What is more precious? - Что дороже?
[ A Tatar tale - Татарская сказка ]
People say that there once lived an old merchant who had been putting money aside all his life and ha saved three thousand gold roubles.
The merchant had an only son. When the boy turned fifteen his father fell ill. He could no longer travel about on business, and so he called his son to him and said:
"It is time you took my place, son, and learn my business of trading. I shall give you a thousand gold roubles. Go with the other merchants to towns far away, and learn from them what you should buy and where sell it. Mind how you spend the money, and remember that there is nothing more precious in the world than gold."
The boy took the thousand gold roubles and went off with the merchants to a distant town. Once there, he did not go with the others to look for goods to buy, but went off himself to see what the streets were like. He came to a big house glanced into a window and saw a lot of young men sitting there and writing something. He asked the doorkeeper what they were doing, and this old man replied:
"It's a school. The bais' sons [bai – rich man] are learning how to read and write here. You'll be admitted if you have any gold to pay."
The boy entered the building and found the head teacher.
"I should like to learn how to read and write, esteemed sir," he said.
"A laudable wish," replied the teacher. "But do you have a thousand gold roubles? Ours is n expensive school, the sons of rich men study here. We charge a thousand gold roubles for teaching them."
The boy was delighted that he had exactly a thousand gold roubles, he gave the money to the teacher and remained in the school. The merchants looked for him and, failing to find him, returned home.
The boy studied hard, and within a year he could read an write better tan any of the other pupils.
"I have taught you everything I know," the teacher said to him. "You are literate now. Go back home."
He returned home. His father and mother were overjoyed to see him back, and then the father said:
"Now tell me, son, how you traded, and how you have multiplied our wealth. I gave you a thousand gold roubles, now how much did you bring back?"
"Forgive me, Father, but I did not bring back a single rouble," replied the son. "Instead, I have come back a literate man. For a whole year I diligently learnt how to read and write, and exchanged the thousand roubles for my literacy."
"Oh my poor, foolish boy!" wailed the father. "You must be quite stupid in the head if you failed to understand my instructions! Did not I tell you that there is nothing more precious in the world than gold? And you went and exchanged my gold for literacy! Can literacy keep the wolf from the door?"
"I did well to learn how to read an write, Father, it will help me in trade too. Give m another thousand, and I shall go with the merchants again."
This time he went with the merchants to another town. And again he did not go looking for goods with them, but went off by himself to take a look at the streets. He came to a house from whose windows music came pouring out. It turned out to be a music school where students were taught to ply the kurai (a type of flute). He found the head teacher and told him that he would like to enter this school.
"A year's tuition costs a thousand gold roubles," the teacher told him. "If you have the money, you may stay."
The boy paid the money and remained in the school. The merchants failed to find him, and went back home.
He studied diligently and within the year became the best kurai player in school.
"You have mastered the art," the teacher told him. "Go back home."
He returned home. His father and mother were overjoyed to see him back, and then the father asked:
"This time, at least, you did trade sensibly, I hope, and did not simply squander the money? Tell me, how you traded, how much profit you made."
"Forgive me, Father, I did no make any money this time either," replied the son. "I paid for my tuition again. Now I can play the kurai."
"Oh, why did Allah punish me with such a stupid son!" cried the father. "Surely you can't think that your music is more precious than gold?"
"Don't be angry, father. Give me your last thousand. This time I shall really get down to trading."
The father gave him his last thousand, and again the lad went off with the traders to a town far away. Here the traders found some fine goods for him to buy, struck a bargain and, leaving him to pay for his purchase, went off on business of their own. But the lad, instead of staying and settling with the merchants, went to take a look at the streets. He came to a house where boys were taught how to play chess. The head teacher told him that the tuition was a thousand gold roubles. The lad handed in the money, and stayed. The traders, failing to find him, went back home.
The lad studied hard and within the year was better than all the pupils and teachers. The time came to leave the school and return home.
"Show me the gold, son," the father said to him. "This time, I'm sure, you shall spare your father's feelings, you won't tell him that the money has been squandered!"
"Alas, Father, I did not bring back any money at all. But then I have learnt to play chess, and that's a very wise game."
"It has taken me a lifetime to save up the three thousand roubles and you went and squandered it all on nothing!" shouted the father. "I have nothing left at all! Go where you like, do what you like, I've done with you!"
The son left home. He was now eighteen years old, and was a big, strong lad. "I wish I could find work in a merchants' caravan," he was thinking. "Travelling with the merchants, I'd see the world."
A large caravan was just leaving on a long journey. The lad came to the caravan master and asked:
"You don't happen to need a labourer, do you?"
The caravan master looked him over and said:
"We do. You may stay. You'll work for your food and clothes. Were starting out early tomorrow."
The next day the caravan set off on its long journey. They crossed many lands and came to an arid steppe. People and animal were tormented by thirst, and there was no water. An old water well was found, and water could be seen sparkling on the very bottom. A pail was let down again and again, but it could not reach the water, and finally the rope broke and the pail was lost. The caravan master then said to hid labourer:
"You are the youngest here and very strong besides. Go down into the well and see why the water can't be reached, and get the pail while you're at it."
The lad was let down on rope into the well. When he was standing on the bottom, he saw that there was no water there at all, and what had sparkled there were gold coins. He tied the pail to the rope, filled it with the gold coins and gave it a tug, The pail was pulled out, and when the caravan-master saw the gold, he went crazy with astonishment and joy, and shouted:
"Is there more?"
The lad filled another pail, then another one. Altogether h sent up fifteen pails filled with gold coins.
"Is there more?" called down the caravan-master.
