Ten pundits (holy men) went to the Ganga to take a dip in the river. They held each other’s hands as they took dips thrice. When they came up the third time, they were not holding hands.
“Let’s make sure all of us have come out of the river safely,” said a pundit, “Everybody stand in line. I will count.”
The other holy men liked the idea and lined up as the pundit took count, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…” He stopped at 9 as the line came to an end.
“Nine, only nine,” screamed one of the pundits.
“Oh no, one of us has drowned in the river,” cried out another.
“You move aside. Let me take the count. Everybody, stand in a line,” said the second pundit. He began counting. He too could count only 9 people. All the pundits started crying for their lost friend.
A cap seller was watching the entire drama. He noticed that the man who did the counting had left himself out of the count. He offered to do the counting. But the holy men refused to take his help. “We are well read in scriptures. You are uneducated. We don’t trust your ability to count,” they said.
“Alright, I leave the counting to you. But do one thing. Here, put on these caps, first.”
It was getting hot. So, all the pundits put on the caps given to them. The cap seller asked them to remove their caps and keep them on the ground. The holy men placed the caps on the ground.
“Now count the caps you had worn,” said the cap seller.
All of them counted together, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.”
“We wore these caps. The caps we wore we have been counted. There are ten caps. This means we are ten,” the first pundit said. All nodded their heads in agreement. “Let’s buy these magic caps,” said another pundit.
The cap seller charged them one rupee for each cap, and walked away happily with ten coins jingling in his pocket.
Adapted from a folktale which has several versions.