Archive for the ‘Arakaneses’ folk talks’ Category

By U San Shwe Bu

In an obscure village in Arakan there once lived a man and his wife with their only daughter by name Mai Htwe Yai. I cannot tell you the names of the girl’s parents; but it was the custom of the people in the country, even just it is now the present day, to avoid as much as possible the use of the real names of persons who are advanced in years, they are commonly known to the villagers as Mai Htwe Yai’s father and mother. They were simple ignorant rustic who daily earned their living by catching fish in the small stream that flowed silently past their little village. One day the worthy couple went out fishing as usual in their canoe and Mai Htwe Yai was left to look after the various household duties such as splitting firewood, filling the jars with water and pounding the necessary quantity of rice for the evening meal. Somehow on this particular ill-fated day the fishing did not prove as successful as usual. The husband got terribly annoyed, while the wife in her love and anxiety for the comfort of her daughter repeatedly kept on saying:

What shall I do

For my daughter’s dinner?

How I wish

That I might win her

Lots of fish –

‘Twere a dainty dish

For my daughter’s dinner.

Hearing this the man fiercely replied, “You seem to be only thinking of your daughter’s dinner, but what about mine you ungrateful woman?” and forthwith he struck her with the heavy oar he carried in his hand. The blow was so severe that the poor woman died outright. But when the body was thrown into the water the man was astonished to see it suddenly transformed into a turtle.

When the man returned home alone in the evening Mai Htwe Yai questioned him about her mother. As he did not wish to grieve his daughter he tried to deceive her by saying that her mother had gone on a visit to her aunt. The next day the girl went to her aunt’s house only to find that her mother was not there at all. Then her father said that he had made a mistake for, as a matter of fact, her mother was then with her grandmother. On verification this also proved to be false. Thus for several days by a succession of lies he managed to hind the real facts of her mother’s death from the young girl. But at last the day arrived when he could no longer think of a likely story, and for his own peace of mind he made a full confession of his guilt, adding, “So though you have no mother now she is not really dead for at the present moment she exists in the river in the form of a turtle”.

For a time Mai Htwe Yai was inconsolable. Grief seemed to be her only food. She neither ate nor drank several days. At night she hardly ever slept a wink because of her weeping for her dear mother. At length the father one day spoke to her thus:

O daughter mine.

Why peak and pine?

The deed is done, and tears are vain.

To weep and wail

Will not avail

To bring your mother back again

Go, take about the village

The baskets I made yesterday.

And sell them to the villagers

As shrewdly as you may.

Now in this same village here also lived a biluma or ogress with her two daughters. The elder girl’s name was Kret Chi May and so very ugly that when she walked through the village the children fled from her in terror. This ogress secretly loved Mai Htwe Yai’s father back up to that time she could not think of any plan by which she could make him her husband. So when Mai Htwe Yai came to her house with a load of baskets on her head the ogress suddenly saw her long sought for opportunity and determined to make Mai Htwe Yai’s father come to her house and make him her husband that very day. One or two baskets having been sold to the ogress the young girl put the rest on her head to return home: but when she tried to get up she could not do so because the ogress pressed her down from the top without the girl’s knowledge. She then suggested that the load was too heavy for her and that she should call her father for assistance. Believing it to be true the girl went home as directed. In the meanwhile the ogress and her daughters hastily prepared some food and set up a pot of fermented liquor in the best room of the house. When May Htwe Yai and her father arrived the ogress welcomed them effusively and persuaded the man to eat and drink, for his visit was an honour done to her. Long and merrily the meal continued till night advanced apace. By the time the feast ended the man fell into a drunken sleep making it impossible for the daughter to return home alone. She was therefore easily persuaded to pass the night there also. According to a prearranged plan the ogress’s daughter got up in the dead of night and tied together the hair of the man with that of her mother who was sleeping close by. In the morning when the man and the ogress found themselves bound together in this mysterious fashion they agreed to marry and to live together in the latter’s house.

Having now accomplished her object one would have thought that the ogress would be satisfied. This was far from being the case, for the wicked woman conceived a violet dislike for her step daughter Mai Htwe Yai whose beauty far excelled that of any other woman in the village. How much better, she thought it would be for everybody concerned if her step daughter’s life could be taken without any suspicion being directed against her. Anyhow she determined to do her worst, hoping that before long, grief and misery would bring about that death which she feared to inflict too openly.

So poor Mai Htwe Yai was given very little to eat while at the same time she was compelled to tent cattle everyday by the river side. For a time she tried to bear up her misfortune with fortitude until one day while looking after her herd she was so overcome with hunger and grief that she fell by the river and cried bitterly:

O mother turtle, look at me,

Unhappy daughter thine –

Without a friend to comfort me.

All alone I pine,

Starved and treated cruelly.

And made to tend the kine.

No sooner were these words uttered than the turtle appeared on the surface of the water bearing a present of small fishes. These the girls silently took and going into a disused hut close by she carefully cooked them and ate them contentedly.

