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YASHPEH
International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 553


The Strong Man

Book Name:

Folklore of the Santal Parganas

Tradition: India

There was once a Strong man but no one knew of his strength. He was in the service of a farmer who made him headman over all his labourers. In those days much of the country was still covered with jungle. One day the farmer chose a piece of forest land which he thought suitable for cultivation and told his labourers to set to work and clear it, and as usual after giving his orders he troubled himself no more about the matter, as he could fully rely on the Strong man.

The next morning, the Strong man set the other labourers to work ploughing a field and then said that he would go and have a look at the jungle which his master wanted cleared. So he went off alone with only a stick in his hand. When he reached the place, he walked all round it, and saw how much could be made into good arable land, and then he began to clear it. He pulled up the trees by the roots and piled them into a heap and he took the rocks and threw them to one side and made the ground quite clear and smooth, and then went back to the house. On being asked why he had been so long away, he answered that he had been pulling up a few bushes at the place which was to be cleared.

The following morning the Strong man told the farm labourers to take their ploughs to the clearing and begin to plough it. When the farmer heard this, he was puzzled to think how the land could be ready for ploughing so soon, and went to see it and to his amazement found the whole land cleared, every tree pulled up by the roots and all the rocks removed.

Then he asked the Strong man whether he had done the work by himself. The Strong man answered “no,” a number of people had volunteered to help him and so the work had been finished in a day.

The farmer said nothing but he did not believe the story and saw that his servant must really be a man of marvellous strength. Neither he nor the farm labourers let any one else know what had happened, they kept it to themselves.

Now the Strong man’s wages were twelve measures of rice a year. After working for four years he made up his mind to leave his master and start farming on his own account. So he told the farmer that he wished to leave but offered to finish any work there was to do before he went, that no one might be able to say that he had gone away, leaving his work half done. The farmer assured him that there was nothing for him to do and gave him rice equal to his four years’ wages. The rice made two big bandis, each more than an ordinary man could lift, but the Strong man slung them on to a bamboo and carried them off over his shoulder.

After he had gone a little way, it struck the farmer that it would not do to let him display his strength in this way and that it would be better if he took the rice away at night. So he had the Strong man called back and told him that there was one job which he had forgotten to finish; he had put two bundles of sahai grass into the trough to steep and had forgotten to twist it into string. Without a word the Strong man wait and picked the sabai out of the water and began to twist it, but he could tell at once by the feel that the sabai had only just been placed in the water and he charged the farmer with playing a trick on him. The farmer swore that there was no trick and, rather than quarrel, the Strong man went on with the work.

While he was so engaged the farmer offered him some tobacco, and the Strong man took it without washing and wiping his hands. Now no one should prepare or chew tobacco while twisting sabai; if one does not first wash and dry one’s hands one’s strength will go. The Strong man knew this, but he was so angry at being called back on false pretences that he forgot all about it.

But when he had finished the string and the farmer said that he might go, he essayed to take up the two bandis of rice as before. To his sorrow he found that he could not lift them. Then he saw the mistake that he had made. He had to leave one bandi behind and divide the other into two halves and sling them on the bamboo and carry them off with him.

The Strong man’s cultivation did not prosper, and after three or four years he found himself at the end of his means and had again to take service with a farmer.

One day when field work was in full swing the Strong man had a quarrel with his new master. So when he had finished the morning’s ploughing he pulled the iron point of the ploughshare out of its socket and snapped it in two. Then he took the pieces to his master and explained that it had caught on the stump of a tree and got broken. The master took the broken share to the blacksmith and had it mended. The next day the Strong man went through the same performance and his master had again to go the blacksmith. The same thing happened several days running, till at last the farmer decided to keep watch and see what really happened. So he hid himself and saw the Strong man snap the ploughshare in two; but in view of such a display of strength he was much too frightened to let his servant know that he had found out the trick that was being played on him. He took the pieces to the blacksmith as usual and at the smithy he found some of his friends and told them what had happened. They advised him to set the Strong man to twisting sabai string and then by some pretext induce him to take tobacco. The farmer did as they advised and in about a fortnight the Strong man lost all his strength and became as other men. Then his master dismissed him and he had to go back to his house and his strength never returned to him.

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