The Devil Outwitted
Once there lived a young man in a village. He had no
land of his own but worked on the farms of several landlords one after another
and thus picked up a living. He was handsome and industrious and entered into
matrimony as could be expected. Fortunately his wife was an uncommonly good one.
She had attractive features, a strong physique and a sweet disposition - a rare
combination. She shared the burdens of her husband and made him happy and
Once, while she was returning from the spring with two
pitchers of water - one upon another - on her head in the company of several
other women, she and her husband came in for a poignant taunt from her
companions. How and why it started is needless to state but in effect they told
her that they were landless beggars and had little stake in the village. When
she reported the matter to her husband the "earth seemed to slip from under
his feet." He had all along been feeling that the landed class, even those
petty peasants who could not pay their rent to the State, did not treat him as
an equal because he had no land to call his own. The land gave a subtle but
respectable status to a tiller of the soil. Minus a piece of land of his own he
was like a woman unable to get a husband. Apart from his own feelings on the
subject, he was now upset that his wife had got hurt by the unsophisticated
though callous observations of the village women-folk.
The peasant was gifted with youth, health and strength.
Said he to his wife, "Is that what is worrying you? I never thought that my
wife would be upset by such idle gossip. Anyway, before the year is out, you
will also be the owner of a small farm of your own."
She felt somewhat reassured but could not see how it
would be possible for him to implement what he said. "May be," she
thought, "he has some resources unknown to me." She had grounds for
her fears because, as far as she knew, he had had no savings. As a cultivator he
was entitled to a share ranging from one half to one third of the produce of the
farm he worked on. But prices of agricultural produce were low and did not leave
anything by way of surplus. His savings had gone away on the occasion of his
marriage when he had to make a settlement on his wife. She also helped her
husband in earning their living, but soon came extra mouths to feed in the shape
of their offspring and their affairs did not go far on the road to prosperity.
The peasant approached the local patwari with a
present and told him everything. The patwari was mighty glad that this
latest client would bring him a little money in one form or another.
"I shall make you a peasant-owner" he assured
"But I have nothing to purchase it with"
rejoined the peasant.
"Don't worry", said the patwari.
"When I have given you my word, I shall prove true to it."
The patwari explained to him how he could become
a landholder without having to pay the price on the understanding, of course,
that the young man would render adequate service to the official. There was a
piece of land on the outskirts of the village which was entered as barren in the
revenue records. The patwari advised the young man to reclaim it and
assured him that he would help him in owning it in course of time.
The young peasant set about his task with might and
main. He was helped by his wife and in a few weeks the land was practically fit
for cultivation. The peasant was making preparations for sowing seeds. Late one
night he was about to return home from this newly-acquired farm when he found a
hen with a number of chicks occupying his path. Surprised to see this brood at
such a late hour he was about to make his way when a flock of sheep came within
his sight, and he was obliged to go from one side to another and suffer much
inconvenience on this account. He walked thus for quite a long time, up hill and
down dale, getting his clothes rent by brambles, or suffering from a fall now
and then, but he nowhere got near his house. It was dark and he could not make
out whereabouts he had been led astray. After a while he saw three or four men
coming with a lantern from a distance. He came to know through them that he had
strayed quite a few miles from his home to which they escorted him. "It is
the devil's doing," they told him.
The next evening when he was about to start from his
[arm he had some more experiences which the devil alone could cause. He planted
his pocket-knife into the ground and sat down. Lo ! the devil came forward in
the guise of a man with his heels in front and toes pointing backward. The young
peasant did not in the least lose his presence of mind.
"What can I do for you, my dear Sir ?" he
addressed the visitant.
''You have been tilling my farm," replied the
"Is that so, but the patwari...."
"To hell with the dishonest rogue!"
"Never mind, my dear Sir, I have all my life been
cultivating land for people. Could your honour get a better tenant than this
The devil obviously felt flattered with the respectful
attitude of the peasant. "I have no special prejudice against you. Only I
thought that a tenant would take the permission of the owner," said he.
