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1. A Story and a Song

A housewife knew a story. She also knew a song. But she kept them to herself, never told anyone the story or sang the song.

Imprisoned within her, the story and the song were feeling choked. They wanted release, wanted to run away. One day, when she was sleeping with her mouth open, the story escaped, fell out of her, took the shape of a pair of shoes and sat outside the house. The song also escaped, took the shape of something like a man's coat, and hung on a peg.

The woman's husband came home, looked at the coat and shoes, and asked her, “Who is visiting?”

“No one,” she said.

“But whose coat and shoes are these?”

“I don't know,” she replied.

He wasn't satisfied with her answer. He was suspicious. Their conversation was unpleasant. The unpleasantness led to a quarrel. The husband flew into a rage, picked up his blanket, and went to the Monkey God's temple to sleep.

The woman didn't understand what was happening. She lay down alone that night. She asked the same question over and over: “Whose coat and shoes are these?” Baffled and unhappy, she put out the lamp and went to sleep.

All the lamp flames of the town, once they were put out, used to come to the Monkey God's temple and spend the night there, gossiping. On this night, all the lamps of all the houses were represented there—all except one, which came late.

The others asked the latecomer, “Why are you so late tonight?”

“At our house, the couple quarreled late into the night,” said the flame.

“Why did they quarrel?”

“When the husband wasn't home, a pair of shoes came onto the verandah, and a man's coat somehow got onto a peg. The husband asked her whose they were. The wife said she didn't know. So they quarreled.”

“Where did the coat and shoes come from?”

“The lady of our house knows a story and a song. She never tells the story, and has never sung the song to anyone. The story and the song got suffocated inside; so they got out and have turned into a coat and a pair of shoes. They took revenge. The woman doesn't even know.”

The husband, lying under his blanket in the temple, heard the lamp's explanation. His suspicions were cleared. When he went home, it was dawn. He asked his wife about her story and her song. But she had forgotten both of them. “What story, what song?” she said.

Types and Motifs

We need a special name and index number for stories about stories like this one. I would suggest a new set of motifs under Q 390, Punishment for not telling stories. The tale types could be listed under a new division added at the end of the international index as 2500, Stories About Stories. They may have to be cross-listed under numbers like 516, as such metastories enlist or combine with other types. For instance, in another Kannada tale, four stories that a man keeps to himself seek to revenge themselves by throwing down a boulder, breaking a branch over his head, becoming fishhooks in his food, and a snake in his bedchamber. A friend who hears them talk while he is asleep saves the man from these perils, exactly as in AT 516, Faithful John.


For obvious reasons I have placed this story about the perils of not telling the stories you know at the beginning of the book. This story is a story about why stories should be told. They are told because they cry out to be told. If they are not, they rankle and take revenge. Here the story and the song transform themselves into material objects. For futher comments on this genre, see Ramanujan 1989.

In this worldview nothing is ever lost, only transformed. Untold stories and unsung songs become shoes and coats, and take revenge against the niggardly nontellers. Material and nonmaterial things are all made of one substance, according to a familiar Hindu point of view; some are sthula, “gross,” others are suksma, “subtle.” Nothing is truly destroyed—things are displaced, converted, transformed, according to a belief in the “conservation of matter.”

The flames of lamps don't get extinguished at night: when they are put out, they simply move from home to temple, and return to the wicks when the lamps are lit again next evening. Such a belief is part of a more extensive folklore about lamps. The flame is personified as Jyotiyamma (Sanskrit jyoti, “flame, light” + Kannada amma, “mother, lady”), the lamp as mother and goddess. Today, some people worship even the electric light switches with turmeric and vermilion. In a family household, lamps must be lit at sunset and should not be extinguished by blowing on them (it's like spitting on them); one speaks euphemistically of “filling a lamp” (dīpa tumbu), not of “putting out a lamp.” One should remember and fold one's hands worshipfully to one's gods, especially to Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune, as a lamp is lit—for she comes in at that auspicious hour by the front door and will leave by the back door if it is open. So every evening, at lamp-lighting time, the front door is kept open and the back door shut. Anytime one wishes fervently for something or when one hears good news, one lights a floor lamp for the family gods. Weddings, temple services, all kinds of auspicious rituals have lamps as part of them. Lamps are lit at inaugural ceremonies, dramatic or dance performances, arrayed in rows in the month of Kartika (corresponding to November/December) and Sravana (July/August). Divali or Dipavali is an annual festival of lamps. Great temples have special calendrical festivals in which hundreds are lit. In every temple, as well as in the gods' room in a house, shrine lamps must burn ceaselessly. If a lamp goes out suddenly, it's an ill omen. Thus lamps and flames are symbols of life, wealth, family happiness. The belief that they never truly go out, only move out temporarily, is part of a wishful need for their unremitting auspicious presence.

[No known tale type (henceforth abbreviated NKTT), but it appears to be Motif N 454.2, King overhears conversations of lamps (India only, henceforth abbreviated IO).]

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