Works of R. Tagore

 Major Works
  Kautilya's Arthashastra
  Vatsayana Kama Sutra

 Stories of India
  Tales of Panchatantra
  Indian Fairy Tales
  Stories of Birbal
  Stories of Tenali Rama
  Vikram Betal Stories
  Arabian Nights
  Alladin & Wonder Lamp
  Voyages of Sindbad

 Telugu Literature
  Ramayanam - Telugu
  Mahabharata - Telugu
  Telugu Novels (online)
  Telugu Stories (PDF)
  Moral Stories (PDF)
  Telugu Magazines

 Tamil Literature


Stories of Vikram and Betal
Betal's Second Story: Relative villany of Men and Women

<< Index of Stories of Vikram and Betal

In the great city of Bhogavati dwelt, once upon a time, a young prince, concerning whom I may say that he strikingly resembled this amiable son of your majesty.

Raja Vikram was silent, nor did he acknowledge the Baital's indirect compliment. He hated flattery, but he liked, when flattered, to be flattered in his own person; a feature in their royal patron's character which the Nine Gems of Science had turned to their own account.

Now the young prince Raja Ram (continued the tale teller) had an old father, concerning whom I may say that he was exceedingly unlike your Rajaship, both as a man and as a parent. He was fond of hunting, dicing, sleeping by day, drinking at night, and eating perpetual tonics, while he delighted in the idleness of watching nautch girls, and the vanity of falling in love. But he was adored by his children because he took the trouble to win their hearts. He did not lay it down as a law of heaven that his offspring would assuredly go to Patala if they neglected the duty of bestowing upon him without cause all their affections, as your moral, virtuous, and highly respectable fathers are only too apt----. Aie! Aie!

These sounds issued from the Vampire's lips as the warrior king, speechless with wrath, passed his hand behind his back, and viciously twisted up a piece of the speaker's skin. This caused the Vampire to cry aloud, more however, it would appear, in derision than in real suffering, for he presently proceeded with the same subject.

Fathers, great king, may be divided into three kinds; and be it said aside, that mothers are the same. Firstly, we have the parent of many ideas, amusing, pleasant, of course poor, and the idol of his children. Secondly, there is the parent with one idea and a half. This sort of man would, in your place, say to himself, "That demon fellow speaks a manner of truth. I am not above learning from him, despite his position in life. I will carry out his theory, just to see how far it goes"; and so saying, he wends his way home, and treats his young ones with prodigious kindness for a time, but it is not lasting. Thirdly, there is the real one-idea'd type of parent-yourself, O warrior king Vikram, an admirable example. You learn in youth what you are taught: for instance, the blessed precept that the green stick is of the trees of Paradise; and in age you practice what you have learned. You cannot teach yourselves anything before your beards sprout, and when they grow stiff you cannot be taught by others. If any one attempt to change your opinions you cry,

What is new is not true, What is true is not new.

and you rudely pull his hand from the subject. Yet have you your uses like other things of earth. In life you are good working camels for the mill-track, and when you die your ashes are not worse compost than those of the wise.

Your Rajaship will observe (continued the Vampire, as Vikram began to show symptoms of ungovernable anger) that I have been concise in treating this digression. Had I not been so, it would have led me far indeed from my tale. Now to return.

When the old king became air mixed with air, the young king, though he found hardly ten pieces of silver in the paternal treasury and legacies for thousands of golden ounces, yet mourned his loss with the deepest grief. He easily explained to himself the reckless emptiness of the royal coffers as a proof of his dear kind parent's goodness, because he loved him.

But the old man had left behind him, as he could not carry it off with him, a treasure more valuable than gold and silver: one Churaman, a parrot, who knew the world, and who besides discoursed in the most correct Sanscrit. By sage counsel and wise guidance this admirable bird soon repaired his young master's shattered fortunes.

One day the prince said, "Parrot, thou knowest everything: tell me where there is a mate fit for me. The shastras inform us, respecting the choice of a wife, 'She who is not descended from his paternal or maternal ancestors within the sixth degree is eligible by a high caste man for nuptials. In taking a wife let him studiously avoid the following families, be they ever so great, or ever so rich in kine, goats, sheep, gold, or grain: the family which has omitted prescribed acts of devotion; that which has produced no male children; that in which the Veda (scripture) has not been read; that which has thick hair on the body; and that in which members have been subject to hereditary disease. Let a person choose for his wife a girl whose person has no defect; who has an agreeable name; who walks gracefully, like a young elephant; whose hair and teeth are moderate in quantity and in size; and whose body is of exquisite softness.'"

"Great king," responded the parrot Churaman, "there is in the country of Magadh a Raja, Magadheshwar by name, and he has a daughter called Chandravati. You will marry her; she is very learned, and, what is better far, very fait. She is of yellow colour, with a nose like the flower of the sesamum; her legs are taper, like the plantain-tree; her eyes are large, like the principal leaf of the lotus; her eye-brows stretch towards her ears; her lips are red, like the young leaves of the mango-tree; her face is like the full moon; her voice is like the sound of the cuckoo; her arms reach to her knees; her throat is like the pigeon's; her flanks are thin, like those of the lion; her hair hangs in curls only down to her waist; her teeth are like the seeds of the pomegranate; and her gait is that of the drunken elephant or the goose."

On hearing the parrot's speech, the king sent for an astrologer, and asked him, "Whom shall I marry?" The wise man, having consulted his art, replied, "Chandravati is the name of the maiden, and your marriage with her will certainly take place." Thereupon the young Raja, though he had never seen his future queen, became incontinently enamoured of her. He summoned a Brahman, and sent him to King Magadheshwar, saying, "If you arrange satisfactorily this affair of our marriage we will reward you amply"-a promise which lent wings to the priest.

Now it so happened that this talented and beautiful princess had a jay, whose name was Madan-manjari or Love-garland. She also possessed encyclopaedic knowledge after her degree, and, like the parrot, she spoke excellent Sanscrit.

