A Balochi folktale translated by Fazal Baloch
Once there lived a king who had a son. With the passage of time, the prince grew into a young man. The king thought that before he shut his eyes forever, the prince should be married off. He expressed his desire to his son who responded with his choice. He wanted to marry a princess of a distant land. The next day, the king summoned his vizier and told him what the prince desired. Moreover, he said that he would pay as much dower as they asked for.
The vizier sent a messenger to the king for the purpose. The king gave his consent. The messenger returned to his country with the good news. The prince was married with great pomp and splendour. A few days after their marriage, the king brought his daughter-in-law to the palace. She was beautiful and well-mannered.
Days passed by. One day the king breathed his last and his son subsequently ascended the throne and became the king. But he loved his wife so much that he did not pay much attention to the affairs of his kingdom. At last, he abdicated his throne to live a happy and peaceful life with his beautiful wife. Soon he ran out of his wealth and become so poor that he had nothing left. A few days later his wife turned to him and said, “By sitting idle at home we will die of hunger. You should do something or engage yourself in a business”. He replied, “First, I can’t live without you. Separation from you will rend my heart. Second I’m not well-versed in any craft. There is however a desire in my heart to conduct some trade but I don’t have any capital for it”.
“Don’t worry I will finance you,” his wife told him.
“How come?” asked the husband.
“Take all my jewels and sell them off and bring me the sum you receive for them.”
The husband did what his wife had told him. The wife then advised him to buy goods with the money and board a ship. Thus he loaded the goods on a ship and returned to his wife and asked her, “What should I do next?”
She gave him a flower and said, “Whenever you feel sorrowful for me, just look at the flower. It will ease off your sorrows”.
He put the flower into his pocket, boarded the ship and set on his journey. After journeying for many days and night he finally landed in a distant country. He anchored the ship in the harbour. Meanwhile, the soldiers arrived and demanded duties. He paid the duty for the ship but surprised the soldiers saying that he had something else on him but neither was he going to pay any duty for it nor show it to them.
“How strange! What is it?” a soldier asked him but he refused to reveal.
When the soldiers continued to insist, he at last told them that it was the flower given by his wife. The soldiers took him to the king’s court and told the king about the flower he was keeping with him. The king turned to him and asked him sarcastically, “Oh, you think your wife is such a good woman that you can live by her token?”
“Yes, I think so” was his reply.
“If we produce your wife here at our court, what would you say?”
“If you think you can convince her to come here, I will give her to you”, he told the king. Then he turned to the court and said, “A man or two could go and try to persuade his wife to come.”
Two young men, one was king’s own son and the other was the vizier’s, presented themselves for the adventure. After making necessary preparations, they set out on their journey.
Meanwhile, the man sought permission to sell his goods. The king granted permission happily.
The king’s and vizier’s son traveled long and finally reached the city where the wife of the king who was now a merchant lived. There they ran into an old lady who invited them to her cottage. They asked the old woman to go to the merchant’s wife and tell her that the son of a king was desperate to see her. Initially she refused but when the prince gave her a sack full of gold coins, the old woman hurried to merchant’s wife and conveyed her prince’s message. At first she made excuses but when the old woman gave her no rest she at last said, “Ask the prince to visit me at night”.
The old woman told the prince what she had been told by the merchant’s wife. In the evening, the prince spruced himself up and took leave of his friend, the vizier’s son and left for his desired destination.
When he reached there, the woman pointed towards the bathroom and said, “Go there and refresh yourself. I do the same. Then we will have a conversation. We’ve a long night ahead”.
The moment the prince entered the bathroom, the woman locked the door from outside. Two days later, when the prince failed to return, the vizier’s son grew anxious about him. He wondered if someone had done him ill or he had gone somewhere. The next night he decided to see the woman and ask her about the prince. But when his eyes fell on her, he forgot the prince and thought that it would be a lucky hit if he managed to trick her.
He told her that he had been desperate to see her and would be much obliged if she would spare some moments to talk to him. The woman told him to do what she had asked the prince the other night. When he entered the bathroom she locked it from the outside. Now the prince and vizier’s son both lay locked in the bathroom. Six or seven days later she sent for a carpenter and asked him to make two giant sixed boxes in which a man could sleep easily. He also asked the carpenter to make two holes on the side of the each box.
The carpenter went off and made the boxes as she had ordered him. She then summoned two men who owned camels. She instructed them thus, “I have locked two men in the bathroom, put them in these two boxes, load them on the camels”.
When they were all done she asked the camel owners to follow her. She fed them water and food through the holes in the boxes. After travelling for many days and night, they finally reached the land of the king who wished to have her in his court. Upon reaching there, she rented a quarter and placed the two boxes there. She locked the house and went out. On her way to the city, she encountered the kotwal or the police chief of the city. He inquired her: “Who are you?”
“I am a courtesan”, she replied.
“Don’t you know courtesans are not allowed to move around freely in this city? I wouldn’t let you wander like this.”
“Is there any way that I could be spared?” She asked the kotwal.
“If you visit my home in the evening, I will let you go,” the kotwal put the condition before her.
“Of course I will come. This is what I do. But being a servant of the king you have always people around you. If any of your sentries or soldiers catches the sight of me, it will bring ruin to your reputation. I have rented a house in the corner of the city. It is better we meet there”.
