This is Balochi folktale retold by Fazal Baloch. These stories would be related by a storyteller and they would end with a punchline defining their role in the story.
Once there lived a merchant. He had two children, a boy and a girl, from his late wife. Travelling to far off lands became difficult for him as he had to look after his children. In his neighbourhood, lived a widow who pretended to love the merchant’s children so much so that it filled him with the longing to marry her. However, she had a wicked heart, and in reality she had had her eyes on merchant’s wealth. At last the merchant tied the knot with her. Soon she began to treat her stepchildren very cruelly. As the merchant spent most of his time outside, he was unaware of his wife’s brutality to his children. She forced them to live on leftovers. As they feared her wrath, the children disclosed nothing to their father and silently suffered torment at the hand of their stepmother.
Time went by. The merchant’s wife was pregnant and eventually gave birth to a child. Her hatred for her stepchildren grew stronger. When the boy grew older, the merchant assigned him the flock to tend in the pasture. The boy spent most of the time away from home. On the other hand, his sister did all chores at home. Her stepmother would curse and beat her. One day, the stepmother made a plan to kill her stepdaughter.
So she took her stepdaughter to the forest on the pretext of collecting firewood. When they got there, she strangled the little girl to death and threw her body into a deep gorge and returned home wailing, “I don’t what befell my daughter. God knows if she ran away; or was devoured by a lethal beast; or did somebody kidnap her…”
The merchant was not at home nor were any men in the neighbourhood. The women looked for her but they could not find any trace of the girl.
Times passed by and the girl’s flesh and bones grew into a reed plant. One day, tending his flock, the merchant’s son passed by the gorge and caught the sight of the very reed plant. He bowed low and pulled up a reed stalk and made himself a flute. When he played the flute, a voice echoed:
‘Play on brother! Play on brother!
Curse the lowly brute
who killed and threw me into the gorge
and I grew into a flute
Goats nibbled my leaves
my brother played me.
The merchant’s son was taken aback. He grew a little afraid but soon he assumed it was her sister’s voice coming out of the flute. He played it again and the flute repeated again:
Play on my brother!
Whenever he played the flute he heard the same lines over and again.
On a moonlit night, a little distance away from home, in the sands the boy played the flute and the flute said:
Play on brother!
When flute’s call reached to the ears of merchant’s wife, she trembled in fear. She thought it was her stepdaughter’s spirit come to haunt her. In the morning, as usual, the boy drove the flock to the pasture and at dusk he made his way back home playing the flute:
Play on brother!
The merchant’s wife at last discovered the voice was coming out of the flute. She seized hold of the flute. Next day with a heavy heart, the boy drove the flock to the pasture. The moment he disappeared from the sight, his stepmother threw the flute into the burning oven.
A while later, an elderly woman came over to bake herself a bread. When she was taking the dough out from beneath the hot ashes, she found a ring stuck to it. The flute had transformed into a ring. She brought the ring home for her grandson. She wrapped the bread in a cloth and put it on the tablecloth.
When her grandson demanded bread, she told him where she had kept the bread. The boy walked over but instead of the bread she found a beautiful girl sitting there. The boy drew back in fear. The girl said softly: “Don’t get frightened. I’m your fiancée. Your grandma has brought me in.”
Meanwhile the grandmother walked in. The boy turned to her and said: ” There is no bread. Instead, there’s girl who says I’m your fiancée.”
The grandmother went to see and found a beautiful girl sitting there. She was happy to have found a fiancée for her grandson. The girl nevertheless warned her and said: “Never tell anyone about me.”
From that day, the girl did all chores at old woman’s hut.
One day a wandering fakir caught the sight of the beautiful girl. He thought that such a moon-like girl deserved to grace a palace rather than a hut.
The fakir immediately made his way to the palace of the king where they were deliberating where to find a beautiful bride for the prince. The king was asking everyone present in the gathering about princesses of nearby kingdoms. Everyone was giving their opinions. Finally the king turned to the fakir. The fakir replied politely: “O, Majestic King! I’ve been to Syria and Rome, China, Hind and Sind; I’ve visited the abodes of rich and poor. If I get my life spared, I want to say something in your honour.”
The king said, “Go ahead O Holy subject of the Lord.”
The fakir continued, “I’ve seen a girl in the huts. She is as beautiful as a houri.”
The prince said he would go and bring the girl himself. Hence, he took plenty of gifts and along with the fakir went to the old woman’s hut. When the old woman understood the intentions the prince, she moved the girl to an undisclosed location. The prince sent many people to the old woman demanding the hand of the girl in lieu of enormous wealth but she refused and said that other than a grandson, nobody lived with her in their hut.
At last, the enraged prince went to her. He placed hot roasted wheat on old woman’s palm and firmly clenched it in his hand. The old woman cried loudly and sought apologised to the prince and revealed the location of the girl and demanded a huge dowry for her.
The prince granted all her demands and gave her so much wealth that she could lead the rest of her days in peace and prosperity.
The storyteller concluded the tale:
I took the girl to the palace and made it back home.
This folktale originally appeared in Gedi Kessah ( The Folktales; Volume 07) published by the Balochi Academy Quetta shared with us with permission taken by the translator.
Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated several Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters in 2017 and Silence Between the Notes — the first ever anthology of Partition Poetry published by Dhauli Books India in 2018. His upcoming works of translation include Why Does the Moon Look So Beautiful? (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Naguman) and God and the Blind Man (Selected Balochi Short Stories by Minir Ahmed Badini).
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