A Balochi folktale translated by Fazal Baloch
Once there lived a king who ruled a certain land. He had a son, whose mother passed away during his childhood. The prince was so handsome that no boy or girl in the land surpassed him in good looks. Time passed and the prince became a young man. The king looked forward to his wedding with wedding songs, drumbeats and dance. He gave a picture of the prince to one of his most trusted slaves and assigned him the task of finding an equally beautiful girl for his son in the neighbouring kingdoms.
The slave took the picture and set out on his mission. After travelling for several days and nights, he finally reached another land and spent the night at the hut of an old woman. Next morning, he resumed his journey and went from door to door till at last he found a beautiful girl in the house of a poor man. The beauty of the girl stunned the slave. When he regained his senses, he pulled out the picture of the prince and compared the two — once gazing at the girl and then at the picture. He believed the girl was worthy of being the prince’s bride.
At last, he turned to the owner of the house and addressed him: “I’m the slave of the king so-and-so. He has given me the task of finding a bride for the prince. I have been wandering from city to city and house to house looking for a beautiful girl. The beauty of your daughter surpassed that of all other girls I’ve seen so far.”
He presented the prince’s photograph to the girl’s father who after looking at the picture said: “How can a poor man like me dare to compare himself to a rich prince? I think you are making fun of me.”
The slave turned to him and said: “I swear by the honour of your chaste daughter that whatever I told you is true. I believe your daughter is worthy of being my master’s bride.” He then asked him for a picture of his daughter and urged him to accept the proposal.
The man took the prince’s picture from the slave and gave him one of his daughter in return. Early in the morning, the slave took leave of him and set out for his own home. After having travelled for half-a-day, he reached a small hamlet and went into a house to rest. It was the house of a maidservant. She welcomed him. After exchanging greetings with him, she inquired: “Where have you been and where are you heading?”
The slave confided the details and the purpose of his journey. In the middle of the conversation the maid expressed her desire to see the photograph of the prince’s would-be-fiancé. Actually, the maid was the paramour of the prince. But the slave did not know that. The moment her eyes fell on the photograph she went almost numb with trepidation. She had never seen such a beautiful girl in her entire life. She feared the prince would discontinue his attentions to her after he tied the knot with the pretty girl. The prince would most likely not spare her a single glance.
A myriad of thoughts flooded her mind. Hideously envious of the girl, she gave the photograph back to the slave and excused herself and strolled out of the door. Sometimes later, when she returned, she found the slave fast asleep. She surreptitiously took out the photograph from his pocket and cunningly left a scratch mark on the picture – on one of the eyes of the beauty — and slipped it back into his pocket. When the slave woke up, he took leave of the woman and resumed his journey.
Late in the evening he finally reached his destination and gave an account of his journey before the king, presenting him the photograph of the girl as well.
When the prince returned from a hunting trip the king told him that they had found for him a beautiful girl and within a few days he would be married to her. The prince happily returned to his bedroom. Dreams and desires blossomed in his heart. But the moment he took out the picture from his pocket, his glowing face almost turned pale. The girl was exceedingly gorgeous but alas she looked blind in one eye. Anyhow, the prince submitted himself to his father’s will. Soon drum beats, the sounds of shehnais and wedding songs reverberated in all corners of the land. Amidst music and dancing, the prince was conducted to the nuptial chamber. However, he was not happy with the marriage and thought it to be a burden unleashed by his father on him. On the very first night he ordered the maidservants thus: “Lay my bed away from that of the bride’s and put out all the lamps and lights.”
The lamps were blown out and the prince and the bride slept separately in the dark house. It became the routine with the prince. He spent the day outside hunting and, at night, he slept away from his wife in the darkness.
The girl was worried about the strange behaviour of her husband. She was desperate to please, but she couldn’t ask him anything. She was worried. She thought something might be ailing the prince and he didn’t want to disclose his illness. And that was the reason for his sleeping separately and blowing out the lamps. She also wondered if she had made a mistake or the slave had told him something against her.
People began to whisper and gossip about the king’s daughter-in-law for not giving the prince an offspring. Sick of people’s gossip, the young girl began to devise a plan. Secretly, she wove winnowing baskets and sold them door to door. One day she happened to go to the house of the maidservant who was responsible for the agony she was going through. She was shocked to see her husband sitting with the maidservant. The maidservant was almost stunned. The prince had his eyes fixed on the beautiful lady. He took pity on her as he thought poverty had forced her to sell straw-baskets. He couldn’t help but call out to her: “O basket-seller! Come here.” She strolled forward.
He asked her: “Do you live in this city?” The girl replied in affirmative.
The prince asked her again: “Where do you live by the way”?
“I live in a dark house somewhere in this city,” replied the girl.
“Dark house?” The prince slipped into deep thought. A moment later he turned to the girl and said: “Anyhow, I’ve to discuss something with you. Where shall you meet me?”
“I shall wait for you by the riverbank tomorrow,” the girl responded.
Next day, she asked her maidservant to accompany her to the river to wash her hair. She picked up the mirror, hair oil and soap, and, together with her maidservant, went to the river bank. Through the strands of her open hair covering her face, she saw the prince ride up on his horse. She turned to the maidservant and said, “Give me the bottle of hair-oil.”
The next moment, she broke the bottle and pierced her hand with a shard. She began to cry. In the meantime, the prince went to her. When he saw blood dripping from girl’s hand, without any hesitation he tore his chador and dressed her wound with the strip of cloth.
The girl turned to the prince and regretted, “Today our meeting was spoiled by this unexpected incident”.
The prince said, “We shall meet sometimes in the future.” The prince rode back to the palace. The girl and her maidservant took a different route back.
At night, as usual the prince blew out the lamps and slept on his bed. When his wife was sure he was fast asleep, she dragged her bed near to her husband’s. The prince turned on his bed and his hand touched his wife’s wounded hand. The girl cried out aloud:
“O God! Ah! My wounded hand. You touched my wounded hand.”
He asked him what happened to her hand. The girl replied: “Didn’t the shard pierce it on the riverside?”
“A shard?” The prince was taken aback.
“Yes, it did,” replied the girl.
The flabbergasted prince got up. He was surprised to see his wife’s bed placed by his own. He asked his wife: “How do you know a girl’s hand was pierced by a shard on the riverside? She was someone else”.
The girl said, “She was none but me.”
The prince could not believe his ears and said, “You are telling a lie.”
The girl said, “If you don’t believe, turn on the lights and look for yourself.”
He asked all her maidservants to go away that very instant. He turned on the lights. The moment he saw his beautiful wife he was mesmerised. He cursed himself in his heart. He pulled her into his embrace and apologised, “Forgive me my beloved! I was mistaken. Rather I’ve been betrayed. I… when I saw your photograph, I noticed a blemish in your eye… I didn’t know…”
In the morning, the slave was summoned to the court. He told his entire story. The maidservant with whom the slave had stayed that night was summoned to court. The king warned her with dire consequence if she did not tell the truth. Finally, she was forced to admit her wrongdoing. And the king ordered the maidservant to be hanged and adjourned his court.
(This folktale retold by Rahman Murad, originally appeared in Quarterly Drad Gwadar, Dec 2001-Jan 2002).
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 in India.
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