• Parabaas
    Parabaas : পরবাস : বাংলা ভাষা, সাহিত্য ও সংস্কৃতি
  • পরবাস | Novel
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  • The Kheer Doll : Abanindranath Tagore
    translated from Bengali to English by Zinia Mitra
    Cover | Introduction & Part 1 | Part 2 (End)



    Introduction

     Abanindranath Tagore was Rabindranath Tagore’s nephew, equally talented as many in the Tagore family, if not more. Abanindranath grew up to be an amazing painter. He famously fused the European and the Indian techniques of painting in his Krishna-Lila series. His astute influence groomed a new generation of painters in Bengal that includes illustrious names like those of Nandalal Bose and Asit Haldar. Abanindranath Tagore wrote stories for children which are  timeless classics. Because of their picturesque quality it was said that Abanindranath scribed pictures. Abanindranath Tagore’s Kheerer Putul is a classic children’s tale that had captured children’s imagination for ages.

    It is an inescapable veracity today that we understand works in another vernacular Indian language mainly through its translated English version. It is also an obtrusive fact that Harry Potter, Narnia and other such books have introduced magic worlds of their own capturing the children’s imagination into a literary world that can be shared globally. Lack of similar corpus of children’s literature in vernacular severed children from their own native folk tales and rhymes.

    Abanindranath Tagore’s Kheerer Putul employs the familiar plot of children’s tale where there is a king with his two queens, one good and one bad and the bad queen is punished and the good queen is rewarded in the end. It also helps to illustrate the helplessness and subjugation of women, the glorification of motherhood and the importance that was given to the male child in the patriarchal society of Bengal. What a unique treatment the plot receives in the hands of Abanindranath! There is a sorceress who collects poison putting a snake to sleep, a monkey that speaks and also promises to set things right if he is a proper monkey at all.

    Abanindranath’s Land of Shasthi exploits a world of indigenous rhymes (much like Alice in Wonderland) that has lost its magic to the children of Bengal today. The body of rhymes that Abanindranath Tagore exploits here is a collection of folk songs and rhymes sung by grandmothers and mothers of Bengal for ages to their children and archived in their memory. The cowrie shells, palanquins, coconut sweets, betel leaves, the young bride, all bring in the protracted savour of early Bengal and its rural ambience. The childhood milieu outlined in the rhymes include a range of birds and animals: parrots, cats, fish, toads, otter, jackal. The themes of the rhymes were fundamentally the pampering and cajoling of children by their mothers, fuss over putting the children to sleep, and sometimes a concern over a daughter’s impending marriage. Sometimes they were just nonsense rhymes, or rhymes that had become nonsense through inaccurate oral transmission through generations. In replication of English books of nursery rhymes Bengali books of rhyme (chharar boi) were later printed and illustrated for children, but by then the tradition of singing such rhymes to children to lull them to sleep was noticeably on the decline. The tradition of worshipping goddess Shasthi for the well being of children and looking upon the cat as a vehicle of the goddess is obsolete now. Some Bengali readers will still be able to relate the otter or the parrot or the boy going fishing accompanied by his pet cat to their corresponding rhymes. The story importantly chronicles an indigenous past of Bengal that is lost today.

    Abanindranath has a sing-song quality in his prose in Kheerer Putul which works like magic wand in the enchanting magic world he creates here where a monkey can speak and pigeons lay pearl-eggs, and a princess weaves a sari for six months only to throw it away after wearing it once!

    I have attempted a faithful translation of the text retaining its short simple sentences and sometimes also the repetitions. For the original text I have followed Kheerer Putul of Abanindranath Tagore by Ananda Publishers, Kolkata, 2006.

    I thank Aditya and Anushka for their assistance.

     

     

    The Kheer Doll

     



    Once upon a time there lived a king who had two queens - a ‘Shuorani’ or a fortunate queen and a ‘Duorani’ or an unfortunate queen. The King loved his younger queen, Shuorani, very much. Shuorani, the younger queen lived in a splendid seven-winged palace. She had seven hundred maids to wait on her. They served her well. They washed her delicate feet, decorated them with red alta[i] dye  and helped her do her hair. The queen wove garlands choosing flowers from seven baskets of flowers collected from her seven flower gardens. She adorned herself with rare ornaments collected from seven kingdoms that she kept in seven caskets. The younger queen  was the king’s sweetheart.

