The Half-rupee Coin

Telugu: Karuna Kumara

[This story was taken from times when the purchase value of a half- rupee coin was quite significant. While the educated and the middle class are more pragmatic and readily compromise with their morals when a true conflict arises, it is the illiterate and poor village folk that often suffer from a moral dilemma.

Kandukuri Anantam (1901 – 1956), better known as Karuna Kumara, presents the mental agony of a poor village folk who chances to find a half-rupee coin on the road.]


It is understandable if little children, young and vestiges of innocence still hanging on to their faces, are afraid of the uniformed-figures of police constables — putting on a scary red cap, socks, and shoes, and holding a lathi in their hands. But how come a man, leading family life for long and having children, could be afraid of police! That too, after living much of his life in towns!!!

If anybody had asked Vedantachari (Achari, for short), even casually, why he was so scared of police, he would defend himself, saying: “What do you think of police? You never know how cruel they behave? What will become of you if they mercilessly shoot you down, or beat you down with the lathi or arrest and throw you in jail implicating in some fictitious crime?”  True, he did not have even a smack of English education, but what about his knowledge of Telugu, Sanskrit and Vedanta? His fear of police stands in marked contrast to that!

You know, what happened that evening?

Having come to know that some Swamiji was delivering a discourse on Vedanta at Gopala Swamy temple, he went there to listen to him. What a lecture it was! A real treat to the eyes and ears. He was indeed a great man!

It was late in the evening by the time the lecture was over. As he crossed the precincts of the temple and stepped on to the road, some white glittering object in the dust caught his attention. Oh my! What an attraction god had imbued that little object with. It stopped Achari in his tracks. Like a magnet attracting an iron filing, it had physically drawn Achari’s entire frame unto it.

How could he help having a peep at it?

With abounding curiosity, he bent down and picked it up! Gracious heavens! That was a lion-marked, half-rupee coin!

His hands shivered. He looked around. There was nobody there. ‘Poor fellow!’ He pitied the unknown who lost it. “Fie! Fie! Money is evil! One should not get tempted by it,” he thought again. He wanted to forget about it and go about his way. He wanted to bury it in the dust so that nobody else could notice it. But suddenly he felt somebody was calling him by name. He hurriedly picked up the coin, put it in his pocket, and covered it with the towel over his shoulders. He looked back. There was none. He heaved a sigh of relief.

He was certain that nobody had watched him picking up the coin.

‘What if somebody had seen?’ he started reasoning… ‘he did not pick any pocket? He did not loot or rob anybody! And only few minutes ago, the Swamiji had told, of the three covetous things, money was the worst offender. Should the gentleman who lost his money come to him and ask for it, he would jolly well throw the coin back at him.’

Achari walked south for two furlongs along the road. He had a hunch that somebody was chasing him. He stopped and looked back. People were just going their own way. He stood for a while watching closely into the faces of the passersby. Nobody made any enquiries with him about the coin. He grew in confidence.

He came to the promontory where handcarts were generally parked. He saw some young children ploughing the ground searching for something. His heart missed a beat.

“Hey, children! What are you looking for?” he asked inadvertently.

He was worried about the unthinkable and put his hand over his pocket to feel the coin.

“We lost the marble we were playing with, somehow. And we are searching for that,” one of them said regretfully.

“Boys! I did not see that. What will I do with a marble without returning it to you? Don’t worry. You will find it. Search for it a little more carefully,” he exhorted them and proceeded his way, relieved.

A piece of marble! If the children were worried so much about a worthless object, how much the person who lost his half-rupee must be worrying for!

That’s the weird and wonderful part in god’s creation. Creating a teasing and tempting thing called ‘money,’ He plays with us all putting to lot of sufferance. Wah! God! Wah! What a sport it is for you to play with us, poor mortals!

‘Fee with this wretched money! It is the root of all evils and unrest. Sooner the better I get rid of this half-rupee coin,’ thought Achari once again.

‘Chanting the name of Lord Rama

It is a sure way to deliverance. Ram, Ram…’

For a moment, he went on chanting with his eyes closed.

He walked a few steps briskly. He was in a dilemma as to how he could get rid of the coin.

He looked ahead. He found himself close to the railway level-crossing. It was unmanned and very peaceful. He sat on the rails.

‘To get rid of the coin was not a challenging task. It would hardly take a minute. But how? He could not find its rightful owner. What if he had donated it to a brahmin? Or take a vow that he would present Lord Gopala with half a dozen lemons? Or, if he donated it to some philanthropic organization?’

