, very well. At the end of five months, the king asked the old man, “Did this fellow listen to you all the time?”
The old man said, “Oh yes, he always listened to me. He was very obedient.”
The servant was then released and the king gave five hundred rupees to the old man.