    And Duorani? The King was unaffectionate towards his elder queen. He did not care for her. He gave her a ruined cottage to live in. The single maid who attended her was deaf and dumb. The king gave her old and faded saris to wear, a torn mattress to sleep on. The king visited Duorani, his elder queen, only once a year, sat for one time, uttered only one word and walked off.

    The king lived with Shuorani, his younger queen, round the year.

     

    One day the king called the minister of his court, and ordered him, “Mantri! I will go on a world tour, go arrange a ship for me.”

    The minister hastened to make the necessary arrangements. It took him seven months to arrange seven ships. The king’s servants and attendants would sail in six ordinary ships and the king himself would sail in a golden ship covered with a golden canopy.

    The minister reported –“Maharaja, the fleet is ready.”

    The king said –“I will begin my journey tomorrow.”

     

    The younger queen–Shuorani, lay in her room in her gold bed with seven maids attending her when the king visited her. He sat at the head of her gold bed and asked her fondly–“Dear queen, I am going on a world tour, I shall visit different places and different countries. What shall I bring for you?”

    The queen turned the diamond bracelets in her soft hands and said–“Diamonds are too pallid. My hands look almost empty. If I would have sixteen pairs of bracelets set with blood-red rubies I would wear.”

    The king said–“Sure dear, I will bring you bracelets set with gems from the far away Land of Gems.”

    The queen then capered her feet, jingled her anklets and said–“These anklets do not sound melodious enough. I would like to wear ten pairs of anklets made of pure gold that would look as if they are on fire.”

    The king said–“ Sure dear, I will bring you golden anklets from the far away Land of Gold.”          

    She pointed at her gajamoti[ii] pearl necklace that adorned her neck and said– “Look at these pearls Raja. They are so small. I have heard that there is a country that has pearls as big as pigeon-eggs. Bring me a necklace made of such pearls.”

    The King said --“There is an Island of Pearls in the midst of the ocean. I shall bring you a necklace from there. Tell me queen, what else can I bring for you?”

    Then the doted fair queen pulled at the gold embroidered achal[iii] of her sari and said –“Oh Ma! This is a burden more than it’s a sari. If I get a sari as blue as the sky, as light as the wind, as smooth as water I would wear and be comfortable in.”

    The king said---“Oh dear! The golden achal has bruised your golden body, it has pained you. Queen, grant me leave with a smile, I will go and bring you a sari as blue as the sky, as light as the wind, and as smooth as water.”

    The queen smiled and bade him goodbye.

    The king was about to board his ship when he remembered his dejected elder queen.

     

    Duorani, the elder queen, lay on her torn mattress weeping when the king visited her. He stood at the door of her ruined cottage and asked her –“Queen, I am going on a tour to the foreign lands. For the younger queen I shall bring bracelets, necklace, anklets and sari. What shall I bring for you? Tell me whether you desire something.”

    The queen replied–“Maharaja,  if you return home safe, all my wishes will be fulfilled. When you were mine I had many desires, many cares. I desired to wear gold embroidered sari, wanted to light up thousands of lamps and sit as a queen with the seven hundred maids around me in the splendid seven- winged palace. I wished to adorn the feet of the pair of popinjay parrots in my gold cage with gold anklets. Maharaja, I had many desires and many of them have been fulfilled. What will I do now with gold ornaments and gold saris? For whose affection should I wear diamond bracelets in my hands? Wear pearl necklace around my neck? Wear gem clips in my hair? Maharaja, do I have the day? You may gift me ornaments but you will not return me your love. You will not return me my seven hundred maids and the seven-winged palace. You may get me a wild bird but you will not give me a  gold cage. Robbers will rob gold ornaments from this puny cottage. Why will a wild bird remain in a broken cage? Maharaja, go and fulfil the wishes of the one who receives your affection, I do not require anything.”

    The king said –“No queen. That will not do. People will slander my name. You will have to tell me something that you want.”