Thus under these new conditions when she was daily supplied with good fish by her mother turtle, life became more pleasant and tolerable, and she began to thrive both in health and strength. The ogress seeing the change in the appearance of her step daughter wondered much and could not find any satisfactory reason for it. So she secretly told her daughter Kret Chi May to try and find out what May Htwe Yai did by following her the next day in the guise of a common village dog. For the ogresses were a wonderful people. Though they usually resembled human being and lived as such, they were able also to assume any form they liked. The next day when Mai Htwe Yai went out with the cattle to her usual haunt a dog followed her from a safe distance spying upon her every movement without her being aware of its presence. As before the girl received her allowance of fish from the turtle she then cooked and ate them at the hut while the dog unable to resist the temptation of picking up a few bones approached quite near. “What a troublesome dog this is,” said May Htwe Yai and gave it a vigorous kick. Whereupon the dog ran away howling and shouted out from the distance that it would tell the ogress all about her mysterious supply of fish which she received daily from the turtle.

The next day the ogress, having learnt all she wanted, pretended to be sick. She placed dry sticks of bamboo under the mat on which she lay and groaned very loudly. When the husband returned from work he was greatly concerned about her and sent his own daughter Mai Htwe Yai to consult an astrologer as to the best way of relieving the pain. Every time the ogress turned on her side the dry sticks would snap and she would yell at the top of her voice saying that her ribs were breaking. This increased the man’s fears and he cursed his daughter for the delay. At length when she arrived she hastily prepared the medicine she brought with her and administered it to the patient. But instead of being relieved the ogress yelled all the more with pain. She even accused the girl of bringing false medicine to kill her because she hated her step mother. She therefore sent her own daughter Kret Chi Mai to consult the astrologer. Acting under previous instruction the girl returned to say that the only thing that could cure her mother was to give her the flesh of the turtle which according to the astrologer was the best remedy for so serious a disease.

The husband then made a stout bamboo coop to catch the turtle. He first set it in the river close to the right bank. When Mai Htwe Yai saw this she wept and said:

Mother turtle, have a care!

By the right bank is set a snare.

On hearing this the turtle went to the opposite side of the river. There was no catch that day and the man returned home disappointed. When on the next day the coop was set close to the left bank, Mai Htwe Yai said:

Mother turtle, have a care!

By the left bank is the snare.

On hearing this the turtle went away to the opposite side of the river and consequently it could not be caught. For the third time the man tried. He placed the coop in midstream and then he caught his daughter by the wrist and beat her severely with the thorny branch of a plum tree telling her that if he did not catch the turtle he would surely kill her that very day. The poor girl’s body was so lacerated by the thorns and the pain was so great that in her agony she cried out:

O mother turtle, pardon me,

Though into danger guided.

For oh! they are so hard on me,

I can no longer bide it:

Right in mid river is the coop-

Good mother, go inside it!

The turtle obeyed, and it was caught and carried home in triumph. That very evening it was cut up into bits and carefully prepared for dinner. As soon as the ogress ate the turtle curry she got out of her bed and pretended to be quite well again. But since a great deal of the curry was still left, poor Mai Htwe Yai was sent to distribute it among the village folk. With a heavy heart she set out her errand and as she stopped at each house to give the curry she requested the good people to eat flesh but the bones for her. The people invariably laughed and said, “What a funny request to make! since you have given us that curry you cannot stop us from eating everything, bones and all, if we are so minded.” But an old couple taking pity on the poor thing promised to oblige her. The next morning when she called on the kind old people she was given two bones which they preserved for her. She then went into a large public garden and planted the bones side by side in the ground and uttered the following invocation, “Oh ye nats who preside over the four quarters of the earth give ear unto my prayer. If I be virtuous and if I have suffered great misery, undeservedly, may these two bones which I have planted spring up into two trees, one of gold and the other of silver. Let no man be successful in his efforts to dig them up. May all the implements the employs be snapped in twain. But should I so desire it let me accomplish the feat by the merest turn of my finger nail.”

Hardly were the words out of her mouth when the two trees burst form from the ground in all their resplendent beauty. The girl, however, went home secure in the belief that no one could cut them down or remove them. Soon the news of magic trees spread all over the country. Men came to see it from all directions. The king of the country being unable to suppress his curiosity any longer went to the spot in the state because all his previous efforts to remove them to his palace completely failed. When he actually saw the beautiful trees he offered a handsome rewards to anyone who could dig them up and carry them away to his palace garden. Men toiled all day in the hope of winning the prize; but all their efforts were useless for the trees refused to be shifted from their position. The king then asked the people as to how the trees came to be there, and when they informed him that a young girl called May Htwe Yai was responsible for their growth he ordered her to be brought to the spot. On her arrival the king said, “I command you to dig up the trees at once. If you are successful I will make you my queen, but if not your life shall be the forfeit.” Hearing these words the girl sent up an inward prayer to the Nats to assist her and in fear and trembling she touched the trees. To the surprise of everybody the trees were easily uprooted. The king marveled much but spoke no work at all. At a sign from him the ministers placed the trees in the chariot and after mounting the girl on a richly caparisoned horse the whole party returned to the palace. In due course Mai Htwe Yai – the poor persecuted maiden became the queen of the country.

Some time after this event the ogress and her two daughters heard about Mai Htwe Yai’s good fortune. They could neither eat nor drink for they were very jealous. So for many days they discussed the details of a plan by which they hoped Mai Htwe Yai could be killed. At last the long sought for opportunity arrived, for the ogress’s husband the queen’s father, had to undertake a long journey to a foreign land. When the man departed the ogress sent words to the palace requesting the queen to visit her father who was very ill. “Is my father still capable of eating a little rice and drinking a little water?” asked the queen to the messenger. “Yes! He can still do that,” replied the latter. “Then,” said the queen, “you may return. I am certain that my father will not die yet.”

