The Mute Lover
ONCE upon a time, in the city of Yodha-pur, there lived a young man called Pratap who came from an ordinary family. But he was an uncommonly good swordsman and a fearless fighter, so much so that he quickly became the King’s favourite after entering his service. He did not occupy a prominent place in Court because of his common origin and youth.
In the city, a millionaire, Hiranya-Gupta, had a daughter called Parvati. This girl was by far the most beautiful in the town, and Pratap fell in love with her when he set eyes on her. His passion kept growing daily until he became almost like a madman. He made one or two attempts to make her acquaintance but failed.
The King noticed something was wrong with his young favourite, Pratap, steadily growing thinner and paler. Alarmed, the King called his physician and said, “Young Pratap is ill. Find out what is wrong with him and cure him. I consider his life very precious.”
The physician examined Pratap and found nothing wrong with him. He prescribed some medicines, which were of no avail.
Now, Pratap had a boyhood friend named Satya-Varma. He knew that Pratap was not well and went to see him. Pratap did not hide anything from his friend. “Medicines can not mend the mind, as the saying goes,” he said. “I cannot get well unless I can marry Parvati. And this is just beyond me. So let me pine away and die. No one can help me!”
“Is that all that is the matter with you?” Satya-Varma replied. “Go to your Parvati and tell her how much you are in love with her. She might accept your love, you know. Supposing she rejects your love will still be good for you because you will not suffer so much for her; who does not want to love you!”
“What you say is impossible,” Pratap replied. “She is the daughter of a millionaire, and I am a common soldier. I can never get her to talk to me. Let me die in peace.”
“Let me fix an engagement for you to meet the girl you love so much,” Satya-Varma said hopefully. “Leave it to me.”
After Satya-varma’s departure, there was a marked change in Pratap. He was sad no more. In a matter of a few days, he was his usual self again, to the amazement of the King.
Satya-Varma kept his word to Pratap by putting on the costume of a hawker. He filled a box with several attractive perfumes, trinkets and things that usually attract ladies of refinement and went to the house of Hiranya-Gupta. Parvati examined his wares and liked them very much. They were not things which she could buy locally. She selected a few and asked Satya-Varma what they would cost her.
“Are these the only things you like, madam?” he asked her.
“Oh, I like the entire lot of them,” she replied. “But I cannot waste my money whimsically.”
“Surely, madam,’ Satya-Varma retorted, “I never said a word about your paying for anything. The one who has sent you these things as gifts for you is not a merchant. He is in love with you to the point of death. Despite all his attempts, he failed to meet and talk to you. If you can see his condition, you will not fail to shed tears of pity.”
“He seems to be a queer person,” Parvati replied. “Why should he pine for me? If all he wants is to talk to me, let him meet me here at noon tomorrow.”
Satya-Varma conveyed this to Pratap and made him enormously happy. At the appointed hour, he presented himself at the millionaire’s house and was shown into Parvati’s room. Parvati listened to his confession of love and thought he was a good but obsessed man. To remove his obsession, she said:
“You tell me that you love me very much. If it is true and you want me to believe it, stop talking to anyone for a year. Then I will be willing to accept your love and marry you.”
She expected that Pratap would protest against such a condition and that she would have the opportunity of rejecting his love.
Pratap, on his part, realised that Parvati was stone-hearted and that she had not the slightest love for him. This knowledge made him very angry. He decided to remain dumb for a year and embarrass her terribly. He indicated with gestures that he accepted her terms and departed.
From then on, he never talked to anyone. Soon everyone was talking about his new ailment. The King was more pained than anyone else. Of late, he had noticed a change for the better in Pratap and felt glad. He thought the disease had come out in a different and much worse form. He ordered all the physicians of the realm to try to cure Pratap of his dumbness.
As one physician after another undertook to treat Pratap, administered medicines and failed to cure him, the King became more and more alarmed.
“Pratap is young and brave,” the King said to his Ministers. “I was expecting very great things of him. I was hoping he would be my army’s Commander-in-Chief and a great asset to the country. I cannot understand why he cannot be cured of his dumbness. I am prepared to offer a lakh of rupees to the one that will cure Pratap.”
A proclamation was made to that effect, and great physicians began arriving from far-off places to cure Pratap and earn money. But they had to retire utterly defeated. What was worse, even quacks were tempted to try their luck until the King notified them that those who attempted and failed to cure Pratap would be fined a lakh or sent to jail in default.
Even then, some persons did come forward with the hope of curing Pratap. They ended up in jail. Six months elapsed. Parvati was aware of the strange situation that she had unwittingly brought about. Initially, she was surprised that Pratap meant to go through the ordeal of being dumb, which she had never expected him to do.
Then she began to pity him for the torture he must have been undergoing as so many physicians attempted to cure him of a condition the true nature of which she alone knew. Finally, she was alarmed when she learned how innocent physicians were imprisoned because of the King’s order. The jest had gone too far!
At the same time, Parvati was awed by the anxiety shown by the King about Pratap, who she had understood, was just a common soldier. It was evident that the King thought very highly of him. She felt her duty was to bring this affair to a peaceful conclusion.
So she went to the King and offered to treat Pratap. “If Your Highness will permit me,” she said, “I shall restore speech to Pratap.”
“You!” said the King in astonishment, “when eminent doctors failed utterly! What do you know of medicine anyway?”
“Indeed, I do not know medicine, Your Highness,” Parvati replied, “but I happen to know the cause for Pratap’s loss of speech. So I may succeed where others have failed. Please permit me to treat him.”
“I presume,” said the King, “that you know you will have to pay a heavy fine if you fail to cure him.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Parvati replied, “I undertake the treatment of Pratap subject to that condition.”
Having obtained the King’s permission, she met Pratap. “I have done you a grievous wrong,” she confessed to him. “You have been dumb for six months now. I absolve you voluntarily. You can speak now, and I’ll still marry you.”
But Pratap was still angry with her. “She wants me to speak before the year is gone so that she can get out of marrying me. She also wants to collect the lakh on the pretext of curing me. I shall teach her a lesson,” he thought. He indicated to her with gestures that speech was not possible for him.
Parvati begged him to speak. She even burst into tears. But Pratap would not talk. At last, Parvati was forced to retire in despair and report to the King that she had failed to cure Pratap. “Your Highness,” she said, “you can punish me for my failure.”
She was locked up in prison while her father was informed about her. Her father paid the fine, released his daughter, and took her home.
Pratap felt that he was sufficiently avenged. Parvati had paid for her arrogance, and he could speak now. He never intended to remain dumb for the whole year to marry a girl who did not care for him.
He went to the King, craved his pardon for having pretended to be dumb all the while, and told him exactly how it came about. The King was shocked when he heard the story. He sent for Parvati and said to her, “My child, I am glad to tell you that your treatment was quite successful, and Pratap can now speak. I am sorry that you were fined. I shall see that you will get back the fine and reward.”
Parvati did not appear to be elated at this. “Your Highness,” she said, “I did not undertake the cure for the reward. I had done Pratap a great wrong and wanted to correct it. He was once in love with me, but I have lost his love. I am properly punished. If he had more love for me, he would have spoken when I begged him to speak. Indeed, I failed to effect a cure and do not deserve any reward.”
The King was convinced that Parvati was in love with Pratap. He sent for Pratap and said, “It is not proper that you two should misunderstand each other anymore. I want you to make up for your differences and get married without delay.
Thus the King brought together both lovers, and their troubles ended. Soon they were married, and the King bestowed upon the pair several gifts along with a dowry of the lakh, which Parvati had refused.
Pratap became one of the King’s essential courtiers and, over time, was promoted to the commander-in-chief.