    The queen replied –“How can I ask for jewellery? Maharaja, get a burnt-faced monkey for me.”

    The king said –“Alright queen. Grant me leave.”

    Then the elder queen, Duorani fell on her torn mattress and bade the king goodbye through her tears. The king boarded the ship.

     

    In the evening the golden ship puffed its golden sail and sailed westwards like a golden cloud across the deep blue sea. Duorani lay in her ruined cottage on the tattered mattress facing the blue sea. And the doted queen Shuorani slept in her gold bed in her splendid seven-winged palace surrounded by her seven hundred maids, thinking about ornaments and listening to the song of her golden bird  which  that she kept in her gold cage.     

    The king boarded the ship and promptly forgot all about Duorani. He recalled the smiling face of Shuorani and thought:  What is my queen doing now? Perhaps she is doing her hair. What is she doing now? Perhaps she is applying alta on her dainty  little red feet. Now she must be plucking flowers from her seven flower gardens, now she must be weaving a garland choosing flowers from her seven baskets of flowers collected from her seven flower gardens, and she is thinking of me. Perhaps she is in tears because she is missing me and cannot weave her garland anymore. Now her gold thread and baskets of flowers lie at her feet. She sits through the whole night and can’t even get a wink of sleep because she is missing me!

    The king was very fond of his younger queen. He only thought of her. He failed to realize that his elder queen was the one who loved him truly. He never thought of her.

     

    In this manner the king spent twelve months sailing in his ship and in foreign lands. In the thirteenth month the king’s fleet reached the faraway Land of Gems.

    In the Land of Gems, there were gems everywhere. The walls of houses were patterned with gems. The pavements along the river banks were inlaid with gems. Gems lay scattered on the roads with pebbles! In that Land of Gems the king ordered bracelets for his beloved queen.The eight pairs of bracelets set with eight-thousand gems were so red that if worn on a hand it would seem that blood was oozing out.

    Having got the required bracelets made, the king sailed forward to the faraway Land of Gold. There at a goldsmith’s shop he ordered ten pairs of anklets of pure gold. The anklets shone like sparks of fire. They sounded like veena, tinkled like cymbals.

    Having made bracelets from the faraway Land of Gems and the anklets from the faraway Land of Gold, the king sailed for the Island of Pearls.




    The King of the Pearl Kingdom kept a pair of pigeons in his garden. They had pearl feet. Their beaks shone with rich gems. They sat perched on an emerald tree, ate pearl-fruits and lay eggs that were real pearls! The Queen of the land collected those pearls in the evening and sewed a pearl head lace for herself. She wore it around her bun at night and discarded it in the morning. Her maids collected the discarded head lace and sold it for one shipful of silver. The king bought such a pearl head lace for one shipful of silver for Shuorani. Having got bracelets set with rich gems, anklets of pure gold and pearl head lace, the king sailed for his last errand. It took him six months to reach his destination.

    In the Land of Silk there were silkworms living in sapphire trees. They ate the leaves of blue sapphire-fruit and  spun silk cocoons that were as smooth as water, as light as wind, and as blue as the sky. The princess sat on her terrace through the nights and wove a sari for herself out of that silk, toning its colour with that of the sky. It took her six months to weave the sari. The sari was as blue as the sky, as light as the wind and as smooth as the water. She wore that sari and visited the temple of lord Nilkantha[iv] and offered her  prayers. She returned home and gave the sari away. Her maids then took her sari and sold it for seven shipful of gold. The king bought such a sari for his beloved Shuorani in exchange of seven shipful of gold.

    It took six more months for the King’s fleet to cross the oceans and seas and return home carrying the younger queen’s bracelets, anklets, necklace and the sari she had asked for. It was only after the ship had harboured in his land did the King remember that his elder queen had asked for a monkey!

    The king called his minister and said --“Mantri! I had completely forgotten about the monkey that my elder queen had asked for. Please go and get a monkey for her.”

    The minister hurried in search of a monkey, and the king climbed on his white elephant and steered through the crowd towards the palace where his younger queen lived, carrying all the expensive gifts he had got for her.