After a few days another message was sent to the palace. This time it stated that the queen’s father was on the point of death and that if she did not hurry she would be too late to speak to him. Before setting out alone from the palace the queen ordered her servants to fetch her in the evening from the house of the ogress. When the queen arrived at the house of her step mother she found the whole household in tears around a bed on which some object was covered up by a blanket. Thinking that her father had died she went up to the bad and tried to remove the blanket from his head in order to have a last look at him who was once her parent. But the wily ogress prevented her from doing so on the plea that the face was so distorted that it was unfit for any one to see. So the poor queen could do nothing else but sit with the rest and give way to tears. Presently Kret Chi Mai her elder step sister began admiring the jewels and other ornaments which the queen was then wearing and said to her, “Dear sister you must indeed be very happy in your present condition. What magnificent jewels you have on! Can you please allow me to wear your bangles just for a moment to see what I look like?” At first the queen refused and rebuked her sister for her frivolous thoughts especially at a time when they should be in the deepest grief. But Kret Chi Mai laughed and still persisting in her request she at length got her own way.

When evening came the queen asked for the return of her bangles; but Kret Chi Mai, pretending to be terribly angry with her for worrying her so soon, threw them through a crack in the floor on to the ground beneath the house. Whereupon the ogress her mother said, “What a naughty girl you are Kret Chi Mai! Instead of being grateful for being permitted to wear the bangles even for so short a time, you have even thrown them away. Go, pick them up at once and offer an apology to your sister.” “That will I never do,” said the offender, “If she wants her bangles she may pick them up herself.” The queen was in a hurry to get back to the palace and as she knew that her servants would be almost on their way to fetch her she did not want to waste any more time arguing the matter out. So she went down beneath the house to pick up her jewels. Just as she stooped the ogress and her daughter hastily brought a large pot of boiling water which they had previously prepared and emptied its contents on the unfortunate queen. Death was instantaneous but her body was immediately converted to that of a beautiful egret. Quickly the ogress’s daughter Kret Chi Mai adorned herself with the discarded clothes and jewels of the late queen and calmly awaited the coming of the palace servants.

Meanwhile Shwe Kya the young prince began to get anxious about her mother who had absented herself for hours. He went to his father the king and told him about his fears. So the father and son waited patiently strolling about in the palace grounds. As darkness came on they heard the sound of trumpets and the trampling of many feet. The father said to the son, “I think that is your mother. Though she is certainly late I do not think you need worry yourself any more for she has assuredly returned.” Shortly after this the long expected party arrived. The pretended queen came down from palfrey and smilingly advanced to the father and son who were watching her with unfeigned surprise. “My dear,” said the king, “if you are my wife you have certain changed a great deal in your appearance. You left the palace this morning a very beautiful woman, but you have now returned very ugly. What in heaven’s name can be the reason of this remarkable transformation? The queen then replied, “Dear husband, you know that I went to the death bed of my father. When I saw him lying dead I was so overcome with grief that I cried very much and struck my face so insistently that I have become very ugly now. But prince Shwe Kya stoutly refused to be embraced by his supposed mother for he felt sure that she was some one other then what she represented herself to be.

It so happened that when Mai Htwe Yai the real queen died she left behind an unfinished piece of cloth she was then weaving. In order to carry on the pretence completely Kret Chi Mai the supposed queen went to the loom every day and tried to continue the work of weaving. But to her chagrin she found she could not do so easily as the pattern of the cloth was too intricate for her. Whenever she found herself in a difficulty the egret, which was then living in the palace as a general pet, would go up to the loom and by means of its beak indicate what should really be done. For a time the false queen put up with it but when this interference became too frequent she became so annoyed that she struck the bird with heavy shuttle and killed it outright.

She then sent it down to the kitchen with orders to have it served up for dinner. But when the king found that his dinner consisted of the palace egret he refused to touch it and gave orders to have the curry thrown away. The servant immediately bore the dish out of the room and threw the contents close to the royal gardener’s house. The next morning to the great surprise of the gardener and his wife they found a fully grown bilva tree (Bengla quince) bearing a single fruit of extraordinary size – One remarkable thing about the fruit was that whenever the old lady (gardener’s wife) passed by under the tree the fruit used to touch her head, until, at last, she was so annoyed that she plucked it and kept it in a basket in the house.

One day the old lady went out to work in the garden and left her husband to look after the house. But the worthy man fell asleep, and as he did so the bilva fruit mysteriously opened and a most beautiful girl emerged out of it. Then without any hesitation what so ever she began to bathe, dress and besmear her face with Thanetka (a paste obtained by rubbing a certain kind of bark on the smooth surface of a flat stone). After going through her toilet most carefully – I cannot explain minutely the intricate phases of a young lady’s toilet – she prepared some rice and cooked some food. When this was done she passed some very severe remarks on the old man who was sleeping soundly and then she addressed the cock that was scratching for food at the foot of their backstairs:

Good Mr. Cock!

I prithee tell

The old lady.

When she comes back,

There is no lack,

Dinner’s ready.

Let her eat well,

Let her drink well,

I prithee tell

Her, Mr.Cock!

So saying she entered the bilva fruit. When the old lady returned home she was much surprised to find that some one had mysteriously cooked her dinner and blamed her husband for sleeping instead of keeping proper watch. Just as she finished her scolding the cock spoke:

Grand mamma!

Look! Look!

Dinner stands!

But the cook

Had unclean hands.

