A barber’s son said to his father: ‘Today I shall go and pay my respects to my father-in-law.’
The father answered: ‘Give him my greeting too. But, since you are traveling alone, go straight there and take care not to lose your way.’
They say that barbers’ have no intelligence because they belong to a menial tribe. The son thought his father had said: ‘Follow a straight path, or else you will lose your way.’ He put on his best shalwar kameez and set off on his journey. After following a straight path for some time, he bumped into a tree. When he looked up and saw the tree, he said to himself: ‘If I turn to the right or to the left, I shall stray from the straight path which leads to my father-in-law’s house, so there is only one solution: I shall have to climb the tree and come down the other side.’
It was winter and the days were short. The barber’s son had to climb the tree with great care for fear of dirtying his new clothes or tearing them on a branch. Therefore it took him half the day to climb the tree. When he reached the top, he said to himself: ‘It took me half the day to get up here and it will take another half to come down on the other side, so I shall have no time left to reach my father-in-law’s house. ‘He therefore decided that the only solution was to lie on his stomach and slide down a branch. But when he lay on a branch, it broke under his weight, without falling to the ground, and he was left dangling from the branch. He then concluded that to reach the ground, he would have to wait for a gust of wind. But he also kept a lookout for any passer-by to whom he could appeal for help.
A kuchi, a nomadic Pashtun, happened to pass by with his four camels. He had just been to the market to sell molasses and was returning home. As he and his camels passed beneath the tree, the barber’s son called out to him: ‘Help me down for the love of God!’
The nomad looked up. ‘How can I help you? I cannot reach you.’
‘I shall show you,’ said the barber’s son.
The nomad agreed: ‘Tell me and I shall do my best to help you, since you have requested me in the name of God.’
The barber’s son explained: ‘Bring one of your camels and make it sit under the branch from which I am hanging. Then you should mount the camel and make it stand up. Once it is standing, you can raise yourself into a standing position and catch hold of my waist, and I shall let go of the branch and we will both fall safely on to the camel’s back.’
The nomad caught one of his camels and made it sit directly under the branch to which the barber’s son was clinging. Then he mounted the camel and made it stand up. Then he too rose to his feet and took hold of the barber’s son by the waist. ‘My master has safely climbed the tree,’ thought the camel, after glancing over its shoulder. So it strode off to join its companions.
Finding himself hanging in mid-air from the barber’s son’s waist, the nomad was furious and began uttering words of abuse: ‘If you had been a creature endowed with any intelligence, you would not have been hanging in a tree in the first place. I am sure you have nothing in your house to lose,’ he grumbled, ‘so it is all right for you to be hanging here. But look at me. My camels will be lost because there is nobody to catch and tether them.’
As the branch to which they were clinging was already partly broken, the extra weight soon caused it to snap in two. The nomad fell to the ground and broke his leg, and the barber’s son fell safely on top of him. The barber’s son got up quickly, straightened his clothes, and continued on his way.
‘Wait! Come back and help me,’ shouted the nomad. ‘It is all because of you that my leg is broken.’ The barbers’ son returned and the nomad said to him: ‘Go to the nearest shop and buy some oil to rub on my leg. Then I can bandage it and go home.’
‘I have not a paisa on me; I am a crow from hell,’ said the barber’s son.
The nomad took out one rupee from his pocket, and said: ‘Go and fetch the drinking-bowl which is tied on the camel’s back and get some mustard oil.’ The barbers’ son united the drinking-bowl and walked to the nearest shop.
When he arrived, he gave the shopkeeper one rupee and asked for some mustard oil. In those days oil was very cheap and one seer of mustard oil cost only two annas. The shopkeeper filled up the drinking-bowl with seven and a half seers of oil, and then said to the barber’s son: ‘There is no room for more oil and you have one anna’s worth left. What sould I do with it?’
The barber’s son lefted the bowl, turned it upside down, and pointed to the small hollow underneath: ‘You can put the remainder of the oil here.’
‘Look what you have done!’ screamed the shopkeeper. ‘You have spilt fifteen annas’ worth of oil. You are the biggest fool h have ever set my eyes no.’ but he poured the one anna’s worth of oil into the base of the bowl, and said: ‘Now go on your way.’
The barber’s son brought the bowl upside down to the nomad. ‘How much did you pay for this?’ asked the nomad, when he saw how little oil there was.
‘One rupee,’ replied the barber’s son. Then he added, turning the bowl the right way up: ‘There is more on the other side,’
The little oil that he had bought for one anna spilt on the ground, and the nomad cursed him: ‘You are as stupid as a donkey. Otherwise you would not have been hanging in a tree and you would not have put me to so much trouble.’ With the palms of his hands, the nomad picked up some of the oil that had spilt on the ground and rubbed it on his broken leg.
They say that those who belong to the menial tribes are not trustworthy. The barber’s son did not wait to help the nomad, but continued on his way with great difficulty, the nomad limped to his camels mounted one of them, and went home, grumbling to himself.