An old woman had two children, a son and a daughter. The girl had golden hair, but the brother had not been struck by it till, one day, when both of them were grown up and the girl was a lovely young woman with hair of gold, he happened to see it as if for the first time and at once fell in love with her.
He went to his mother and begged her to give his sister in marriage to him. The poor old woman was shocked and knew at once that disaster was ahead. But she hid her feelings and sent him to the nearby town to bring rice and flour and lentils for the wedding. As soon as he left the house, she went to her daughter and said to her, “Daughter, the time has come for you to leave me. You're as good as dead to me after this day. You're too beautiful to live here in safety. You have hair of gold; no one can look at it without desire. So I shall get a mask made for you; it will hide your face and save you from future danger.”
Then she ran to the potter and gave him a gold vessel and bought a clay mask to fit her daughter's face. That very night she sent away her daughter with the parting words, “Never remove the mask from your face till your situation is better.” When her daughter was gone, the poor woman poisoned herself in her grief. The son came home next day, found his sister gone, and his mother dead. Searching for them everywhere, he went mad, and became a wandering madman.
The girl with the clay mask wandered from place to place as long as her mother's bundle of bread and rice lasted. She changed her name to Hanchi (hanchu means a clay tile). She would stop by wayside brooks, untie her bundle of bread, and eat at noon and by moonlight. At last she came to a place very far from her hometown and struck up acquaintance with an old woman who gave her food and shelter. One day the old woman came home and said that a nearby saukar (rich man) needed a servantmaid, and that she had arranged to send Hanchi to his place. Hanchi agreed and went to the big house to work there as a servantmaid. She was an expert cook, and no one could equal her in making dishes of sweet rice.
One day, the saukar wished to arrange a banquet in his orchard and ordered Hanchi to make her special dishes of sweet rice. That day, everyone in the household went to the orchard for a grand meal—everyone, that is, except Hanchi and a younger son of the saukar, who had gone out somewhere. Hanchi thought she was alone, so she heated water for an oil-bath. She wished to finish her bath before they all returned. She took off her mask, undid her splendid golden hair, applied oil all over her parched body, and started bathing. Meanwhile the young man who had gone out came back home, and shouted for the maid. Hanchi did not hear him in the bathhouse. Impatiently, he went in search of her, heard noises, and peeped in the bathhouse, and saw her in all her beauty. He was still young. He sneaked away before she saw him; but he fell deeply in love with the glowing beauty of her body and the glory that was her hair and decided at once to make her his wife.
As soon as his mother returned from the orchard he took her aside and told her of his desire. She was quite puzzled by her son's fascination with a black-faced servantmaid. She asked him not to make a fool of himself over a dark lowborn wench, and promised to get him a really good-looking bride from a rich family if he would wait a little. But he would not hear of it. He was stubborn and they had a heated argument at the end of which he dragged his mother to Hanchi, put his hand to the girl's face, snatched off her mask, and dashed it to the ground. There stood Hanchi in all her natural loveliness, crowned by her splendid tresses of gold. The mother was struck dumb by this extraordinary beauty, and found her son's infatuation quite understandable. Moreover, she had always liked the modest good-natured Hanchi. She took the bashful Hanchi with her to an inner chamber and asked the young woman a few questions, listened to her strange story, and liked her all the better for it. At the first auspicious moment, Hanchi was married to the young man.
The newlyweds were happy as doves, but their happiness didn't last long. For there was a holy man whom everyone called Guruswami in the saukar's house. He was the rich man's chief counselor. He had a reputation for secret lore and black arts of many kinds. This man had been casting lecherous glances at Hanchi and wanted her for himself. When Hanchi's mother-in-law told him one day of her eagerness to see a grandson by Hanchi, he had his plan ready. He told her that he could make Hanchi conceive with the help of his magic arts, and asked her to send Hanchi to him with some plantains, almonds, betel leaves, and nuts, which he would use in his magical rites.
On an auspicious day, Guruswami summoned Hanchi. He had before him all the fruits and nuts over which he had chanted his magical formulae. If she ate them, his love magic would work on her, and she would be irresistibly drawn to him. When she visited him, he was chanting secret spells and praying that Hanchi should become his. Hanchi was a clever girl and knew all about these wicked magicians. When he gave her a plantain, she secretly dropped the enchanted fruit into a trough and ate another that she had brought with her. Guruswami went to his room, trusting that his magic would draw her to him and bring her into his waiting arms. While he lay waiting for her, a she-buffalo ate the enchanted plantain in the trough and fell in love with Guruswami. She was in heat and came running to Guruswami's chamber and butted at his door with her horns. Thinking that Hanchi had come, he hastily opened the door and was badly mauled by the amorous buffalo.
But he did not give up. On several days he asked Hanchi's gullible mother-in-law to send Hanchi to him for certain rites. When she came, he gave her enchanted almonds, betel leaves, and nuts. But clever Hanchi played the same old trick on him and ate the harmless almonds, leaves, and nuts, which she had carefully brought with her. She palmed away Guruswami's gifts and put them into measures and bowls on her way back to her quarters. As Guruswami lay waiting for her in his bedroom that night, the measures and vessels came rolling towards his room and knocked on his door. He hastily opened his door for the long-awaited Hanchi, but, instead of her caresses, received hard blows from inanimate vessels that were irresistibly drawn to him. After the third visit, she threw the magic nuts at a broomstick that stood in a corner. When Guruswami opened the door and received a thorny broomstick into his greedy arms, he accepted failure. He changed his tactics.
He went to his old friend, Hanchi's father-in-law, and suggested that they should have another of his famous picnics in the garden. The old man agreed. As before, Hanchi prepared her fine dishes of sweet rice and, like a good daughter-in-law, stayed back to look after the house while everyone was away.