There was no end to the list of alternatives he deliberated within.

‘But people say one must donate only to the deserving. Should I ask Swamiji about how to identify such people?’

He turned towards the setting sun. Resting his elbows on his knees and his chin in the cup of his hands, he lost himself in thoughts once more.

Night fell on the western hills already.

He found someone coming towards him tapping the ground with a stick and searching for something.

His blood warmed up.

He put his hand in his pocket and ensured the coin was still there.

The man who was searching for something came closer to him.

Identifying him Achari asked, “Gangayya! What are you searching for in this darkness?”

“I am looking out for my calf, swamy! 1] I am not able to trace it. Just wanted to make sure that it did not come under any train by accident.”

“Gangayya! I did not see your calf.  Otherwise, I would have told you about it by now. Besides, is it a small thing to hide it in pocket! Poor animal! Such a lovely breed. How she lost her way!!!…”

As he was sympathizing Gangayya, he asked Achari in turn, “What are you doing swamy, here in the darkness? Police are on the lookout for you.”

Achari lost his verve and started sweating profusely. ‘Why were the police in the lookout for me? Who told them that I found a half-rupee to them?’

He got up, puzzled. To clear his doubt he asked, “Gangayya! Why should the police be on the lookout for me?”

“They are also searching the house of your neighbour, Jangam Kotayya,” he said.

“Why so?”

“You ask me why? Didn’t you hear that Jangam Kotayya found a pot of gold when he was driving a piped well in his backyard?”

“Goodness! A pot of gold?” Achari could not hide his wonder.

“Why do you pretend innocence? He is only your next-door neighbor. It was the Village Munsif who complained to the police that Kotayya found the treasure.” He coolly announced.

“Why should he report the matter to the police?”

“What do you mean? All secret treasures found anywhere in this country belong to the government, they say.”

“But out of curiosity I ask you, Gangayya. Just tell me. Suppose you go along the road and somewhere you find a quarter-rupee or half-a-rupee coin. Should you hand that over to the police?”

Ignoring his query, he said,

“Why do you think Kotayya’s house was searched? Because he did not hand over the treasure to the government.”

“Did they find any gold I his house, then?”

“No. Kotayya denies that no gold was found in his backyard. They beat him black and blue till he confessed the truth.”

“Gangayya! Then, I don’t understand why police should search for me?”

“You are only his neighbour. The Village Munsif and Karanam believe that if Kotayya found any gold, it could not escape your knowledge.”

Gangayya left in hurry as he was already held up in his search.

Almost a cyclone was raging in Achari’s mid. The half-rupee coin now weighed heavier in his pocket. Half-a-rupee!!!

He was in a dilemma. Should he walk into the town or not? He was neither able to stand peacefully there nor leave that place. He was getting crazy. He pulled out the half-rupee coin from his pocket to throw it out, but then another question seized in his mind: If it would be an offense to throw it out that way. He was afraid that he might be punished for throwing out the money he had found.

He got down the rail track quickly. He walked briskly up to the crossroads junction where a policeman was controlling the traffic. Holding his head high, Achari boldly walked up to the police constable. The police raised his hand and was directing the traffic from one end to the other. Achari drew near him.

“I did not thieve or rob anybody. While returning from Venugopala Swamy temple, I found this half- rupee coin on the road. I searched around for its rightful owner. I request you to kindly conduct proper enquiry and hand it over to the owner.” Achari pulled the coin from his pocket and pressed it in the hand of the police constable.

Closing his fist over the coin the constable vented his anger, “Get lost! Quick! Quick! The vehicles are approaching fast. Clear the way!”

Achari heaved a big sigh of relief.

“Thank God!” thought Achari. His pocket was empty and so was the burden on his mind.

As he dragged his feet to the house, his wife asked, “Did you bring the bathing soap?”

“What bathing soap?” Achari looked at her in surprise.

“I sent you a half-rupee coin to the temple with our boy asking you get the soap cake on your way back home. Did he not give it to you?”

“No. He did not.”

The mother turned to her child and asked, “Boy, what did you do with the money I gave you?”

“Mother! As I walked up to the temple holding the coin in my hand, a group of boys playing bat-and-pellet fell over me near the temple. When I got up dusting off myself, I found the coin was missing…”

The ten-year-old boy started crying.



[1] Swamy: A respectful address used with elderly and respectable people by common folk.


Murthy Nauduri

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