45. Ogress Queen
Two brothers lived on a hill. They worked as carpenters. An ogress came to the hillside and began to eat cows and calves every day without their knowledge. “What's happening to the cows?” they wondered, and looked for the missing ones and couldn't find them anywhere. One day the ogress gobbled up the older brother. The younger one was scared by his brother's sudden disappearance and ran from the place, fearing for his life. The ogress at once took the form of a pretty woman in distress and followed him, crying aloud, “My husband, my husband! He's running away, leaving me alone!”
While he ran and she followed crying behind him, a king, who was out on a hunt, met them. He rebuked the man.
“Why are you running away from your wife? If you're such a coward, why did you marry her?”
“Your Highness, you don't know her. She's a man-eater, she has given me endless trouble,” whined the poor man.
“Then let me take her off your hands. She's beautiful. I'll give you some money. Give her to me.”
And the king gave him a thousand rupees and took the ogress back with him to his kingdom. He built a separate palace for her and lived with her exclusively, infatuated with her, ignoring his two wives.
Every night, when everyone was asleep, the ogress would wake up, go into town, devour cows and calves, and come back to her bed before dawn. People complained to the king and his officers of the mysterious way their cattle were disappearing. The king tightened security and appointed watchmen to guard every quarter of the town. Now the ogress found it hard to slip out at night and eat her fill. She began to starve eating ordinary food.
The king's youngest wife was pregnant. Her parents came to the palace to take her for the kubusa, or Blouse Ceremony. The ogress and the other queen wanted to go with her and take part in the ceremony. The king said, “Fine, why don't you?”
“I've got to take a blouse and a sari as presents. How can I go empty-handed?” asked the ogress.
The king sent her with saris and blouses. The young queen's parents arranged the ceremony according to the customs of their land. The ogress spoke in the middle of it all and asked them, “What, don't you have the custom of putting kohl in the young woman's eyes?”
They said, “No, we don't. Never heard of it.”
She shook her head and insisted, “You must put kohl in her eyes. No kubusa ceremony is complete without it.”
After the ceremony, she put poisoned kohl in the eyes of both queens. She smeared it in both the eyes of the pregnant younger queen and just in one eye of the other queen.
By the time they came home, the pregnant queen had lost both her eyes; the older queen had only one good eye. The ogress went to the king and mocked him: “You want to live with two blind women groping around? It's beneath your royal status. Send them away.”
The gullible king banished them to the forest, where they survived on leaves and berries and travelers' leftovers.
The pregnant queen gave birth to a boy, under the trees. An old man, who like wandering in forests, happened upon them and asked them who they were. They told him. “Then come and live with me as my children,” he said, and took them home.
The boy grew up there. The old man taught him everything he knew. When the boy went into town, the ogress queen knew at once that he was her stepson. She knew she had to get rid of him or else he would destroy her. So she lay down with a tight band round her head and groaned, “Headache. My head is splitting.”
When the king asked her what the matter was, she said, “My head. My head.”
“What shall we do to cure it? Shall I call the doctor?”
“No, that won't do. My mother lives in the Three-Headed Mountain. If someone goes there and brings headache pills from her, I'll live. Otherwise, this will kill me.”
“Whom should I send?”
“Send anyone who's willing.”
The king sent the town crier all over town with his tom-tom to announce a reward for anyone brave enough to bring the medicine from the mountain for the queen's headache. The boy heard it and said, “I'll go.”
Though his mother warned him about the ogress queen's tricks and begged him not to go, he went to the king's palace for instruction. The ogress queen wrote a note for him to take to her mother: “This is my co-wife's son. Kill him.” She put the sealed letter in his pocket and he set out on his journey.
He walked far and deep into the jungle. When he got tired, he lay down under a banyan tree and fell asleep. Just then, Siva and his wife Parvati were taking a walk. Parvati's eyes fell on the boy first and she brought Siva to see who he was. They saw the letter in his pocket, gently unsealed it, and read it. It said, “This is my co-wife's son. Kill him.” They tore it up and wrote another, which said, “This is your daughter's son, your grandson. Love him and take care of him.” They slipped the new letter in his pocket and woke him up.
“Where do you want to go?”
“I'm on my way to the Three-Headed Mountain.”
“To get headache pills for our queen.”
“Then take these three pebbles. Say, ‘Cows and calves, Cows and calves, Cows and calves!’ An angry demon will appear. Throw a pebble at him. He will lose half his anger. Throw another pebble. He will lose all his anger. Throw the third pebble and he'll carry you where you want to go.”
Then they taught him the art of flying through the air.
He flew to the north and shouted, “Cows and calves! Cows and calves! Cows and calves!”
The angry demon appeared. The boy threw a pebble at him. The demon was now only half as angry. He threw another. The demon lost all his anger. When he threw the third pebble, the demon lifted him on his shoulder and whizzed to the Three-Headed Mountain.
The old ogress read the letter. She grumbled, “My daughter has no sense in her head. She has sent this lovely son of hers all alone, all the way! The idiot!”
And she hugged him and kissed him and gave him fruits and sweets. He enjoyed it all, but he was in a hurry.
“Granny, granny, my mother is dying. I must hurry. She'll die.”
“O, don't be silly. Your mother cannot die like that. Her life is safe in this parrot here,” the old woman said. She also showed him her ointments. Among them was one for blinding the eyes, another for restoring eyesight.
When he saw these, he seemed happier and promised he'd play there in the hills for a couple of days.
He waited around only till the old ogress went out to find food for herself. Then he picked up her two eye ointments, one for blindness, one for sight, and snatched up the parrot and left the mountain the way he had come.
He went straight to his own mother and put the ointment in her blind eyes. She began to see again. He also restored sight to the blind eye of his stepmother.
Just then, the king's servants came looking for him. He sent word: “Ask the king to come to this hut.”
The king was furious at the young fellow's impertinence, and wanted to teach him a lesson. So he came on his royal elephant, his queen in the howdah beside him, a small army behind him. The boy amazed them by standing high in the sky. As he held out the parrot in his tightening hands, the ogress let out a blood-curdling cry, “ A y y a y y a y y a y y o o o ! ” and she who had been beautiful all this while changed into a hairy, ugly, repulsive form. He broke the parrot's leg and threw the bird on the ground. The ogress fell from the elephant and writhed on the ground. He broke the parrot's neck, and the ogress lay twisted and dead on the ground.
The boy descended from the sky and told his father all the cruel mean things he, the king, had done to his mother. The king repented, burned his ogress queen on a bier of dry wood and cow dung cakes, and lived happily with his wives and his son.
[AT 462, The Outcast Queens and the Ogress Queen (IO). See Ramanujan 1991a: 73–79 for a Kashmiri version of this tale.]