Translated from the Balochi retelling* by Fazal Baloch
Once there lived a poor man who made his living by selling firewood. One day he was chopping a tree in a forest when suddenly his axe got stuck in a log. Despite all his efforts, he could not pull out the axe.
A bird perching on the tree asked: “Who are you? Why are you chopping the tree?”
“I’m a poor man. I sell firewood to feed my family,” replied the man.
The bird gave him a pearl and said: “It’s the most precious pearl in the world. Sell it out and live the rest of your life in prosperity. And listen, never come to the forest to split trees again”.
The man took the pearl and strolled back home. When his wife saw him coming with empty hands, she shouted at him and said: “Where is the wood? What will our children eat today?”
The poor man held her the pearl and said: “Take this and sell it.”
The woman carried the pearl to a shop and said: “I’ve a pearl to sell.”
The shopkeeper after examining the pearl and said: “It’s a very precious pearl. I’m afraid I can’t pay you its price even if I continue paying through my my lifetime.”
The woman said: “First give us some ration. I’ll leave the pearl with you. Sell it out in the market and pay us the reminder of the money.”
The shopkeeper agreed.
The woman returned home and asked her husband to go catch the bird and bring it home. She said: “When we have the bird in our possession we will soon run into enormous wealth. The money we are going to obtain from this one pearl is like stagnant water which will soon dry out and we will become poor again.”
But the husband replied: “How can I go to the jungle again? I made a promise to the bird that I would never turn up there again”.
“It doesn’t matter. Go and strike the tree with your axe. When the bird addresses you, pretend to be deaf. Eventually, it will alight on your shoulder and draw its beak close to your ear. That is the time to capture it.”
The husband did exactly what the wife had told him. When the bird perched on his shoulder, he caught hold of him and carried it home. They made a beautiful cage for it. It was a pretty bird. His both sons always played with it.
The shopkeeper, who actually was a wizard, assumed that it was perhaps the magical bird about whom he had heard many stories. Whoever should eat the bird’s meat would become a king. Whoever ate the liver, would find a pearl under his pillow every morning. He yearned to possess the bird.
The shopkeeper had also started seducing women. A woman fell in love with him inasmuch as that she killed her husband to marry her new lover.
A month after their marriage one day the shopkeeper asked his wife: “How much do you love me?”
“I love you more than my own life.”
“Can you kill the bird for me?” asked the husband.
The wife stole the bird and killed it.
Then the husband advised the wife thus: “Cook its meat, liver and skull in three separate pots.”
The wife followed her husband’s instructions and cooked the bird in three different pots and retired to her room for a nap. When his wife’s sons from her first marriage returned home, their old maidservant who had heard the conversation of the couple, told them everything about their mother’s relationship with their stepfather and the secret about consuming the bird’s meat and liver. Then she asked the boys to eat the bird’s meat and liver and leave immediately. She feared their stepfather would kill them if he learnt that they had devoured the bird. The elder brother ate the meat while the younger one consumed the liver quickly and they left the house.
The maidservant buried the bird’s skull, tore her dress, smeared her hair with dust and began wailing. The woman came out to see what was going on. The maidservant said: “Your sons assaulted me. They consumed the bird and left. I called you out for help but you didn’t listen”.
When his husband came to know about this, he shouted in rage: “I’ll not leave the boys alive. I’ll find them wherever they have gone.”
After wandering for almost a whole day, the two brothers reached a jungle in the evening and decided to spend the night under a tree. Off in the distance, they noticed a spiralling dust approaching them. They knew it was the wizard following them.
The two brothers shot at the dust with their arrows. As a result, the wizard was wounded and could not proceed forth. Both brothers decided that when one brother slept, the other would stand guard there to keep a watch for wild animals. The elder brother slept first.
The younger brother noticed the presence of a bird on the tree. Since they were hungry, he shot the bird. It fell on the ground. He needed fire to roast the bird but he did not have any matchstick on him. Far in the distance he noticed the flames of a fire. So, he hurried towards it. But the more he went forward, the farther the fire moved. At last, he gave up and took returned to his brother.
Meanwhile, when the elder brother woke up and did not find his brother, he thought he might have been killed by a wild beast. Thus, with a heavy heart he resumed his journey. He reached a city and found a huge crowd had gathered. He enquired what was happening of one person. The man told him that their king had died and as per their custom the queen would release a bird, and whosoever the bird perched on, would be appointed the king. He stood at a corner to see how things would unfold. The queen released the bird, everyone held his breath, the bird soared high and then perched on the boy’s shoulder. Everybody was surprised!
