Story of the Wise Old Woman
By Dibyajyoti Sarma
King Chandrakanta Singh of Pragjyotishpur was a whimsical man. Though he thought of himself as the most intelligent man in the whole kingdom, in reality, he was stupid and a buffoon. Every one in the kingdom knew this, but they feared him so much that no one dared to say against him.
Recently, the king had implemented a new law, according to which no one in the kingdom was allowed to use any light after nightfall. He was so much in love with his subjects that he though it was a crime to keep them awake after the sun was gone. Hence this edict; none should be awake after nightfall. The king made sure that the decree was observed sternly. The king's men roamed around the city and peeped into every household to see if somebody was awake and, if there were lights somewhere.
Bhanumati was an old woman who lived with her granddaughter in a small hut at the outskirts of the city. She was too old to provide good means of food and accommodation to her granddaughter. The only thing she could do is to make dolls from old rags and sell them in the city. As she had to be outside her house selling dolls, the only time she could actually find to manufacture her dolls was the night. After the king's law was forcefully implemented, Bhanumati was scared to light a lamp and work at night. Soon all her stock of dolls was over, and as there was nothing else to sell, she and her granddaughter began to starve.
Finally, after starving for one whole week, Bhanumati decided that enough was enough. They surely could not starve to death. It would be far better if the king caught her awake at nigh and hung her. That night, Bhanumati lit a small earthen diya of mustard oil. She put the diya under her bed and began her work. Two nights passed without any mishap. On the third night, to her misfortune, Bhanumati was caught. It was a dark night, and one of the king's soldiers, who was surprising not asleep, saw a small dot of yellow glimmering somewhere, chased it, and found Bhanumati at her nocturnal trade.
The next morning, Bhanumati was presented before the king. She looked frail and was shivering from dread. The king only had a look of her and, began to abuse her. He called her names, and told her that though she was old enough to die any day, she had not had any shame to treason against a revered king who always thought of his subjects. Bhanumati scared and shuddered tried to defend herself saying that she never thought of treason. She only did so in order to get her granddaughter some food. But the king would hear none of it.
After much abuse, the king ordered his men, "Take this wretched old woman to the market and have her ears and nose severed. This is a worthy punishment to anybody who thinks of treason."
Bhanumati was thunderstruck. If that happened, if the king cut her ears and nose, them she and her granddaughter had to die surely; for she wouldn’t be able to go on hawking her dolls with a face without ears and nose. She had to do something to prevent the king.
As the king's verdict was over, Bhanumati jumped up. She prostrated upon the floor, and begun to hail the king. "Oh, my benevolent king, how great you are! You are so intelligent, so kind-hearted!" The she started to sing in a clear, loud voice:
"Oh my sweet king, how clever
If you cut my nose and ears
It’ll grow again, year after years
But if you cut my hair, it’ll grow never."
Thus singing for several times, she began, "Oh my king, you are so worthy, you are so benevolent, you are so wise! You knew my predicament very well. If I cut my hair, it never grows. But if I cut my nose or my ears, it grows the very next year." Bhanumati went on and on in her speech.
At first the king did not believe a word what Bhanumati was saying. But finally he gave in. He began to believe that what that woman was saying was probably true. He pondered over the matter for a long time. Then he changed his verdict. He ordered his men, "take this stupid lady to the market and bestow the best punishment she deserves. Cut her hair for good, and spare her nose and ears."
Bhanumati was so happy at the success of her plan that she gave out a cry of happiness, which she quickly converted into a cry of sheer despair. She fell upon the king's feet and asked for forgiveness. But the foolish king was only too happy in his decree to listen.
Bhanumati was duly taken into the market and the punishment was done. After the last strand of hair was taken off from her head, Bhanumati quickly slipped away from the spot with a vow of never to show her face again to the king or the king's men.
Thus the way wise Bhanumati saved her face from the clutches of a wicked king.