"For that transgression I crave the indulgence of
your honour's generosity," submitted the peasant. "And what rent may
this humble servant be commanded to pay?" he asked.
Oblivious of the ironical attitude of the peasant, the
devil was taken in and demanded the same rent as other well-known landlords.
"Indeed, Sir, I shall feel it a great honour to
render unto your worship one half of the crop, but which half it would please
your highness to accept, I pray this humble servant may be commanded, the upper
half or the lower half."
"Of course, the upper half," said the devil
"By all means, your highness. When the crop is
about to be harvested, will it please you to come and have your share?"
The devil was mighty pleased and disappeared. The
peasant left for home with a light heart.
He did not tell anything about the visitation to his
wife but decided to raise turnips on his land. The seed was sown and in good
time the leaves raised their head from the earth. The devil saw it thus and felt
pleased that at last through his wisdom he was making a fortune through labour
not his own. Then came harvest time. The peasant was up and doing, cutting with
his sickle the leaves from turnips. A big heap of leaves he piled for the devil
and the turnips his wife carried home. While the devil was deliberating how best
to dispose of the produce of his land, the leaves started turning yellow and
brown. He carried them to the market but the prospective customers only winked
to each other or grinned at the wisdom of the seller. "Is it a conspiracy
or what?" said the devil to himself, deliberating over his failure to
dispose of the turnip leaves.
He came to know ultimately that he had cut a sorry
figure on account of his ignorance of farming. "For once this young peasant
has scored over me. But none of this more. I shall teach him a lesson now,"
The next sowing season came and the peasant once again
asked the devil "Which part of the crop will it please your honour to
have?" The devil did not like to give the peasant the impression that he
had been worsened and that he was smarting under the discomfiture.
He simply told him that he would take the lower
portion. "By all means, your worship, and this humble servant shall work
with utmost zeal to his entire capacity to win the approbation of your honour,"
said the peasant.
The devil was highly pleased with this unctuous
This time the peasant sowed barley and in due course
the entire farm was full of green waving crop. It pleased the devil to watch
this emerald spot, particularly when the wind forced it to bow to him in
courtesy. Gradually the virgin stalks were heavy with ears, and the crop turned
yellowish and golden. It was a bumper crop that the peasant raised.
Once again he and his wife got busy with harvesting.
They plied their sickles deftly and did a good job of it. Sawing the stalks into
two the peasant took all the ears and the grain leaving the stubble and the
roots for the devil. When the latter came to collect it, the peasant
respectfully submitted that the entire share was kept for the rightful owner,
untouched. And the devil was so glad! But in the market they laughed at his
stupidity and he understood that he had been duped once more.
"I must teach this fellow a lesson" said he
to himself and he felt relieved to throw the bundle of stubble into the stream.
By experience he had found that it was either the root or the top that mattered.
To eliminate all risks he determined to have both as his share and leave the
middle of the crop to the peasant. And he communicated it to him.
The peasant agreed unhesitatingly. The devil was sure
to trip him up. But the peasant had his own plans. This time he sowed maize. The
crop was rich and luscious. The stalks grew tall and full of white milky cobs.
In time the grains of maize became brown and strong on the cobs. The devil came
and got his due, the roots and the lofty crowns; and the peasant bundled
together all the stalks in between with the rich cobs growing on them.
The devil soon realized that even the third time he had
been defeated. "He is more than a match for me," he came to the
conclusion. He called the peasant.
"What is your highness's pleasure?" submitted
the latter courteously.
"Pleasure, indeed!" the devil replied.
"It is too much for me," he added, "the land and its problems.
From this time forth I have absolutely no claim upon your farm and you can do
with it what you like."
"Your highness, I am much grateful to you!"
There is a French variant in which the peasant sowed
pole-beans on the third occasion. Afterwards they hold a contest in wit, the
last one of its kind, in which, of course, the devil is defeated.