As he was a stranger in the city, the elders decided to release the bird again. Not the second but the third trail also brought the same result. Hence, he was conducted to the palace, where he was crowned as the new king of the land. Since he was worried about his younger brother, he made a proclamation saying that whosoever saw a stranger in the city, should produce him before the king.
When the younger brother reached back to the tree, there was no trace of his elder brother. He assumed his elder brother had left and it was perhaps not destined they would cross paths again. Thus, with a heavy heart he resumed his journey.
At dawn he reached the frontiers of a city. Soldiers apprehended him and asked him who he was and where he was heading. He told them: “I’m a stranger and am looking for my lost brother.”
The soldiers started beating him till he became unconscious. All of a sudden, one of the soldiers remembered the proclamation of the king about a stranger. To avoid the king’s wrath, they secretly threw the boy into a well. In the morning, a washerman came to draw water.
He found the bucket unusually heavy. Thus he pleaded: “O, whether you are a human, a jinn or an angel, please leave my bucket. I have to wash huge piles of cloth to feed my family”.
The boy replied from beneath the well saying:
“I’m a human being. Pray draw me out. From today onward, I’ll be like your son and you will be like my father.”
The washerman at last drew him out of the well. When he was unconscious, water had coursed into his belly. He vomited out a huge sum of the pearls. The washerman was astonished. He gathered the pearls in the bucket and took the boy home. Now every morning, a pearl would show up under the boy’s pillow.
One day the boy, now known as the “washerman’s son” was walking outside, when vizier’s daughter saw him. She immediately fell for him and expressed her desire to marry him to her mother. The next day, her mother sent for the boy. When the boy came, she asked him to marry her daughter, but the boy refused. She offered him enormous wealth and riches, but he turned down her proposal. The woman decided to teach the boy a lesson for his ‘misdemeanour’.
One day, the king prepared a boat and dispatched it to the sea in search of pearls. When vizier’s wife got the news, she secretly summoned the captain and hatched with him a plot to murder the boy.
The captain secretly tied a rope to the boat and the other end of the rope he tied to a huge boulder buried beneath the boat. When they tried to drag forth the boat to the water, it would not move.
The captain said: “We must seek the help of the astrologer.”
The king summoned the astrologer. Since he was the part of the conspiracy, he said: “The boat needs the offerings of the blood of the washerman’s boy”.
The astrologer summoned the washerman and the boy. He told him that the boat needed the blood of his son. The boy had no choice but to give the offering of his blood. The astrologer said that he would give him enormous wealth which would never be exhausted for many generations in exchange of the boy’s blood. The poor washerman left the boy with the astrologer and walked back home with a grief-stricken heart.
The boy was taken to the shore. The boy turned to the astrologer and said: “Does the boat need me or my blood?”
“It’s your blood, “replied the astrologer.
The next moment, the boy cut his fingertips and smeared the boat with blood.
When the vizier’s wife got the news of the failure of her plot, she was disappointed. However, she racked her evil brain and asked the captain to take the boy along and throw him into the sea. The captain requested the king to accompany such a wise boy on the expedition. Thus, the boy was summoned and taken along.
One morning, one of the crew members found a pearl on the spot where the boy had slept during the night. He took the pearl to the captain. The captain asked him to be on guard to see where the pearl would come from. The crew member secretly kept an eye on the boy. He noticed that the pearl was produced by the sweat of the boy. He told the captain. Since they were in the quest for pearls, and the source of the pearl was with them on the boat, they exposed the boy to the fire, scratched his body and gathered a huge amount of the pearl from his body. This continued for many days until the boy turned pale and frail.
One day the boy noticed a tree in the middle of the sea. It was all green till midnight and turned yellow after midnight. The boy was curious to know the mystery behind it. At late hours of the night, the boy noticed a horse with forty foals nibbling its tender branches. He seized hold of the horse. The horse pleaded to let go of it. He gave a bit of its hair and said:
“Whenever you are in trouble and need my help, just show a fire to the hair I will arrive”. The boy took the hair and let the horse vanish.
After journeying for many days, they finally reached a city by the shore. The captain anchored the boat on the shore, and they strolled towards the city. They walked into a jeweller’s shop. The boy turned to the jeweller and said the gold he was selling was blended with impurities. The boy’s words did not sit well with the jeweller, and they started to argue.
The jeweller said: “If you prove the impurities in my gold, I will give my daughter to you as your wife”.
The boy said: “If I’m proved wrong, I’m ready to be beheaded”.
The boy continued: “Bring a hammer and let me strike on a piece of a gold. If it shatters apart, you will see the traces of impurities”.
The jeweller brought him the hammer. When he struck the gold, it shattered into many pieces.
