One day the Emperor Akbar was galloping through a village and his bodyguards were following behind him. They were also mounted on horses. At one place Akbar saw a very old lady standing outside her cottage. She was holding a sword that was very old and tarnished. She was looking at the Emperor so pitifully.
The Emperor said, “Grandmother, what do you want with this sword?”
The old lady answered, “I do not want anything. Only I would like you to touch it and bless it. You are the Emperor. It is the greatest honour for me to have you bless my sword.”
Akbar took the sword and blessed it. Then he returned it to the old lady.
Immediately the old lady started crying and wailing.
Akbar was puzzled. He said, “Why are you crying? I did not tell you that I was going to buy it from you. You did not tell me a price.”
The old lady said, “No, it is not for that reason that I am crying. I was told that if the Emperor touches anything, it will turn into gold because our Emperor is so good, so kind, so compassionate. I gave you my sword. You touched it and examined it, but it has not turned into gold.”
The Emperor said, “I cannot turn your sword into gold, but I can give you some gold.” From his pocket he took out a handful of gold coins and gave them to the old lady. Then he said to his guards, “Here is someone who can outsmart my Birbal!” Birbal was the court jester and his wit and wisdom were renowned.
“Birbal has to accept defeat,” continued Akbar.
“Birbal will never accept defeat!” said one guard. “He will find some way to outwit her.”
“No, Birbal will be no match for this old lady,” insisted Akbar.
Akbar returned to the palace and summoned Birbal to come at once. The guards said to Birbal, “The Emperor says that this time you will have to accept defeat.”
“I will never accept defeat!” said Birbal. “Nobody can outwit me.”
When Birbal came before Akbar, Akbar related the incident with the old lady. “See how easily she parted me from my gold,” said Akbar. “Birbal, you could not have done better yourself!”
“Emperor, I am going to bring the old lady and also her sword to the court,” replied Birbal. “Then we shall learn the truth.”
The Emperor said, “I do not think the old lady will come.”
“The old lady will definitely come,” said Birbal.
“How will you bring the old lady?” asked the Emperor curiously.
Birbal said, “I can bring her just by telling her one thing.”
Akbar said, “Say anything.”
Birbal said, “Then will you forgive me?”
Akbar said, “When have I not forgiven you? And how many stupid things you have said over the course of time! Yet I have always forgiven you.”
Birbal said, “I will tell the old lady that you are going to marry her!”
The Emperor said, “All right, since I have already told you that I will forgive you, I forgive you. Now go and bring her, if you can. But, I tell you, she is not going to believe you. She is not going to come.”
Birbal said, “Emperor, I have another way.”
“What is your new plan?” asked Akbar.
Birbal said, “I will tell her that the Emperor was not just. The Emperor did not give her enough money.”
“I gave her so much money. How can you say that?” said Akbar.
“I know,” said Birbal. “I will tell her that the Emperor had no respect for her sword.”
Akbar said, “I did not have respect? I touched it very carefully, plus I gave her so much money.”
“No,” answered Birbal. “I will tell her that this sword belonged to her great-grandparents, her ancestors. When something comes down from your ancestors, when it has been preserved for generations, the value goes very high. When you yourself say anything about your father Humayun and your grandfather Babar, immediately you shed tears of joy, love, gratitude and pride that you came from their family. Your ancestors were so great and good. Similarly, if I say something about them, you get such joy. And when I tell you stories about your forefathers, even though you already know them, you become so pleased with me that you always give me lots of money, because it brings them to your mind. When you think of them, you feel such joy in your heart.
“I will tell her that, since this sword belonged to her ancestors, it is invaluable. Therefore, you must give her more money. Whatever you have given is not enough. She may not believe that you are going to marry her. But the idea that she deserves more money will definitely appeal to her. Like you, I am sure, she has such respect for her parents, her grandparents and all her relatives. So she will definitely come. I am confident that I will be able to bring her.”
Akbar said, “All right, if you can bring her, I promise I will give her more gold coins.”
As soon as Birbal left the palace to bring the old lady, Akbar started praying, “Allah, let me defeat Birbal this once! For me, it is nothing to give the old lady more money, but I really want to defeat Birbal.”
In the meantime, Birbal was absolutely certain that he would be able to bring the old lady by giving her a lecture on her ancestors. He went to her village, but alas, she had disappeared. After she received the gold coins, she left her cottage and moved to some other place.
The neighbours said, “She has left. We do not know where she has gone.”
Poor Birbal had to come back to the palace and accept defeat. And Akbar was so proud of himself that for the first time he was able to defeat Birbal!