Be it briefly said, O warrior king-for you think that I am talking fables--that in the days of old, men had the art of making birds discourse in human language. The invention is attributed to a great philosopher, who split their tongues, and after many generations produced a selected race born with those members split. He altered the shapes of their skulls by fixing ligatures behind the occiput, which caused the sinciput to protrude, their eyes to become prominent, and their brains to master the art of expressing thoughts in words.

But this wonderful discovery, like those of great philosophers generally, had in it a terrible practical flaw The birds beginning to speak, spoke wisely and so well, they told the truth so persistently, they rebuked their brethren of the featherless skins so openly, they flattered them so little and they counselled them so much, that mankind presently grew tired of hearing them discourse. Thus the art gradually fell into desuetude, and now it is numbered with the things that were.

One day the charming Princess Chandravati was sitting in confidential conversation with her jay. The dialogue was not remarkable, for maidens in all ages seldom consult their confidantes or speculate upon the secrets of futurity, or ask to have dreams interpreted, except upon one subject. At last the princess said, for perhaps the hundredth time that month, "Where, O jay, is there a husband worthy of me?"

"Princess," replied Madan-manjari, "I am happy at length to be able as willing to satisfy your just curiosity. For just it is, though the delicacy of our sex--"

"Now, no preaching!" said the maiden; "or thou shalt have salt instead of sugar for supper."

Jays, your Rajaship, are fond of sugar. So the confidante retained a quantity of good advice which she was about to produce, and replied,

"I now see clearly the ways of Fortune. Raja Ram, king of Bhogavati, is to be thy husband. He shall be happy in thee and thou in him, for he is young and handsome, rich and generous, good-tempered, not too clever, and without a chance of being an invalid."

Thereupon the princess, although she had never seen her future husband, at once began to love him. In fact, though neither had set eyes upon the other, both were mutually in love.

"How can that be, sire?" asked the young Dharma Dhwaj of his father. " I always thought that--"

The great Vikram interrupted his son, and bade him not to ask silly questions. Thus he expected to neutralize the evil effects of the Baital's doctrine touching the amiability of parents unlike himself.

Now, as both these young people (resumed the Baital) were of princely family and well to do in the world, the course of their love was unusually smooth. When the Brahman sent by Raja Ram had reached Magadh, and had delivered his King's homage to the Raja Magadheshwar, the latter received him with distinction, and agreed to his proposal. The beautiful princess's father sent for a Brahman of his own, and charging him with nuptial gifts and the customary presents, sent him back to Bhogavati in company with the other envoy, and gave him this order, "Greet Raja Ram, on my behalf, and after placing the tilak or mark upon his forehead, return here with all speed. When you come back I will get all things ready for the marriage."

Raja Ram, on receiving the deputation, was greatly pleased, and after generously rewarding the Brahmans and making all the necessary preparations, he set out in state for the land of Magadha, to claim his betrothed.

In due season the ceremony took place with feasting and bands of music, fireworks and illuminations, rehearsals of scripture, songs, entertainments, processions, and abundant noise. And hardly had the turmeric disappeared from the beautiful hands and feet of the bride, when the bridegroom took an affectionate leave of his new parents--he had not lived long in the house--and receiving the dowry and the bridal gifts, set out for his own country.

Chandravati was dejected by leaving her mother, and therefore she was allowed to carry with her the jay, Madanmanian. She soon told her husband the wonderful way in which she had first heard his name, and he related to her the advantage which he had derived from confabulation with Churaman, his parrot.

"Then why do we not put these precious creatures into one cage, after marrying them according to the rites of the angelic marriage (Gandharva-lagana)?" said the charming queen. Like most brides, she was highly pleased to find an opportunity of making a match.

"Ay! why not, love ? Surely they cannot live happy in what the world calls single blessedness," replied the young king. As bridegrooms sometimes are for a short time, he was very warm upon the subject of matrimony.

Thereupon, without consulting the parties chiefly concerned in their scheme, the master and mistress, after being comfortably settled at the end of their journey, caused a large cage to be brought, and put into it both their favourites.

Upon which Churaman the parrot leaned his head on one side and directed a peculiar look at the jay. But Madan- manjari raised her beak high in the air, puffed through it once or twice, and turned away her face in extreme disdain.

"Perhaps," quoth the parrot, at length breaking silence, "you will tell me that you have no desire to be married?"

"Probably," replied the jay.

"And why?" asked the male bird.

"Because I don't choose," replied the female.

"Truly a feminine form of resolution this," ejaculated the parrot. "I will borrow my master's words and call it a woman's reason, that is to say, no reason at all. Have you any objection to be more explicit?"

"None whatever," retorted the jay, provoked by the rude innuendo into telling more plainly than politely exactly what she thought; "none whatever, sir parrot. You he-things are all of you sinful, treacherous, deceitful, selfish, devoid of conscience, and accustomed to sacrifice us, the weaker sex, to your smallest desire or convenience."

"Of a truth, fair lady," quoth the young Raja Ram to his bride, "this pet of thine is sufficiently impudent."

"Let her words be as wind in thine ear, master," interrupted the parrot. "And pray, Mistress Jay, what are you she-things but treacherous, false, ignorant, and avaricious beings, whose only wish in this world is to prevent life being as pleasant as it might be?"

"Verily, my love," said the beautiful Chandravati to her bridegroom, "this thy bird has a habit of expressing his opinions in a very free and easy way."

"I can prove what I assert," whispered the jay in the ear of the princess.

"We can confound their feminine minds by an anecdote," whispered the parrot in the ear of the prince.

Briefly, King Vikram, it was settled between the twain that each should establish the truth of what it had advanced by an illustration in the form of a story.

