46. An Old Couple
A king used to wander the streets of his city in disguise at night to find out the way his subjects lived and what they thought of his rule. Very late one night, he saw a light in a house. He was curious to know why the house was lit so late. So he went near, found a window open, and saw a very old couple, almost at death's door, making furious love. They were rapt in it. The king thought this was dreadful; he feared for his land. He even sat down with his head in his hands for a while. He couldn't think of anything else till dawn. He noted down the location of the house and went back to his palace.
Next morning, the king's servants knocked loudly on the old couple's door and summoned them to court. They were nonplussed till they heard why the king had sent for them. They were, after all, an experienced couple. The old man grabbed a handful of salt and tamarind and chilies; the old woman, a handful of ashes. They went to the palace. The king sat there utterly dejected. When they bowed to him, the king asked, “How are you two related?”
“We're husband and wife.”
“Is that true?”
“Yes, it is true.”
“All right. You're ancient. You've one foot in this world, the other foot in the grave. Still your desire for sex is strong. Whoever looks at you measures a grave. How come you're still at it? What is our land coming to?”
The old man and old woman looked at each other and smiled. In answer to the king's question, the old man poured his handful of salt and tamarind and chilies on the ground. The woman poured a handful of ashes. But they said nothing. The king was baffled. He scratched his face lengthwise. He scratched his face breadthwise. Then he seemed to count the hairs on his head. He didn't understand.
“What's this riddle? Tell me the answer,” he said at last.
“O king, a man may be young, he may be old. As long as he eats salt and tamarind and chilies, as long as he has red blood, he would want sex,” said the old man.
The woman added, “Till the body becomes ash, it will not give up sexual desire.”
The king thought that this was true. He filled the laps of the old couple with gifts, but asked them not to forget to shut the windows the next time they were at it.
[NKTT, but cf. Motif C 110, Tabu: sexual intercourse; and Motif P 15.1.1, Disguised king taught courtesy by peasant.]