We’ve all heard stories from our mothers, grandmothers and other homegrown bards. I too, grew up listening to such stories. Most of them came from the Mahabharat, the Jatak Kathas, some from Baba Yaga and the likes of Cinderella. But some special stories were my Mother’s own imagination. This tale was one such figment of her mind, that stayed with me forever. And now, I long to tell this to my own daughter, when she’s old enough to understand the moral behind this story. The original was in Hindi mixed with a few Garhwali words and inventive inventives used by my Mother. I, on account of many readers being uncomfortable with Hindi, have translated it as best as I could into a poem in English.
An orphan boy with seven aunts,
Lived from day to day on their alms,
He’d clean their pots, their fields, their rooms,
And in return he’d get some food.
One day, thus spake his seventh aunt,
‘Dear boy, I have naught but a magical plant,
‘Tis a magical golden fruit seed,
Sow it and thou shalt reap,
Golden fruits rich and ripe,
More than enough for you to survive.
The orphan boy whilst dubious,
Still went forth to the nearest woods,
Where he sowed the wee golden seed,
Wishing, hoping the seed would grow into a tree.
The day the seed sprouted some leaves,
The boy wished hard upon the tree,
‘Golden tree’, he said, ‘grow big and tall,
So I may never have to beg for alms’
When finally the golden tree did bear fruit,
The boy elated sang and sprang up its roots,
He bit into the first golden pod,
And thanked his good Aunt and the Gods,
For fruit this delicious he had never savoured
He ate and ate and still more did he favour.
In the woods there too was an evil witch,
Black of heart and a cannibalist.
She found the orphan boy’s retreat,
And schemed to capture him for a boy-feast.
She donned the garb of an old maid,
And up to the tree she went and said,
‘Dear boy, with the tree so fine,
Lend me some fruit, if you do not mind’.
The boy was loathe to part with his fruit,
But there was plenty for him thus he could.
He aimed some at the maid’s skirt,
But she could catch naught and they fell on the earth.
‘Ah! But I’m an old maid, I can not see,
Won’t you be kind enough to get down the tree?’
The boy rolled his eyes but got down the tree,
While the witch looked on in obvious glee.
The moment the boy offered his fruit laden hand
The witch snatched him up and put him in a sack!
And off she went to her dreary hut,
Where she called her daughter, the dumb and mute.
She told her what she had in the sack,
‘Ready the cauldron, wee wench, till I come back.’
She went off into the woods to gather some carrots and beets,
While she dreamed of a boy-feast, laden with sauce and cream,
While in the hut the dumb girl undid the bag,
She looked at the sleeping boy in the sack.
Thought she, ‘he is asleep, let me go on,
And shred some turnips, cabbage and sweet corn’.
She left the boy in the bag upon the hut’s floor,
And the fool that she was, left ajar the room’s door.
And so the boy who was as yet feigning slumber,
Slipped out of the sack thanks to the wench’s blunder.
He came upon a dagger short and sharp,
And before you knew it, had stabbed the girl through the heart.
He undressed her and donned her clothes,
And her meat he carved out and shoved into the stove.
When the witch came back she told him to stir the pot,
While she unknowingly sprinkled herbs in the broth.
And inwardly the boy did laugh,
‘Soon, soon you old hag’, he thought.
‘Your joy will turn to tears bitter,
While I’ll burn this hut down so no child comes hither’
When the feast was laid out the witch made haste,
And as the first morsel she did taste,
She crooned in utter delight and bade,
The boy dressed as the girl to cut in with his blade.
But the boy told her he must first attend to nature’s call,
He went out and shut the doors, the windows and all.
He put fire to the hut and jeered at the hag,
‘No more shalt thou eat poor souls from your sack’.
‘For what you eat is your daughter sweet,
That is a memory for you to keep.
You reap as you sow, hence should you mind,
Never to do ill upon your own kind’.
And thus the boy went back to his golden tree,
Upon its limbs he lived on, merry and free.
Moral of the Story
One should never wish ill upon the others. What goes around, comes around. It wouldn’t be long before you find yourself trapped in the same ditch you dug up for others. Stay contended with what you have.
Pradita Kapahi, 2017.
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