Chandravati claimed, and soon obtained, precedence for the jay. Then the wonderful bird, Madan-manjari, began to speak as follows:-

I have often told thee, O queen, that before coming to thy feet, my mistress was Ratnawati, the daughter of a rich trader, the dearest, the sweetest, the---

Here the jay burst into tears, and the mistress was sympathetically affected. Presently the speaker resumed---

However, I anticipate. In the city of Ilapur there was a wealthy merchant, who was without offspring; on this account he was continually fasting and going on pilgrimage, and when at home he was ever engaged in reading the Puranas and in giving alms to the Brahmans. At length, by favour of the Deity, a son was born to this merchant, who celebrated his birth with great pomp and rejoicing, and gave large gifts to Brahmans and to bards, and distributed largely to the hungry, the thirsty, and the poor. When the boy was five years old he had him taught to read, and when older he was sent to a guru, who had formerly himself been a student, and who was celebrated as teacher and lecturer.

In the course of time the merchant's son grew up. Praise be to Brahma! what a wonderful youth it was, with a face like a monkey's, legs like a stork's, and a back like a camel's. You know the old proverb:--

Expect thirty-two villanies from the limping, and eighty from the one-eyed man, But when the hunchback comes, say "Lord defend us!"

Instead of going to study, he went to gamble with other ne'er-do-weels, to whom he talked loosely, and whom he taught to be bad-hearted as himself. He made love to every woman, and despite his ugliness, he was not unsuccessful. For they are equally fortunate who are very handsome or very ugly, in so far as they are both remarkable and remarked. But the latter bear away the palm. Beautiful men begin well with women, who do all they can to attract them, love them as the apples of their eyes, discover them to be fools, hold them to be their equals, deceive them, and speedily despise them. It is otherwise with the ugly man, who, in consequence of his homeliness, must work his wits and take pains with himself, and become as pleasing as he is capable of being, till women forget his ape's face, bird's legs, and bunchy back.

The hunchback, moreover, became a Tantri, so as to complete his villanies. He was duly initiated by an apostate Brahman, made a declaration that he renounced all the ceremonies of his old religion, and was delivered from their yoke, and proceeded to perform in token of joy an abominable rite. In company with eight men and eight women-a Brahman female, a dancing girl, a weaver's daughter, a woman of ill fame, a washerwoman, a barber's wife, a milkmaid, and the daughter of a land-owner- choosing the darkest time of night and the most secret part of the house, he drank with them, was sprinkled and anointed, and went through many ignoble ceremonies, such as sitting nude upon a dead body. The teacher informed him that he was not to indulge shame, or aversion to anything, nor to prefer one thing to another, nor to regard caste, ceremonial cleanness or uncleanness, but freely to enjoy all the pleasures of sense-that is, of course, wine and us, since we are the representatives of the wife of Cupid, and wine prevents the senses from going astray. And whereas holy men, holding that the subjugation or annihilation of the passions is essential to final beatitude, accomplish this object by bodily austerities, and by avoiding temptation, he proceeded to blunt the edge of the passions with excessive indulgence. And he jeered at the pious, reminding them that their ascetics are safe only in forests, and while keeping a perpetual fast; but that he could subdue his passions in the very presence of what they most desired.

Presently this excellent youth's father died, leaving him immense wealth. He blunted his passions so piously and so vigorously, that in very few years his fortune was dissipated. Then he turned towards his neighbour's goods and prospered for a time, till being discovered robbing, he narrowly escaped the stake. At length he exclaimed, "Let the gods perish! the rascals send me nothing but ill luck!" and so saying he arose and fled from his own country.

Chance led that villain hunchback to the city of Chandrapur, where, hearing the name of my master Hemgupt, he recollected that one of his father's wealthiest correspondents was so called. Thereupon, with his usual audacity, he presented himself at the house, walked in, and although he was clothed in tatters, introduced himself, told his father's name and circumstances, and wept bitterly.

The good man was much astonished, and not less grieved, to see the son of his old friend in such woful plight. He rose up, however, embraced the youth, and asked the reason of his coming.

"I freighted a vessel," said the false hunchback, "for the purpose of trading to a certain land. Having gone there, I disposed of my merchandise, and, taking another cargo, I was on my voyage home. Suddenly a great storm arose, and the vessel was wrecked, and I escaped on a plank, and after a time arrived here. But I am ashamed, since I have lost all my wealth, and I cannot show my face in this plight in my own city. My excellent father would have consoled me with his pity. But now that I have carried him and my mother to Ganges, every one will turn against me; they will rejoice in my misfortunes, they will accuse me of folly and recklessness--alas! alas! I am truly miserable."

My dear master was deceived by the cunning of the wretch. He offered him hospitality, which was readily enough accepted, and he entertained him for some time as a guest. Then, having reason to be satisfied with his conduct, Hemgupt admitted him to his secrets, and finally made him a partner in his business. Briefly, the villain played his cards so well, that at last the merchant said to himself:

"I have had for years an anxiety and a calamity in my house. My neighbours whisper things to my disadvantage, and those who are bolder speak out with astonishment amongst themselves, saying, 'At seven or eight, people marry their daughters, and this indeed is the appointment of the law: that period is long since gone; she is now thirteen or fourteen years old, and she is very tall and lusty, resembling a married woman of thirty. How can her father eat his rice with comfort and sleep with satisfaction, whilst such a disreputable thing exists in his house? At present he is exposed to shame, and his deceased friends are suffering through his retaining a girl from marriage beyond the period which nature has prescribed.' And now, while I am sitting quietly at home, the Bhagwan (Deity) removes all my uneasiness: by his favour such an opportunity occurs. It is not right to delay. It is best that I shall give my daughter in marriage to him. Whatever can be done to-day is best; who knows what may happen to-morrow?

"Thus thinking, the old man went to his wife and said to her, "Birth, marriage, and death are all under the direction of the gods; can anyone say when they will be ours? We want for our daughter a young man who is of good birth, rich and handsome, clever and honourable. But we do not find him. If the bridegroom be faulty, thou sayest, all will go wrong. I cannot put a string round the neck of our daughter and throw her into the ditch. If, however, thou think well of the merchant's son, now my partner, we will celebrate Ratnawati's marriage with him."

