The Little Clay Cart, by Shudraka, tr. Arthur William Ryder, , at sacred-texts.com
[Enter Chārudatta's servant, Vardhamānaka.]
Vardh. MASTER, kindly and benevolent,
It is some time since Chārudatta went to the concert. It is past midnight, and still he does not come. I think I will go into the outer hall and take a nap. [He does so.]
[Enter Chārudatta and Maitreya.]
Chārudatta. How beautifully Rebhila sang! The lute is indeed a pearl, a pearl not of the ocean.
Maitreya. Well then, let's go into the house.
Chārudatta. But how wonderfully Master Rebhila sang!
Maitreya. There are just two things that always make me laugh. One is a woman talking Sanskrit, and the other is a man who tries to sing soft and low. Now when a woman talks Sanskrit, she is like a heifer with a new rope through her nose; all you hear is "soo, soo, soo." And when a man tries to sing soft and low, he reminds me of an old priest muttering texts, while the flowers in his chaplet dry up. No, I don't like it!
Chārudatta. My friend, Master Rebhila sang most wonderfully this evening. And still you are not satisfied.
The melody of song, the stricken strings
In undertone that half-unconscious clings,
More clearly sounding when the passions rise,
But ever sweeter as the music dies.
Words that strong passion fain would say again,
Yet checks their second utterancein vain;
For music sweet as this lives on, until
I walk as hearing sweetest music still.5
Maitreya. But see, my friend! The very dogs are sound asleep in the shops that look out on the market. Let us go home. [He looks before him.] Look, look! The blessèd moon seems to give place to darkness, as she descends from her palace in heaven.
Maitreya. Well, here is our house. Vardhamānaka, Vardhamānaka, open the door!
Vardhamānaka. I hear Maitreya's voice. Chārudatta has returned. I must open the door for him. [He does so.] Master, I salute you. Maitreya, I salute you too. The couch is ready. Pray be seated.
[Chārudatta and Maitreya enter and seat themselves.]
Maitreya. Vardhamānaka, call Radanikā to wash our feet.
Chārudatta. [Compassionately.] She sleeps. Do not wake her.
Vardhamānaka. I will bring the water, Maitreya, and you may wash Chārudatta's feet.
Maitreya. [Angrily.] Look, man. He acts like the son of a slave that he is, for he is bringing water. But he makes me wash your feet, and I am a Brahman.
Chārudatta. Good Maitreya, do you bring the water, and Vardhamānaka shall wash my feet.
Vardhamānaka. Yes, Maitreya. Do you bring the water. [Maitreya does so. Vardhamānaka washes Chārudatta's feet, then moves away.]
Chārudatta. Let water be brought for the Brahman's feet.
Maitreya. What good does water do my feet? I shall have to roll in the dirt again, like a beaten ass.
Vardhamānaka. Maitreya, you are a Brahman.
Maitreya. Yes, like a slow-worm among all the other snakes, so am I a Brahman among all the other Brahmans.
Vardhamānaka. Maitreya, I will wash your feet after all. [He does so.] Maitreya, this golden casket I was to keep by day, you by night. Take it.
[He gives it to Maitreya, then exit.
Maitreya. [Receiving the casket.] The thing is here still. Isn't there a single thief in Ujjayinī to steal the wretch that robs me of my sleep? Listen. I am going to take it into the inner court.
Chārud. Such lax attention we can ill afford.
[He nods, repeating the stanza "The melody of song, the stricken strings:" page 44.]
Maitreya. Are you going to sleep?
Chārudatta. Yes, so it seems.
Maitreya. Then let's go to sleep. [He does so.]
[Enter Sharvilaka. 1]
Sharv. I made an entrance for my body's round
[He gazes at the sky. Joyfully.] See! The blessèd moon is setting. For well I know,
I made a breach in the orchard wall and entered. And now I must force my way into the inner court as well.
But where shall I make the breach?
[He feels the wall.] Here is a spot weakened by constant sun and sprinkling and eaten by saltpeter rot. And here is a pile of dirt thrown up by a mouse. Now heaven be praised! My venture prospers. This is the first sign of success for Skanda's 1 sons. Now first of all, how shall I make the breach? The blessed Bearer of the Golden Lance 2 has prescribed four varieties of breach, thus: if the bricks are baked, pull them out; if they are unbaked, cut them; if they are made of earth, wet them; if they are made of wood, split them. Here we have baked bricks; ergo, pull out the bricks.
In this wall of baked bricks, the "bulging pot" would be effective. I will make that.
