Story The alchemist – A tale from Burma
Once there was an old man in Burma who had a daughter.
He was very happy when she married a nice young man who came from a good family. At first everything went well, but after a little while there was a problem. The young husband wanted to be an alchemist. He spent all his time trying to turn dirt into gold. He was sure that this way they could one day be rich without working. Night and day he dreamt of finding the secret of the alchemists. He also spent a lot of money trying to find a way to make his dream come true. After some months like this, there was very little money. The young wife decided to talk to her husband.
‘Husband, why don’t you try to find a job? Trying to make us rich fast has left us with no money at all,’ she said to him one day.
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‘But can’t you see that I’m very near to finding the secret!’ he replied. ‘When I know how to turn dirt into gold, we’ll be richer than you can ever imagine!’
Perhaps it was true that he was always very near to finding the secret. But he never found it. After many weeks, life became more and more difficult. Sometimes there were days when there was no money for food in the house. So the young wife went to talk to her father. The father was surprised to hear that his son-in-law wanted to be an alchemist. He asked to speak to the young man the next day.
‘My daughter has told me about your plans,’ he said to his son-in-law. ‘When I was young, I too wanted to be an alchemist!’ The younger man was very happy. Here, at last, was someone who could understand his dream. The father-in-law asked about the young man’s work, and the two of them started talking about different ways of trying to turn dirt into gold. After two hours talking about the things that an alchemist must do, the old man jumped to his feet.
‘You’ve done everything that I did when I was a young man!’ he shouted. ‘I’m sure you’re very near to finding the great secret. But you need one more special thing to change dirt into gold, and I only learned about this a few days ago.’
‘One more special thing?’ asked the son-in-law. He found talking with the old man more and more interesting.
‘Yes, that’s right. But I’m too old to do this job,’ he said. ‘It’s a lot of work and I can’t do it now.’
‘I can do it, Father-in-law!’ shouted the young man.
‘Hmm, perhaps you can,’ said the old man. His voice was suddenly quiet. ‘Listen carefully. The special thing is a silver powder that grows on the back of the leaves of the banana plant. This is a magic powder.’
‘Magic powder?’ asked the son-in-law. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Listen,’ replied the older man. ‘To get this powder you must plant bananas, lots of bananas. And you must plant them yourself. While you plant each banana seed you must say special magic words. Then when the plant grows, you’ll see the magic silver powder on the leaves.’
‘How much magic powder do we need?’ the young man asked at once, very interestedly.
‘One kilogram,’ the old man replied.
‘One kilogram! We’ll need hundreds of banana plants for that!’
‘Yes,’ said the old man, ‘and that’s why I can’t do the work myself, I’m afraid.’
‘Don’t worry!’ said the young man, ‘I’ll do it!’
And so the old man taught his son-in-law the magic words and gave him enough money to start planting the bananas.
The next day, the young man bought a field. He planted the banana seeds just as the old man told him to do. He quietly said the magic words while each seed went into the ground. Each day he looked carefully at the little plants. He made sure that there were no banana flies on them. When the bananas came, he carefully took the silver powder off the banana leaves, and put it into a special bag. The banana plants grew quickly and the young man worked hard every day.
The only problem was that on each plant there was very little silver powder. So the young man had to buy more fields and plant more bananas. It took seven years, but at last the young man had one kilogram of silver powder. He ran to his father-in-law’s house.
‘I’ve got enough magic powder!’ he shouted.
‘Wonderful!’ replied the old man. ‘Now I can show you how to turn dirt into gold! But first your wife must come here. We need her too.’
When she arrived, the old man asked his daughter, ‘While your husband was getting the banana powder, what did you do with the bananas?’
‘I sold them in the market,’ the daughter said. ‘We’ve lived on that money for these seven years.’
‘Did you save any money?’ asked the father.
‘Yes,’ she replied.
‘Can I see it?’ asked the old man. So his daughter hurried home and came back with ten big bags. The old man opened them and saw that they were full of gold. He took all the coins out of one of the bags and put them on the floor. Then he took the banana powder and put it next to the gold.
‘You see,’ he said, turning to his son-in-law, ‘you’ve changed dirt into gold! So you are an alchemist in a way, after all. And what’s more, you’re now a very rich man!’