In the dusty streets of one of India’s largest cities, a beggar sat daily procuring alms and rice from passersby. In a given day he was usually able to gain enough rice for a meal, and enough coppers to buy the firewood with which to cook it. At night, he slept under the moon with only a few rags to cover him. It was a tough and pitiless existence, but he had grown used to it over the many years he had been living it out.
One day, however, news arrived that the emperor was coming to town for a visit.
Surely the emperor will see the state I am in and grant me a generous gift, he thought. Surely, this richest of all men will bestow some sympathy and relief on me, a lowly beggar, in a manner that will undoubtedly eclipse the paltry givings of the regular citizens, and even the statesmen!
And so he made plans to seat himself along the route the Emperor would be travelling. He gathered his things and set up his spot on the street the night before, rising with the sun and awaiting the procession. Finally, around midday, the Royal Caravan approached.
While the beggar had expected no more than a little recognition and a gift from the Emperor’s servants, he was stunned when the cavalcade actually came to a halt beside him, and the great ruler himself emerged.
“There he is!” the Emperor exclaimed. “Just the man I was hoping to see today.” He approached the beggar, reaching out and shaking his hand, grasping the poor man by the shoulder and looking into his eyes. “Tell me, kind sir, might you have a little gift of rice for me?”
For a moment, the beggar didn’t understand, so odd was the request.
The Emperor motioned to his rice bowl, urging him on. “Can you spare some grains of rice?” the powerful ruler insisted.
Barely able to believe what was happening, the beggar slowly took the bowl into his hands and began to sift through the rice with his fingers. Here he was, the lowest of the low, with only a handful of grains to his name, and he was being beseeched by one who had everything? Yet he knew he could not, by any means, deny the Emperor’s request. Hardly able to hide his indignation, he counted out five grains of rice from his bowl and dropped them, reluctantly, into the hands of the great ruler.
The Emperor, eyes shining, thanked him mightily, shook his hand again and went on his way.
Confused, hurt and angry, the weary beggar watched him go, looking on as the caravan disappeared into the dust on the horizon and left him alone, once more, to his home on India’s hot streets.
That night, as he was cleaning his rice for the evening’s meal, he noticed something glinting in the bowl. Looking a little closer, a thrill shot through him and he quickly dug the tiny item out, holding it up to the moonlight.
It was a gold nugget. Enough to buy him months off the street.
Quickly, he began to sift through the rice in search of more.
One… two… three… four more pieces!
As he stared down at the small fortune in his bowl of rice, it dawned on him: there was a total of five nuggets. One for each grain he had gifted the Emperor.