In this way, in a terrible apprehension, one month, two months, three months passed. The elder queen’s new cottage began to wear off. The thatched roof began showing holes, some of its hay were swept off by the wind. The monkey met the king.
The king asked –“Why monkey? Why have you come?”
The monkey asked–Maharaja, should I be fearful or fearless?
“Be fearless,” said the king.
The monkey replied--“Maharaja, my mother suffers in her broken room. There are cracks on the door; the roof has hardly any hay. It is cold inside. My mother doesn’t have a quilt to cover herself with, she has no firewood to light a fire. She shivers throughout the night.”
The king rejoined--“Right! Right! Good that you have reminded me. Monkey, bring your mother into the palace, I will give orders to get a wing ready for her.”
The monkey said--“Maharaja, I am scared to bring mother in here. The younger queen might poison her.”
The king said–“Do not fear that. I will keep her in a new house. I will dig a moat around. I will keep guards to guard the entrance. The younger queen will not be able to enter. My elder queen, her deaf and dumb maid and you, her pet son, will reside there.”
The monkey said--“Let me then move my mother there.”
The king ordered–“Go Mantri, make an accommodation ready for the queen.”
The minister employed thousands of men and arranged a big house for Duorani to stay in within a single day.
Duorani left her ruined cottage, her torn mattress, and came to her new house wearing a gold sari. She sat on gold bedstead, ate from gold plate and donated money to the poor. All in the kingdom sang her praises.
All this made the younger queen’s blood boil with anger.
There was a Brahmin sorceress who knew the dark secrets of black magic. She and the younger queen were very good friends. Since they could speak their minds to each other, shared almost everything, they fondly called each other “Moner Katha’[vii]. The sorceress was always at the younger queen’s beck and call. The younger queen ordered, “Ask Moner Katha to come to me. Tell her, I need to talk to her. ”
The sorceress hurried to the palace since none other than the queen had summoned her.
The queen greeted her–“Come friend, Moner Katha, how are you? Come, sit close to me.”
The sorceress sat beside the queen and said, “Why did you send for me friend? You look blue around the gills. There are tears in your eyes. What has happened?”
“Don’t ask!” replied the queen angrily. “The elder queen has returned here. She wore a gold embroidered sari and got a new house all to herself. She has become the king’s beloved queen.”
That beggar of a Duorani has become Shuorani now and has captured the entire palace. Moner Katha, my friend, all this gives me blisters. Get me poison so that I may swallow and die. I cannot bear to see her happy.
The sorceress said–“Oh no dear friend, you shouldn’t speak like that. Why should you take poison? Duorani has become the queen today; tomorrow she will turn into a beggar once again. Our Shuorani will remain where she is.”
“No my friend,” replied Shuorani. “I have no wish to live. Duorani will give birth to a prince who will become the king in future. People will praise Duorani and say that she has borne a jewel in her womb; she will be a king’s mother. And about me they will say--“Look at that black-faced Shuorani, she enjoyed being the Maharaja’s beloved Shuorani all the while, yet she couldn’t bear him any children. Fie! She is a bad omen. If you look at her in the morning you will have to go without food. Friend, I will not be able to bear their sharp tongue. Give me poison. Either I will drink it and die or I will give it to the elder queen.”
The sorceress whispered, “Hush queen. Someone might hear you. Why do you worry? I shall secretly bring you poison which you can give to that Duorani. Now grant me leave. I must go in search of the poison.”
“Go friend, but take care,” said Shuorani, “It must be strong enough so that a single dose does its work.”
“Do not fear,” replied the sorceress. “Within a few days I shall poison Duorani, I will crush her desire to be a mother forever. Be in peace.”
The old sorceress went in search of poison. She searched for days in dense forests and one late evening she found a deadly snake coiled beneath a bush . She cast a spell on the sleeping snake and extracted its kalkut[viii] poison and brought it to her friend.
Shuorani prepared varieties of sweets, some with condensed milk, some out of green gram, some with gram flour, and mixed the deadly poison in all of them. She then arranged all the sweets on a plate and called the sorceress and told her–“Friend, go and sell these poison sweets to the elder queen.”
The old sorceress obeyed and carried the plate to Duorani’s house.
Duorani happily greeted her, “Come in, come in my dear. Should you forget me because I am a Duorani?”