    On the seventh floor of her seven-winged palace the younger queen  placed a gold mirror in front of her, parted her hair with a gold comb, pinned up her hair with gold pins, piled her hair up in a bun and wore a gold string around. She took some vermilion on a gold pinhead and placed a bindi in between her eyebrows. She took her kajal holder and applied kajal in her eyes. She had decorated her feet with alta. Some of her maids held out platter full of flowers for her. Others were waiting with a tray of paan.[v] The king entered.

    He sat beside her on the crystal throne and said–“Here queen. From the Land of Gems where the river bank is set with gems, where gems shine on the roads, I have brought you bracelets.

    From the Land of Gold where even the dust and sand carry gold I have brought you anklets. In the Pearl Island pearl-legged, gem-beaked   pigeons lay eggs of pearls and the queen of the land sews a head lace using those pearls. She wears it in her hair at night and throws it away at dawn. Queen, I have brought you that rare pearl lace. Queen, there is a land where lives a princess who divides a single thread of silk into seven finer threads and sits through the nights on her terrace for six months weaving  a sari for herself. She wears it for a single day and goes to the temple. She comes home and gives it away. Queen, from that strange land I have brought you that unique sari woven by the princess herself. Look here! I have travelled the world for you and brought you ornaments and sari. Try them on queen.”

    The queen tried on the eight pairs of bracelets. The bracelets set with gems were too loose for her. They slid up to her armpits. Next, the queen tried the ten pairs of anklets. The gold anklets were too large for her little reddened feet. As she stepped forward the anklets slipped and fell off on the marble floor. Annoyed, the queen next  tried on the pearl necklace. The pearl lace brought from the far away Island of Pearls was too small for her neck. It pinched her flesh viciously. The queen was hurt. She tried on the sari she had so longed for. The blue silk sari was too short for her. The queen was in tears. She blew her top. She took off the bracelets set with eight thousand gems, took off the ten pairs of fiery anklets, took off her pearl necklace and also her new sari and threw them on the floor. “What’s all this trash?” She cried. “Ornaments? Sari? What rubbish are these? What pebbles did you pick up for my bracelets? Maharaja, in which dirty land did you order my anklets? Shame!  What stale pearl’s stale necklace is this? This sari has already been worn by some princess! Its very look is disgusting. I am ashamed to wear it. Maharaja, take these away. I do not require saris or ornaments that have already been used by others.”

    In a terrible rage she rushed to lock herself up in a room and the king who had spent lots of gold and silver to buy those ornaments and the sari carried them to his court with a heavy heart.

     

    In the court by his throne sat his minister. He had searched the fields, the riverbanks, looked in shops and market places and finally bought a baby monkey from a businessman who had come there in a ship from the country of the wizards in exchange of a tainted cowrie[vi]. The king entered his court and told his minister–“I am surprised Mantri! I had ordered these ornaments and the sari for the queen with her proper measurements, but none of these did fit her.”

    Then the  monkey came forward, touched the king’s feet and said –“Unless one is pure and virtuous one cannot wear a sari woven by the celestial princess or a lace sewed by the snake-princess with her own hands, or use  any of these enchanted ornaments collected from the enchanted lands. These ornaments and the sari that you have brought from the enchanted lands have magic qualities in them that the impure cannot sustain. Maharaja, keep them safely in your store, give them later to your daughter-in-law later.” Hearing the monkey speak the king was amazed. He laughed aloud and turned to his minister and said --“What is the monkey saying? I have no son, how can I bring a daughter-in-law? Mantri, go to the goldsmith and order new ornaments for the queen, go to the weaver and order a new sari for the queen. Keep these ornaments and sari in the royal store. If ever I can bring a daughter-in-law I shall gift them to her.”

    The Minister went for a goldsmith to place orders for new ornaments for the king’s younger queen, and the king went for his elder queen carrying the monkey.

