In an old town near the sea, there once lived a selfish and miserly merchant. He
earned huge profits by fair and foul means. He cheated many innocent people into
parting with their house leases. He lent money at high interest, knowing very
well that the desperate borrowers would not be able to pay back. When that
happened, he would confiscate their collateral, normally houses, land and other
forms of property. He started raking in huge profits, but as more profits flowed
in, he became more and more greedy.
Unfortunately, even though he was doing
well, he led a frugal life at home. He grumbled when his wife wanted money to
run the home or to buy new clothes for the children. He criticised her when she
prepared sweet dishes; he would scold her when she bought some costly jewellery
or trinkets for their two young daughters.
"Money doesn't grow on trees," he would snap at his children when they asked
for money to buy books and new dresses. They had to make do with torn books and
old clothes which his wife would obtain from second-hand shops. Many clothes
were hand-me-downs from relatives living nearby, who realising the merchant's
miserly attitude, condescended to do so reluctantly. They disliked him intensely
for treating his wife and children so shabbily but could do nothing about it.
When his brothers, sisters and other relations came to ask for help, he
insulted them cruelly and chased them away. There came a time when they began
avoiding him or talking to him.
As he grew richer, he became more miserly. He dismissed the cook, the maid
and the gardener. "Now, who will pay them? All of us must share the work and
thus, avoid wastage," he told his wife and children sagely.
"What will you do with all this money?" they asked in perplexity. But he
drove them away, screaming like a demon, "I will do what I like with my money. I
earn it. So I will hoard it if I want to. No one will question me, do you
understand? Soon, I will become the richest man in town. Wait and see."
It took him many years to become the richest man in town. But none had a good
word to say about him. The people sneered at him when he walked by, calling him
`Money Bags'. They dubbed him `King Miser'. Some even went as far as to spit on
the ground when he passed them.
The merchant finally realised that he had become the most hated and most
despised person in town. He pondered over the matter for some time, irked by the
cold reception he was getting from everyone. How could he redeem his name? How
can he earn their respect? He went to an elder in the family, whom he had not
visited for a long time, to seek his wise counsel. "Should I open a charitable
hospital? Should I establish a school for the children of the poor? Or open a
chain of orphanages to help the underprivileged?" he asked.
"Not a bad idea. In fact, I would normally have commended it. But it will
cost a lot of money," the elder pointed out.
"I am ready to spend some money to win name and fame. I must regain my lost
respect and popularity," the merchant replied. He imagined that he had been a
much-loved and well-liked person before he had fallen in the eyes of the people
in his town.
The old man smiled knowingly, "How can you even think of helping strangers?
Shouldn't you be attending to the needs of your near and dear ones first? Can't
you see your wife and children walking around in rags? Don't you see how
famished they look? Do they get even a square meal every day? Listen, my boy. Do
your duty to your family first. Help your brothers and sisters and other members
of your family who are poor. Opening hospitals for the poor or schools for the
children of the poor must come later. You see, charity begins at home." Saying
this, the wise man sent the merchant away.
The merchant returned home. He looked around his home with new eyes. For the
first time, he noticed the forlorn and hopeless looks of his wife and children.
They were badly dressed in old clothe which had seen many washes. They were
frayed and sported some ghastly holes here and there. He also saw how skinny and
starved his wife and children were looking. With tears in his eyes, he quickly
walked out to the nearest restaurant, where he ordered all the food which he and
his family had not enjoyed for a long time. He watched as his family ate the
food ravenously, glad that the wise man had finally pointed out his greatest
flaw. He promised silently to take better care of them as well as all his poor
relatives who came to him in need.
Charity indeed begins at home.