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The Widow's Son

Category: Part I.

Source: Folklore Of The Santal Parganas

Once upon a time there was a poor woman whose husband died suddenly
from snake bite, leaving her with one little girl. At the time she
was expecting another child and every day she lamented the loss of
her husband and prayed to Chando that the child she should bear might
be a son: but fresh troubles came upon her, for when her husband's
brothers saw that she was with child they declared that she had been
unfaithful to her husband and had murdered him to conceal her shame:
and although they had no proof of this, they seized on all their dead
brother's property and land and left the widow nothing but the bare
house to live in.

But Chando had pity on her and when her time was full a boy was born
to her. She gave thanks to Chando and devoted herself to bringing up
the child. The boy grew up and learned to walk and talk and one day he
asked his mother where his father was. She told him that a snake had
bitten his father before he was born. Thereupon the boy embraced her
and told her not to cry as he would support her and take the place
of his father. The mother was filled with wonder and gratitude at
the boy's intelligence.

In answer to her daily prayers she met with kindness at all hands:
when she went out working her employers gave her extra wages: when
she went gleaning something extra was left for her, and if she had
to beg no one refused to give her alms, so in time she was able to
get together some household requisites and start keeping fowls and
pigs. By selling these she saved enough money to buy goats and sheep:
and in course of time was able to think of buying a cow.

By that time her son--whom she called Bhagraihad grown up to be a boy
and took an interest in all that went on: so he asked his mother how
he could tell when to buy a heifer. She said that if when the seller
was showing a cow to an intending purchaser the animal dropped dung,
it should be bought without hesitation, as such a cow was sure to take
kindly to its new home and to have plenty of calves: another equally
good sign was if the cow had nine teeth. Thereupon Bhagrai declared
that he would set out to buy a cow and be guided in his choice by
these signs and not come back till he found one. His mother thought
that he was too young to undertake such a business but at last yielded
to his entreaties. Then he tried to get some one in the village to go
with him on his expedition but no one of his own friends or relations
would go, so he had to arrange with a man of the blacksmith caste to
keep him company.

Early one morning they set out, enquiring as they went along whether
any one had a cow for sale. For a long time they were unsuccessful
but after passing right through the territories of one Raja, they at
length came to a village where they heard of a heifer for sale. As
they were examining it it dropped dung, and on inspection its mouth
showed nine teeth. Bhagrai at once declared that he must buy it
and would not listen to the blacksmith who tried to dissuade him
because, although the animal was full grown, it had had no calf and
was probably barren. Bhagrai however preferred to be guided by the
signs of which his mother had told him, and after a certain amount
of haggling bought the animal for five rupees. The money was paid
and he and the blacksmith set off homewards with the cow.

Night overtook them and they turned into a village and asked to be
allowed to sleep in the verandah of one of the houses: and permission
being given they tied the cow to a post and went to sleep. In the
middle of the night the owner of the house came and took away their
cow and tied an old and worthless one of his own in its place. On
waking in the morning Bhagrai and the blacksmith saw at once what
had happened and charged the owner of the house with the theft. He
vehemently denied all knowledge of the matter and after they had
quarrelled for a long time went to call the villagers to arbitrate
between them. But he took care to promise the headman and leading
villagers a bribe of five rupees if they decided the case in his
favour: so the result was a foregone conclusion and the arbitrators
told Bhagrai to take away the old worthless cow.

He however refused to accept the decision and said that he would go and
find two people to represent him on the panchayat. The villagers raised
no objection for they knew that he was a stranger, and thought that
they could easily convince any persons he might pick up. Bhagrai set
off towards a village he saw in the distance but lost his way in the
jungle, and as he was wandering about he came on two jackals. On seeing
him they started to run but he called to them to stop and telling
them all that had happened asked them to come to the panchayat. The
jackals answered that it was clear that the villagers had been bribed,
but they would come and do what was possible. They told him to bring
the villagers with both the cows to a big banyan tree outside the
village. All the villagers went out to meet the jackals and Bhagrai
stood up in the midst and began to explain his grievance.

Meanwhile the jackals sat quite still, seeming to take no interest
in what was going on. "A fine pair these are to have on a panchayat"
said the villagers to each other, "they are nearly asleep: they have
been up all night catching crabs and grasshoppers and now are too tired
to keep awake." "No," said one jackal, "we are not as sleepy as you
think: we are quite willing to take a part in deciding this dispute:
but the fact is that I and my wife have a quarrel and we want you
first to decide that for us and then we will take up the question of
the cow; if you villagers can settle our difference satisfactorily
we shall be able to conclude that you have given a fair judgement on
the complaint of this orphan boy."

The villagers told him to continue and he explained "I and my wife
always go about together: we eat at the same time and drink at the
same time and yet she drops dung twice a day while I do so only once:
what is the reason of this?" The villagers could think of no answer and
the jackal bade them ask his wife: so they laughed and asked whether
it was true that she dropped dung twice to the he-jackal's once. But
the jackal reproved them for their levity, wise men of old had said
that it was wrong to jest when men of weight met to decide a dispute;
so they became serious and the she-jackal answered "It is true that
I drop dung twice to his once: there is an order laid on me to do so:
I drop dung once at the same time that he does: that excrement falls
to the ground and stays there: but the second time the excrement falls
into the mouths of the ancestors of those men who take bribes and
do injustice to the widow and orphan and when such bribetakers reach
the next world they will also have to eat it. If however they confess
their sin and ask pardon of me they will be let off the punishment:
this is the reason why I have been ordered to drop dung twice." "Now
you have heard what she has to say" put in the he-jackal "what to you
think of the explanation? I hope that there are no such bribetakers
among you: if there are they had better confess at once."

Then all the villagers who had agreed to take a share of the bribe
and had helped to rob the boy of his cow confessed what they had done
and declared that the boy should have his cow again, and they fined
the thief five rupees. So Bhagrai and the blacksmith went gladly on
their way and the blacksmith soon told all his neighbours of the two
wonderful jackals who talked like men and had compelled the villagers
to restore the stolen cow. "Ah" said the boy's mother "they were not
jackals, they were Chando," When Bhagrai's uncles heard all this and
saw how he and his mother had prospered in spite of the loss of all
their property, they became frightened and gave back the land and
cattle which they had taken, without waiting for them to be claimed.

Next: The Boy Who Was Changed Into A Dog

Previous: Another Lazy Man

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