Fling it afar,

Do, grand mamma!

Now this was not exactly what the girl from the bilva fruit told the cock to say. But being a cunning bird who appreciated a good dinner as well as any one else be rightly thought that by misinforming the old lady she would act on his instructions. As anticipated the dinner was flung out with curses and the wily cock had a good feed thereof. This sort of thing continued for several days until the old lady losing her patience determined to keep watch herself. She sent her husband away to do some work in the garden while she lay down on her bed and pretended to be asleep. After a while the girl, as usual, issued from the fruit and in the midst of her preparations for dinner the old lady quietly got up and threw a large bamboo cage over her.

The old people then adopted the girl who was forbidden to leave the house but was only permitted to weave and spin. It so happened that the boys of the town, including the young prince, were in the habit of playing everyday near this house. When ever an opportunity occurred the girl would call the prince and ask him to assist her in her work. At last interruptions in his play became so frequent that he lost every day. His father the king one day seeing his son sad and dejected asked him what the cause was. The boy replied that a certain beautiful girl living in the old couple’s house frequently made him to do some work for her and would not allow to play his game properly. It was on this account that he returned home a loser everyday.

On the following morning the king rode away on a visit to the old people determined to see for himself who the girl was and after halting in front of the house he called out loudly for a cup of water. The old man brought him one but he refused it by flinging away the cup. Then the old woman brought him out another cup. This also be angrily flung away saying., “I have not come here to accept any hospitality from fools like you. I will only drink from the cup tendered by the young lady who is now an inmate of your house. Go and bring her out at once if you do not wish to incur my extreme displeasure.” In fear and trembling the old woman complied and when the king saw the lovely girl he was at once struck by the resemblance she bore to his dear wife Mai Htwe Yai. So without saying a word he placed her on his horse and returned to the palace.

On their arrival the lady informed the king that she was no other than his real wife, the mother of the young prince and at the same time she related to him without any reservation whatsoever the story of her persecution by the wicked ogress and her elder daughter who was now living as his rightful queen. The king greatly rejoiced to hear this but being a very just monarch he summoned the imposter and asked her for an explanation. Nothing daunted the false queen indignantly repudiated the allegations against her and stated that the girl whom he had brought was none other than an adventuress trying to bring about her ruin.

The king sat down and thought very hard for a long time. But at length he resolved to allow the two claimants to settle their dispute by a personal combat. He therefore ordered two swords to be brought. The false queen quickly selected the sharper one of the two while, the other, relying upon the justness of her case, took up the blunter weapon without any murmur. Then the fight began. By some mysterious cause the assaults of the false queen made no impression whatever on her opponent. On the other hand a well directed blow from the true queen pierced the breast of the ogress’s daughter and killed her outright. Thus was the king convinced that she who survived the terrible ordeal was his true wife and with due ceremony she was once again installed as his rightful queen.

When the day’s festivities were over the king ordered the body of the false queen to be cut up into bits. The pieces were then preserved in a large jar of fermented liquor. After a few days the jar was sealed and then sent to the ogress with the compliments from the king. When the former received it she was highly pleased and openly boasted to her neighbors on the advantages of having a king for a son-in-law. When the hour for dinner came she opened the jar and took out a piece to eat with her curry. But her observant younger daughter quickly remarked in alarm. “Oh mother! Just look at it carefully. Doesn’t it resemble the finger of my sister?” “Nonsense child, you must be dreaming. What absurd ideas do get into your head!” so saying she calmly went on with her dinner. When another piece was brought out the young girl again exclaimed, “Do look mother this is surely my sister’s foot. I well remember the position of this is peculiar scar she had on it.” Again the mother scolded her for her fancies and ordered her to be silent. On the third occasion the preserve being very tasty, a large piece was brought out. This time the girl jumped up and cried, “Oh mother this is surely my sister’s head. See the arrangement of the hair and earrings she always wore while with us.” Hearing these words the ogress became dumb with astonishment. She knew it to be a human head but owing to the presence of other ingredients she could not quite distinguish the features at first. She hastily brought some water and watched the face. Then she became convinced that the face she was looking at was none other than that of Kret Chi Mai her own daughter. Need I tell what happened the ogress after that? What does every mother feel when a beloved child of her dies? Even so the wicked ogress felt; but in her case the grief and shock was so great that she died in a very short time. Thus was virtue rewarded while sin and wickedness met the just punishment which always pursues those who are its votaries.

(Verse by G.H. Luce)

Ref: Kogreekyaw

Enforced Greatness

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Arakaneses' folk talks

By U San Shwe Bu

Once upon a time there lived a very poor middle aged couple on the outskirts of a great and magnificent city. Early in the morning the man used to set out to the city and return home in the evening with a few odd annas earned by picking up small jobs in the warehouses of wealthy merchants. One fine morning, being lazier than usual, he remained in bed with his eyes closed though fully awake, and furtively watched the proceedings of his wife during her toilette. When she was completely satisfied with her performance the man pretended to wake up as though from a deep sleep and addressed his wife, “You know, my dear, of late I have been feeling that some strange power has been granted to me by the gracious nats who preside over our destinies. To illustrate my point, you saw just now that I was fast asleep, and yet, would you believe it, I knew exactly what you were doing a little while ago from the time you rose from your bed up till the present moment,” and proceeded to tell her all she did at her toilette. As may be imagined, his wife was quite astonished at this feat, and womanlike, she began to see in this power the means to a profitable living.