The jeweller was embarrassed and admitted the error of his ways. He married off his daughter to the boy. After staying for a few days with his wife, the boy along with the other crew members proceeded ahead. Since they were to take the same route upon their return, he left his wife at home.
After sailing for a few more days, they reached a city which resembled Bombay. A huge crowd had gathered on the ground. The boy asked someone what was going on there.
“A horse race”, he replied. “The winner will be married to vizier’s daughter and the losers will lose their life as they will be beheaded”.
The boy approached the king and expressed his desire to take part in the race. Away from the sight of the crowd, he exposed the hair to the fire and the horse emerged before him. It was a very frail and weak horse, and everybody sneered at it. When the race began all swift horses ran out of the sight and the boy with his frail horse was left behind. When they were away from the crowd’s sight, the horse soared ahead and flew past the horses running on the ground and reached the destination.
Everyone in the crowd stood astonished at how such a frail and weak horse could beat all the fastest horses in the race. Hence the boy was married to the vizier’s daughter. After staying for a few days with his wife, the boy along with the other crew members went their way. Since they were to take the same route upon their return, he left his wife at home.
This time around they sailed over to another coastal city. Its streets were deserted. They asked a passer-by why there was nobody out on the street. He told them that the king had arranged a feast to pick a groom for his daughter.
They went to the feast. The king along with his courtiers, viziers and emissaries had gathered there. Whosoever wanted to marry the princess, had to defeat the wrestler. He was such an ugly, fierce man that just a glimpse of him was enough to send ripples of fear in people’s hearts. But the boy walked over and accepted the challenge. Before stepping into the ring, away from the sight of the crowd, he secretly exposed the hair to the fire. The horse emerged. The boy told him that he had challenged the king’s wrestler, and now he needed his help to defeat him. The horse said, “Just hold your arms around his waist, I will kick him so hard that it will soar in the air. Nobody will be able to see me”.
When the boy walked into the ring, the wrestler laughed at him. The boy held his arms around his waist and pretended to lift him up. In the very moment the horse kicked him so hard that he swung in the air and with a huge thud fell on the ground. Everybody, including the king, was amazed to see how the boy overcame their otherwise undefeated wrestler. Since he had won the fight, the king married his daughter to him.
After staying for a few days with his wife, the boy was told by the captain to prepare for his return. The king said farewell to his daughter. He gave an entourage of one hundred folks including servants and soldiers to accompany his daughter. In the next city, the boy took his second wife, the vizier’s daughter. He too gave her a group of one hundred soldiers and servants to accompany her. Then they went to jeweller’s city, where the young wife took his third wife along. The boy told his wives the everything about himself and his brother.
He also cautioned them that the captain wanted to throw him into the sea. He told his wives to tie him with a rope so that, if he was thrown into the sea, they could save him by pulling the rope. At night, he along with his wives, pretended to be asleep, the captain quietly picked him up and threw him into the sea. The wives immediately pulled him out. He told them to lock him inside the giant wooden box they had with them. In the morning, the captain told the women that since their husband had drowned, he was going to marry them.
One of the wife said: “We are ready to marry you, but marriage can’t be solemnised in the boat. Let’s reach offshore first”. The captain agreed.
After journeying for many days, they finally reached their destination. The king presented the pearls to the king and asked him to solemnise their marriage with the three women.
One of the women turned to the king and said: “Before performing the marriage ritual, let me tell you a tale first”.
“Go ahead”, said the king.
She started it with the tale of the bird which gave a pearl to the king’s father. Then she told the audience how the wood cutter’s wife persuaded his husband to catch the bird. When she said: “The two brothers ate the bird’s meat and liver and left their home”, the king thought how that story resembled their own but he did not interfere and continued listening.
However, when she told the audience that the boy was thrown to the sea, the king couldn’t help but shouted: “Where is the boy? He’s my brother”.
“I don’t know anything about him. I’m just telling you a tale”, said the woman.
But when the king insisted, she pointed towards the giant box and said: “Open the box”.
The box was opened and out came his younger brother. They hugged each other with tears of happiness. The king punished the astrologer, vizier’s wife and captain.
Both the brothers lived happily ever after.
(*This folktale was originally published in Balochi in Gauhar Qeemati, an anthology of Balochi folktales, compiled by Rahim Mehr and published by Higher Education Commission Pakistan in 2012. Fazal Baloch has the translation rights to this piece.)
Fazal Baloch is a Balochi writer and translator. He has translated many Balochi poems and short stories into English. His translations have been featured in Pakistani Literature published by Pakistan Academy of Letters and in the form of books and anthologies.
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