62. Tales for a Princess
A king had an only daughter. When she turned sixteen, he was anxious to see her married. He called her one day and said, “Daughter, I've decided to find you a husband.”
She had obviously thought about it. She said, “I want to find my own husband, father. Build me a seven-storeyed house.”
“Surely, I'll build you one. But how will that help? If you sit in a seven-storey mansion, will that produce a bridegroom?”
“I'll marry the man who can make me speak to him three times. Build the house for me and hang a necklace on the first gate. Get a live black king cobra for the second gate, a bear for the third, and a tiger for the fourth.”
The bewildered king ordered the seven-storey palace built, and arranged for the necklace, the cobra, the bear, and the tiger at the four gates. He sent the town crier with his tom-tom around his kingdom announcing his daughter's wishes: anyone who can make her speak three times will win her hand in marriage.
Scores of candidates came into town, but they hadn't reckoned with live black cobras and bears and tigers. They could hardly go anywhere near the palace.
One day, two friends, both handsome men, were passing through the city and happened to walk outside the by-now notorious palace. The princess saw them from her window and liked their looks. So she sent them a note in her own hand. The note said:
No one in the world has succeeded so far, but one of you may. Frankly, I'm sick of waiting. Why doesn't one of you try?
The friends read it, looked at each other, and laughed out loud. As they laughed, they also heard the laughter of the maids who had brought the note. The two friends stopped laughing and asked them, “Why do you laugh?”
“O, no reason.”
“Come now, you must tell us. We are strangers here, and we'll tell no one. We promise.”
The maids liked them. They said, “The king mustn't know. If he learns that we've talked to you, he'll chop off our heads.”
“We won't tell him. We don't even know him. Tell us.”
The girls giggled some more and said, “We planned this seven-storey palace and helped build it. We know all about it. On the first gate hangs a beautiful necklace. It will scintillate in the sun and it will distract you. Don't stand there gaping at it. Go to the next gate and give an egg to the black cobra. He'll love it, and you can slip through. At the third gate, give the bear some honey. At the fourth, feed the tiger a piece of meat. When they eat these, they'll let you pass. You can get all these things in the shops nearby.”
The two friends lost no time in buying an egg, some honey, and a piece of meat for the animals guarding the gates. When they came to the gate, one of them was fascinated by the necklace and stood there lost in admiration while his friend moved on. He fed the egg to the snake, the honey to the bear, the meat to the tiger, and soon stood before the princess. Now, how should he talk to her and make her talk to him? He thought for a minute and began a story.
“A king had a daughter ready for marriage. So he chose a young man and said, ‘I'd like to give my daughter to you.’ But the elder brother of the princess had given his word to one of his friends. He had also said, ‘I'll give my sister in marriage to you.’ Without telling each other, they had even arranged marriages for the girl. The father had said, ‘It'll be on Monday.’ The brother too had said, ‘Monday.’ When Monday came, the two bridegrooms and their parties arrived, all dressed up, from two different directions. The bride was so embarrassed by this confusion that she jumped into a well. One of the bridegrooms was so affected that he too jumped into the well to join the bride. The other bridegroom was so affected that he left the place and went on a long pilgrimage. Now, I can't tell for the life of me, who is the right husband for her. Could it be the man who went on a pilgrimage? Or the man who joined her in the well?”
The clever princess, who had held her tongue so far, couldn't help breaking her silence, and answered pertly, “Of course, the man who jumped into the well with her! Not that fellow who ran away.”
“Ah, that seems right,” said the man, and began another story.
“Three friends set out on a journey to a distant city. They went to the pier to catch a boat, but they were too late. It had just left. So they decided to sleep there till morning. The place was infested with robbers, and these men were carrying a lot of money. So they agreed that they should take turns and one person should stay awake; each would keep watch for four hours. The first man, who was a carpenter, found a piece of wood and carved a female figure to while away his time. Four hours went by and it was time for the next man to keep watch. He was a painter, so he colored and painted the doll. At the next watch, the third man, a goldsmith, put jewelry on the doll's body. Now, if it came to life, whose wife should the doll be? The carpenter's? The painter's? The goldsmith's? I've never been able to decide.”
The young man didn't have long to wait. The princess spoke up and told him, “You must be dumb. How can she be anyone's except the goldsmith's?”
“Ah, that seems right,” said the man, and immediately began his third story.