Just about this time the kingdom became greatly distracted by a series of daring thefts which took place both by day and night. All efforts by the authorities to capture the culprits proved useless. At length the king became seriously alarmed for the safety of his treasure, and in order to afford better protection he redoubled the guards round the palace. But in spite of all this precaution the thieves entered the palace one night and succeeded in carrying away a large quantity of gold, silver and precious stones.

On the following morning the King issued a proclamation to the effect that a thousand gold mohurs would be given as a reward to the person who could either capture the thieves or restore the stolen property. So without consulting her husband in whom she had absolute faith, she went off to the palace and informed the king that her husband was a great astrologer and that it would be quite easy for him to find the lost treasures. The king’s heart was filled with gladness on receiving this information. He told the good woman that if her husband could do all that she promised, further honours and rewards would be heaped upon him.

When the woman returned home she joyfully related to her husband the details of her interview with the king. “What have you done, you silly fool?” shouted the man with mingled astonishment and alarm. “The other day when I spoke to you about my powers I was merely imposing upon you. I am neither an astrologer nor a diviner. It will be impossible for me to find the lost property. By your silly act you have not only brought disgrace upon us but you have also imperiled our lives. I don’t care what happens to you; I only know that I am going to commit suicide this very day.”

So saying he left the house and entered a dense forest with the intention of cutting a stout creeper with which to hung himself. After he got what he wanted he climbed up a big tree to tie one end of the creeper to a branch. But while he was engaged in this act the notorious thieves came to the foot of the very tree on which he was perched and proceeded to divide the treasures which they stole from the palace. The man on the top remained absolutely still and eagerly listened to all that was going on down below. Apparently the division was not quite satisfactory to every one, and as a result a terrible dispute arose among them. For along hours they argued and abused each other without being able to come to a settlement. At length seeing that the sun was already declining they agreed to bury the treasure at the foot of the tree and to return on the morrow for a further discussion relative to their respective shares.

As soon as they left the place the poor man came down from the tree and ran home as fast as he could. “My dear wife,” I know exactly where the treasures are to be found. If you make haste and come along with me I shall be able to remove the whole lot to our house.” So they hastened together with baskets on their heads and reached the spot when darkness had properly set in. They then dug up the treasures as quickly as they could and conveyed them home.

On the following day they went to the palace and restored the lost treasures to the king. Greatly overjoyed at his good fortune the king praised the man and marveled at his rare knowledge. In addition to the rewards which he received, the man was forthwith appointed the chief astrologer to the King with a handsome salary which placed him beyond the dream of avarice.

While in the enjoyment of such honour and rewards the astrologer one day thought to himself, “So far I have been fortunate. My luck has been phenomenally good. Everybody takes me to be a great man, though actually I am not. I wonder for how long my luck will befriend me?” From that time forward his mind became uneasy. He often sat up in bed at nights dreading the future which should bring about his exposure and disgrace. Every day he spoke to his wife about his false position and the peril that threatened him. He saw that it would be utter folly and madness to make a clean breast of everything as he had already committed himself too far. So he decided to say nothing for the present but to await a favourable opportunity of extricating himself from the awkward situation.

It so happened that one day the king received a letter from the ruler of a distant country which stated that he had heard about the famous astrologer. But that somehow he did not quite believe all that was said concerning the wisdom and knowledge of the man. By way of testing his real powers would he, the king, enter into a bet?” if acceptable, he said he would send him a gourd fruit by his Envoys, and if his astrologer could say how many seeds it contained, he was willing to forfeit his kingdom provided he (the former) did the same in the event of his protégé going wrong in his calculations. Having absolute faith in his astrologer the king forthwith sent a reply to the letter accepting the bet.

For many days after this the poor astrologer thought very hard how he should act in the matter. He knew that the gourd fruit usually contained thousands of seeds and that to attempt a guess would be worse than useless. Being fully convinced that the day of reckoning had at last arrived, he determined to run away and hide himself in some obscure corner rather than face the disgrace of a public exposure. So the next thing he did was to procure a boat. He then loaded it with food for many days and quietly left the shores of the city.

The following day as he was nearing the mouth of the river, a foreign vessel came sailing up under a full spread of canvas. He saw from a distance that the sailors, having nothing particular to do, sat in a group and were engaged in pleasant conversation. As he came alongside the vessels he heard a man remark to the others, “Somehow I feel quite certain that our King will lose the bet. Don’t you fellows know that this country possess an astrologer who is infallible in his calculation? He is reputed to possess the combined sight of a thousand devas. To such a one the single seed, lying hidden within this gourd we now convey with us, will not prove an obstacle of any serious difficulty. You may therefore rest assured that he will find it out in a very short time.”

When the man heard these words he felt very glad and blessed his good luck for having freed him once again from a dangerous situation. Instead, therefore, of continuing his journey, he swung his boat round and made for home, happy in the possession of his freshly acquired knowledge. On his arrival he related everything to his wife who shed tears of joy on hearing the good news.

Early next day, hearing that the king was about to grant an audience to the foreign Envoys, the royal astrologer went to the palace. The courtiers were very glad to see him turn up, for so great was their confidence in him that they felt that their country was quite safe and that the chances were in favour of their acquiring a new kingdom. When the king entered the Hall of Audience he invited the astrologer to sit on his right while the others sat in front of him with their faces almost touching the floor. Then the real proceeding began.

