63. The Talking Bed
A gowda had seven sons. He had got six of them married. The seventh son had not liked any of the girls who were offered in marriage to him. Finally he found one to his liking in a neighboring village. Her father had five sons and a daughter. The young man said he would marry only on the condition that his father-in-law would feed him rice and ghee for twelve years. The father-in-law agreed and the wedding took place. The young man didn't bring his wife home but went instead to his in-laws and stayed with them. All through the first year they served him rice and ghee, a full measure of cooked rice and a full measure of ghee. He would eat it all up and go back to bed. He didn't do a spot of work. His five brothers-in-law and their wives grumbled and complained. When they couldn't take it any longer, the five brothers-in-law asked their father for their share of the ancestral property, and the old man divided up all he had and gave them their shares.
Meanwhile, the young man never even spoke to his wife. He just ate his meals and went to bed. His father- and mother-in-law fed him and served him faithfully and tired themselves out. Their property melted away and disappeared day by day. They began to grind cheap ragi in their grinding stone, and ate it while feeding their son-in-law rice and ghee according to their promise. Eleven years passed this way. On the first day of the twelfth year, the young man talked to his wife:
“Eleven years have passed. Ask your people to cut the coral (halivana) tree in the backyard and fill my room with the timber.”
They did so.
Next day, he asked his wife to bring him a chisel and a hammer and leave them in his room. She did so.
He ate his midday meal and started working on the wood. He worked all day and all night, for months. He carved a bedstead in a style no one had ever imagined. It took him a whole year to finish it. Then he told his wife, “Ask four men to come here tomorrow.” The old father-in-law brought four strong men the next day. When they came, the young man asked them to lift the bedstead on their backs, and led them to the city of Mysore, where he asked them to place it on a high mound. The whole city came to see it. Two eyes were not enough to look at it. People said, “This bedstead is magnificent. Only a rajah can sleep on it.” “We must get this as a present for our rajah,” they said to each other. When they asked the man the price, he said, “The bedstead will tell you. Ask it.” They wondered how a piece of furniture could speak. More crowds came to see the wonder. They asked the men to carry it to the palace yard.
The bedstead had four places where they could light lamps, four dolls carved on the four legs, and on all four sides there were statuettes of men and dogs. They brought it to the palace. The queen offered it worship. It was evening. The rajah announced through the town crier's drum, “The king will ascend the bedstead.”
After a feast, he had the bedstead carried to his room and he lay on it alone. As he finished a nap, the smallest of the carved dolls said, “Brother, I'll go and see the sights of Mysore city.”
The rajah had told his minister to stand guard with his naked sword, and he had come to the palace that night with his sword unsheathed. Meanwhile, the minister's wife had a holy mendicant (gosavi) for a lover. When she heard the town crier's announcement, she had sent word to her gosavi: “If the rajah is going to ascend his new bed, everybody will be at the palace watching the spectacle. Let's go off by ourselves.” He had said, “Let's do that.” She went to his place with a bundle of food and all her gold and saris, ready to elope. But the gosavi said to her, “Meeting like this is no good. Wherever we go, your husband will come after us. You must kill him and bring me his head.”
She went home, cooked some rice on the stove, and went herself to the palace to fetch her husband home to eat his dinner. She insisted that he should come home at once. He came home, ate his dinner, and went to sleep. She cut off his head and placed it on a golden platter and covered it in a flower-patterned piece of cloth. But when she went back to the gosavi to tell him she had done what he had asked her to do, he scolded her, “You whore, today you cut off your husband's head because I asked you to. Tomorrow, someone else will ask you to cut off my head and you will do that too. How can anyone trust you?” He threw her out. She ran home in despair, joined the head to her husband's body, and began to cry bitterly over her folly.
The doll saw all this and came back to the palace and said, “Brother, I saw everything. This rajah is a sinner. Spit on him.” It told the other dolls the whole story. The rajah now knew that his minister had died and why.
After a little while, another doll went out. The chieftain and the priest of that town used to offer a human sacrifice every year to Kali, the Black Goddess, in her temple. They always chose a young boy for the purpose, and this year too they had captured a young boy. The boy groaned and cried. The doll went up to him and talked to him. “I'm an orphan and they are going to sacrifice me,” the boy cried. The doll released him and asked him to tie it up in his place. The boy did as he was told and escaped. The worshipers came to the temple, offered ritual worship to the goddess, and one of them lifted his sword to cut the sacrificial victim to pieces before the goddess. The doll pulled out the slab of stone on which it was lying and ran away, making a big noise. In the confusion, the uplifted sword slipped and fell on the neck of the goddess's image and beheaded it, to everyone's horror. Chaos followed and the worshipers began to blame each other and quarrel among themselves. “What shall we tell the maharajah if he inquires into what happened?” they asked each other anxiously as they scattered and went home.
The doll went back to the palace and told its brothers the whole story and said, “This fellow is no rajah. Men are being sacrificed in his kingdom. Spit on him,” it said.
After a little while, the third doll went out. The rajah's consort had a brahmin lover. As the rajah was sleeping that night alone in his new bed, she sat alone at her window. The brahmin lover came to her room and opened the door. The doll watched them sitting and eating together. The doll wrapped himself in a piece of cloth like the brahmin's servant and said, “Master, Mistress, I'm hungry, give me something.” The queen gave him cakli, vade, and other snacks. The doll brought them out and hid them all under a rock outside the palace.
Then the fourth doll went out to see what was happening in town. It wandered through the marketplace and went to the Kali temple. Under the image of the goddess was buried a crate of gold. Four townsmen were digging under the image to get at the gold. The doll went to a corner and crowed like a rooster. They didn't know what it was, were scared by the noise, and ran away. The doll came back to the bedstead and told the other dolls, “What sort of a king is this one? He has given his wife to a lover. Besides, his subjects are digging under the very image of the goddess. Spit on him.”
The rajah heard everything and lay there terror-stricken, making not a sound.
Next morning, he came out of the bedroom and held court. He invited everyone to attend. He called the priest of the temple and asked him what was happening in the temple. The priest was too scared to open his mouth. “Don't be scared. Tell me the truth,” ordered the king. The priest confessed, “We were offering a young boy as a sacrifice to the goddess when the boy escaped, the stone came loose, and in the confusion the sword fell on the image and beheaded it.”
Then the rajah called for the minister and soon found he had really died. He summoned the minister's wife, who told him lies: “He ate something that didn't agree with him, and he died vomiting horribly.” When he called his queen to his presence and asked her about her lover, she said, “I'm innocent. I've never stepped out of my room and I love no one but you.” When the rajah asked his servants to search under the rock outside the palace, they found the cakli and the vade she had given the doll. The queen was struck dumb. He punished the chieftain, the priest, the minister's wife, and his own—he had them quartered and hung up on the city gates. Then he got the treasure from under the goddess's image and gave it all to the man who had made the bedstead.
The man who made the bedstead took the treasure home to his wife, made a lovely swing for his father- and mother-in-law, who had faithfully cared for him for twelve years, and made them swing happily on it. Then everyone was happy.
[AT 622, The Talking Bed-Legs (IO).]