Praise to the boon-conferring god, to Skanda of immortal youth! Praise to him, the Bearer of the Golden Lance, the Brahman's god, the pious! Praise to him, the Child of the Sun! Praise to him, the teacher of magic, whose first pupil I am! For he found plea- sure in me and gave me magic ointment,
[He anoints himself.] Alas, I have forgotten my measuring line. [Reflecting.] Aha! This sacred cord 1 shall be my measuring line. Yes, the sacred cord is a great blessing to a Brahman, especially to one like me. For, you see,
The measuring is done. I begin my task. [He does so, then takes a look.] My breach lacks but a single brick. Alas, I am bitten by a snake. [He binds his finger with the sacred cord, and manifests the workings of poison.] I have applied the remedy, and now I am restored. [He continues his work, then gazes.] Ah, there burns a candle. See!
[He returns to his work.] The breach is finished. Good! I enter. But no, I will not enter yet. I will shove a dummy in. [He does so.] Ah, no one is there. Praise be to Skanda! [He enters and looks about.] See! Two men asleep. Come, for my own protection I will open the door. But the house is old and the door squeaks. I must look for water. Now where might water be? [He looks about, finds water, and sprinkles the door. Anxiously.] I hope it will not fall upon the floor and make a noise. Come, this is the way. [He puts his back against the door and opens it cautiously.] Good! So much for that. Now I must discover whether these two are feigning sleep, or whether they are asleep in the fullest meaning of the term. [He tries to terrify them, and notes the effect.] Yes, they must be asleep in the fullest meaning of the term. For see!
[He looks about him.] What! a drum? And here is a flute. And here, a snare-drum. And here, a lute. And reed-pipes. And yonder, manuscripts. Is this the house of a dancing-master? But no! When I entered, I was convinced that this was a palatial residence. Now then, is this man poor in the fullest meaning of the term, or, from fear of the king or of thieves, does he keep his property buried? Well, my own property is buried, too. But I will scatter the seeds that betray subterranean gold. [He does so.] The scattered seeds nowhere swell up. Ah, he is poor in the fullest meaning of the term. Good! I go.
Maitreya. [Talking in his sleep.] Look, man. I see something like
a hole in the wall. I see something like a thief. You had better take this golden casket.
Sharvilaka. I wonder if the man has discovered that I have entered, and is showing off his poverty in order to make fun of me. Shall I kill him, or is the poor devil talking in his sleep? [He takes a look.] But see! This thing wrapped in a ragged bath-clout, now that I inspect it by the light of my candle, is in truth a jewel-casket. Suppose I take it. But no! It is hardly proper to rob a man of good birth, who is as poor as I am. I go.
Maitreya. My friend, by the wishes of cows and Brahmans 1 I conjure you to take this golden casket.
Sharvilaka. One may not disregard the sacred wish of a cow and the wish of a Brahman. I will take it. But look! There burns the candle. I keep about me a moth for the express purpose of extinguishing candles. I will let him enter the flame. This is his place and hour. May this moth which I here release, depart to flutter above the flame in varying circles. The breeze from the insect's wings has translated the flame into accursèd darkness. Or shall I not rather curse the darkness brought by me upon my Brahmanic family? For my father was a man who knew the four Vedas, who would not accept a gift; and I, Sharvilaka, his son, and a Brahman, I am committing a crime for the sake of that courtezan girl Madanikā. Now I will grant the Brahman's wish. [He reaches out for the casket.]
Maitreya. How cold your fingers are, man!
Sharvilaka. What carelessness! My fingers are cold from touching water. Well, I will put my hand in my armpit. [He warms his left hand and takes the casket.]
Maitreya. Have you got it?
Sharvilaka. I could not refuse a Brahman's request. I have it.
Maitreya. Now I shall sleep as peacefully as a merchant who has sold his wares.
Sharvilaka. O great Brahman, sleep a hundred years! Alas that a Brahman family should thus be plunged in darkness for the sake of Madanikā, a courtezan! Or better, I myself am thus plunged in darkness.
Well then, I must go to Vasantasenā's house to buy Madanikā's freedom. [He walks about and looks around him.] Ah, I think I hear footsteps. I hope they are not those of policemen. Never mind. I will pretend to be a pillar, and wait. But after all, do policemen exist for me, for Sharvilaka? Why, I am
Radanikā. [Entering.] Dear me! Vardhamānaka went to sleep in the outer court, and now he is not there. Well, I will call Maitreya. [She walks about.]
Sharvilaka. [Prepares to strike down Radanikā, but first takes a look.] What! a woman? Good! I go.
Radanikā. [Recoiling in terror.] Oh, oh, a thief has cut a hole in the wall of our house and is escaping. I must go and wake Maitreya. [She approaches Maitreya.] Oh, Maitreya, get up, get up! A thief has cut a hole in the wall of our house and has escaped.
Maitreya. [Rising.] What do you mean, wench? "A hole in the wall has cut a thief and has escaped"?
Radanikā. Poor fool! Stop your joking. Don't you see it?
Maitreya. What do you mean, wench? "It looks as if a second door had been thrown open"? Get up, friend Chārudatta, get up! A thief has made a hole in the wall of our house and has escaped.
Chārudatta. Yes, yes! A truce to your jests!
Maitreya. But it isn't a jest. Look!