First of all presents were exchanged and complimentary speeches were delivered on both sides. When these ceremonies were over the Chief Envoy addressed the king in the following terms, “Oh Mighty Monarch! The real object of our journey to your most beautiful country has already formed the subject of correspondence between your Majesty and my king. I will not therefore tire you by its recital all over again. My master commands me to show you this gourd and to ask you to say how many seeds exactly it contains. If what you say be correct his kingdom passes into your possession; but on the other hand should you be wrong your kingdom becomes the property of my master.”

Hearing these words the king smiled and turning to the astrologer near him, said, “My dear saya, it is unnecessary for me to tell you what you have got to do. Consult your starts and tell us how many seeds the fruit contain. You already know how generous I have been to you in the past. And now at this crisis, if you are able to assist me in winning a kingdom, my reward to you shall be such as to make you rejoice for all the remaining days of your life.” “Your Majesty,” replied the astrologer, “everything I have, including my life, belongs to you. By your will I am able to live, and by your will I must also die. In the present case my calculations point to one answer only, and therefore I have no hesitation in saying that this gourd contains one seed only.”

Accustomed to seeing gourds with thousands of seeds, the king turned pale when he heard the astrologer’s answer. But still having complete faith in him, with effort he restrained himself from further questioning him. The gourd was then placed upon a gold plate and was cut open in the presence of all those present. To the astonishment of every body there was but a single seed as was said by the astrologer. The foreign Envoy congratulated the king on having won his bet and on the possession of so valuable a servant. He then returned home with a heavy heart bearing the news of his sovereign’s ruin and his country’s misfortune.

As to the astrologer his fame spread far and wide. All sorts of honours and rewards were heaped upon him. He was even granted the unique privilege of entering or leaving any part of the palace at all hours, just as his own inclinations directed him. Yet in spite of all these things he was not happy. He knew he was an imposter who stood in imminent danger of being found out. He was more than satisfied with the reputation he had made and the riches he had acquired. He did not desire any more of these things. His greatest ambition now was to find a graceful way of escape from his false position

So he thus spoke to his wife one day, “My dear wife, so far I have had most wonderful luck. It has enabled me to escape two great dangers with honour to myself? Something tells me that I shall be found out on the third occasion. What I propose to do next is this. Listen carefully so that you may carry out my instructions without a hitch. Tomorrow while I am at the palace with the king you must set fire to our house. Being of thatch and bamboo it will not take long to be consumed. You must them come running to the palace to inform me about it and at the same time you must keep on repeating these words “the Astrological Tables are gone.” I will then do the rest.”

On the following day while the king was holding a grand Durbar in the Hall of Audience, a great commotion was heard outside the gates. On enquiry the king was informed that the astrologer’s wife had come to inform her husband that their house was burnt down and that everything of value, including the most precious astrological tables by which her husband made his wonderful predictions had been consumed by the fire. Hearing these words the astrologer pretended to be terribly affected. He struck his forehead with the palm of his hand and for a long time he remained silent and for a long time he remained silent and motionless with grief. Then turning to the king he said, “May it please your Majesty I am now utterly ruined. For had it been my riches alone that perished in the fire I should not have minded so much. They could have been easily replaced. But now since these precious tables are gone it is impossible to procure a similar set from anywhere else. I hope I have served your Majesty faithfully and to your satisfaction in the past; but I grieve to say I shall not be in a position to give you the same service in the future. I beseech you therefore to release me from the present responsible position for I shall in no longer be useful to you. But in recognition of my past humble service if your Majesty, in your great goodness of heart, can see fit to grant me a small pension for the rest of my life I shall have cause to consider myself exceptionally favoured.”

The king was very sad to hear of his favorite’s misfortune. And as there was northing else to be said or done in the matter he ordered a beautiful building to be erected on the site of the house that was burnt down. Next he filled it with a large retinue of servants and other equipments such as horses, carriages and so forth. Then the whole thing was made over to the astrologer with the command that for the rest of his life he was to draw from the Royal Treasury no less a sum than ten thousand gold mohurs a month.

As may be imagined the lucky astrologer was more than satisfied with the arrangements and inwardly congratulated himself upon his good fortune which once more enabled him to escape from the dangerous situation. Thus some men are born great, some achieve greatness; but there are also others who have greatness forced upon them, and it is to this third and last class that our hero the pretentious astrologer belongs.

Ref: Kogreekyaw

The Ten Simpletons

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Arakaneses' folk talks

By U San Shwe Bu

According to the old saying that birds of a feather generally flock together, so there once met in a village, by some strange fatality, ten simple rustics of similar tastes and disposition. One day while they were having breakfast under a large and shady tree, one of them began counting the number of those who were present. But forgetting to include himself he could not get beyond nine. So after going through the same process three or four times he eventually told the others that a misfortune had happened because out of ten, their original number, only nine remained, and that one of them had mysteriously disappeared. One or two disbelieved this, as they were fully certain that no one had left them form the time they first assembled together under the tree. So to satisfy themselves they began counting over again, and to their astonishment they could not get beyond the number nine, for, like the first men, each of them excluded himself in the telling. Many were the reasons put forward to account for so strange a disappearance, but somehow nobody could be fully convinced.

