Friday, 5 April 2019

Fairy Tale Friday--The Wicked Stepmother (Kashmir, 1893)

 Hello and welcome to Fairy Tale Friday. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

This week we look at a tale from Kashmir, India that is both similar and very different to versions of Cinderella we have looked at in the past. It was collected by the Reverend James Hinton-Knowles who was a British missionary in the late 1800s. I could find little information about him except that he worked for the Church Missionary Society in Srinagar, Kashmir, where he was the director of Mission’s Boys’ School from 1880-91.  He was married, with at least one daughter. The one thing we do is that he eagerly studied local folklore and published a book of folktales in 1893.  

I found a copy of his Folk-Tales of Kashmir online HERE which shed some light on the Rev Hinton-Knowles. 

He writes in the introduction:

The vocation of a missionary brings one into close and constant “ touch” with the people, from whom, as I glide along in the boat, or walk by the way, or squat in the hut, or teach in the school, I have learnt many things. My primary object in collecting these tales was to obtain some knowledge of Kashmiri, which is purely colloquial language; my secondary object was to ascertain something of the thoughts and ways of the people.

I would ask my readers to be lenient with me. I have sought not so much to present these tales in a purely literary form as to give them in a fair translation, and most of the work was done by lamplight after an ordinary amount of missionary work during the day.

This tale contains magical transformations into animals as we have seen in previous tales. In this tale, the beloved wife is transformed into a goat. When her Brahman husband sees this, he is very sad, and he kept the goat tied up in the yard of his house and tended it very carefully. Years later he remarries and has his second wife in the house and his first wife pinned up in the front yard. Awkward.  

As in other tales the magical animal helper continues to help the child (children in this case) from beyond the grave since the bones were carefully buried.

What sets this apart from other tales we have looked at is that it is not a shoe that is lost, but rather a piece of jewellery. Our beautiful daughter loses her nose ring while washing her face in the stream where (in a plot that reminds me of Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier) after a series of adventures ends up in the royal household. The King is fascinated by this and issues a proclamation that whoever is missing a nose ring should report to him. Thankfully, he doesn’t insist everyone try it on as that would be most unhygienic. Come to think of it, everyone trying on a slipper is not that hygienic either. It ends, as you would expect, with the King being so fascinated by her  pretty face and nice manner that he married her, and provided amply for the support of her family.

Image result for indian woman nose ring
The Wicked Stepmother source

One day a Brahman adjured his wife not to eat anything without him lest she should become a she goat. In reply the Brahman's wife begged him not to eat anything without her, lest he should be changed into a tiger. A long time passed by and neither of them broke their word, until one day the Brahman's wife, while giving food to her children, herself took a little to taste; and her husband was not present. That very moment she was changed into a goat.
When the Brahman came home and saw the she goat running about the house he was intensely grieved, because he knew that it was none other than his own beloved wife. He kept the goat tied up in the yard of his house and tended it very carefully.

In a few years he married again, but this wife was not kind to the children. She at once took a dislike to them and treated them unkindly and gave them little food. Their mother, the she goat, heard their complainings, and noticed that they were getting thin, and therefore called one of them to her secretly, and bade the child tell the others to strike her horns with a stick whenever they were very hungry, and some food would fall down for them. They did so, and instead of getting weaker and thinner, as their stepmother had expected, they became stronger and stronger. She was surprised to see them getting so fat and strong while she was giving them so little food.

In course of time a one-eyed daughter was born to this wicked woman. She loved the girl with all her heart and grudged not any expense or attention that she thought the child required. 

One day, when the girl had grown quite big and could walk and talk well, her mother sent her to play with the other children and ordered her to notice how and whence they obtained anything to eat. The girl promised to do so, and most rigidly stayed by them the whole day, and saw all that happened.

On hearing that the goat supplied her stepchildren with food the woman got very angry and determined to kill the beast as soon as possible. She pretended to be very ill, and sending for the hakim, bribed him to prescribe some goat's flesh for her. The Brahman was very anxious about his wife's state, and although he grieved to have to slay the goat (for he was obliged to kill the goat, not having money to purchase another), yet he did not mind if his wife really recovered. But the little children wept when they heard this, and went to their mother, the she goat, in great distress, and told her everything.

"Do not weep, my darlings," she said. "It is much better for me to die than to live such a life as this. Do not weep. I have no fear concerning you. Food will be provided for you, if you will attend to my instructions. Be sure to gather my bones, and bury them all together in some secret place, and whenever you are very hungry go to that place and ask for food. Food will then be given you."

The poor she goat gave this advice only just in time. Scarcely had it finished these words and the children had departed than the butcher came with a knife and slew it. Its body was cut into pieces and cooked, and the stepmother had the meat, but the stepchildren got the bones. They did with them as they had been directed, and thus got food regularly and in abundance.

Some time after the death of the she goat one morning one of the stepdaughters was washing her face in the stream that ran by the house, when her nose ring unfastened and fell into the water. A fish happened to see it and swallowed it, and this fish was caught by a man and sold to the king's cook for his majesty's dinner. Great was the surprise of the cook when, on opening the fish to clean it, he found the nose ring. He took it to the king, who was so interested in it that he issued a proclamation and set it to every town and village in his dominions, that whosoever had missed a nose ring should apply to him. Within a few days the brother of the girl reported to the king that the nose ring belonged to his sister, who had lost it one day while bathing her face in the river. The king ordered the girl to appear before him and was so fascinated by her pretty face and nice manner that he married her and provided amply for the support of her family.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for a tale from the Philippines with a crab as the magical helper.

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