The Fatalist

King Mandapal of Samant had no children for a long time, and then he was blessed with a daughter. They named her Malati. On the eleventh day of her birth, a great astrologer from a far-off country, who happened to be the king’s guest, cast her horoscope and wrote down her life in his language.

When Malati was sixteen, her father thought of arranging her marriage and ordered his pandits to consult the life reading written down by the astrologer. Unfortunately, no one could properly understand the language in which it was written. One man with a smattering knowledge of the speech went through it with great difficulty and told the king. “Your Majesty, this writing plainly says that the princess shall be married twice. It also says in one place that her husband will die on the day of marriage. In another place, it is predicted that she will marry a monarch. I can swear to the accuracy of these details. It seems that her first husband will die on the day of marriage, and she will be married again to the ruler of an empire.”

The king was perturbed at this. He had already decided to give Malati in marriage to a prince called Indra-Dutt. With luck, this Prince could become a monarch. But since Malati was destined to lose one husband before she became an emperor’s queen, the king thought it wise to marry her secretly to someone else before she became the wife of Indra-Dutt. The ministers agreed with the king on this.

At that time, there were three madmen in the city of Samant. None knew whence they came. One kept saying, “Life’s strange!” another, “Each to himself!” and the third, “It’s all fate!” They never uttered any other words. They roamed the city all day, ate whatever they were given, and slept in the mandapam at the temple of the goddess at night.

“Your Highness,” the ministers advised the king, “we shall take the princess in bridal costume to the temple at midnight for the regular worship of the goddess. There we shall secretly marry her to one of the madmen. Tomorrow her real marriage will take place as decided. Thus we shall be able to circumvent the trouble predicted in the horoscope.”

Accordingly, the bride was taken to the goddess’s temple at night. The minister told the servants to bring forth one of the madmen. Soon a man was brought heavy with sleep. He was the man who was saying, “It’s all fate!”

The purohit quickly arranged the marriage between Malati, the princess, and the madman, a fatalist. The princess was taken back to the palace as soon as the ritual was finished, while the fatalist went back to the mandapam to sleep.

The next day, the actual marriage of the princess was performed with great pomp and splendor. But the princess had a feeling that her real marriage was over the previous night and the present wedding was a fraud. That evening there was a grand banquet in honor of the bride and groom. But Indra-Dutt, the bridegroom, left the banquet table in the middle of the feast, complaining that he was not feeling well. Soon afterward, he had a stroke from which he never recovered. The bridegroom was dead, and the effect of his death on the festivities was terrific. The king was dumb at the shock of it.

Among the guests, the minister spotted a man from the South who could read the horoscope of the princess. That man scanned the horoscope and said, “It says here that the girl’s second husband will die soon after the marriage, whereas her first husband will become a monarch.”

The minister ran to the king and told him what he had learned.

“Don’t talk to me about astrologers and horoscopes,” the king told the minister. “These people always tell you what has transpired accurately. But when you ask them about the future, they begin to babble nonsense. You want me to believe that a lunatic will become an emperor?”

But the minister went on with his faith in the horoscope. He sent some men to see if the mad fellows were still sleeping in the mandapam of the temple. The men returned just before dawn and reported that the mandapam was deserted and the angry men were gone. At the same time, Princess Malati was also reported missing. In the confusion that followed the death of the bride- groom no one noticed her.

On learning that the bride-groom was dead, Malati got disgusted with everything. She removed her silk dress, wore some saffron clothes, slipped out, and went to the temple in the dark. She reached the place just in time to see the three madmen leave the temple and go away. She began to follow them even without knowing which of them was her husband.

The madmen walked along highways as well as jungle paths. They passed by several villages and finally arrived at a city called Jayant. All the time, Malati walked when they walked, stopped when they stopped, and ate when they ate.

When they arrived at Jayant, the entire city appeared in commotion. Huge crowds gathered in the streets. From their talk, Malati learned the reason for this commotion. Vijay-Vardhan, the king of this city, had a son called Bhupal Dev. This boy was disgusted with the world and went away, renouncing everything. Recently, the king got word that Bhupal Dev was dead and decided to elect his successor. That very day the royal elephant was to be let loose on the streets to pick up the future king.

All the people came out into the streets since everyone stood the same chance of becoming the king. In advance, the king’s guards came and made way for the elephant between the crowds. The three madmen, as well as Malati, stood to a side.

As the elephant turned into this street, a huge shout went up. The elephant approached the madman. It stopped and stretched its trunk and touched the fatalist.

The minister sitting on the elephant got down, came near the fatalist, and examined him closely. Then he exclaimed, “O Prince! It’s you! What luck! The dumb beast recognized you quicker than I did !”

The fatalist said, “It’s all fate!” and began to roar with laughter.

Sometime back, there was a hot discussion between Prince and the minister. Minister had suggested that price should marry, but the Prince had refused.

“How can you escape if you are fated to marry?” the minister had said.

“Fate is nonsense!” the Prince had retorted. “Man is his fate and destiny.”

Soon after this, a sage came to Jayant. He appeared to be a man of great power, and the minister invited him to the palace. There was a prolonged discussion between the sage and the Prince, after which the sage departed. Soon after this, a change came over the Prince, and he, too, went away. No one knew where.

The Prince wandered from place to place, saying, “It’s all fate!” Soon two other madmen joined him. One kept saying, “Life’s strange!” and the other, “Each to himself!”. Ever since they came together, the three men moved together.

“O minister!” said the Prince, “what you predicted did happen. I was married by an act of fate. If you don’t believe me, ask this girl following us.”

Only then did Malati realize that her husband was none other than the fatalist. The minister paid his respects to the future queen and took the couple home to the palace. The horoscope did not lie, and Malati married a monarch.

Chandamama December 1955 | B N Damle

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