68. The Three-Thousand-Rupee Sari
A young man lived with his wife and mother. The wife was very beautiful. For some time, the man was quite a good husband and even followed her about, quite infatuated with her beauty. But he changed towards her. His fancy began to roam, he went after a harlot in town and neglected his wife.
Now, every day the daughter-in-law would go about her household chores as usual, cooking and cleaning till the sun went down. When it was time for the father-in-law and mother-in-law to go to bed, she would ask her mother-in-law, “Where shall I sleep today?” What could the mother-in-law say? One day she said, “Sleep anywhere. Sleep on the verandah.” Another day, she asked her to sleep in the kitchen. The next day, it was the attic. Very soon, the daughter-in-law had slept in every possible part of the house. Still she kept asking her mother-in-law every night, “Tell me, where shall I sleep tonight?”
One day, the older woman lost her patience. She screamed, “I've had enough of this. My son has gone astray, and you bother me every night like this. Go sleep in the cremation grounds! Who cares? I'm sick of you.”
The obedient daughter-in-law took her at her word. And when her in-laws fell asleep, she tucked her bedroll under her arm and went straight to the cremation grounds outside town and slept there. She too was sick of things. She gave up asking her mother-in-law and took to sleeping every night in the cremation grounds.
“Cremations grounds, says my mother-in-law. And cremation grounds it will be,” she muttered to herself. She went there every night, and returned home in the morning to begin the chores of the house.
Now, a sadhu, a holy man, used to live there in an old well in the center of the cremation grounds. One day, he asked himself, “What's this female smell here, in this place of death? Which desperate woman could have come to this frightful place?”
And he clambered out of the well onto level ground and looked around. He saw the daughter-in-law curled on the ground, and asked her what she was doing there. She told him how her husband had left her for a harlot in town and how her mother-in-law had asked her to sleep in the cremation grounds. “If that's the way it is, do sleep here,” he said. Soon they began seeing a lot of each other, this sadhu and this daughter-in-law. They became lovers.
Meanwhile, one day, the husband went to the market to buy a sari for his harlot woman. Being a poor man, he bought a sari for ten rupees. But the sadhu had also come there to buy a sari for his beloved. He had asked her, “Tell me what kind of sari you fancy. I'd like to buy you one.”
The woman had said, “I want a sari that costs a thousand rupees for the warp, a thousand for the woof, and another thousand for the border. That's the only kind I want.”
He had said, “Consider it done.”
The sadhu had a bundle of money set aside from years of begging. He now took all of it in a little glass jar and went to the sari shop. They had a sari that really cost only a thousand rupees. When the shopkeepers heard him mention three thousand, they were delighted. They could make a profit of a whole two thousand. So they showed him the thousand-rupee sari and said it cost three thousand. He counted out the money he had and they let him take the sari. When he took it in his hand, the weave was so fine he could fold it and fit it neatly into the glass jar he had brought the money in. While the sadhu was buying this expensive sari, what was the husband doing but gaping in wonder and saying to himself, “Look, here I am buying a cheap ten-rupee sari for my woman. And this sadhu in rags bought one for three thousand. For whom is he buying this? What kind of woman could she be who would wear a three-thousand-rupee sari? I must look into this.”
Somehow, a faint suspicion also crossed his mind: “I've been neglecting my wife and going into the back streets. My wife is a beauty. What could she be doing right now?”
So that night he didn't visit his concubine but slept at home. He pretended to be sleepy just when it was time for his wife to go to the cremation grounds. She was bothered. She was restless. It was time for her tryst, and she had even asked for a sari. But here was her husband asking her to do this and that and make his bed for the night, all of which she did—surprised though she was by his unwonted behavior. He lay down on the bed she had made and soon pretended to fall asleep. He even snored quite noisily.
She was taken in. She waited a while and, when she felt sure he was really fast asleep, she went out with a small copper water pot (as if she were answering a call of nature in the fields).
