A Clever Daughter-in-law
There was once a young man whose mother was a cruel, heartless woman. The young man married and brought his wife home. His mother was very unkind to the daughter-in-law.
There was a karela creeper in their backyard, and the older woman prepared karela curry every day, but she would not even allow her daughter-in-law to taste it. The girl was very fond of karela, and her liking was doubled because she had no chance of satisfying it. But what could the poor girl do? Her husband was a helpless sort of fellow, afraid of his mother.
One day the older woman went to stay with her daughter, who was living in the same village. Her daughter-in-law took this opportunity to prepare some karela curry. She served herself in a leaf some cooked rice and this curry and sat down to eat when there was a knock on the door, and the older woman’s voice was heard.
The older woman returned so soon because her daughter’s in-laws would not give her food. She was an unwelcome guest and had to go back home.
The daughter-in-law cursed the older woman. She placed the leaf with the rice and curry in an empty water pot and went to open the door. Letting her mother-in-law in, the girl went straight to the public well.
But it happened that there were many women around the well, and it was not safe to see them eating the curry.
So the unhappy girl went to the temple nearby. At that time of the day, it was deserted. The girl went right to the centre of the temple where the image of the Goddess stood, bolted the door and began to gobble up the food for which she had been pining for a very long time. The Goddess was so amazed at the sight of this girl eating that She lifted Her finger to Her nose in surprise.
The girl, however, overlooked this act of the Goddess. She finished her food, came out of the temple, drank water at the well, filled her pot and went home.
But, that evening, the pujari nearly had a stroke when he came to the temple and saw the Goddess. He ran to the king and shouted, “Your Majesty, this is the End! The Goddess has put Her finger on Her nose. I do not know what it means, but it can mean nothing but evil.”
The king came to the temple to see this wonder, and the entire village was there.
“This is certainly a bad omen. If anyone can make Her takedown Her hand, I shall give them one thousand one hundred and sixteen rupees,” the king announced to the public.
Many people attempted but failed to make the Goddess assume Her usual attitude. The daughter-in-law went to the king and offered to do what the others failed to achieve. She went to the temple with her empty water pot, closed the door, and, going to the Goddess with her bank raised, said, “Are you not a woman? Don’t you know that women have things to be kept secret from their husbands and mothers-in-law? Are you not ashamed of being surprised at another woman? Will you put down your hand, or shall I have to bash you on the head?”
The Goddess got frightened and took down Her hand. The pujari heaved a sigh. The king made the girl a gift of one thousand one hundred and sixteen rupees besides the usual kumkum. The villagers, too, heaped gifts upon the girl.
Now the villagers stopped offering chicken and sheep to the Goddess. They delivered them to the daughter-in-law instead. Seeing such goings-on, the mother-in-law was more jealous of her daughter-in-law than ever and was also afraid of her.
She told her son, one day, confidentially, “My son, your wife is a terrible woman. How can you live with her? She will eat us both alive if she gets angry with us!”
“What can I do?” the son said. “Hitherto, I was afraid of you alone. Now I fear her too!”
“I suggest that we somehow destroy her. Later I shall marry you to a meek girl,” said the mother. The son agreed to whatever the mother wanted to do.
One night both mother and son fell upon the girl and gagged her so that she could not utter any sound. Then they bound her hand and foot, rolled her in an old mat and took her to the cremation ground to destroy her.
The son collected some dry branches and made a pyre; the daughter-in-law was laid on it. But they had no fire. Unfortunately, there was no corpse burning there at the moment.
“Go home and get some fire while I watch here,” said the mother to her son.
“I am afraid of going alone,” the son replied.
“All right, You stay here while I go home and get fire,” the mother said.
“I am afraid of remaining here alone,” the son replied,
So they both went together to bring some fire. Before they returned, the girl managed to get her hands loose. Then she untied her feet also. She found a log of wood which she rolled in the mat and placed on the pyre as before. Then she got up a tree nearby and waited.
Presently the mother and son returned with fire, set fire to the pyre and went home satisfied that the girl was burnt to ashes.
Soon after their departure, a couple of thieves came to that spot with some stolen goods. In the light of the burning pyre, they began to divide their spoils under the tree the girl was sitting on. The girl was tired from sleep. She lost her balance and fell upon the thieves. The thieves thought that it was some spectre and ran away terrified.
The girl, who was now wide awake, found that the thieves had left lots of jewels and lovely saris behind them. She put on all the treasures and wore a fine sari, threw her sari in the fire and, making a bundle of the rest of the things, went home by dawn.
The mother-in-law was roused from her sleep by a knock on the door. She opened it, saw her daughter-in-law and fell into a swoon, thinking that the ghost had come seeking vengeance.
The girl brought her to, saying, “Do not be afraid of me. I am not a ghost. After you burnt me, servants of Yama, the God of Death, took me away. Yama saw me and shouted at his servants, “Why did you bring the daughter-in-law instead of the mother-in-law? Take this girl back and bring the old witch at once. I prayed to Yama to spare you, promising you would behave better in the future. Yama would not listen to me at first but later became kinder. Then they gave me all these ornaments and clothes and left me outside our door.”
From that day onwards, the older woman treated her daughter-in-law nicely because she feared that Yama would send his servants for her if she ill-treated her.
Chandamama October 1955 | Uma Bhatnagar