The wife, who had been won over by the hunchback's hypocrisy, was also pleased, and replied, "My lord! when the Deity so plainly indicates his wish, we should do it; since, though we have sat quietly at home, the desire of our hearts is accomplished. It is best that no delay be made: and, having quickly summoned the family priest, and having fixed upon a propitious planetary conjunction, that the marriage be celebrated."

Then they called their daughter--ah, me! what a beautiful being she was, and worthy the love of a Gandharva (demigod). Her long hair, purple with the light of youth, was glossy as the bramra's[76] wing; her brow was pure and clear as the agate; the ocean-coral looked pale beside her lips, and her teeth were as two chaplets of pearls. Everything in her was formed to be loved. Who could look into her eyes without wishing to do it again? Who could hear her voice without hoping that such music would sound once more? And she was good as she was fair. Her father adored her; her mother, though a middle-aged woman, was not envious or jealous of her; her relatives doted on her, and her friends could find no fault with her. I should never end were I to tell her precious qualities. Alas, alas ! my poor Ratnawati!

So saying, the jay wept abundant tears; then she resumed:

When her parents informed my mistress of their resolution, she replied, "Sadhu-it is well!" She was not like most young women, who hate nothing so much as a man whom their seniors order them to love. She bowed her head and promised obedience, although, as she afterwards told her mother, she could hardly look at her intended, on account of his prodigious ugliness. But presently the hunchback's wit surmounted her disgust. She was grateful to him for his attention to her father and mother; she esteemed him for his moral and religious conduct; she pitied him for his misfortunes, and she finished with forgetting his face, legs, and back in her admiration of what she supposed to be his mind.

She had vowed before marriage faithfully to perform all the duties of a wife, however distasteful to her they might be; but after the nuptials, which were not long deferred, she was not surprised to find that she loved her husband. Not only did she omit to think of his features and figure; I verily believe that she loved him the more for his repulsiveness. Ugly, very ugly men prevail over women for two reasons. Firstly, we begin with repugnance, which in the course of nature turns to affection; and we all like the most that which, when unaccustomed to it, we most disliked. Hence the poet says, with as much truth as is in the male:

Never despair, O man! when woman's spite Detests thy name and sickens at thy sight: Sometime her heart shall learn to love thee more For the wild hatred which it felt before, &c.

Secondly, the very ugly man appears, deceitfully enough, to think little of his appearance, and he will give himself the trouble to pursue a heart because he knows that the heart will not follow after him. Moreover, we women (said the jay) are by nature pitiful, and this our enemies term a "strange perversity." A widow is generally disconsolate if she loses a little, wizen-faced, shrunken shanked, ugly, spiteful, distempered thing that scolded her and quarrelled with her, and beat her and made her hours bitter; whereas she will follow her husband to Ganges with exemplary fortitude if he was brave, handsome, generous---

"Either hold your tongue or go on with your story," cried the warrior king, in whose mind these remarks awakened disagreeable family reflections.

"Hi! hi! hi!" laughed the demon; "I will obey your majesty, and make Madan-manjari, the misanthropical jay, proceed."

Yes, she loved the hunchback; and how wonderful is our love! quoth the jay. A light from heaven which rains happiness on this dull, dark earth! A spell falling upon the spirit, which reminds us of a higher existence! A memory of bliss! A present delight! An earnest of future felicity! It makes hideousness beautiful and stupidity clever, old age young and wickedness good, moroseness amiable, and low-mindedness magnanimous, perversity pretty and vulgarity piquant. Truly it is sovereign alchemy and excellent flux for blending contradictions is our love, exclaimed the jay.

And so saying, she cast a triumphant look at the parrot, who only remarked that he could have desired a little more originality in her remarks.

For some months (resumed Madan-manjari), the bride and the bridegroom lived happily together in Hemgupt's house. But it is said:

Never yet did the tiger become a lamb;

and the hunchback felt that the edge of his passions again wanted blunting. He reflected, "Wisdom is exemption from attachment, and affection for children, wife, and home." Then he thus addressed my poor young mistress:

"I have been now in thy country some years, and I have heard no tidings of my own family, hence my mind is sad, I have told thee everything about myself; thou must now ask thy mother leave for me to go to my own city, and, if thou wishest, thou mayest go with me."

Ratnawati lost no time in saying to her mother, "My husband wishes to visit his own country; will you so arrange that he may not be pained about this matter?"

The mother went to her husband, and said, "Your son-in-law desires leave to go to his own country."

Hemgupt replied, " Very well; we will grant him leave. One has no power over another man's son. We will do what he wishes."

The parents then called their daughter, and asked her to tell them her real desire-whether she would go to her father-in-law's house, or would remain in her mother's home. She was abashed at this question, and could not answer; but she went back to her husband, and said, "As my father and mother have declared that you should do as you like, do not leave me behind."

Presently the merchant summoned his son-in-law, and having bestowed great wealth upon him, allowed him to depart. He also bade his daughter farewell, after giving her a palanquin and a female slave. And the parents took leave of them with wailing and bitter tears; their hearts were like to break. And so was mine.

For some days the hunchback travelled quietly along with his wife, in deep thought. He could not take her to his city, where she would find out his evil life, and the fraud which he had passed upon her father. Besides which, although he wanted her money, he by no means wanted her company for life. After turning on many projects in his evil-begotten mind, he hit upon the following:

He dismissed the palanquin-bearers when halting at a little shed in the thick jungle through which they were travelling, and said to his wife, "This is a place of danger; give me thy jewels, and I will hide them in my waist-shawl. When thou reachest the city thou canst wear them again." She then gave up to him all her ornaments, which were of great value. Thereupon he inveigled the slave girl into the depths of the forest, where he murdered her, and left her body to be devoured by wild beasts. Lastly, returning to my poor mistress, he induced her to leave the hut with him, and pushed her by force into a dry well, after which exploit he set out alone with his ill-gotten wealth, walking towards his own city.