Maitreya. Why, here.
Chārudatta. [Gazing.] What a very remarkable hole!
To think that science should be expended on a task like this!
Maitreya. My friend, this hole must have been made by one of two men; either by a stranger, or else for practice by a student of the science of robbery. For what man here in Ujjayinī does not know how much wealth there is in our house?
Chārud. Stranger he must have been who made the breach,
Just think of the poor fellow telling his friends: "I entered the house of a merchant's son, and foundnothing."
Maitreya. Do you mean to say that you pity the rascally robber? Thinks he"Here's a great house. Here's the place to carry off a jewel-casket or a gold-casket." [He remembers the casket. Despondently. Aside.] Where is that golden casket? [He remembers the events of the night. Aloud.] Look, man! You are always saying "Maitreya is a fool, Maitreya is no scholar." But I certainly acted wisely in handing over that golden casket to you. If I hadn't, the son of a slave would have carried it off.
Chārudatta. A truce to your jests!
Maitreya. Just because I'm a fool, do you suppose I don't even know the place and time for a jest?
Chārudatta. But when did this happen?
Maitreya. Why, when I told you that your fingers were cold.
Chārudatta. It might have been. [He searches about. Joyfully.] My friend, I have something pleasant to tell you.
Maitreya. What? Wasn't it stolen?
Maitreya. What is the pleasant news, then?
Chārudatta. The fact that he did not go away disappointed.
Maitreya. But it was only entrusted to our care.
Chārudatta. What! entrusted to our care? [He swoons.]
Maitreya. Come to yourself, man. Is the fact that a thief stole what was entrusted to you, any reason why you should swoon?
Chārudatta. [Coming to himself.] Ah, my friend,
Maitreya. I intend to deny the whole thing. Who gave anybody anything? who received anything from anybody? who was a witness?
Chārudatta. And shall I tell a falsehood now?
Radanikā. I will go and tell his good wife. [She goes out, returning with Chārudatta's wife.]
Wife. [Anxiously.] Oh! Is it true that my lord is uninjured, and Maitreya too?
Radanikā. It is true, mistress. But the gems which belong to the courtezan have been stolen. [Chārudatta's wife swoons.] O my good mistress! Come to yourself!
Wife. [Recovering.] Girl, how can you say that my lord is uninjured? Better that he were injured in body than in character. For now the people of Ujjayinī will say that my lord committed this crime because of his poverty. [She looks up and sighs.] Ah, mighty Fate! The destinies of the poor, uncertain as the water-drops which fall upon a lotus-leaf, seem to thee but playthings. There remains to me this one necklace, which I brought with me from my mother's house. But my lord would be too proud to accept it. Girl, call Maitreya hither.
Radanikā. Yes, mistress. [She approaches Maitreya.] Maitreya, my lady summons you.
Maitreya. Where is she?
Radanikā. Here. Come!
Maitreya. [Approaching.] Heaven bless you!
Wife. I salute you, sir. Sir, will you look straight in front of you?
Maitreya. Madam, here stands a man who looks straight in front of him.
Wife. Sir, you must accept this.
Wife. I have observed the Ceremony of the Gems. And on this occasion one must make as great a present as one may to a Brahman. This I have not done, therefore pray accept this necklace.
Maitreya. [Receiving the necklace.] Heaven bless you! I will go and tell my friend.
Wife. You must not do it in such a way as to make me blush,
Maitreya. [In astonishment.] What generosity!
Chārudatta. How Maitreya lingers! I trust his grief is not leading him to do what he ought not. Maitreya, Maitreya!
Maitreya. [Approaching.] Here I am. Take that. [He displays the necklace.]
Chārudatta. What is this?
Maitreya. Why, that is the reward you get for marrying such a wife.
Chārudatta. What! my wife takes pity on me? Alas, now am I poor indeed!
But no, I am not poor. For I have a wife
Maitreya, take the necklace and go to Vasantasenā. Tell her in my name that we have gambled away the golden casket, forgetting that it was not our own; that we trust she will accept this necklace in its place.
Maitreya. But you must not give away this necklace, the pride of the four seas, for that cheap thing that was stolen before we had a bite or a drink out of it.
Chārudatta. Not so, my friend.
Friend, I conjure you by this gesture, not to return until you have delivered it into her hands. Vardhamānaka, do you speedily
And, friend Maitreya, you must show your pride by not speaking too despondently.
Maitreya. How can a poor man help speaking despondently?
Chārudatta. Poor I am not, my friend. For I have a wife
Go then, and after performing rites of purification, I will offer my morning prayer.
43:1 This refers to Chārudatta's generosity, which continues after his wealth has vanished.
46:1 The following scene satirizes the Hindu love of system and classification.
47:1 The patron saint of thieves.
47:2 An epithet of Skanda.
48:1 The sacrificial cord, which passes over the left shoulder and under the right arm, is worn constantly by members of the three upper castes.
50:1 Sacred creatures.