The Clever Barber

On the banks of the river, Ikshu-Mati was the hermitage of Mankan. One day the hermit was walking in the garden of the sanctuary when he saw a babe amidst the plantain trees. Mankan took the child to his cottage, named her Kadali and brought her up as though she was his daughter.

When Kadali attained marriageable age, King Dridha-Varma from Madhya Pradesh happened to visit the hermitage. He had been hunting in the neighbourhood and wanted to pay his respects to the hermit. He stepped into the cloister no sooner than he saw lovely Kadali and desired to marry her.

The king went to the hermit, prostrated himself before him and said, “O Sage, I’ve something to beg of you. Promise me that you will not disappoint me.”

The hermit easily guessed what it was that the king desired. So he promised to grant the king’s request, and the king asked him for Kadali’s hand.

“O King,” the hermit said, “You’re welcome to marry my daughter, Kadali. But remember, she has been brought up in a hermitage, not a palace. She is innocent of feuds and conspiracies. You shall have her if you promise to protect her even as the lid protects the eye.”

The king swore that he would treat her dearer than his own life. On a suitable day, the hermit performed the marriage of Kadali with the king.

When Kadali was about to depart with her husband, her friends said, “They say that king’s palaces are but golden cages. Maybe, you will not be happy there. In that case, come away without hesitation. But you will have none to escort you. To find your way back, take this mustard seed and drop them all along the way while you go. Where a mustard plant has grown once, there will always be mustard plants, and thus you will be able to find your way back here with their help.” They gave her a bundle of mustard seeds, and Kadali dropped them all along the way to her husband’s place.

The king neglected his first wife from the day Kadali became his. From court, he went straight to Kadali’s residence. He had his entertainment and food and slept there only.

This infuriated the older queen. She called for the minister and said to him. “Sir, the king is so taken up with his young wife that he has entirely abandoned me. Kindly see that she is liquidated.”

These words seared the minister’s ears. He replied, “Madam, you can engage plenty of female mendicants to carry out such beastly jobs. It is not proper that you should commission me to do this.”

The queen knew that she had gone too far. “I thought it was an administrative matter,” she said, pretending remorse. “That is why I asked you. Since you say it is improper, let us drop the idea altogether.”

After the minister’s departure, the queen sent her servants to bring her a female mendicant. When she came, the queen promised her a huge reward if she could do away with Kadali.

This female was an expert in making potions and administering poisons. The queen’s reward roused her cupidity, and she undertook to remove the new queen. But it was hazardous work, and she was afraid of carrying it out herself. She sought the help of a particular barber who lived in the same town.

“Remove the younger queen,” she told the barber, “and I shall give you half of the huge reward promised to me by the older queen.”

The barber thought over the proposition for a while. “It is not easy to remove the younger queen,” he said. “The king holds her dearer than his own life. Find out whether the older queen will be satisfied if the king deserts the younger queen. I can manage it.”

The mendicant returned to the older queen and asked whether she would be satisfied if the king abandoned his new wife.

“So long as she is alive, the king will not desert her,” the older queen said. “That is why I wanted her to be killed. But if you can make the king forsake her, I want nothing more.”

The barber took the job on. He went to the burial ground and dug up several human skeletons. He made a bundle of all the bones and skulls and went to the older queen. “Have them placed in the attic above the kitchen in the younger queen’s residence,” he told the more ageing queen. “Then send word to the king that the younger queen is reported to be a witch who secretly feasted on human flesh. Advise him to search her house carefully for human bones. When the king finds these bones and skulls in the attic, he will leave her and come to you.”

The older queen was so happy about this plan that she gave the barber a considerable amount of gold and sent him away. Then she put the plan into execution.

The king refused to believe his second wife was a witch until human bones were discovered in the attic of her residence. Then he drove Kadali out of his kingdom without the slightest mercy. The poor girl found her way back to the hermitage with the help of the mustard plants.

Soon the whole town was talking about the banishment of the younger queen, whom the king was said to love more than his life. The barber went to see the king as soon as the news came to his ears. The king gave him an audience when he was told that the barber wanted to say something to him in private.

“What a calamity, my lord!” the barber said to the king. “How could you banish such an innocent soul? I’m afraid I was unwittingly a party to this tragedy.”

“What have you got to do with it?” the king asked the barber in anguish. “Out with it!”

“My lord, the older queen sent for me two days back and asked me to get her some human bones and skulls. And I got them for her. How was I to know that it would lead to this!” said the barber bursting into tears.

The king consoled him and sent him away with some gifts. He got the older queen arrested and had her tried. She confessed that she had plotted against the younger queen. The king reduced her status to that of an ordinary wife. Then he went to the hermitage and apologised to the hermit and Kadali for what he had done. Kadali returned to the king as his supreme queen.

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