When everyone was at the orchard picnic, Guruswami found an excuse to go back home. He told everyone he had left something behind, and hurried home. On the way, he collected pieces of men's clothing like coats and turbans. Then, while Hanchi was in the kitchen, he stole into her room and planted a man's coat and turban there and threw bits of chewed betel and smoked stubs of cheroot under the bed and on the floor.
After planting all this false evidence in Hanchi's room, he ran breathlessly to the garden where the family was enjoying itself and cried, “Your daughter-in-law is a whore! I surprised her with a lover. She has forgotten the dignity of her family, her womanhood. This is sinful. It will bring misfortune to the whole clan! The slut!”
At these shocking words from their trusted family friend, all of them ran to the house. With righteous indignation, Guruswami showed them the hidden clothing and the telltale cheroot stubs and betel pieces as unquestionable evidence of Hanchi's adultery. Hanchi was as surprised as the rest of them, but her protests were just not heard. She accused Guruswami himself of being a bad man, and told them of his black magic, but they all got so angry that they beat her till she had blue welts. When she found that everyone was against her, she became silent and gave herself over to her fate. They shut her up in a room and starved her for three days, but they got no confession out of her. Her stubborn silence put her husband and his father into fits of rage. Then Guruswami, finding that his plot was prospering, suggested, “All this will not work with this wretched woman. We must punish her properly for her sin. Put her into a big box and give the box to me. I will have it thrown into the river. You are too good to this sinner. We must punish her as she deserves!”
Anger and shame had made them blind. They listened to him. She was dragged out, shut up in a box, and handed over to Guruswami. He had it carried out of the house, happy that his plot had succeeded.
Then he had to think of a way to get rid of the servants. He asked them to carry the box to an old woman's house outside town and to leave it there till morning, as the river was still a long way off. The old woman was no other than Hanchi's good friend who had helped her to get a job and settle in the town. Guruswami told the old woman that there were ferocious mad dogs in the box; he was taking them to the river to drown them next day. He asked her to be very very careful with it, not to meddle with it or open it lest the dogs should be let loose. When he left her, he had scared her more than he intended to. He promised that he would soon come back to take the dangerous dogs away.
After he left, the old woman heard peculiar noises coming from the box. At first, she thought it was the dogs. But then she heard her own name being called out. Hanchi in the box had recognized her old friend's voice and was calling for help. The old woman cautiously pried open the lid and found, to her great astonishment, Hanchi crouching inside the box! She helped the miserable girl out of her prison and gave her food and drink. Hanchi had eaten nothing for days and she was ravenous. Hanchi told her all about her misfortunes and the villain Guruswami's plot to get her. The old woman listened carefully, and her mother wit soon found a way out. She hid Hanchi in an inner room, went into town, and found someone who was about to get rid of a mad dog. She had it muzzled, brought home, and locked up in the box. She had taken care to loosen the muzzle before she locked up the dog.
Guruswami was back very soon. He was eager to taste his new power over Hanchi. He came perfumed and singing. When he examined the locks, the old woman assured him in a frightened voice that she was too scared even to touch the box. He asked her now to leave him alone in the room for his evening prayers.
He closed the door carefully and bolted it from the inside. And calling Hanchi's name lovingly, he threw open the lid of the box. His heart leaped to his mouth when he saw a hideous dog, foaming at the mouth, which sprang upon him and mangled him horribly with its bites. He cursed his own wickedness and cried that he was served right by all-seeing God, who had transformed a woman into a dog. Full of remorse, he called for mercy as he sank down under the dog's teeth. Neighbors, drawn by the cries of the wretched man, soon gathered and killed the dog. But they could not save Guruswami. He had been fatally bitten by the dog and infected with rabies.
Hanchi's husband and his family were shocked by what happened to their friend Guruswami. Months later, the old woman invited them to her house. The good woman could not rest until she had seen justice done to Hanchi. When Hanchi's in-laws came, the old woman served them a scrumptious meal, wonderful dishes of sweet rice, which no one but Hanchi could have prepared. Everyone who tasted it was reminded of her and felt sad. They naturally asked who this excellent cook, who had equaled Hanchi, was. Instead of a reply, the old woman presented Hanchi herself in flesh and blood. They were amazed and could not believe their own eyes. They had believed Hanchi was dead and gone, drowned beyond return in the river. Guruswami had got rid of her for them, and the poor fellow had gone mysteriously mad soon after. The old woman cleared up the mystery of Hanchi's reappearance by telling them the true story about her and the villain Guruswami.
They were full of remorse for what they had done to Hanchi and were ashamed that they had been taken in by such a viper as Guruswami. They cursed him at length and asked Hanchi to pardon them.
Hanchi's good days had begun. Her luck had turned and brought her every kind of happiness from that day.
Types and Motifs
AT 510B, Cap O'Rushes + AT 896, Lecherous Holy Man and the Maiden in the Box.
It is not surprising that in this Indian variant of a Cinderella tale the heroine is identified by the food she makes, not by a slipper. Hindus are intensely conscious of what to eat and when and of the moral and psychological consequences of eating certain foods (e.g., cow's flesh). Rules enjoin and forbid various kinds of food transactions: eating and fasting, the giving and the taking of food as a marker of caste and status. Food is classified according to principles like the three qualities (gunas)—Goodness, Passion, Darkness (sattva, rajas, tamas)—and according to medical or folk taxonomies of hot and cold.
Sex, elsewhere considered the primary source of symbolism, yields place to food. Intercourse is described in terms of eating and feeding. The Sanskrit word for sexual and other pleasure or enjoyment is bhoga, from the root bhuj, “to eat.”
[For further discussion, see Ramanujan 1982a; also Ramanujan, 1956b. AT 510B, The Dress of Gold, of Silver, and of Stars.]