    The unfortunate Duorani! She wiped the king’s feet with her frayed achal and asked the king to rest on her torn mattress in her ruined cottage. When she spoke she spoke through tears –“Maharaja, be seated. Sit on my tattered mattress in my ruined cottage. I cannot even offer you a proper seat. You have returned home after such a long time. Alas! I am so unfortunate that I can only offer you a torn mattress.” The king was moved to tears. He sat on the torn mattress in her ruined cottage and presented the elder queen the baby monkey he had brought for her and sighed --“Maharani, your ruined room, your torn mattress is ten thousand times better than the gold throne and golden room of my younger queen. In your ruined room there is love and affection, there is care, there are good words which are missing in that seven-winged palace. Queen, with seven shipful of gold I have bought her ornaments and and also a sari, the younger queen has spurned them; but for you I’ve bought a monkey that has cost me only a tainted cowrie, and you have fondly taken it in your lap. Queen, I won’t hurt you anymore. Give me leave now. I will come again. But be careful. Let not the younger queen know of this. If she comes to know that I had visited you she will create mayhem. Alas! She will either poison you, or poison me.”

    Having consoled the queen, the king walked off. And the elder queen in her ruined cottage began bringing up the monkey with food and care.

    Days rolled by in this manner with the younger queen spending her days in her splendid seven–winged palace amongst her seven hundred maids, and the elder queen spending her days in her ruined cottage on her tattered mattress with the monkey. Days and months and years went by. The elder queen’s sorrow remained unchanged. She still ate only husked rice and still wore only rough cotton saris.

    The elder queen took the monkey in her lap, for it was now her companion of sorrow, and from her ruined cottage gazed at the younger queen’s seven-winged palace and seven flower gardens and wept. The monkey always found the elder queen in tears and never found her happy. One day the monkey asked her-–“Mother, why do you cry? Why are you always sad? Why do you gaze at the palace and cry? Who lives there mother?”

    The queen said--“O my dear! I have everything there. I have a seven -winged palace, I have seven hundred maids, I have seven caskets of ornaments, I have seven flower gardens. In that seven- winged royal palace there is also a younger queen, another wife taken by my king. That witch has cast a spell on my king and has taken away my seven -winged palace, seven hundred maids, seven caskets of ornaments, and is now living happily in that flower garden, in that golden temple. She has taken away my most precious belonging, the King, and has turned me into a beggar. Dear, you ask me what my sorrow is? I was a princess, I married the king, I had seven hundred maids, seven winged palace, a royal husband, just as I had desired. I had everything. But, I do not know by whose curse I couldn’ t give birth to a  prince. I must have sinned much in my previous births. I must have stopped many from fulfilling their desires. I must have hurt many mothers. That is why in this life I had to lose my domestic bliss to another woman. I had to give up the pride of a queen, the love of a husband, the hope of giving birth to a prince and become a beggar. Child, my heart must be made of stone.  Even after so much insult, so much pain I am still alive.”

    Having told her tale of sorrow the queen began to sob louder. Then the  monkey climbed on to the queen’s lap, wiped her tears, and said –“Mother, do not cry. I will relieve you of your sorrows. If I cannot give you back your seven- winged palace, seven flower gardens, seven hundred maids, make you sit beside the royal throne as a queen, and give you a prince in your lap  then I am not a monkey. If you listen to me, do what I tell you to do, then you will again have wealth and happiness as you had before.”

     




    The monkey’s words made the elder queen cry and laugh at once. She wept and smiled and said –“Dear child, I have performed so many sacrifices at the altars of gods, went on pilgrimage, said prayers, even then I could not become a mother. By what religious austerities, by which god’s blessing  can you, a savage monkey,make me the queen again and give me a prince too? Forget it son, let my king live happily, let that queen live happily, let my sorrows remain. Do not attempt the impossible. It is late now. Let’s go to sleep.”

    The monkey said--“No Mother. If you do not listen to me, I will not sleep.”     

    The queen said–“Dear child, please sleep. It is very late. Clouds have gathered in the eastern as   in the western sky. It has started raining heavily; everyone in the kingdom is fast asleep. Sleep, my child. Tomorrow I will listen to all that you have to say, go to sleep tonight. I have shut my broken door - there is a storm outside, I have placed the mattress at the centre of the room–it is cold. You are only a baby. Come close to me and sleep.”

    The monkey pressed his head close to the queen’s bosom and slept off. The queen placed her head on the torn mattress and fell asleep.

     

    The night passed in this manner. The younger queen slept on her gold bedstead in her gold bed beside the king, and the elder queen slept on her tattered mattress in her ruined cottage that barely sheltered her from the storm and rain.