“What are you saying!” replied the evil old woman. “I live only at your mercy. How can I forget you? Look, with such a lot of care I have prepared these sweets for you.”
The queen saw that the old Brahmin lady had a plateful of sweets arranged beautifully for her. She happily thrust into her hands two handful of gold coins and bade her leave. The sorceress went away laughing.
The queen tasted a little of the kheer sweet. Her tongue lost the sense of taste. She took a bite off a gram-flour laddoo. Her throat turned dry. She ate the boondi laddoo and her chest burned like fire. She cried out to the monkey, “The sorceress has fed me something that’s making me feel terribly sick. I don’t think I will live.”
“Come mother. Lie down on the bed. You will feel better,” said the monkey. The queen stood up. The poison hit her head. Her vision blurred. Her head reeled. She fell down on the marble floor like a golden idol.
The monkey pulled her head up on his lap, checked her pulse, pulled open her eyelids and looked into her eyes—she was cold and senseless. The monkey laid the queen on her bed and ran to the forest in search of medicinal herbs. He collected some unknown leaves, creepers, and roots from the forest, and made a paste and fed her.
The news spread to the palace that the elder queen has had poison. The king stumbled and rushed to the elder queen. The king’s minister ran along. Next came the court physician chanting mantras. A crowd of workers, maids, men and women from the palace followed.
The monkey said, “Maharaja, why have you asked so many people to come? I have given Mother a medicine. She is well now. Let her sleep for a while. Please ask your men to leave.” The king ordered the physician to test the sweets for poison and asked him to leave. He asked the minister to take charge of the kingdom for some time and he himself remained with his elder queen.
For three days and three nights Duorani remained unconscious. On the fourth day she came back to her senses. The queen finally opened her eyes. The monkey reported to the king--“Maharaja, the elder queen has recovered. You have a son, a prince, a king of the kings.”
The king immediately took off his diamond necklace and gave it to the monkey and said, “Let’s go monkey. Let’s go and have a look at the elder queen and my son!”
“Maharaja, I have consulted his horoscope,” replied the monkey. “If you look at your son now, you shall turn blind. You should look at him only after he is married. Now you must go and have a look at your elder queen. Look what Shuorani has done to her.”
The king went and saw that the effect of poison had turned the queen’s golden skin black. She lay like a metal foil, unrecognizable.
The king went back to his palace and got the younger queen imprisoned. He shaved off the head of the sorceress, poured yoghurt on her bald head, made her sit backwards on a donkey and banished her from his kingdom forever.
Then he sent for his minister. “Mantri, today is a blissful day. I have got a son, a king of kings, after decades. Light up the streets, burst fireworks in every house, call the poor and the destitute and give them coins from the treasury. See that there remains no beggar in the kingdom’. The minister followed the king’s orders and decorated the streets with lights, lit fireworks in the houses, gave coins from the treasury to the poor and the destitute. Everyone in the kingdom praised the king.
In this way, with new celebrations each day, with the regular worship of gods in the temples, and sacrifices at the altar of goddess Kali, and distribution of food and clothes to the poor, ten long years passed.
The king then called the monkey and said--“Ten years have passed. Now show me my son.”
“You must first find a wife for your son,” replied the monkey, “then get him married and only then should you look upon him. If you look at him now you will turn blind.”
At the monkey’s advice the king sent heralds, all of whom were well versed in genealogy, to different kingdoms to search for a bride for his son. From many countries arrived the news of many a princess but none impressed the king. Last of all news arrived from the kingdom of Patali. The king’s herald returned with a picture of a princess in a golden box. She looked like a gold idol.The princess had a golden-hued skin, her joint-eyebrows were like a beautiful bow, she had beautiful large eyes and a smile on her lips. She had long hair that, if left open, touched her feet. This was the princess the king chose as the bride for his son.
He called the monkey and said, “I have chosen a princess. Tomorrow is an auspicious day, and at an auspicious hour I shall go and get my son married to this princess.”
“Maharaja,” said the monkey, “send the groom’s palanquin with the bearers to mother’s house tomorrow evening. I shall escort the groom to his wedding ceremony.”
“Look here,” said the king, “I have listened to you for ten long years, if I do not get to see my son tomorrow ... there will be trouble.”
“Maharaja don’t worry,” assured the monkey calmly. “You go over to the in-laws house at Patali. We will take the groom along with us.”