“In a certain town, a brahmin lived with his daughter, who went to the village school. There, a teacher used to beat her every day, even though she did nothing wrong and was actually very good at her class work. She asked him one day, ‘I do all my lessons right and on time. Why do you beat me?’”
“The teacher, who was a bit of a lecher, said, ‘Promise me one thing and I won't beat you anymore. When you get married, promise that you'll come to me first before you go to your husband's bed.’”
The girl, tired of being thrashed every day for nothing at all, agreed. Maybe she was very young, and didn't know what she was really promising. Anyway, the thrashing stopped from that day on. The girl grew up, came of age, and got married. On her wedding night, as she came to her husband's bed, she said to him, ‘I must do something first. I promised my teacher that I would go to him first on my wedding night.’
“The husband said, ‘You must go then. A promise is a promise.’ ‘I'll be back soon,’ she said and left, taking with her a bit of gold as a gift for her old teacher. On the way, in the darkness of the night, four robbers waylaid her.”
“ ‘Give us all that jewelry on your body and that gold piece, or else we'll kill you,’ they said.”
“But she was not scared. She replied, ‘Brothers, I'm going somewhere to keep an old promise. After I've done that, I'll come here on my way back. Then you can have all the jewelry I'm wearing. You can trust me.’And they trusted her and let her go. Before long, a tiger stopped her.”
“ ‘I'm very hungry,’ it growled. ‘I'm going to eat you.’
“She said to the tiger, ‘Can you wait a little? I've got to go see my old teacher. I promised him I would. Just let me go now and I'll come back. You can eat me then. I promise.’
“The tiger too couldn't help trusting her and so he let her go. She walked and walked for a long time and arrived at her teacher's house. She knocked on his door, and when he opened it he was astonished to see her, his old pupil, tired but pretty, and all decked out in her bridal dress and jewelry. He asked her, ‘What's the matter? Why did you come here in the dead of night?’
“She answered, ‘I gave you my word that I would come and see you on my wedding night. So I came.’
“The old schoolmaster said, ‘How silly of you! I must have been teasing you when you were a little girl. I'm surprised you took it seriously, after all these years. You are an innocent, a very rare one.’
“And he took her in, gave her fruit and sweets to eat, and blessed her. She nibbled on a sweet, but she was in a hurry to go back.”
“ ‘Now that this is done, I should go back. There are people waiting for me.’”
‘In the middle of the night? Rest here and go in the morning,’ he urged.”
“ ‘No, I must go now,’ she insisted.”
“Then he offered to send a servant with her. But she refused all such escort, though the schoolmaster, his wife, and children (who were all up by now) showed much concern. She bade them all a quick goodbye, asked them not to worry on her account, and hurried back. The girl's goodness and merit (punya) meanwhile had brought the poor starved tiger a run of luck. Soon after she left, he had found a fat he-buffalo and was happily finishing off a great meal when the girl appeared.”
“ ‘You can eat me now,’ she said.”
“The tiger said, softly, ‘You are my sister. You are my mother. Because of your punya, I got this fine meal, this juicy buffalo. I can eat this for days. Go now, with my blessings.’“Farther on, she met the four robbers and offered them all her jewelry and the gold that the teacher didn't want to accept. But she had brought them good luck too—a great big cart loaded with cash and silver had come their way soon after she had left. They were just sitting down to divide the loot among themselves.”
“They said, ‘Sister, because of your punya we are rich now. We will give you a dowry and take you home.’ ‘No, I don't want any of that,’ she said, and hurried home to her husband.”
“Now, I'm quite lost,” said the storyteller. “I can't, for the life of me, decide who did the greater deed. Was it the husband who let her go to another man on his wedding night? The teacher who didn't take advantage of her? Or the robbers who trusted her? Or the tiger who put aside his animal hunger and took her at her word? I can't tell.”
The princess didn't even let him finish, and spoke: “Of course, the robbers' letting her go wasn't much. The tiger letting her go was a bit better, but not so great. But the husband letting her go was the greatest thing.”
Before she had even finished speaking, she realized she had already spoken three times to the young man—but she wasn't unhappy about it. She happily told her father, “ Appa, here at last is my husband!”
The king, who was waiting for this moment, ordered huge colorful canopies to be put up all over the city, asked the town crier to announce at once the gala event in every street and lane, got every nook and corner washed and decorated, and arranged a fabulous wedding. The bride and groom were happy and so was everyone else.
[AT 945, Luck and Intelligence.]