    Morning dawned in the palace. The watchmen rang the morning bell, the orchestra played the kettledrum. The king and the queen woke up. The king rinsed his mouth, washed his face in the crystal water in a golden ewer, wore the royal robe and went to attend the court. And the queen lay in her flowery bed, fanned herself with a flower hand fan and turned on her side  and slept again.

    And what did Duorani do?

    In her ruined cottage the golden sunlight fell on her face through the open door. She sat up. She looked left, she looked right, she looked here and there, the monkey was nowhere to be found. She searched the rooms, she searched the rooftop, looked for him in the tree branches - there was no trace of the monkey. She began to cry.

    Where did the monkey go?

    As it dawned the monkey left the queen alone in her cottage and went to the palace to meet the king. The king was sitting in his court surrounded by ministers and members of his court. The doors of the court were well guarded. The palace was crowded. The queen’s monkey slipped past the guards, pushed through the crowd, touched the king’s feet and said –“Maharaja, I have good news. My mother will have a baby.”

    The king said–“O monkey! What are you saying? Is it true? The elder queen is Duorani, will she have a baby? Beware. If what you are saying turns out to be a lie; I shall cut both you and your Duorani mother into pieces.”

    The monkey replied –“Maharaja that’s my head and my headache. Now, make me happy, and grant me leave.”

    The king took off   his gajamoti pearl necklace and handed it to the monkey and bade him leave. The monkey went hopping back to the ruined cottage where Duorani lay crying.

    He wiped her tears, dusted the dust off her and said--“Look mother, what I have got for you. You are the queen but you do not have a proper necklace. You buy wooden necklaces and wear them. Now wear this real pearl necklace.”

    The queen looked at the gajamoti pearl necklace in the monkey’s hand and cried --“Where did you get this necklace? It’s the king’s necklace. When I was the queen I had sewed this necklace for the king. Where did you get this necklace? Tell me, has the king thrown it away? Have you found it on the road?”

    The monkey replied –“No mother, I did not find the necklace on the road. How can I find the king’s gajamoti necklace sewed by you on the road?”

    The queen asked –“Then?  Did you steal it form the king?”

    The monkey replied–“Tut tut mother. Should one steal? The king was pleased with me and  gifted me the necklace because I gave him a piece of good news.”

    The queen said --“Dear child, you are the child of the unfortunate. You are a wild monkey. Sleeping in a ruined cottage with an unfortunate mother what good news did you receive that you had to run to the palace early morning? ”

    The monkey said –“Mother, I dreamt that I’ve had a brother, that you’ve given birth to  a baby and that son of yours is sitting on the throne. That is why I rushed to the king to give him the piece of news. The king was happy he undid his necklace and gave it to me.”

    The queen said–“Woe is me! ! Today the king has heard that I will have a baby, tomorrow he’ll hear that it’s a lie. Today he presented a necklace for me to wear around my neck, tomorrow he will chop off my  whole head. Alas! What have you done? I get a little food, live in a corner, at least I can meet the king once a year. You have spoilt even that. O! You have brought in utter ruin. Why did you tell a lie? Why did you spread this rubbish?

    Monkey said –“Mother, don’t  worry. Why are you afraid? Stay quiet for the next ten months. Let the word spread that the elder queen will have a baby. When the king will want to look at the baby I shall bring you a gorgeous boy. Show the king. Come now let’s eat. It is late and I am hungry.

    The queen said –“Let’s go dear. I have kept water in a bowl for you to drink. Plucked fruits from the trees for you. Let’s go and eat.”

    She sat on the broken stool and began feeding the monkey.

     

    And the king went to his younger queen’s room.

    The younger queen had had a nightmare and was just awake. She was sitting on her gold bed distressed, when the king entered with the news --“Queen, have you heard the news? The elder queen is going to have a baby! I was so worried about who would inherit the throne after me. Now that worry is no more. If it’s a son I will make him the king, and if it is a daughter I will marry her to a worthy prince and give my kingdom to my son-in-law. Queen, I was really anxious about this.  Now, after a long time, can I relax.”

