73. What the Milk Bird Said
In those days, snakes, bears, tigers, and such other wild animals could talk, just like you and me. One day the village chieftain's daughter, who was very pregnant, went to get kindling in the woods. A milk bird was singing:
Come, father's daughter, father's wife, ji ji!
Come this way, come, father's daughter-in-law and son's own wife, ji ji!
She gathered dry twigs and branches, but she was troubled by the song. “Why is the milk bird singing such a weird song? O mother!” she grumbled to herself. By noon, she had filled her basket with kindling. She could not lift it and set it on her head all by herself. She looked around for someone who might help. The hot sun was merciless, and under her feet the earth was as hot as a sheet of metal. She wilted in the heat, and stood there restless, finding everything unbearable. Just then, a cobra came that way. She said to the cobra, “Brother Cobra, come help me with this basket.”
The cobra said, “If I help, what will I get?”
“What can I give you? I'm going to have a baby. If I get a son, I'll name him after you. If I get a daughter, I'll marry her to you,” she said.
The cobra said, “That's a deal,” and lifted the basket onto her head and watched her carry it home.
Seven months passed, eight months passed. When it was nine months and nine days, she gave birth to a daughter. That bitch, Goddess Setivi, came and wrote her future and fortune on the baby's forehead, as she does on every newborn baby's. Just when Setivi was leaving, the mother of the newborn woke up and saw her, quickly grabbed the end of the goddess's sari, and stopped her.
“What did you write on my baby's forehead?” she asked.
“I've written what the milk bird said. I've written that she'll marry her own son,” said Setivi, before she slipped through the door.
“If what you write is true, may you become a widow, you bitch!” cursed the mother. (That's why the goddess is a widow.)Three months passed, and the cobra came hissing to the village gate and lay across it. People tried to scare it and chase it away, but it didn't move. It didn't let anyone go into the village or come out. The elders sat in council. They decided someone had made a vow and promised something. That must be why the Cobra God lay full-length across their gate. They announced through the town crier that whoever had made a vow should fulfill it.
The village chieftain's daughter knew at once why the cobra had come. He was asking her to make good her word. So she got up and dressed her baby daughter in new clothes, put a new bonnet on the little one's head, painted eye-black in her little eyes, and gave her the breast. Then she took the baby in a basket, placed it before the cobra, saluted him, and came away. The cobra spread its hood and carried the baby into the woods.
Years later, the chieftain's daughter bore a son. He grew up and started playing cinni-dandu with a chip and a stick. One day he sent a chip flying and hit a girl who was carrying a pitcher of water home. In her anger, the girl scolded him: “We all know what makes you so bad, you rascal. A snake took your sister. What do you expect?”
He came straight home and pestered his mother to tell him what had happened to his sister. She hesitated at first and then told him, “Yes, that's true, that's what happened.” And she told him the entire story. “If that's what happened, I'll go and get her back,” he said, and would not wait even a day. He didn't listen to his mother's pleadings and arguments. He left with a small bundle of food.
He went and went and went, far into the thick of the woods, through the thorny jungle. He tired himself out and fell asleep under a banyan tree. When he woke up, he smelled something, looked around, and saw a wisp of smoke rising from the banyan's upper branches. “What kind of smoke is this?” he asked himself and climbed the tree. In its top branches, among the leaves, there was a house. The door was shut. He knocked on it. “Anyone inside? I'm thirsty, can you open the door and give me some water?” he shouted. A woman opened the door. Her eyes and nose and expression were all just like his mother's. He told her who he was, named his mother's name and family. She suddenly realized who he was and cried out “Brother!” She threw her arms around him and she wept. She told him her entire life's story, how the cobra had brought her up, taught her everything, and finally married her.
“Sister, let's go home!” he said.
“O, no! How can we escape my husband? He is a terror. If he even sees you he'll kill you,” she said.
But he told her what to do. So she hid him carefully and boiled milk on the stove. The cobra came home and hissed, “Some new smell, something new!” Suddenly he recognized the smell. “O the milk!” he cried, and eagerly drank the sweet-smelling scalding milk, which he couldn't resist, and died on the spot.
Then brother and sister made their way towards their village. The sister was fully pregnant. On the way, she had to give birth. She laid one egg after another every few steps. Her brother followed her, broke the eggs one by one, and smeared them on the stones. He crushed and crunched scores of them. But one little egg rolled into a crack in the ground and he couldn't reach it however hard he tried. He and his sister thought, “What can a little egg do? It will die in the heat.” And they moved on. They were hardly within earshot of their village when the egg in the crack hatched into a baby snake. It crawled out and moved fast. It soon overtook them and waylaid them.
“I won't let her go. You'd better go home alone. Or else I'll bite you,” it said to the brother, raising its hood.
Not knowing what to do, he left his sister behind and went on alone. The baby snake forced her to return to the banyan tree, married her, and they lived for a long time in the house in the tree.
[NKTT, but cf. Motif S 215, Child promised to animal; Motif B 604.1, Marriage to snake; R 111.1.5, Rescue of woman from snake-husband; and I 412, Mother-son incest.]