Raman, who was to be executed by the guards, had outwitted them and managed to survive. The guards took him back to the king for further instructions.
King Krishna Deva Raya was annoyed to see Raman again. “He seems to be too clever. Do one thing,” said the king to the guards. “Bury him neck-deep in the soil so that he cannot move. Then have him crushed by an elephant.”
The guards took Raman to the outskirts of the city. One of them kept a watch on Raman as the other dug a deep trench. They pushed Raman into the ditch and filled it tight with soil. Raman was thus pinned to the ground. Only his head was visible above the ground.
“Now you can pray to Kaali Ma. We’ll go and get the elephant,” said the guards, and they left. They had no fear of Raman running away as he was buried neck-deep.
But Raman was not worried. “Help will come soon,” he said to himself.
Soon help did arrive. A washerman came that way, carrying on his back a bundle of washed and pressed clothes. He had a hunchback. With the back bent, he could see the ground effortlessly. He was startled to see ahead on the ground.
“Amazing! This man has the only head, no trunk, and no limbs!” Getting curious, he went near Raman.
“Hi,” said Raman in greeting.
The washerman was startled to hear the sound coming from the head without a trunk or limbs. Scared, he stepped back.
“No doubt you are surprised to see me like this,” Raman said. “Don’t be scared. I’m also a washerman like you.”
“But what are you doing?” asked the washerman.
“My wife was nagging me for not doing anything about my hunchback,” said Raman.
“What! You too have hunchback?” asked the washerman in surprise.
“With the load I carried in my childhood, my back became bent like a bow,” Raman said. “Then a kind man said I could easily straighten my back if I stand buried neck deep, like this for 12 hours.”
“Does it really work?” asked the washerman eagerly. He was also looking for a remedy for his hunchback.
“He said, it worked for him. The remedy was suggested to him by a wandering fakir,” said Raman.
“Has it worked for you?” asked the washerman doubtfully.
“I’ve been buried this way for more than twelve hours. My wife will be here at any moment to pull me up. She seems to be delayed,” said Raman.
“It’s getting late for me. I have to deliver these clothes to the palace,” said the washerman. “But I’m eager to see whether the treatment has worked for you.”
‘You have to wait until my wife turns up to pull me up,” said Raman.
“Why wait for her. I’ll pull you up,” said the washerman, dropping the bundle he was carrying.
The washerman loosened the earth around Raman and pulled him up.
Raman sprang up, standing straight like an arrow.
“Wow, my hunchback is gone!” Raman hugged the washerman.
The washerman was impressed. He told Raman that he was tempted to try the remedy. “Go ahead do it,” said Raman.
“But I have this bundle of clothes to be delivered to the palace!” said the washerman.
‘I’ll do it for you,” Raman gallantly volunteered.
Entrusting the bundle of clothes to Raman, the washerman jumped into the pit vacated by Raman.
Raman filled the pit and packed it tightly with soil. Now, only the washer man’s head could be seen above the ground. Then he left carrying the bundle of clothes.
On the way, he saw the guards approaching, bringing with them an elephant. He bent his back and started walking slowly. The guards took him for a washerman, and walked on.
Meanwhile, the washerman was standing in the pit dreaming of a straight back. He saw an elephant being led towards the spot where he was standing in the pit. As the elephant came nearer, he became frightened and started shouting for help.
The guards were surprised to see another man standing in the pit in place of Raman. On closer examination, they realized that the man now standing in the pit was the washerman. They pulled him out of the pit and asked him how he had landed there. The washerman told his story.
“The man who crossed our path was Raman,” said one of the guards. Seeing us he must have bent his back.”
“He fooled us again,” said the other guard.
Meanwhile, Raman was delivering the clothes to the palace. As he was coming out of the palace, he ran into King Krishna Deva Raya.
“You, again!” yelled the king.
By now the guards had reached the palace. They told the king everything. The king was irritated by Raman, but he was impressed by his intelligence.
Krishna Deva Raya turned to Raman, “You have managed to survive yet again. I will let you go this time, but on one condition,” said the king. “Never show me your face!” With these parting words, the king sent Raman away.
Raman was not disappointed. “I’ll wait for the right opportunity to win over the king,” he said to his wife.
Story: Subba Rao | Illustration: Goutam P Sen