When any awkward blunder occurs from a person acting under a mistaken notion, there is a common proverb in Tamil to the effect that the matter ended like the story of the three deaf men—(Muchcheviḍan kadaiyây muḍindadu). The following is the story told to explain the allusion:—
In a remote village there lived a husband and wife. Both of them were quite deaf. They had made this household arrangement, namely, to cook cabbage with tamarind and soup without tamarind one day, and cabbage without tamarind and soup with tamarind on the other. Thus on every alternate day the same dishes were repeated. One day, when taking his meal, the husband found the tamarind cabbage so very tasty that he wanted to have it also next day, and gave instructions to that effect. The deaf wife did not understand the order. According to the established rule she cooked cabbage without tamarind next day. The husband, when he sat down to his meal, found his order disregarded and, being enraged thereat, threw the cabbage against the wall, and went out in a rage. The wife ate her fill, and prepared tamarind cabbage for her husband.
The husband went out, and sat down in a place where three roads crossed, to calm down his anger. At that time a shepherd happened to pass that way. He had lately lost a good cow and calf of his, and had been seeking them for some days. When he saw the deaf man sitting by the way, he took him for a soothsayer, and asked him to find out by his knowledge of Jôsyam(Soothsaying) where the cow was likely to be found. The herdsman, too, was very deaf; and the man, without hearing what he was saying, abused him, and wished to be left undisturbed. In abusing him the husband stretched out his hand, pointing to the shepherd’s face. This pointing the shepherd understood to indicate the direction where the lost cow and calf would be found. Thus thinking the poor shepherd went on in that direction, promising to present the soothsayer with the calf if he found it there with the cow. To his joy, and by mere chance, he found them. His delight knew no bounds. “That is a capital soothsayer. Surely I must present him with the calf.” So thought he to himself, and returned with them to the deaf man, and, pointing to the calf, requested him to accept it.
Now it unfortunately happened that the calf’s tail was broken and crooked. The man thought the herdsman was blaming him unreasonably for having broken the calf’s tail, while he knew nothing about it, and so, by a waive of his hand, denied the charge. This the shepherd mistook for a refusal of the calf, and a demand for the cow. The shepherd said, “How very greedy you are! I promised you only the calf, and not the cow.” The husband said, “Never; I know nothing of either your cow or calf. I never broke the calf’s tail. Some other must have done it.” Thus they quarrelled, without understanding each other, for a long time, when a third party happened to pass by. Understanding the cause of the dispute, and, desiring to profit by their stupidity, he interfered, and said in a loud voice, and yet so as not to be heard by the deaf husband, “Well, shepherd, you had better go away with the cow. These soothsayers are always greedy. Leave the calf with me, and I shall make him accept it.” The shepherd, much pleased to have secured the cow, walked home, leaving the calf with the third person. When the shepherd had gone, the passenger said to the deaf man, “You see how very unlawful it is for the shepherd to charge you with an offence which you never committed. It is always the case with shepherds. They are the biggest fools in the world! But never mind, so long as you have a friend in me. I shall somehow explain to him your innocence, and restore the calf to him.” The husband, much pleased, ran home to escape from the consequences of supposed guilt. At the expense of the stupidity and deafness of both, the third traveller walked home with the calf.
The husband, on his return, sat down to his dinner, and his wife served him the tamarind cabbage. He happened to put his finger to the place where the cabbage without tamarind had previously been served on the leaf. On applying it to his mouth, he found it so very sweet that he demanded that dish again. The wife replied to him that she had already emptied the pan. “Then at least bring me the cabbage that is sticking to the saucepan,” said the husband; and the wife did accordingly.
Here ends the story. The latter portion is also said to be the explanation of a proverb that is prevalent in Tamil,—“Śevuru kîraiyai val̤ichchu pôḍuḍi śuṇaikeṭṭa mûḷi,” meaning, “O thou feelingless deaf woman, give me at least the cabbage that is sticking to the saucepan.” This proverb is applied to stubborn wives, who will have their own way, and do not obey their husbands submissively in unrefined society.
The Three Deaf Men – Folklore of Southern India