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44. Ninga on My Palm

A mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law were always at loggerheads with each other. They quarreled all day, and the son was sick of listening to their complaints. So he built a separate house for his mother and settled her in it.

Every day, he would give his mother some old blackened rice that his wife sent with him. The mother lost weight and grew thin. One day the son noticed it and asked, “What's happened to you? Don't you eat properly? Are you unhappy or what?”

He also said, “Maybe you need some buttermilk for your rice. Come to our house and take some.”

One day the mother thought she would try and get some buttermilk from her son's house. She went there when he wasn't in. She was ashamed of begging from her son, but she was desperate for some buttermilk. When she asked for some, her daughter-in-law said, “You didn't want anything from us when you left. Now you want some buttermilk, do you? If you want it, you'll have to do as I say.”

“Tell me what it is you want me to do. Let me at least hear it,” said the mother-in-law.

The daughter-in-law told her, “You must take off your sari and everything you're wearing, and dance naked, chanting ‘Ninga on my palm, look look at my shame!’ Do you think you can do that?”

The mother-in-law cursed under her breath, “You wretch, why did you have to marry my son?” That day, the daughter-in-law relented and didn't insist on her condition. She gave her some buttermilk, greatly diluted with water.

The next day, the mother-in-law couldn't eat the plain rice. “Let's see if the wretch will give me some buttermilk,” she muttered to herself, and went to her son's house. The daughter-in-law reminded her of what she had to do. “Isn't it enough to tell you once? Do I have to tell you every time you come here?” she asked.

The mother-in-law took off her sari, put it on her head, and danced naked, chanting, “Ninga on my palm, look look at my shame!” The daughter-in-law watched her with satisfaction and gave her some buttermilk.

When she went home, the mother-in-law was disgusted and couldn't touch the buttermilk. “She humiliates me and then she gives it to me. Who needs it?” she thought, and stayed home. In her misery, she grew even thinner.

Her son asked her the next time he saw her, “Why, what's the matter? Doesn't my wife give you any buttermilk?” She told him how she had to dance naked for it. He heard it all and simply said, “Come tomorrow. I'll be there.”

When he went home, he asked his wife, “Don't you give my mother any buttermilk? She's getting thinner by the day.”

“Why, of course, I give it to her whenever she comes here. Should I be delivering it to her house when she refuses to come here? What's she saying?” she asked.

“Just give it to her. She'll come here today,” he said. But his mother didn't come all day. He had to go somewhere. He instructed his wife, “Even if I'm not here, give her the buttermilk.”

Then he left through the front door and sneaked back through the side door, and hid himself in the atta. His mother arrived soon after, saying, “I couldn't come all day. Give me a drop of buttermilk.”

“It's good you came now,” said the daughter-in-law. “But you know what you must do.”

The mother-in-law took off her clothes, made it into a bundle, put it on her head, and danced naked, chanting, “Ninga on my palm, look look at my shame!”

When she was gone, the son silently got down from the atta. He now knew why his mother looked so miserable and thin. Pretending to come in from the outside, he called his wife and said, “We must arrange a ceremony for our household gods.” Then he went out and invited everyone he met. He sent a town crier around to nearby villages and letters to villages that were farther away. Then he went to his wife's parents' place to invite them personally for the occasion.

He told his parents-in-law, “Father-in-law, Mother-in-law, your daughter is deathly sick. If you want to see her before something happens to her, come soon. We've consulted priests and astrologers about her disease. No one could give us a remedy. Today we went to a guru, who asked us to undertake a vow. He said that you, her parents, must agree to come, naked as you were born, without a thread on your bodies. If you can do that and take part in a ceremony at our place tomorrow, we can have some hope for your daughter. Tomorrow, at two o'clock. Please.”

Then he went home and decorated the doors of his house with festoons of mango leaves. He removed all the clothing in his house from his wife's reach and locked it up in his room.

The next day he gave all the guests a grand dinner and distributed betel leaves and nuts. He requested them all to sit down, saying, “Sit down for a while, if you please. I've a small speech to make.”

His wife was unhappy throughout the dinner that her parents had not been invited to the ceremony. He consoled her by assuring her that they had been invited. “They will be here in a few minutes. Just be patient till two o'clock,” he said.

Meanwhile, he had arranged for his mother to bathe, eat, and be comfortable. At two, his wife's mother came in stark naked, running anxiously into the house, crying out, “O my daughter, my daughter, what's happened to you?” Her father cried, “Tell us, what's happened to you?” He too was naked.

His daughter nearly died of shame. She beat her forehead, looked around for some cloth, any cloth, crying, “O god, if only I could lay my hands on a piece of cloth to cover them!”

As the assembled guests were wondering if her parents had gone mad, her husband began his speech.

“Listen. In our house, we were three once. My mother and my wife didn't get along. So I arranged for my mother to live in a separate house. She has been growing thinner by the day. All her life, she has been used to milk and buttermilk. So I had said to her, ‘Come to our house and get some buttermilk. Don't eat the dry rice.’ Whenever my mother came here to ask for a little buttermilk, my wife made her do shameful things. My mother had to strip herself naked, put her clothes on her head, and dance, chanting, ‘Ninga on my palm, look look at my shame!’ Only then would she get a little buttermilk to take home. Today, I wanted to teach my wife a lesson. So I tricked her parents and asked them to come before you as they did.”

Then he gave his wife the key to his room and said, “Go, open the door and bring your parents some clothes.” She silently took the key and brought them clothes to cover their shame.

From that day on, the mother, the son, and his wife lived in peace in the same house.


[NKTT, but cf. Motif P 262.1, Bad relations between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law; and Motif S 54, Cruel daughter-in-law.]

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