King Krishna Deva Raya had the habit of posing interesting questions to Tenali Ram during the evening walks they would take in the royal gardens.
“Who is more cunning when it comes to money, Tenali, the priests or the businessmen?”, he asked Tenali one evening. Tenali knew that the king was setting up a debate.
“I think it is the priests. They make a good living conducting rituals and reciting old texts,” continued the King without waiting for Tenali’s response, “ It is aneasy life compared to all the hardships that businessmen have to bear. So I think the priests are cleverer in their way of life.” Tenali understood that the King was taking a swipe at Tenali whose forefathers were priests.
“I think priests are simpletons, Your Highness”, said Tenali, “they are lost in their world of prayer and rituals that they do not have the street smarts of the businessmen. Dealing with a wide variety of problems in the world of commerce and trade on a day to day basis, makes the businessmen cleverer when it comes to money.”
“You will have to prove that to me. Only then I will agree with your point of view,” said Krishna Deva Raya. “I will demonstrate the difference to you very easily tomorrow,” said Tenali confidently.
Next day, Tenali asked the King to hide and listen to his conversation with a priest whom he had summoned to the palace. The priest, Rama Sharma, was in charge of the morning rituals at the local Goddess temple. He was very surprised that he was called to the palace.
Tenali Ram seated him in the palace guest room and began speaking very seriously, “Rama Sharma, I need to ask a very important favor from you. The King has ordered me to bring for him the knot of hair from the head of the best priest I know. That turns out to be you. So I would very much like for you to give me the knot of hair on your head. I am willing to pay a price for it. A barber is ready and waiting in the next room to do the deed as soon as you agree.”
Hearing this, Rama Sharma, was shocked. The knot of hair on the head was a symbol of his priesthood. Without it, he couldn’t show his face in public. He would lose his job. But this was the minister Tenali himself asking for it and that too for the King. Rama Sharma began to sweat with worry.
In a trembling voice he spoke, “How can I ever refuse you? But you see, this knot of hair is very important for me. My livelihood depends on it. If I lose it, I have to stay away from the temple till it grows back. I cannot possibly appear in public till then.”
“I understand your difficulty,” said Tenali, “that is why I said you can put a price on it.”
“Respected Minister, I do not know how to price this knot of hair. But I think if you can give me enough money to make a trip to my native village far away, it should work out. I can go there and stay in hiding at my sister’s house till the hair grows back. So please pay me one gold coin for the journey.”
“Very well,” smiled Tenali, “You can go now, Rama Sharma. Carry on with your work for the time being. Once I have the gold coin ready, I will send for you again. Do not tell about our conversation to anybody else.” A slightly relieved Rama Sharma bowed and left.
When he was gone, Krishna Deva Raya came to the room.“ As you heard, Dear King, this priest was willing to give up his livelihood for just a single gold coin. He could not even think of putting a price on this ridiculous transaction and he was afraid to refuse. Now let us see how the businessman responds to this offer. I have asked the greatest business man in the city, Dhandas, to come by. Please wait and watch from the other room.”
After a few minutes, Dhandas came to the palace. Like Rama Sharma, Dhandas was also surprised at being called by Tenali Ram. When Dhandas was seated, Tenali repeated, “Dhandas, I need to ask a very important favor from you. The King has ordered me to bring for him the knot of hair from the head of the best businessman I know. That turns out to be you. So I would very much like for you to give me the knot of hair on your head. I am willing to pay a price for it. A barber is ready and waiting in the next room to do the deed as soon as you agree.”
Dhandas was slighly taken aback by this. But being a business man with dealings all over the kingdom and abroad, he was used to hearing strange offers and bargains. He took a deep breath and thought for a few seconds. Then he said to Tenali, “Dear Minister, I have spend a whole life time taking care of this knot of hair. It is my proud possession. Every day, I wash it and apply expensive oils on it. I take great pride in my shiny knot of hair. It will be heartbreaking for me to part with it. Moreover, I have to appear with it as symbol of my family’s honor during rituals and ceremonies.”
“I understand this is difficult for you,” said Tenali feigning concern, “that is why I am willing to pay for it.” “Considering that I am fifity years old and have had this knot of hair for around 35 years, I think roughly I have spent at least one hundred gold coins worth of oils on it.”
“Very well then, I will pay you one hundred gold coins,” said Tenali.
“But that is not all. This knot of hair represents my family’s honor. If I lose it, I have to conduct several ceremonies to regain the lost honor. So that price is also associated with it.”
“How much would that be?”
“At least one thousand gold coins.”
“So shall we fix this deal for one thousand one hundred gold coins?”, asked Tenali, “I have a barber waiting in the other room”. “I think that is fair enough. As soon as you make the payment, I will declare that this hair belongs to King Krishna Deva Raya.”
Tenali ordered a guard to bring a bag of one thousand one hundred gold coins at once. He handed the bag over to Dhandas. Then Tenali called the barber.
As the barber got ready to cut off the knot of hair, Dhandas jumped up from the chair and said, “I cannot allow this knot of hair to be cut off. Now it belongs to the King Krishna Deva Raya and not me. You have already paid me one thousand one hundred gold coins for it and I have accepted the price. So I will protect this knot of hair until the King himself comes to me and says that he needs it.” Saying this, Dhandas walked out from the palace.
Tenali Raman had a wide smile on his face when Krishna Deva Raya came out of hiding in the next room.“Do you see that my opinion is correct?” asked Tenali. “I agree, Tenali, the businessman who managed to pocket the gold coin and keep his knot of hair also intact is cleverer than the priest about money matters,” said King Krishna Deva Raya.