In the meantime, a wayfaring man, who was passing through that jungle, hearing the sound of weeping, stood still, and began to say to himself, "How came to my ears the voice of a mortal's grief in this wild wood?" then followed the direction of the noise, which led him a pit, and peeping over the side, he saw a woman crying at the bottom. The traveller at once loosened his gird cloth, knotted it to his turband, and letting down the line pulled out the poor bride. He asked her who she was and how she came to fall into that well. She replied, "I am the daughter of Hemgupt, the wealthiest merchant in the city of Chandrapur; and I was journeying wit my husband to his own country, when robbers set upon us and surrounded us. They slew my slave girl, the threw me into a well, and having bound my husband they took him away, together with my jewels. I have no tidings of him, nor he of me." And so saying, she burst into tears and lamentations.

The wayfaring man believed her tale, and conducted her to her home, where she gave the same account of the accident which had befallen her, ending with, "beyond this, I know not if they have killed my husband, or have let him go." The father thus soothed her grief "Daughter! have no anxiety; thy husband is alive, and by the will of the Deity he will come to thee in a few days. Thieves take men's money, not their lives." Then the parents presented her with ornaments more precious than those which she had lost; and summoning their relations and friends, they comforted her to the best of their power.

And so did I. The wicked hunchback had, meanwhile, returned to his own city, where he was excellently well received, because he brought much wealth with him. His old associates flocked around him rejoicing; and he fell into the same courses which had beggared him before. Gambling and debauchery soon blunted his passions, and emptied his purse. Again his boon companions, finding him without a broken cowrie, drove him from their doors, he stole and was flogged for theft; and lastly, half famished, he fled the city. Then he said to himself, "I must go to my father-in-law, and make the excuse that a grandson has been born to him, and that I have come to offer him congratulations on the event."

Imagine, however, his fears and astonishment, when, as he entered the house, his wife stood before him. At first he thought it was a ghost, and turned to run away, but she went out to him and said, "Husband, be not troubled ! I have told my father that thieves came upon us, and killed the slave girl and robbed me and threw me into a well, and bound thee and carried thee off. Tell the same story, and put away all anxious feelings. Come up and change thy tattered garments-alas! some misfortune hath befallen thee. But console thyself; all is now well, since thou art returned to me, and fear not, for the house is shine, and I am thy slave."

The wretch, with all his hardness of heart, could scarcely refrain from tears. He followed his wife to her room, where she washed his feet, caused him to bathe, dressed him in new clothes, and placed food before him. When her parents returned, she presented him to their embrace, saying in a glad way, "Rejoice with me, O my father and mother! the robbers have at length allowed him to come back to us." Of course the parents were deceived, they are mostly a purblind race; and Hemgupt, showing great favour to his worthless son-in-law, exclaimed, "Remain with us, my son, and be happy!"

For two or three months the hunchback lived quietly with his wife, treating her kindly and even affectionately. But this did not last long. He made acquaintance with a band of thieves, and arranged his plans with them.

After a time, his wife one night came to sleep by his side, having put on all her jewels. At midnight, when he saw that she was fast asleep, he struck her with a knife so that she died. Then he admitted his accomplices, who savagely murdered Hemgupt and his wife; and with their assistance he carried off any valuable article upon which he could lay his hands. The ferocious wretch! As he passed my cage he looked at it, and thought whether he had time to wring my neck. The barking of a dog saved my life; but my mistress, my poor Ratnawati-ah, me! ah, me!--

"Queen," said the jay, in deepest grief, "all this have I seen with mine own eyes, and have heard with mine own ears. It affected me in early life, and gave me a dislike for the society of the other sex. With due respect to you, I have resolved to remain an old maid. Let your majesty reflect, what crime had my poor mistress committed? A male is of the same disposition as a highway robber; and she who forms friendship with such an one, cradles upon her bosom a black and venomous snake."

"Sir Parrot," said the jay, turning to her wooer, "I have spoken. I have nothing more to say, but that you he-things are all a treacherous, selfish, wicked race, created for the express purpose of working our worldly woe, and--"

"When a female, O my king, asserts that she has nothing more to say, but," broke in Churaman, the parrot with a loud dogmatical voice, "I know that what she has said merely whets her tongue for what she is about to say. This person has surely spoken long enough and drearily enough."

"Tell me, then, O parrot," said the king, "what faults there may be in the other sex."

"I will relate," quoth Churaman, "an occurrence which in my early youth determined me to live and to die an old bachelor."

When quite a young bird, and before my schooling began, I was caught in the land of Malaya, and was sold to a very rich merchant called Sagardati, a widower with one daughter, the lady Jayashri. As her father spent all his days and half his nights in his counting-house, conning his ledgers and scolding his writers, that young woman had more liberty than is generally allowed to those of her age, and a mighty bad use she made of it.

O king! men commit two capital mistakes in rearing the "domestic calamity," and these are over-vigilance and under-vigilance. Some parents never lose sight of their daughters, suspect them of all evil intentions, and are silly enough to show their suspicions, which is an incentive to evil-doing. For the weak-minded things do naturally say, "I will be wicked at once. What do I now but suffer all the pains and penalties of badness, without enjoying its pleasures?" And so they are guilty of many evil actions; for, however vigilant fathers and mothers may be, the daughter can always blind their eyes.

On the other hand, many parents take no trouble whatever with their charges: they allow them to sit in idleness, the origin of badness; they permit them to communicate with the wicked, and they give them liberty which breeds opportunity. Thus they also, falling into the snares of the unrighteous, who are ever a more painstaking race than the righteous, are guilty of many evil actions.