Worried that if he stole a glance at the prince by mistake, he would turn blind—the king left for the in-laws house early that day.
And monkey went to the elder queen’s new house.
Since the time Duorani had heard that their son was to get married she had stretched herself on her bed crying. “O where shall I get a son from? How will I trick the king now?” she thought.
The monkey came and said with great urgency in his voice, “Mother, O Mother, get up. Arrange for the groom’s dress, get the topor headdress ready, and make a doll of kheer,and we’ll dress up the doll as the groom, it will be kheer kumar, the doll of kheer. I will take it to the wedding ceremony and get him married.”
The queen was shocked. “Child have you no fear? How can you take a doll of kheer as a groom? Is this how you plan to trick the king? Child, let’s drop it. I have cheated the king to get his affection, and for that sin Shuorani gave me poison. I have luckily survived! How can I dare cheat the king again? Enough son! Why increase the burden of my sins? Go and call the king, let me confess everything.”
“Where will I find the king now?” said the monkey. “It takes two days to reach the bride's house. The king has already left. Keep your word and make me a doll of kheer. The king must be waiting there for the groom to arrive. It will be a great insult for him if the groom doesn’t turn up. Mother do not worry, you are sending kheer doll to the wedding ceremony, if goddess Shasthi[ix] takes pity on you, you might get a handsome son as your own.”
The queen put her trust in the monkey, mastered courage in her heart and moulded a lovely doll out of kheer that was yummy and sweet. She put on this doll the groom’s dress, put on the topor as the headdress, put shoes with golden lace on its feet. The monkey placed the groom in the palanquin secretly and pulled down the colourful curtains. Only the groom’s feet with a pair of golden laced shoes were visible.
Sixteen palanquin bearers carried the groom’s palanquin on their shoulders. The monkey wore a headdress, tied a shawl around his waist, and with ensigns, bands, and torches went ahead to get the doll of kheer wedded to the princess of Patali.
The queen alone remained in the dark house and desperately called upon the gods to protect her.
After travelling for the whole night the sixteen bearers carrying the palanquin, the light-bearers carrying torches, the band carrying drums, and all the invitees from the groom’s side reached Dignagar —with great noise and aplomb.
Morning dawned beside the pond of Dignagar.
The torches had burnt out. The horses were fatigued having galloped for so long. The palanquin bearers were exhausted .The drummer’s hands could drum no more.
The monkey ordered to put up a tent beside the pond. He asked the bearers to place the palanquin beside the pond in the temple-ground of Goddess Shashti and gave them leave. He called the minister and said “Mantri, nobody should look at the prince; it is the king’s order. It is bad omen to look at the groom today.”
The minister gave his orders. All the king’s men bathed in the pond, cooked, ate their lunch, and rested inside their tents. Nobody came towards the banyan tree under which the palanquin rested.
When the women from the village came to worship goddess Shasthi the king’s men urged them to go away.
Nobody offered any prayers to the goddess under the banyan tree that day. Inside the temple, Goddess Shasthi grew restless with hunger, her throat turned dry with thirst. The monkey was having a good laugh in his heart.
It was late afternoon yet nobody had offered the goddess even a drop of water. The goddess grew impatient; her black cat began mewing.
The monkey had his plans . He left the palanquin door open and hid nearby. The goddess thought--Ah, the trouble has gone at last! She came out of her frame in the scorching sun looking for the regular offerings of fruits and sweets. But lo and behold! She found a huge doll made entirely of delicious kheer inside a palanquin. How could she resist now! She summoned the beloved Aunts of the Land of Sleep in her mind.
Although it was day time in Dignagar it was night time in the Land of Sleep.
The Aunts of Sleep had just cast their spells in Dignagar and had put the children of the Goddess to sleep. In the morning they had cast the spell of sleep on the eyes of the princess of the Land of Sleep and now it was late afternoon and they were free to take a nap--but at that very moment Goddess Shasthi summoned them. The Aunts of the Land of Sleep sat up. The Aunts, who were actually two sisters, left the Land of Sleep and travelled towards Dignagar once again. They touched the feet of the Goddess and asked--“Goddess why have you summoned us?”
The goddess said--“My dear, it is so late but I still haven’t had anything to eat. Do me a favour, put everyone in the kingdom to sleep, while I go and eat the delicious doll of kheer that is inside this palanquin.”