"No, no more. Pull me out now," said the lad and grippe the rope.
The men started pulling him up, but the caravan-master took out his knife and cut the rope. The lad fell to the bottom of the well. "What good is he to me now?" the caravan-master reasoned. "If I pull him out he'll start demanding his share of the gold, but with him gone it all belong to me alone!"
The lad took a look about him and saw an iron door in the wall of the well. He opened it and entered a tiny room. The shaitan lay sleeping there. "Oh, so that's whose gold I have been filling the pail with!" thought the lad. Hanging on the wall was a kurai. "It's all one for me now, so why not play for the last time." He took down the kurai and played. The old shaitan woke up and said: "For hundreds of years I've been living here in the dark, guarding the gold until I went blind. And now I can see again! It's your lovely music that has given me back my sight! Who are you, lucky lad? Ask for any reward you like."
"I don't ant anything at all, esteemed sir," replied the lad. "Please help me to get out of the well and catch up with the caravan."
Before the words were out of his mouth he found himself in the rear of the caravan, and took his place among the men as if nothing had happened. The caravan-master noticed him at once and cringed with fear: what would the lad do to him now? But the lad did not say a word to him and went about his work as before. This frightened the caravan-master even more. "He must be up to something too wily, if he keeps quirt like this. The moment we reach town he'll settle accounts with me. He's got be forestalled."
When the had two more days to go, he wrote a letter, gave it to the lad and said:
"Take the best horse, gallop to town and take this letter to my wife. I have ordered her to reward you well."
The lad took the letter and rode off, thinking: "This man has robbed me of the gold which I found and left me to die in the well. How can he be trusted? I'd better read what he has written to his wife. Knowing how to play the kurai has saved me once, and now knowing how to read will save me again."
Just outside the town, he stopped, and read the letter. "My faithful wife," it said, "I am bringing home untold riches. But if they are to belong entirely to us, the man who brings this letter has got to be killed. Tell me darling daughter that I shall be home soon to embrace her and shall buy her anything her dear hart desires."
The lad smiled a grim smile. Being acclaimed the best calligrapher in school had its uses, and now he wrote a new letter in the caravan-master's writing: "My faithful wife! I have grown rich with the help of this splendid young man. I have promised him our dear daughter in marriage. Let the wedding take place at once, and O shall be home in two days' time."
He gave the letter to the caravan-master's wife. She read it and said to her daughter:
"Father wants you to marry this young man. Will you?"
"Oh yes!" said the girl. She liked the young man very much. And the wedding was held that same day.
The next day, the lad went to take a look at the town as was his habit when in a strange place. He came to a great palace. People were crowding round it.
"This is the palace of our ruler, the padishah. He plays chess with the men here," people told him. "Whoever loses thrice to him has head chopped off, and if anyone wins three games from him he will get the padishah's beautiful daughter for wife. But it seems there's no better player than our padishah in the land. So many heads have rolled…"
"It seems the time has comet o put my chess-playing to the test," thought the lad. "I'll go and play with the padishah." And he entered the palace.
The great padishah was sitting behind a chess table with his viziers and army leaders standing round him. He was waiting for the brave who would have the courage to play with him. Everyone stared at the newcomer.
"Aren't you afraid of me?" asked the padishah.
"No, I'm no," replied the lad.
"When you've lost don't beg for mercy," said the padishah.
They began to play. The padishah won the first game, and the second, too.
"Your head's as good as hanging by a thread," said the padishah.
However, the lad won the third game, and then the fourth, and the fifth!
"Let's play again!' screamed the padishah.
"But I have already won your daughter," replied the lad. "What shall we play for now?"
"I stake half my kingdom!" screamed the padishah.
The vizier then whispered in his ear:
"O great ruler, it is incautious to stake half your kingdom."
"Never mind, I've only got to win once and then I'll chop his head off," answered the padishah.
The lad won again.
"I stake another lalf-kigdom!"
The vizier whispered to the padishah:
"O great ruler, you re risking all you have. It's too big a risk to run. Give him your daughter and half your kingdom."
"Oh no! This time I'll bet him and chop off his head, an everything will be mine as before!" shouted the padishah.
They began to play. And the la won again. And he said:
"I am the padishah now. I appoint you my chief judge. And I have no need of your daughter. I am already married. A large caravan is to arrive in the town tomorrow. Bring the caravan-master to the palace into my presence."
The next day, the guards brought the caravan-master into his presence. The man stared at the padishah and could not believe his eyes - could this be the same lad whom he had first left to die in the deep well and then sent home with a letter to his wife? The new padishah read his thoughts and said:
"Yes, I am the very same lad whom you robbed and twice tried to kill," and he told the courtiers the whole story. "It's for you to judge him, here he stands before you, blackguard that he is."
The courtiers together with the chief judge, the former padishah, brought out the verdict: chop off the blackguard's head!
And then the new padishah said:
"He will do no more evil. He is my father-in-law, I am married to his daughter, and I grant him his wife. Left him live."
Now, he ordered hid father and mother to be brought to the palace. The old man was overjoyed to find that his son had become a padishah.
"How did you manage to do this, my dear son, when you had no gold let at all?"
"Father, knowledge, as you can see for yourself, is more precious than gold," replied the son.
The Tatars live in their own republic (Tatarstan Republic) on the Volga and also in many regions to the east of the Volga and in Western Siberia. The Tatars are the second largest nation in the Russian Federation and number 6,317,000 people. The Tatar language became shaped in the 15th-16th centuries in the period of the khanate. Their traditional occupations are crop farming, vegetable gardening, cattle breeding and the craft.
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