The news from the frontier was not very inspiring. The king, with a
heavy heart, went to the garden for a walk.
He saw a little boy and a little girl playing under a tree near the
The king asked them, "What are you playing?"
They said, "Today we are playing: Ram and Sita's
The king sat down.
The boy said, "Here is our forest, we are making our hut here."
He had gathered a heap of boughs and twigs, grass and hay. Very
And the girl, she was cooking leaves in toy-utensils without any
fire. Ram will take his meal, and Sita could not spare a moment in
The king said, "I see everything, except the
demons.2 Where are
The boy admitted that their forest had some serious shortcomings.
The king said, "All right, I will be the demon."
The boy examined him carefully from top to bottom. Then he said,
"But you will have to lose."
The king said, "I am very good at that. Test it yourselves."
That day, the killing of the demon was accomplished so nicely that
the boy did not want to let the king go. The king had to die the
deaths of ten or tweleve demons within a short while. He got tired
The birds sang the same songs they had sung in the Panchavati forest
in the age of Ram and Sita; the morning sun hummed the same soft
tunes in the string of green leaves as it did on that ancient day.
The king heaved a sigh of relief.
He called the minister and asked him, "Whose are they, the boy and
The minister replied, "The girl is my daughter, Ruchira. And the
boy is Koushik, a petty Brahmin's son, his father is just a priest."
The king said, "When the time comes, let this girl be married to
that boy. This is what I wish."
The minister did not dare to reply. He bowed his head down in
• 2 •
The king sent Koushik to the top scholar of the country for
education. All students of noble blood studied there. Ruchira
studied there too.
The day when Kaushik came to attend his grammar school, the
professor was not exactly pleased. Others felt scandalized as well.
But, such was the royal will.
The most troubled one was Ruchira. The boys in the class whispered
in one another's ears. She blushed, tears flowed down her cheeks.
If Koushik pushed a book towards her, she flung it away. If he
spoke to her regarding the lessons in the class, she didn't respond.
The professor was very pleased with Ruchi. His affection knew no
bounds. He nurtured a promise deep inside his heart that Ruchi
would surpass Koushik in everything. And Ruchi was also determined.
It seemed that it would be easy, because Koushik studied without any
involvement. He was interested in swimming, in singing, in playing
music, in walking through the woods.
The professor rebuked him, "Why don't you have any love for
Koushik said, "My love is not only for learning, but for many other
things as well."
The professor said, "Stay away from those other subjects that you
Koushik said, "Then my love for learning will also be gone."
• 3 •
Thus some time went by.
The king asked the professor, "Who's the best among your students?"
The professor said, "Ruchira."
The king asked, "What about Koushik?"
The professor said, "I don't think he has learned anything at all."
The king said, "I want Ruchi to be married to Koushik."
The professor smiled, and said, "It is something like the proposal
of marriage between the dawn and the dusk."
The king called the minister and said, "There is no point in
delaying Koushik's wedding with your daughter."
The minister said, "My Lord, my daughter is unwilling in this
The king said, "Does a woman's word reflect her mind?"
The minister said, "But her tears are giving evidence."
The king said, "Does she consider Koushik unworthy of her?"
The minister said, "Yes, in fact she does."
The king said, "Let there be a test of their knowledge in front of
me. If Koushik wins, the marriage must be settled without a second
On the following day, the minister told the king, "My daughter
accepts the challenge."
• 4 •
The court was ready: the king on the throne, Koushik at his feet.
The professor himself appeared with Ruchi. Koushik stood up from
his seat, bowed to the professor and greeted Ruchi. Ruchi paid no
Koushik had never debated with Ruchi before, not even as a part of
the school formalities. Other students also, out of disdain, never
allowed him a chance to debate with them. So today, when sharp
satire, mingled with solid arguments, shone like the glittering sun
on the tip of an arrow, the professor was astonished, and was
annoyed. Ruchi sweated; she lost her arguments. Koushik took her
to the edge of defeat.
The professor was struck dumb with rage, and tears started flowing
from Ruchi's eyes.
The king told the minister "Now finalize the date of the wedding."
Koushik rose from his seat, and said to the king with folded hands,
"You will have to excuse me, I am not willing to enter into this
The king was surprised. He said, "So you will not take the prize
for your victory?"
Koushik said, "Let the victory remain mine, but let the prize go to
The professor said, "My Lord, let me have another year's time.
After that, let there be a final test."
The proposal was accepted.
• 5 •
Koushik left the school. Some days he was seen in the morning in
the shadows of the woods, and some days in the evening at the peak
of the hill.
On the other side, the professor devoted all his attention to
educating Ruchi. But, did her attention respond?
The professor was exasperated. He warned Ruchi, "You'll have to be
ashamed for the second time if you do not get your act together."
And Ruchi began to behave as if she was meditating to get ashamed
once more. As Aparna3 meditated without food, Ruchi
meditated without her studies. Her books of philosophy remained
untouched, even the books of literature were opened once in a blue
The professor was angry. He said, "By the names of all the great
sages, I promise not to accept any more girl student in the future.
I can understand the Vedas, and yet a woman's mind is still a
mystery to me."
Once the minister came to the king and said, "A marriage proposal
has come from Bhabadatta's family. They are unparalleled in all
respects. I am asking for My Lord's permission."
The kind asked, "What does your daughter say?"
The minister said, "Does a woman's word reflect her mind?"
The king asked, "What evidence are her tears bearing today?"
The minister remained silent.
• 6 •
The king came and sat in his garden. He called the minister and
said, "Send your daughter to me."
Ruchira came and offered her respects by touching the king's feet.
The king said, "My child, do you remember the game of Ram and Sita
Ruchira stood still, with a bowed head, and a gentle smile on her
The king said, "Today I have a longing to see the game once more."
Ruchira pulled the veil of her dress on one side of her face and
The king said, "The forest is there, Ram is also there. But I
heard, my child, that we cannot find a Sita. You can solve the
problem if you wish."
Ruchira did not utter a single word. She touched the king's feet
The king said, "But, my child, I cannot play the demon's role this
Ruchira stared at the king with a pleasant face.
The king said, "This time, your professor will play the role of the
- The allusion here is to the story of the
epic work "Ramayana", in which the prince Ram had to go to
exile in a forest with his wife because of a sinister plot laid
by his stepmother so that he could not become the
king.(Back to text)
- While in the forest exile, Ram and his
companions were attacked by several demons, according to the
Ramayana.(Back to text)
- A mythical character who fasted while she
meditated to get Lord Shiva as her
husband.(Back to text)
The translator thanks Shoili Pal for careful reading of an earlier draft.
Published in Parabaas, May 7, 2021.