The Brave Girl
A merchant of Paina had a daughter called Kirti. She was married to a wealthy young man of Magadh; Devsen was his name. His father was dead, and his mother managed the house. This lady became very jealous of the love her son showed to his wife. She began to give all sorts of pin-pricks to Kirti. But that girl endured her mother-in-law’s treatment without letting her husband know about it.
It so happened that Devsen had to go to Valabhi on some trade. She was dreading being left alone with her cruel mother-in-law. Until his return, Kirti informed him how she was ill-treating her.
Devsen was surprised to hear this. But taking his wife along with him was out of the question, and he suggested to his mother, ” Mother, I am leaving. Your daughter-in-law is a delicately nurtured girl. I depend upon you to keep her happy till I return.”
“Don’t I know that son?” the mother said. “She is as dear to me as you are.”
Devsen went away with an easy heart. At once, the old witch fell to beating Kirti, saying, Wretch, how dare you try to make a rift between my son and me? Well, I must teach you a lesson.”
The heartless mother-in-law threw Kirti into the dark, under- ground cellar and locked the door. She hoped her daughter-in-law would be starved to death before her son returned, and she could report that the poor girl died of grief due to separation from him.
Kirti gave herself up to weeping for a very long time, sitting in the dark cellar. She had a father of great renown, a husband to lay down his life for her, and any amount of riches and yet fate had brought her to such a miserable state.
Slowly she began to feel around in the cell and found a short crowbar. Her spirits rose at once, and she began to dig a passage out of the cellar. Soon this passage brought her to her bedroom.
Kirti hastily took up a few clothes and jewels that came to hand, tied them up in a bundle and left the house under cover of darkness. She could go to her father in Patna. But that would involve all sorts of explanations. Also, her husband would be disgraced. She thought it was better for her to go to Valabli and join her husband.
Kirti had a bath in a tank. Then she dressed like a man, returned to the village, sold some of the jewels for expenses and stared for Valabhi. On the way, she came across a trader called Samudradutt, who was also going to Valabhi.
This trader was taking a massive caravan with him. If he went by the regular route, he would have to pay large sums of money through taxes in every city. To avoid this, the trader Jed his caravan through the jungle.
They travelled all day and camped in a specific part of the jungle for the night. After dark, the jackals began to howl in the distance, a sure sign of the movement of bandits. The trader’s men took up arms and took their positions around the camp. Kirti was more afraid of being discovered as a woman than of losing her life. She could not depend on the trader for her safety. She searched about for a hiding place and at last found a pit. She jumped into it and covered herself with dry leaves.
The bandits came about midnight. There was a ferocious fight in which the bandits killed most of the men, drove away the rest and took away the merchandise of the trader, who died in the war.
Kirti stayed in the pit till daybreak. Then she started walking till she reached a tribal village. Here she saw an odd thing. A sick man was made to sit in the sun. A doctor smeared the patient’s head with ghee. He placed a water pot by the side of the patient. Then he arranged a bamboo tube with one end dipping into the water in the pool while its other stop was adjusted to the patient’s ear, which was swollen and red.
Even as Kirti was looking, the ailing ear changed its colour, and the patient’s face showed less pain. The doctor lifted some worms from the pot and led them to the people who gathered there. They were the cause of the patient’s trouble. Because of the sun’s heat, they crept out and sought the coolness of the pot.
“King Vasudutt is suffering from similar worms,” said the tribal doctor. “But he would rather die than be cured by the like of us.”
Kirti marvelled at what she had seen. She proceeded on her journey and presently met a shepherd with a flock. “Do you know where King Vasudutt lives?” she asked him.
“There, you can see the city,” said the shepherd, pointing with his finger. All this jungle is his property.”
Kirti was anxious to reach this city because this was the end of the jungle route. It appeared that most of the traders used this route, and her husband, mig, returned this way too. She could wait for him in this city. She would treat the king, who was said to be suffering from an inflamed ear and get in his favour. In return, the king might provide her husband with a safe convoy through the jungle.
Thinking in this vein, Kirti arrived in the city and went to the palace. The king was indeed in a precarious condition. The doctors had already given up hope. Still in male garb, Kirti undertook to cure the king, and she was permitted to do so. She repeated the treatment she had seen at the tribal village, and the king was relieved of not less than hundred-and-fifty worms. The king’s recovery was both quick and miraculous. He was put on a diet of milk and ghee.
Kirti was showered with praise and gifts by one and all. She saved all these gifts carefully. Soon Devsen arrived at this city with his caravan, even as Kirti expected. The arrival of a new train was always a big event for the city’s people. Some people would go to see the novelties, others to make a profitable business and others to sell whatever they had to deal with.
It was formal for the king to pay a goodwill visit to each caravan, take a few gifts and bless the trader. While meeting Devsen’s march, the king requested Kirti to accompany him. Though she was in male garb, Devsen quickly identified her by her beautiful eyes.
There was no longer any need for Kirti to remain dressed as a man. After all her troubles and tribulations, she found her dear husband. Kirti narrated her experiences with her mother-in-law, the bandits and so on. Even the king could not help shedding a tear on hearing her tale.
Devsen was very angry that his mother should break her promise to him and ill-treat his beloved wife.
“I hoped that Kirti was going to be my son. But now she is my daughter, and she shall succeed to my throne. As for you, young man, you may as well scale in this place and carry on with your trade. I cannot let you go.” the king said.
Kirti suggested that Devsen sends for his mother, but he refused. He could not look at her face anymore.
Kirti was showered with heaps of gifts which she kept safe with her. One day she took. They went in a cart and, accompanied by her husband, went to the tribal village in the jungle.
The tribal doctor was sent for. “O, eminent doctor,” said Kirti, “the king sends you these gifts for having cured him. They are all yours.”
The doctor could not recall having ever cured the king of any illness. While he gazed in wonder at the retreating figures: of Kirti and her husband, the tribal people picked up from the gifts whatever they wanted. There was nothing wrong with it because, in the tribe, what belonged to one belonged to all.
Chandamama August 1955 | V L Nevar