Tales : Birbal and the Well

It happened once upon a time that a farmer came to the court of Emperor Akbar with a complaint against his neighbour. As the matter seemed confused, the Emperor gave it to Birbal to solve.

When Birbal inquired what the problem was, the farmer explained that he had recently bought a well from his neighbour. They had agreed a price, the farmer had paid, and now the well belonged to him. But when he went to the well to draw water, his neighbour was there and prevented him from doing so.

“He tells me,” said the farmer, “that he sold me the well, but not the water. He says the water does not belong to me, and he forbids me to take any.”

Birbal sent a soldier to find the neighbour and bring him to the court. When the neighbour arrived, Birbal asked him if the story was true.

“Your honour,” said the man, “I swear to you on my father’s beard, may God be merciful to him, that this man never asked me to sell him the water. He only asked about the well. So, I sold him the well, but the water is still mine. It has been in our family for generations.”

“I see,” said Birbal. “The well belongs to this man, but the water is yours. Very good – and who gave you permission to keep your water in another man’s well?”

The man stared at Birbal in open-mouthed astonishment.

“Putting your water where it does not belong? Be grateful we do not take this as a criminal matter. You must remove all your water immediately,” Birbal said. “Otherwise you will have to pay him rent for the use of his well, and I suppose it will be expensive.”

“Your honour,” said the man, holding up his hands and pleading with Birbal, “No more, I beg you. Though it is a great loss to me and my family – I will be generous and give him the water!”

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