At the goddess’s order the Aunts cast their
spell of sleep. All in the kingdom fell asleep. The shepherd boy in the field,
the babies at home, the babies’ mothers beside their babies, their elder
sisters in their nursery—everyone fell asleep. The king’s men in the Shasthi
temple-ground and even the children in their village schools fell asleep. The
minister dozed off with the pipe of hookah between his teeth. The school master
went to sleep with cane in his hand. It was nightfall at noon in Dignagar. The
Aunts cast their spell of sleep in
everybody’s eyes. Only the dogs and the jackals around the village, the king’s
elephants and horses around the pond, the birds in the forest, and the queen’s
monkey sitting in the tree, were awake. The wild cat of the goddess, the water
cats, the tree cats, and the domestic cats were also awake.
Goddess Shasthi then quietly pushed open the door of the palanquin and took the kheer doll in her hand. At the smell of the sweet yummy kheer the squirrels scampered down from the trees, wild cats came running out of the forest, water cats came out of the water, and domestic cats crawled out of their corners towards the Shasthi temple-ground.
The goddess distributed the ten fingers of the kheer doll to the cats to eat. She herself ate the arms, the legs, the chest, the back and the head. She gave the two ears to the two Aunts and bade them leave.
The Aunts flew back to the Land of Sleep. The king’s party woke up beside the Dignagar pond; the villagers woke up in the village. The goddess Shasthi wiped her mouth and was about to enter her frame when the monkey jumped down from the tree and caught her--“Goddess where are you going, give me back my kheer boy. I have caught you stealing kheer. I will spread the news of your deed throughout the lands if you don’t return my kheer boy.”
The goddess was greatly troubled. “Oh no!” she said, “Look what this burnt-faced monkey is saying! Leave my path this minute, let me go! People will see me.”
The monkey said--“I will not. You must first return me my boy or else I shall dip your idol in the pond, it will be a fit punishment for stealing condensed milk being a goddess.”
The goddess was extremelyembarassed. “Hush! Hush! Child, be quiet.” She said. “Someone might hear you. You see, I did eat your milk doll, how can I bring it back now? There under the banyan tree all my children are playing, choose whomever you want and get him married to the princess. With my blessing, Duorani will look upon him as her own son. Let me go now!”
“But where goddess?” asked the monkey. “Where are they? I see no children under the banyan tree. Let me have the magic eye, only then will I be able to see the children of Shasthidas Seth.”
The goddess touched the monkey’s eyes and the monkey had the magic vision.
The monkey could now see that it was a crowd of children around the Shasthi temple -ground. There were children everywhere—children inside, children outside, children playing in the water, children running on land, children on the roads and river banks, on the branches of trees, on the green grass; wherever he looked he saw happy groups of boys and girls. Some were black, some beautiful, some dark. Some wore anklets, some wore girdles around their waist; some wore beaded chains around their neck. Some played flutes, some played with rattles, some danced around turning their babyish hands while their anklets jingled.
Some wore red shoes, some wore red caps, some wore floral mulmul shawls worth lakhs of rupees. Some boys were lean, some were chubby, some were naughty, some were sober. Some children were riding on wooden horses, some were fishing in the pond, some were bathing in the dam water, a group of children picking flowers under a tree, another plucking fruits from the trees. All around were fights and frolic, laughter and tears. It as a new land, a dream land.
There was only sports and games here. There were no schools, no teachers in schools, no cane-holding hands of teachers. There was a pond of dark water, beside the pond extended a stretch of green long grass. There was a faraway field sprawling endlessly, and beyond it were the mango and jackfruit orchards, on those trees perched long-tailed parrots, and in the waters of the river dwelled the round eyed sheat fish, under the colocasia bushes lived troops of mosquitoes.
Beside the forest dwelt the Aunts of Bongaon who prepared sweets out of puffed rice, and upon the pomegranate tree beside the house danced the lord. Janti fruits grew on the Janti tree beside the river, and blue horses grazed on the fields, while golden peacocks of the land of Gaud were found everywhere. Some boys mounted on the blue horses, some mounted the golden peacocks, played drums and cymbals and took a palanquin and went to Kamalapuri to marry Puturani off. The monkey went along with them to the land of Kamalapuri. That was a land of parrots. There was only pandemonium of parrots, they sat on playstands and pecked at the paddy, they sat on branches and squawked, and they played with the children. There the men grew cows and bullocks along with crops and brushed their teeth with diamond. That was a unique land indeed—within the wink of an eye it would be morning and in another wink it would be evening—such were the strange ways of that country!