What, then, must wise parents do? The wise will study the characters of their children, and modify their treatment accordingly. If a daughter be naturally good, she will be treated with a prudent confidence. If she be vicious, an apparent trust will be reposed in her; but her father and mother will secretly ever be upon their guard. The one-idea'd--

"All this parrot-prate, I suppose, is only intended to vex me," cried the warrior king, who always considered himself, and very naturally, a person of such consequence as ever to be uppermost in the thoughts and minds of others. "If thou must tell a tale, then tell one, Vampire! or else be silent, as I am sick to the death of thy psychics."

"It is well, O warrior king," resumed the Baital.

After that Churaman the parrot had given the young Raja Ram a golden mine full of good advice about the management of daughters, he proceeded to describe Jayashri.

She was tall, stout, and well made, of lymphatic temperament, and yet strong passions. Her fine large eyes had heavy and rather full eyelids, which are to be avoided. Her hands were symmetrical without being small, and the palms were ever warm and damp. Though her lips were good, her mouth was somewhat underhung; and her voice was so deep, that at times it sounded like that of a man. Her hair was smooth as the kokila's plume, and her complexion was that of the young jasmine; and these were the points at which most persons looked. Altogether, she was neither handsome nor ugly, which is an excellent thing in woman. Sita the goddess[77] was lovely to excess; therefore she was carried away by a demon. Raja Bali was exceedingly generous, and he emptied his treasury. In this way, exaggeration, even of good, is exceedingly bad.

Yet must I confess, continued the parrot, that, as a rule, the beautiful woman is more virtuous than the ugly. The former is often tempted, but her vanity and conceit enable her to resist, by the self-promise that she shall be tempted again and again. On the other hand, the ugly woman must tempt instead of being tempted, and she must yield, because her vanity and conceit are gratified by yielding, not by resisting.

"Ho, there!" broke in the jay contemptuously. "What woman cannot win the hearts of the silly things called men? Is it not said that a pig-faced female who dwells in Landanpur has a lover?"

I was about to remark, my king! said the parrot, somewhat nettled, if the aged virgin had not interrupted me, that as ugly women are more vicious than handsome women, so they are most successful. "We love the pretty, we adore the plain," is a true saying amongst the worldly wise. And why do we adore the plain? Because they seem to think less of themselves than of us-a vital condition of adoration.

Jayashri made some conquests by the portion of good looks which she possessed, more by her impudence, and most by her father's reputation for riches. She was truly shameless, and never allowed herself fewer than half a dozen admirers at the time. Her chief amusement was to appoint interviews with them successively, at intervals so short that she was obliged to hurry away one in order to make room for another. And when a lover happened to be jealous, or ventured in any way to criticize her arrangements, she replied at once by showing him the door. Answer unanswerable!

When Jayashri had reached the ripe age of thirteen, the son of a merchant, who was her father's gossip and neighbour, returned home after a long sojourn in far lands, whither he had travelled in the search of wealth. The poor wretch, whose name, by-the-bye, was Shridat (Gift of Fortune), had loved her in her childhood; and he came back, as men are apt to do after absence from familiar scenes, painfully full of affection for house and home and all belonging to it. From his cross, stingy old uncle to the snarling superannuated beast of a watchdog, he viewed all with eyes of love and melting heart. He could not see that his idol was greatly changed, and nowise for the better; that her nose was broader and more club-like, her eyelids fatter and thicker, her under lip more prominent, her voice harsher, and her manner coarser. He did not notice that she was an adept in judging of men's dress, and that she looked with admiration upon all swordsmen, especially upon those who fought upon horses and elephants. The charm of memory, the curious faculty of making past time present caused all he viewed to be enchanting to him.

Having obtained her father's permission, Shridat applied for betrothal to Jayashri, who with peculiar boldness, had resolved that no suitor should come to her through her parent. And she, after leading him on by all the coquetries of which she was a mistress, refused to marry him, saying that she liked him as a friend, but would hate him as a husband.

You see, my king! there are three several states of feeling with which women regard their masters, and these are love, hate, and indifference. Of all, love is the weakest and the most transient, because the essentially unstable creatures naturally fall out of it as readily as they fall into it. Hate being a sister excitement will easily become, if a man has wit enough to effect the change, love; and hate-love may perhaps last a little longer than love-love. Also, man has the occupation, the excitement, and the pleasure of bringing about the change. As regards the neutral state, that poet was not happy in his ideas who sang--

Whene'er indifference appears, or scorn, Then, man, despair! then, hapless lover, mourn!

For a man versed in the Lila Shastra[78] can soon turn a woman's indifference into hate, which I have shown is as easily permuted to love. In which predicament it is the old thing over again, and it ends in the pure Asat or nonentity.

"Which of these two birds, the jay or the parrot, had dipped deeper into human nature, mighty King Vikram?" asked the demon in a wheedling tone of voice.

The trap was this time set too openly, even for the royal personage, to fall into it. He hurried on, calling to his son, and not answering a word. The Vampire therefore resumed the thread of his story at the place where he had broken it off.

Shridat was in despair when he heard the resolve of his idol. He thought of drowning himself, of throwing himself down from the summit of Mount Girnar,[80] of becoming a religious beggar; in short, of a multitude of follies. But he refrained from all such heroic remedies for despair, having rightly judged, when he became somewhat calmer, that they would not be likely to further his suit. He discovered that patience is a virtue, and he resolved impatiently enough to practice it. And by perseverance he succeeded. The worse for him! How vain are men to wish! How wise is the Deity, who is deaf to their wishes!

Jayashri, for potent reasons best known to herself, was married to Shridat six months after his return home. He was in raptures. He called himself the happiest man in existence. He thanked and sacrificed to the Bhagwan for listening to his prayers. He recalled to mind with thrilling heart the long years which he had spent in hopeless exile from all that was dear to him, his sadness and anxiety, his hopes and joys, his toils and troubles his loyal love and his vows to Heaven for the happiness of his idol, and for the furtherance of his fondest desires.