    The queen said–“Stop it. I am so worried about myself, can’t really spare time for others.”

    The king was shocked--“Why so queen? You shouldn’t utter such irate words on an auspicious day like this. I will have a son; I will give him my throne and you are annoyed? Hearing this? Queen, everyone in this palace is happy. Why are you being so angry?”

    Queen said--“O I can’t take it anymore. Whose son will be the king, whose daughter will get the kingdom, who will sit on the throne, I cannot plan out so much so early. I am engrossed in my own problems. Whether another’s son is dead or alive I cannot keep up with such updates. Uff! All this jabber early morning gives me a headache. I better go and take my bath.” 

    The queen went away angrily jingling her eight pairs of bangles and her ten pairs of anklets.

    The king was angry too. The queen wished the prince dead? The king’s face darkened. He walked out of her room. The king and the queen fell into discord. The king avoided confronting his younger queen. He feared to visit his elder queen too. What if the younger queen poisoned her? What if she killed her? The king began living in the outer palace all by himself.

    One month went by. Two months went by. Three months went by. The king and the queen did not make it up. Four months passed in this manner. In the fifth month Duorani’s pet monkey came to meet the king. The king asked–“What’s up monkey? Is everything well?”

    The monkey replied--“Maharaja, mother lives in much sorrow. She cannot swallow the husked rice. She often goes without food.”

    The king said–“Well! I did not know this. Mantri, send her fine rice served in gold plate and fifty items served in gold bowls immediately. From today onwards whatever I eat my elder queen will eat the same food. Go Mantri, pay the monkey a thousand gold coins and give him leave.”  The minister did as the king said and bade the monkey leave and went to the kitchen to give directions. And the queen’s monkey took the gold coins and hopped back to the queen.

    The queen said–“Where had you been again today? Hours have passed and I haven’t had my bath. When will I cook? When will I eat?”

    The monkey said--“Mother, you don’t need to cook. You will have fine rice and fifty items coming from the palace served in gold plates and gold bowls. Go and have your bath quickly.”

    The queen went for her bath. The monkey took a handful of gold coins and went to the market. With sixteen gold coins he hired sixteen labourers and bought sixteen cartful of hays and sixteen hundred bamboos. With those sixteen hundred bamboos, sixteen cartful of hay and sixteen pair of hands he renovated the ruined cottage within the twinkling of an eye. He spread a new mattress in the queen’s bedroom and placed a new low stool  in the other room. When sixteen maids from the King’s kitchen came carrying the queen’s lunch he paid them sixteen gold coins. 

    Having had her bath Duorani returned home. What a surprise awaited her!  She found a new cottage standing in place of the old. Newly thatched roof! New mattress on the floor! New saris on the hanger! She was dazed. She called the monkey and asked–“Child, it was a ruined cottage when I left for the river bank. I came back and found it all new. How did it happen? Explain me.” 

    The monkey said--“Mother, the king had given me gold coins. I have renovated your cottage, bought a new mattress and a new stool with them. Go, have steamed rice served in gold plate, warm milk served in gold bowl.”

    The queen sat for lunch. It was after a long, long time that she was eating from gold plate and gold bowls. She also had a gold jug full of water to rinse her mouth from. She took paan from gold tray. Yet she was not contented. The queen bit at the special sweets and thought–today the king has sent rice on a gold platter but tomorrow he might chop my head off in the funeral ground.



    [i] Alta - lac-dye used to border the feet to make them look red.

    [ii]  gajamoti- (myth) rare pearls shed from elephant’s heads.

    [iii]  achal- the loose end of the sari that hangs from the shoulders.

    [iv] Nilkantha - the god with blue throat, another name of Shiv.

    [v] paan – betel, a plant, the leaves of which are chewed.

    [vi] Cowrie – kind of gasteropod or its shell used as money.


    The original story [Kheerer Putul (ক্ষীরের পুতুল)*] by Abanindranath Tagore has been published first in 1896.
    Illustrated by"Shri Shamba". Under the alias of "Shri Shamba", Atanu Deb, based in Jharkhand, India, wields both brush and pen. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D.


    Tags: Khirer Putul, Kheer Doll, Parabaas Translation
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