While these things were taking place, an old man happened to pass by that way. Seeing the men in hot dispute over something or other he addressed them thus; “My sons, if you are not actually quarrelling, you are at least very much excited and are on the verge of coming to blows. Tell me, I pray you, the nature of your dispute so that I may, if it lies in my power, settle it amicably.” So one of the men replied, “Grandfather, you are just the person we are looking for. My friends and myself are disputing as to our actual number. Some say we are only nine; but other stoutly refuse to accept this; and hence all the present excitement.” “very well,” said the old man, ” If I can convince you that you are not nine really but ten as you originally were, will you became my slaves?” To this they all agreed. They did not care what manner of works they did, provided they could be certain that all their friends were together. So the old man told each of them to bring him a stick. When this was done the men were told to count the sticks. They all counted ten, and when they were fully satisfied that their number had in no way diminished, they greatly marveled at the wisdom of the old man. So they willingly became his slaves and followed him home.

At that time the paddy was just ripe. One morning the old man sent for his newly acquired slaves and said to them. “My sons, I want you to do some reaping for me today. Don’t do the job in bits, one here and one there, but you should all keep together to one side of the field and gradually work up in a line till you come to the other side.” Unfortunately these instructions were too technical and too complicated for their simple pates, for they contained a phrase which when literally rendered meant “Put a hamadryad on one side and reap”. So totally misunderstanding the phrase, the poor rustics began their work by searching high and low for the elusive reptile. From early morn till dewy eve this went on until night approaching rapidly, the old man in his anxiety at their delay went out to investigate for himself. He found them in the midst of their fruitless search, and on enquiry one of them replied, “Oh grandfather tell us what we are to do now. The whole day long we have been searching for a hamadryad to enable us to begin our operations on the field. We have not succeeded and hence all this delay.” The old man was astonished and after having cursed their gross stupidity he explained to them what was really meant by his particularly puzzling instructions.

The next day reaping began in real earnest. By sunset the whole business was completed. When the labourers returned home with sheaves of corn on their heads the old man was unfortunately away from home. So not knowing where to deposit their loads they asked the old lady, who was then engaged in weaving, where they should do so. She happened to be extremely cranky at the time, and so she shouted at the top of her voice, “You fools, do you mean to say that you really do not know where such things are usually placed? If so place them on my head.” No sooner were the words out of her mouth than the men, impatient to relieve themselves, began discharging their loads on the hapless old lady. The result was disastrous; and her soul was instantly carried off on the wings of death.

When the old man returned home he enquired after his wife. They told him all that had happened and pointed out the spot where she was lying, at her expressed wish, beneath the sheaves of corn. Instantly he was flinging aside the heavy bundles, and, as he feared, he found his better half lying cold in death. What was to be done? The utmost he could do was do abuse them roundly for their gross stupidity.

The next day the men were ordered to go to the forest to cut firewood for the proper cremation of the body. Having arrived at the place the simpletons first selected a tree of proper girth and proportions. One of them sent up to the branch of the tree for the purpose of playing the flute so that the rest might be amused. Another was told to cut the trunk, while the remaining eight men stood in a row to receive the tree on their shoulders.

The tree was eventually cut; and in the act of falling the eight men were crushed to death and at the same time the flute player was dashed to pieces. The only survivor was the one who undertook the cutting. Sad and dejected at the loss of his friends he resolved to die also. He therefore laid himself down by the bodies of his friends and thinking that the simple process of death consisted in keeping quite still, he soon fell off to sleep.

By and by a mahout, riding his elephant, while passing that way, came across these men stretched out on the ground. Not knowing whether they were dead or alive he tried to find out by probing each prostrate figure with the iron goad he had with him. Of course there was no response from the dead; but when he touched the man who pretended to be dead and who was in reality asleep, the men jumped up in extreme surprise. He looked upon the iron goad as a marvelous instrument capable of resuscitating the dead; for was not he quite dead a little while age, and was not he now fully alive by being simply touched with the wonderful goad? So he addressed the mahout in these words, “Good mister mahout, I should very much like to posses your goad if you will let me have it; and in return I am willing to give you all the dans and axes I now have with me.” The mahout was much pleased inwardly at having come across such a simpleton, and blessed the star that guided his footsteps to that place. His goad was not of much value while the dahs and axes were far more valuable. Without therefore saying a word he handed over his goad and received the other things the man offered him, and departed.

Armed with the goad the men set out on his travels determined to earn an honest living by means of his new possession. After several days of wandering he entered a large and prosperous village where he found all the people in the deepest grief. Being very curious he asked a person what it was all about. “Don’t you know,’ replied the man, “that the richest person in the village has lost his only daughter? Being a very good and influential man in these parts we are all expressing our grief for his sad loss. Where could you have been to, so as not to have heard about this before?” Our traveler replied, “Friend, I am the stranger to the place; please overlook my ignorance. If this rich man’s daughter is dead and still in the house I have means of bringing her back to life. Go and inform him, I pray you, about my presence here, so that it he wishes it I am willing to raise her from the dead.”

For some moments the villager remained dumbfounded. Then with a long indrawn breath he ran as fast as he could towards the rich man’s house, eager to impart the wonderful information. Arrived there he related everything to the bereaved parent who, unable to believe his ears, caught the man by the arm and hurried him to the spot where he left the marvelous being. When they reached the place the rich man said “Worthy stranger, is it true that you can restore life to the dead? If so I pray you to come to my house and perform the operation without delay. I will give you such a reward as will enable you to live in comfort for the remainder of your life.”