She arrived at the cremation grounds, copper pot in hand. She didn't know that as soon as she had left home, her husband had quickly gotten up, wrapped himself in a blanket from head to foot, and followed. At the cremation grounds, she climbed down into the low well where the sadhu lived. The husband hid himself and watched. His wife and her lover did whatever they usually did together. Then she put on the three-thousand-rupee sari he had brought for her. After a few moments, she suddenly said, “What am I going to do with this sari? How can I take it home or wear it anywhere except in the cremation grounds?”
And she quickly took it off, held it to the flame of the lamp that was burning close by, and burned the entire three-thousand-rupee sari to a heap of ashes. She dipped a finger in the ash and wore a dot of ash as a mark on her forehead. Then she left.
Her husband quickly hurried home before her and lay down in bed as if he had been asleep all this time. She came home soon after and she too went to bed.
At dawn he woke up and asked her for a pot of water for his morning's ablutions. In the field, as he answered his calls of nature, he saw in the bushes around him some big round ball-like flowers (cendu huvu), some as big as his hand. He plucked a few. When he came home, she dutifully gave him water to wash his hands with. He asked her to bring a lighted lamp for him. When she brought it, he proceeded to burn the fresh-petaled ball-like flowers in the flame. As she watched him, her woman's heart couldn't bear to see a flower being burned mercilessly. So she protested: “What are you doing? They are such lovely round flowers. We could make garlands, offer them to the gods, or wear them in our hair. Would anyone burn flowers like this?”
He replied at once, “ Che, che! These are just plain wildflowers. They cost nothing, not a penny. I just plucked them from the bushes in the fields. I know people who don't mind burning whole saris worth three thousand rupees, and just wear a bit of the ash on their foreheads. Compared to that, what's so great about burning this worthless flower?”
She was cut to the quick. She at once understood what he meant. “This husband of mine knows all about me. I can't live anymore,” she thought. She waited impatiently for the night. That night too the husband slept at home, though the wretch didn't so much as touch her or utter her name. As soon as she was sure he was fast sleep, she quietly got up. She unbound her long hair and strangled herself with it without a sound.
Her mother-in-law missed her early in the morning. Every day, the daughter-in-law was the first to wake up and begin household work at the crack of dawn. When she didn't stir as usual, the mother-in-law began to be anxious. Her fool of a son had gone astray and taken to prostitutes; did he kill his wife or something? When she didn't find her daughter-in-law anywhere in the house, she stood at her son's door and screamed at him: “Where is she? Did you kill her, did you strangle her with your dirty hands?”
He was wakened by this noise. He got up and opened the door. His mother rushed in and saw the daughter-in-law dead in a corner, her long hair noosed round her neck. She began to beat her breast and cry, “You killed her, you killed her! Why did you do it?”
He tried to calm her down and say to her, “Don't make such a rumpus. I didn't kill her. I haven't touched her.”
But his mother was distraught. She wouldn't listen to anything he said. She called neighbors and relatives to help her bring the dead woman out of the house and prepare the body for a proper cremation. As they carried the body to the burning grounds, the husband walked in front and the mother-in-law walked behind, crying all the way, saying, “I have only one son and he's no good. And I had one gem of a daughter-in-law. O Siva, look what's happened.”
They placed the body on a bier of firewood, and the husband touched it with a torch of fire. The body began to burn. The smell of burning flesh brought out the sadhu from his well. He came to the bier and saw the face of the dead woman now burning. He stood there and stared till the fire took hold, and he suddenly let out a shriek.
“O my doll, my beauty, even in death how beautifully you burn!” With these words, he threw himself into the leaping flames.
The husband was stricken in his heart when he saw the strange sadhu leap into the fire. “This man was with her for some three days, and he has now leaped into the fire after her. What about me? I married her in a public place; she was my wife for so long. And I'm still alive,” he thought, and threw himself into the fire.
The old mother-in-law was beside herself with grief and shock. She said, “What am I doing here? My daughter-in-law is dead. My son is dead. I too must go. What is there at home to return to?” And, before anyone could stop her, she too fell in and perished in the fire of her daughter-in-law's bier.
Thus four people died in one fire, and it smoked for a long time.
[NKTT, but cf. Motif C 735.2.5, Tabu: sleeping in cemetery; Motif H 1355.2, Quest for beautiful saree for the queen; and Motif T 249.1, Adulterous wife convicted, commits suicide.]