Riding on a palanquin, counting six cowries, a group of boys came to fish where the water was trapped between fine shinning sand banks. Some of the boys got their feet pricked by fishbones, some had sunlight shining on their faces. The sons of the fishermen slept covered in the fishing nets. Just then it began to rain and the river flooded. The group of boys left their wooden palanquin and six cowries behind and ran back home. On their way back the fishes they had caught were snatched away by kites, the boys returned home angry, their mothers cooled their hot milk and gave them to drink. And beside that fine sand, beside that water god Shiva came and anchored his boat. He had three maids with him. One cooked and served, one ate and the third left for her father’s house angrily. The monkey went along with her to her native land.
In that maiden’s homeland, girls had flocked to the river bank to bathe. They were drying their long black hair. On either side of the river two carp fishes raised their heads—a rohu and a katla. Guruthakur, the respected teacher, took one fish and a parrot who had arrived there rowing a boat took the other. An otter saw this and began dancing with the fish in one hand and the parrot in the other. At the door of a house a mother played with her little boy and sang—
“Otter turn and look
look how my boy dances.”
The monkey saw that the boy was as bright and lovely as a golden moon. He snatched the boy and took him quickly. Immediately the magic land of the Shasthi temple ground vanished. The long- tailed parrots spread their green wings across the sky and flew off to unknown lands. The boat of Lord Shiva sailed away to a faraway land. The maidens at the riverbank tucked in their stripped saris and disappeared. The pussy cat in the land of Shasthi had tightened the girdle around it’s waist and was accompanying the mother- in- law, to delight her with ladoos of puffed rice, four maids, they were going through the mango and jackfruit orchards while taking Puturani to her in-laws,they all quietly faded away into darkness. The otters who were dancing on the tamarind leaves melted into the leaves. It was as if the whole country sank underground.The monkey found that there was no goddess Shasthi around. He was standing alone there with the boy under the banyan tree beside the pond.The monkey called the King’s men. He made the handsome boy sit inside the palanquin, lit torches, played drums, and finally left Dignagar by evening.
There in the land of Patali the king sat in the in-laws house and thought--the monkey hasn’t turned up yet. Did he cheat me? I shall go back and cut his head off. The bride thought—God knows how the groom looks? The bride’s parents thought—Alas, our beloved child will soon go away to an unknown household. The servants and maids of the palace thought—When will we complete our work and climb on the terrace and take a look at the groom? It was then that with drums and pipes, with galloping horses, and with flaming torches the monkey arrived with the groom. The king took his son by hand and led him to the court. The bride’s father gave his daughter’s hand to his son–in–law. The neighbours welcomed the groom, the maids blew conches and ululated--at last the much-awaited wedding took place.
The king, his son, and his daughter-in-law, with pipes and galloping horses, returned home the next day along with the monkey. The Patali King’s palace became desolate overnight. The beloved daughter of the parents was on her way to her new home.
There in King’s land the Duorani, having wept and worried for two days and two nights at a stretch, had fallen asleep before dawn. She dreamt that goddess Shasthi was telling her, “Elder queen wake up. Look, your son has returned to you.” The queen woke up and heard the maids calling her from the door, “Wake up Rani, wake up, wear a proper sari and welcome your son and his bride.”
The queen dressed and stepped out. She found that it was true! The king had brought back a bride and a groom! Smiling, she greeted them.The boon of goddess Shasthi had worked. She forgot all about the kheer doll, she thought that she must have dreamt of such a doll while worrying about her true son.
The king gave the kingdom to his son, made the monkey the minister and he gave those eight pairs of bracelets set with eight thousand gems, those ten pairs of anklets made of ten hundred carats of gold that he had brought form the magic lands to his daughter- in- law. In her hands the bracelets seemed as if blood was oozing out. The anklets jingled in a sweet chime.
And the younger queen died of envy.
[vii] Moner Katha- secrets of the heart
[viii] kalkut - a deadly poison obtained from snakes
[ix] shasthi-protective goddess of children
Published in Parabaas April 2016
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.