For truly he loved her, continued the parrot, and there is something holy in such love. It becomes not only a faith, but the best of faiths-an abnegation of self which emancipates the spirit from its straightest and earthliest bondage, the "I"; the first step in the regions of heaven; a homage rendered through the creature to the Creator; a devotion solid, practical, ardent, not as worship mostly is, a cold and lifeless abstraction; a merging of human nature into one far nobler and higher the spiritual existence of the supernal world. For perfect love is perfect happiness, and the only perfection of man; and what is a demon but a being without love? And what makes man's love truly divine, is the fact that it is bestowed upon such a thing as woman.

"And now, Raja Vikram," said the Vampire, speaking in his proper person, "I have given you Madanmanjari the jay's and Churaman the parrot's definitions of the tender passion, or rather their descriptions of its effects. Kindly observe that I am far from accepting either one or the other. Love is, according to me, somewhat akin to mania, a temporary condition of selfishness, a transient confusion of identity. It enables man to predicate of others who are his other selves, that which he is ashamed to say about his real self. I will suppose the beloved object to be ugly, stupid, vicious, perverse, selfish, low minded, or the reverse; man finds it charming by the same rule that makes his faults and foibles dearer to him than all the virtues and good qualities of his neighbours. Ye call love a spell, an alchemy, a deity. Why? Because it deifies self by gratifying all man's pride, man's vanity, and man's conceit, under the mask of complete unegotism. Who is not in heaven when he is talking of himself? and, prithee, of what else consists all the talk of lovers?"

It is astonishing that the warrior king allowed this speech to last as long as it did. He hated nothing so fiercely, now that he was in middle-age, as any long mention of the "handsome god.[81]" Having vainly endeavoured to stop by angry mutterings the course of the Baital's eloquence, he stepped out so vigorously and so rudely shook that inveterate talker, that the latter once or twice nearly bit off the tip of his tongue. Then the Vampire became silent, and Vikram relapsed into a walk which allowed the tale to be resumed.

Jayashri immediately conceived a strong dislike for her husband, and simultaneously a fierce affection for a reprobate who before had been indifferent to her. The more lovingly Shridat behaved to her, the more vexed end annoyed she was. When her friends talked to her, she turned up her nose, raising her eyebrows (in token of displeasure), and remained silent. When her husband spoke words of affection to her, she found them disagreeable, and turning away her face, reclined on the bed. Then he brought dresses and ornaments of various kinds and presented them to her, saying, "Wear these." Whereupon she would become more angry, knit her brows, turn her face away, and in an audible whisper call him "fool." All day she stayed out of the house, saying to her companions, "Sisters, my youth is passing away, and I have not, up to the present time, tasted any of this world's pleasures." Then she would ascend to the balcony, peep through the lattice, and seeing the reprobate going along, she would cry to her friend, "Bring that person to me." All night she tossed and turned from side to side, reflecting in her heart, "I am puzzled in my mind what I shall say, and whither I shall go. I have forgotten sleep, hunger, and thirst; neither heat nor cold is refreshing to me."

At last, unable any longer to support the separation from her reprobate paramour, whom she adored, she resolved to fly with him. On one occasion, when she thought that her husband was fast asleep, she rose up quietly, and leaving him, made her way fearlessly in the dark night to her lover's abode. A footpad, who saw her on the way, thought to himself, "Where can this woman, clothed in jewels, be going alone at midnight?" And thus he followed her unseen, and watched her.

When Jayashri reached the intended place, she went into the house, and found her lover lying at the door. He was dead, having been stabbed by the footpad; but she, thinking that he had, according to custom, drunk intoxicating hemp, sat upon the floor, and raising his head, placed it tenderly in her lap. Then, burning with the fire of separation from him, she began to kiss his cheeks, and to fondle and caress him with the utmost freedom and affection.

By chance a Pisach (evil spirit) was seated in a large fig-tree opposite the house, and it occurred to him, when beholding this scene, that he might amuse himself in a characteristic way. He therefore hopped down from his branch, vivified the body, and began to return the woman's caresses. But as Jayashri bent down to kiss his lips, he caught the end of her nose in his teeth, and bit it clean off. He then issued from the corpse, and returned to the branch where he had been sitting.

Jayashri was in despair. She did not, however, lose her presence of mind, but sat down and proceeded to take thought; and when she had matured her plan she arose, dripping with blood, and walked straight home to her husband's house. On entering his room she clapped her hand to her nose, and began to gnash her teeth, and to shriek so violently, that all the members of the family were alarmed. The neighbours also collected in numbers at the door, and, as it was bolted inside, they broke it open and rushed in, carrying lights. There they saw the wife sitting upon the ground with her face mutilated, and the husband standing over her, apparently trying to appease her.

"O ignorant, criminal, shameless, pitiless wretch!" cried the people, especially the women; "why hast thou cut off her nose, she not having offended in any way?"

Poor Shridat, seeing at once the trick which had been played upon him, thought to himself: "One should put no confidence in a changeful mind, a black serpent, or an armed enemy, and one should dread a woman's doings. What cannot a poet describe? What is there that a saint (jogi) does not know? What nonsense will not a drunken man talk? What limit is there to a woman's guile? True it is that the gods know nothing of the defects of a horse, of the thundering of clouds, of a woman's deeds, or of a man's future fortunes. How then can we know?" He could do nothing but weep, and swear by the herb basil, by his cattle, by his grain, by a piece of gold, and by all that is holy, that he had not committed the crime.

In the meanwhile, the old merchant, Jayashri's father, ran off, and laid a complaint before the kotwal, and the footmen of the police magistrate were immediately sent to apprehend the husband, and to carry him bound before the judge. The latter, after due examination, laid the affair before the king. An example happening to be necessary at the time, the king resolved to punish the offence with severity, and he summoned the husband and wife to the court.

