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The Laughing Fish

Category: Part I.

Source: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

There was once a merchant who prospered in his business and in the
course of time became very rich. He had five sons but none of them
was married. In the village where he lived was an old tank which was
half silted up and he resolved to clean it out and deepen it, if the
Raja would give it to him; so he went to the Raja and the Raja said
that he could have the tank if he paid forty rupees. The merchant paid
the money and then went home and called his family together and said
that they would first improve the tank and then find wives for all
his sons. The sons agreed and they collected coolies and drained
off the water and began to dig out the silt. When they had drained
off the water they found in the bed of the tank a number of big fish
of unknown age: which they caught and two of them they sent to the
Raja as a present. When the fish were carried into the presence of the
Raja they both began to laugh: then the Raja said "What is the meaning
of this? Here are two dead fish, why are they laughing?" And he told
the men who brought the fish to explain what was the matter or else
to take them away again. But they could give no explanation. Then the
Raja called all his officers and astrologers and asked them what they
thought it meant: but no one could give him any answer. Then the Raja
told the men to take the fish away again, and to tell the merchant
that, if he could not explain why the fish laughed, he would kill him
and all his descendants; and he wrote a letter to the same effect,
and fixed a day by which the merchant was to explain the matter. When
the merchant read the letter he fell into the greatest distress and
for two or three days he could not make up his mind whether to go on
with the work on the tank or no; but in the end he resolved to finish
it so that his name might be held in remembrance. So they finished the
work and then the merchant said to his sons: "My sons I cannot arrange
for your marriages, for the Raja has threatened to kill us all, if I
cannot explain why the fish laughed; you must all escape from here so
that our family may not die out;" but the younger sons all answered
"We are not able to take care of ourselves, either you come with us
to protect us or we will stay here." Then the merchant told his eldest
son to escape alone so that their family might not become extinct.

So the eldest son took a supply of money and went away into a far
country. After travelling a long time he came to a town where a
Raja lived and decided to stay there; so he first went to a tank and
bathed and sat down on the bank to eat some refreshment; and as he
sat the daughter of the Raja came down to the tank to bathe and she
saw the merchant's son and their eyes met. Then the princess sent
her maid-servants to ask him where he came from; and he told them
where he came from and that he meant to make a stay in that town,
and he promised them a rupee if they could persuade the princess to
uncover her face. They went and told their mistress all this and she
answered "Go and get your rupee from him, I will uncover my face;
and ask him what he wants." And when they went, she drew aside the
cloth from her face; then he gave them the rupee, and they asked him
whether he had seen her and what his intention was; then he said that
his wish was to marry the princess and live with her in her father's
house! When the princess heard this she said "Yes, my heart has gone
out to him also;" so then she bathed and went home and lay down in
her room and would not get up, and when her father asked her what
was the matter, she made no answer. Then they asked her maidens what
was the matter and they said that she had seen a stranger by the
tank and wished to marry him. The Rani asked whether the stranger
was still there and they said that they had left him by the tank. So
two men were sent to fetch the stranger or to find out where he had
gone. The two servants went and found the merchant's son just ready
to continue his journey, and they asked him who he was and what he
wanted. He said that he was looking for employment but would like
best to marry and live in the house of his father-in-law. Then they
told him not go away and they would arrange such a marriage for him,
so they took him to a house in the town and left him there and went
back to the Raja. They told the Raja that the stranger had gone away
but that they could follow him and bring him back if he gave them some
money for their journey. So the Raja gave them two rupees; then they
went off but only ate their dinner at home, and then they brought
the merchant's son to the Raja, pretending that they had overtaken
him a long way off. He was questioned about himself and he told his
whole history except that the Raja had threatened to cut off his
family, and his account being satisfactory it was arranged that he
should marry the princess. Musicians were sent for and the marriage
took place at once. After his marriage the merchant's son was much
depressed at the thought of his brothers' fate and in the middle of
the night he used to rise up and weep till the bed was soaked with
his tears; the princess noticed this and one night she pretended to
go to sleep but really lay awake and watched her husband; and in the
middle of the night saw him rise quietly and begin to sob. She was
filled with sympathy and went to him and begged him to tell her what
was the matter and whether he was sorry that he had married her; and
he answered "I cry because I am in despair; in the daytime I restrain
my tears before others with difficulty but in the night they cannot
be kept back; but I am ashamed for you to see me and I wait till you
are asleep before I give way to my feelings."

Then she asked what was the cause of his sorrow and he answered "My
father and mother and brothers and sisters are all doomed to die;
for our Raja has sworn to kill them by a certain day if he is not
told why two fish, which my father sent to him as a present, laughed
when they were brought before him. In consequence of this threat
my father sent me from home that one of the family might survive
and although I may be safe here the thought of them and their fate
makes me weep." The princess asked him what was the day fixed for
the mystery to be explained; and he told her that it was at the
full moon of a certain month. Then the princess said "Come take me
to your father's house: I shall be able to explain why the fishes
laughed." The merchant's son joyfully agreed to start off the next
day; so in the morning they told the Raja why they wished to go, and
he said to his daughter "Go and do not be afraid; go in confidence,
I promise you that you will be able to explain why the fishes laughed."

So they made ready and journeyed to the merchant's house; and when
they arrived they told the merchant to go to the Raja and ask him
to collect all the citizens on a certain day to hear the reason why
the fishes laughed. The merchant went to the Raja and the Raja gave
him a letter fixing the day and all the citizens were assembled in
an open plain; and the princess dressed herself as a man and went to
the assembly and stood before the Raja.

Then the Raja bade her explain why the fishes laughed, and the princess
answered "If you wish to know the reason order all your Ranis to be
brought here;" so the Ranis were summoned; then the princess said
"The reason why the fishes laughed was because among all your wives
it is only the eldest Rani who is a woman and all the others are
men. What will you give me if this is not proved to be true?" Then
the Raja wrote a bond promising to give the merchant half his kingdom
if this were proved to be true. When enquiry was made it was found
that the wives had really become men, and the Raja was put to shame
before all his people. Then the assembly broke up and the merchant
received half the Raja's kingdom.

Next: How The Cowherd Found A Bride

Previous: Kuwar And The Rajah's Daughter

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