Thus, the kotwal let her go.
The Imam of the mosque was the next she encountered. He asked her:
“Who are you?”
“I am a courtesan,” she replied.
“I seek refuge from the Holy Lord! Don’t you know such impure women are not allowed to roam freely in this city? I will take you to the king”.
“Please for God’s sake, let me go,” she pleaded.
“If you visit me in the evening I will let you go,” he told her.
“Of course, I will come. This is what I do. But as you are the Imam of the entire city, whether it is death or marriage people will come to you to perform the rituals. If someone saw me with you, it would tarnish your dignity and honor. I have rented a house in the corner of the city. It is better we meet there”.
Hence the Imam let her go.
She then ran into the vizier who inquired: “Who are you?”
“I am a courtesan”, she replied.
“The king has banned the movement of courtesans in the city. I will take you to the king”.
“Is there any way that I may be spared?” she asked the vizier.
“Yes, if you come at my home near king’s palace tonight, then I will leave you,” said the vizier.
“Of course, I will come. This is what I do. But as you are the vizier, if king sends someone for you and he happens to catches the sight me with you it will dent your dignity. I have rented a room in the city. It is better we meet there”.
The vizier agreed and let her go.
At last she bumped into the king himself. He asked her: “Who are you?”
“I am a courtesan,” she replied.
“In my kingdom sinful women like you are not allowed. I will put you in the prison”.
“I am a poor woman. Let me earn a livelihood. Take pity on me,” she pleaded.
“No, I can’t,” the king replied.
“Isn’t there any way that I may be spared?” she asked the king earnestly.
“Yes, there is but one condition. If you accept it I will let you go the very instant”.
“What is it”?
“If you come at my palace in the evening, I will let you go,” said the king.
“Of course I will. This is what I do. But as you are the king of the land, if someone saw me with you; it would stain your honour and esteem. I have rented a house in the corner of the city. It is better we meet there”.
Thus the king was agreed to see her at her house. He noted down the details of the location and told her that he would pay her a visit at her place that night.
The woman returned to her quarter. At dusk she cooked herself a dinner. She was just done with her meal when someone knocked at the door. She got up and opened the door. The kotwal was standing outside. She let him in. He had barely seated himself when someone again knocked at the door. The kotwal pleaded with the woman:
“For God sake hide me somewhere.”
“There is no such place in the house where I could hide you, but I have an idea,” replied the woman.
“What is the idea?” the kotwal instantly asked her.
“I will give you a sack of grain and you grind the content in the quern. Thus, nobody will suspect you”.
The kotwal agreed.
She opened the door and found the mullah standing outside. She welcomed him. The mullah had just started the conversation with the woman, when someone knocked at the door again. The mullah grew worried, and he begged to the woman saying: “Pray hide me somewhere”.
“There is no such place in the house where I could hide you but I have an idea”, replied the woman.
“What is the idea?” the mullah asked her trembling.
“You should bend down on your knees, and I will place the water-pitchers on your back,” said the woman.
The mullah consented and she placed two water-pitchers on his back and strolled out of the room.
She opened the door and let the vizier in. The vizier had barely stepped into the house, when there was a knock on the door again. The vizier turned to the woman and urged her: “Please hide me somewhere”.
“There is no such place in the house where I could hide you but I have an idea,”replied the woman.
“What is the idea?” The vizier asked her in an earnest voice.
“You should snuggle against the wall and I will place the lamp on your head. It will be dark beneath the lamp and nobody will notice your presence,” said the woman.
The vizier did what the woman told him. She placed the lamp on his head and left the room.
She opened the door and to her surprise she found the king himself standing before her. She courteously greeted him and conducted him into the house. Then she went and unlocked the two giant boxes. A moment later she excused herself and said: “Let me take a bath to refresh myself before I join you”.
The king granted her the permission, and she stole out of the door and started her journey back home.
Back in the house, the king kept waiting for her. When after a long time she failed to show up, the king decided to ask the maidservant who was grinding the grain. Hence he walked over there and he was astonished to discover that instead of a maidservant it was the kotwal grinding the grains. When the kotwal saw the king there he smiled and said: “Thank God! I’m not alone. His Majesty too has been tricked by the woman”.
The vizier also felt relieved and so did the mullah. The king said that since they had been tricked by the woman, they would take away the two boxes of the woman. The king went forward and opened one box and but instead of any finery or jewelry he found his own son lying in the box. The king lost his temper saying, “I spit on your face. You damn coward!”
The prince turned to his father and said, “I was made a captive away from home, but I curse you for you all have been tricked in your own kingdom.”
The king asked him about vizier’s son. The prince told him that he was lying in the next box. They all broke the door and sheepishly went to the merchant and sought his forgiveness for they couldn’t bring his wife into the palace. The king presented him a shipload of silver and gold.At last he reached his home. He felt very proud to have a clever woman as his wife who with her shrewdness not only protected her own honour but also did not let any stain spoil her husband’s dignity. Thus, she remained honoured and exalted in the eyes of both her husband and God.
(This folktale was originally featured in Balochi in Geedi Kessah-5, compiled by Mahmood Mari published by Balochi Academy Quetta in 1979. Fazal Baloch has the translation rights of this collection.)
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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