When the merchant's daughter was asked to give an account of what had happened, she pointed out the state of her nose, and said, "Maharaj! why inquire of me concerning what is so manifest?" The king then turned to the husband, and bade him state his defence. He said, "I know nothing of it," and in the face of the strongest evidence he persisted in denying his guilt.

Thereupon the king, who had vainly threatened to cut off Shridat's right hand, infuriated by his refusing to confess and to beg for mercy, exclaimed, "How must I punish such a wretch as thou art?" The unfortunate man answered, "Whatever your majesty may consider just, that be pleased to do." Thereupon the king cried, "Away with him, and impale him"; and the people, hearing the command, prepared to obey it.

Before Shridat had left the court, the footpad, who had been looking on, and who saw that an innocent man was about to be unjustly punished, raised a cry for justice and, pushing through the crowd, resolved to make himself heard. He thus addressed the throne: "Great king, the cherishing of the good, and the punishment of the bad, is the invariable duty of kings." The ruler having caused him to approach, asked him who he was, and he replied boldly, " Maharaj! I am a thief, and this man is innocent and his blood is about to be shed unjustly. Your majesty has not done what is right in this affair." Thereupon the king charged him to tell the truth according to his religion; and the thief related explicitly the whole circumstances, omitting of course, the murder.

"Go ye," said the king to his messengers, "and look in the mouth of the woman's lover who has fallen dead. If the nose be there found, then has this thief-witness told the truth, and the husband is a guiltless man."

The nose was presently produced in court, and Shridat escaped the stake. The king caused the wicked Jayashri's face to be smeared with oily soot, and her head and eyebrows to be shaved; thus blackened and disfigured, she was mounted upon a little ragged-limbed ass and was led around the market and the streets, after which she was banished for ever from the city. The husband and the thief were then dismissed with betel and other gifts, together with much sage advice which neither of them wanted.

"My king," resumed the misogyne parrot, "of such excellencies as these are women composed. It is said that 'wet cloth will extinguish fire and bad food will destroy strength; a degenerate son ruins a family, and when a friend is in wrath he takes away life. But a woman is an inflicter of grief in love and in hate, whatever she does turns out to be for our ill. Truly the Deity has created woman a strange being in this world.' And again, 'The beauty of the nightingale is its song, science is the beauty of an ugly man, forgiveness is the beauty of a devotee, and the beauty of a woman is virtue-but where shall we find it?' And again, 'Among the sages, Narudu; among the beasts, the jackal; among the birds, the crow; among men, the barber; and in this world woman-is the most crafty.'

"What I have told thee, my king, I have seen with mine own eyes, and I have heard with mine own ears. At the time I was young, but the event so affected me that I have ever since held female kind to be a walking pest, a two-legged plague, whose mission on earth, like flies and other vermin, is only to prevent our being too happy. O, why do not children and young parrots sprout in crops from the ground-from budding trees or vinestocks?"

"I was thinking, sire," said the young Dharma Dhwaj to the warrior king his father, "what women would say of us if they could compose Sanskrit verses!"

"Then keep your thoughts to yourself," replied the Raja, nettled at his son daring to say a word in favour of the sex. "You always take the part of wickedness and depravity---"

"Permit me, your majesty," interrupted the Baital, "to conclude my tale."

When Madan-manjari, the jay, and Churaman, the parrot, had given these illustrations of their belief, they began to wrangle, and words ran high. The former insisted that females are the salt of the earth, speaking, I presume, figuratively. The latter went so far as to assert that the opposite sex have no souls, and that their brains are in a rudimental and inchoate state of development. Thereupon he was tartly taken to task by his master's bride, the beautiful Chandravati, who told him that those only have a bad opinion of women who have associated with none but the vicious and the low, and that he should be ashamed to abuse feminine parrots, because his mother had been one.

This was truly logical.

On the other hand, the jay was sternly reproved for her mutinous and treasonable assertions by the husband of her mistress, Raja Ram, who, although still a bridegroom, had not forgotten the gallant rule of his syntax--

The masculine is more worthy than the feminine;

till Madan-manjari burst into tears and declared that her life was not worth having. And Raja Ram looked at her as if he could have wrung her neck.

In short, Raja Vikram, all the four lost their tempers, and with them what little wits they had. Two of them were but birds, and the others seem not to have been much better, being young, ignorant, inexperienced, and lately married. How then could they decide so difficult a question as that of the relative wickedness and villany of men and women? Had your majesty been there, the knot of uncertainty would soon have been undone by the trenchant edge of your wit and wisdom, your knowledge and experience. You have, of course, long since made up your mind upon the subject? Dharma Dhwaj would have prevented his father's reply. But the youth had been twice reprehended in the course of this tale, and he thought it wisest to let things take their own way.

"Women," quoth the Raja, oracularly, "are worse than we are; a man, however depraved he may be, ever retains some notion of right and wrong, but a woman does not. She has no such regard whatever."

"The beautiful Bangalah Rani for instance?" said the Baital, with a demonaic sneer.

At the mention of a word, the uttering of which was punishable by extirpation of the tongue, Raja Vikram's brain whirled with rage. He staggered in the violence of his passion, and putting forth both hands to break his fall, he dropped the bundle from his back. Then the Baital, disentangling himself and laughing lustily, ran off towards the tree as fast as his thin brown legs would carry him. But his activity availed him little.

The king, puffing with fury, followed him at the top of his speed, and caught him by his tail before he reached the siras-tree, hurled him backwards with force, put foot upon his chest, and after shaking out the cloth, rolled him up in it with extreme violence, bumped his back half a dozen times against the stony ground, and finally, with a jerk, threw him on his shoulder, as he had done before.

The young prince, afraid to accompany his father whilst he was pursuing the fiend, followed slowly in the rear, and did not join him for some minutes.

But when matters were in their normal state, the Vampire, who had endured with exemplary patience the penalty of his impudence, began in honeyed accents,

"Listen, O warrior king, whilst thy servant recounts unto thee another true tale."

<< Index of Stories of Vikram and Betal

home      contact us