Arrived at the house the man looked upon the serene face of the dead. He ordered a thick curtain to be placed over it so as to prevent the corpse with his goad. After the first few applications he was surprised to see that there was no response from the dead. So in the eagerness he probed the body with all his might, tearing the flesh everywhere. This went on for quite a long time. At last the bereaved parents, growing impatient to learn the result of the cure, raised the curtain to see how far the man had succeeded. To their horror and indignation they found that instead of the dead coming back to life, the remains of their daughter were mutilated beyond recognition.

The servants of the house were hastily summoned and were told to take the man outside the village and after thrashing him soundly to drive him away. When they had carried out their instructions they told him as a parting piece of advice that it would have been better for him if he had joined them in weeping and mourning from the time he first entered the village. But now, since he pretended to be what he was not, he had been justly punished.

Much puzzled and grieved at the failure of his goad he left the village. For several days he walked aimlessly on and at last he came to another village where a marriage procession was passing along its main street. He stood in the middle of the road and calmly waited for it to come up to him. As soon as it was sufficiently near he began weeping very loudly and rolled himself in the dust. He did this because he was told to do so by the people of the last village. Where upon the people who formed the procession became very angry. For they looked upon such evident signs of grief as some thing out of place, and being highly superstitious they considered the man’s conduct to be very unlucky. So they beat him severely and told him that on such occasions he should never weep but should shout, laugh and sing with gladness.

He then left the village with the parting advice fully remembered. On the way he had to pass through a thick jungle in which he saw from a distance a trapper wholly absorbed in his work. The man was hiding behind a tree trunk and was intently looking at a bird about to fall into his trap. Of course our simpleton knew nothing at all about this. As soon as he saw the man he began to shout, laugh and sing as previously advised; and on the whole he made so much noise that the bird near the trap flew away in fright.

As may be imagined the trapper was furious. With one great bound he came up to our hero and ruined merciless blow of his face and body. Then with a final kick he said, “You utter idiot, didn’t you see I was trying to catch a bird, and that to do so it was necessary to remain absolutely quiet? You should have done the same as I was then doing. But now you have spoilt it all, for which you have been justly punished. On the next occasion it will pay you to remember my instructions.” The poor simpleton begged and prayed to be excused and informed the irate trapper that his conduct was due to a piece of advice he had previously received. After faithfully promising to do all he was told he left the forest with a sad weary heart.

The next place he reached was a small village of dhobis. Now in this community there had been several thefts of late and the people were particularly careful about strangers lurking about in the nighbourhood. So when he saw from the distance that the people were engaged in washing clothes, he stealthily approached them by taking advantage of every available cover as was told to him by the trapper.

Being broad daylight the dhobis saw him soon enough. At once their suspicions were aroused and they caught him and tied him up to a tree and flogged him severely, taking him to be the thief who had robbed them. The man howled with pain and told them he was no thief but a mere traveler. He said that he approached the village in the manner he did because he was told to do so by a man he met on the way. The dhobis, finding out their mistake, soon released him; but at the same time they told him that it was entirely his fault. They said that what he should have done was to join them in their work to do exactly as they did. He would have then been given food and shelter for his services. Instead of which he now received, for his foolish conduct, a punishment he justly deserved.

Early next morning the man left the village to take up once more the course of his interrupted travels. After walking all day, and just as the sun was about to dip itself beneath the western horizon he saw a lone hut by the bank of a small stream. Instinctively he knew something was wrong there, for even from a distance he could distinctly hear the sound of blows and angry voices. He rapidly approached the hut, and in it he was amazed to see a man and woman, apparently husband and wife, engaged in a desperate struggle.

Mindful of what he was told previously in the dhobis’ village he rushed into the house and began beating both of them in turn. He did this because he really believed that it was the only way of ingratiating himself with them. But the irate couple, seeing a total stranger interfering in their affairs without any rhyme or reason, soon forgot their own differences. A common enemy had come on the scene. It was their bounden duty to get rid of him as soon as possible. So they both attacked him with curses and blows; and before long the intruder howled for mercy.

On being questioned as to the cause of his strange conduct, he told them the details of his last adventure. He said that it was because he was told to do exactly what he saw others doing and thereby earn their gratitude, that he joined them in their quarrel. “Unfortunately,” said the owner of the house, “that advice though it may do in certain cases, does not apply here at all. The proper thing for you have done was to separate as by coming in between and then to make up the quarrel by sweet words and phrases.” The man faithfully promised to do so on the next occasion. After properly aplogising for what he had done he left the house that very evening.

When night had fairly advanced he entered a dense forest. The path could not be properly seen because of the darkness. So more in prudence then in fear he climbed up a tall tree and passed the remainder of the night in fitful slumber. When day broke he was again on his legs walking rapidly through the forest. At last he came out to an open field and paused a while to consider what direction he should take. Suddenly his attention was drawn to the sight of two buffaloes charging each other with lowered heads. This went on over and over again till he was thoroughly convinced that they were really fighting.

What was he to do? He knew full well what he did on the least occasion and how badly it ended for him. So he at once decided to act on the farewell advice given by the owner of the hut he last visited. When the buffaloes separated once again before charging each other he rushed in between them. Fling wide apart his arms in opposite directions he shouted to them to stop and not to lose their temper over a trifling affair. But the maddened beasts took no notice of his antics. They came on with the furry of a tornado, and just met at the place where our hero was standing. The result was disastrous. His body was crushed and the weary soul, shuffling off its mortal coil, joyously soared away to that realm in which the nats have their uninterrupted bliss.

Ref: Kogreekyaw