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YASHPEH
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Story No. 586


The Bridegroom Who Spoke in Riddles

Book Name:

Folklore of the Santal Parganas

Tradition: India

Once upon a time there were two brothers; the elder was named Bhagrai and was married, but the younger, named Kora, was still a bachelor. One day Bhagrai’s wife asked her husband when he intended to look out for a wife for Kora, for people would think it very mean of them if they did not provide for his marriage. But to his wife’s astonishment Bhagrai flatly refused to have anything to do with the matter. He said that Kora must find a wife for himself. His wife protested that that was impossible as Kora had no money of his own, but Bhagrai would not listen to her and refused even to give Kora his share in the family property.

Bhagrai’s cruel conduct was very distressing to his wife; and one day as she was sitting picking the lice out of Kora’s head, she began to cry and Kora felt her tears dropping on to his back; he turned round and asked his sister-in-law why she was crying. She said that she could not tell him, as it would only make him unhappy, but he would not be put off and said that she had no right to have any secrets from him and at last she told him that Bhagrai had said that he must arrange his own marriage without any help from them. At this cruel news Kora began to cry too and falling on his sister-in-law’s neck he wept bitterly. Then he went and fetched his clothes and bow and arrows and flute and what other little property he had, and told his sister-in-law that he must go out into the world and seek his fortune, for he would never get a wife by staying at home. So she tied up some dried rice for him to eat by the way and let him go.

Kora set out and had not travelled far, before he fell in with an old man who was travelling in the same direction as himself and they agreed to continue their way together. After walking some miles, Kora said “I have a proposal to make: let us take it in turns to carry each other: then we shall neither of us get tired and shall do the journey comfortably.” The old man refused to have anything to do with such an extraordinary arrangement: so on they went and by and bye came to a tank which seemed a good place to rest and eat some food by. The old man sat down at the steps leading down to the water, but Kora went and sat on the bank where it was covered with rough grass. Presently he called out “Friend, I do not like the look of this tank: to whom does it belong?” The old man told him the name of the owner, “Then why has he put no post in the middle of it?” This question amazed his companion for there was the usual post sticking up in the middle of the tank in front of them: he began to think that he had fallen in with a lunatic: however he said nothing and they went on together: and presently they passed a large herd of cow-buffaloes: looking at them Kora said “Whose are these: why have they no horns?” “But they have got horns: what on earth do you mean by saying that they have not?” replied his companion, Kora however persisted “No, there is not a horn among them.” The old man began to lose his temper but they went on and presently passed by a herd of cows, most of them with bells tied round their necks. No sooner did Kora catch sight of them than he began again “Whose can these cows be? Why have they not got bells on?” “Look at the bells,” said the old man “cannot you use your eyes?” “No,” said Kora, “I cannot see a bell among them.” The old man did not think it worth while to argue with him and at evening they reached the village where he lived: and Kora asked to be allowed to stay with him for the night. So they went to his house and sat down on a string bed in the cow-shed while the women folk brought them out water to wash their feet. After sitting awhile, Kora suddenly said “Father, why did you not put up a king post when you were making this cow-shed?” Now at that very moment he was leaning against the king post and the old man was too puzzled and angry at his idiotic question to say anything: so he got up and went into the house to tell his wife to put some extra rice into the pot for their visitor. His wife and daughter at once began asking him who their guest was: he said that he knew nothing about him except that he was an absolute idiot. “What is the matter with him,” asked the daughter: “he looks quite sensible”: then her father began to tell her all the extraordinary things that Kora had said: how he had proposed that they should carry each other in turn: and had declared that there was no post in the middle of the tank: and that the buffaloes had no horns and the cows no bells: and that there was no king post to the cow house. His daughter listened attentively and then said “I think it is you, father, who have been stupid and not our guest: I understand quite well what he meant. I suppose that when he proposed that you should carry each other, you had not been doing much talking as you went along?” “That is so,” said her father, “we had not spoken for a long time:” “Then all he meant was that you should chat as you went along and so make the way seem shorter: and as to the tank, were there any trees on its banks?” “No, they were quite bare.” “Then that is what he meant when he talked about the post: he meant that the tank should have had trees planted round it: and as to the buffaloes and cows, there was doubtless no bull with either herd.” “I certainly did not notice one,” said her father. “Then that is what he was talking about: I think that it was very stupid of you not to understand him.” “Then what does he mean by the king post in the cow house” asked the old man. “He meant that there was no cross beam from wall to wall,” “Then you don’t think him a fool at all?” “No, he seems to me very sensible.” “Then perhaps you would like to have him for your husband?” “That is for you and my mother to decide.”

So the old man went off to his wife and asked her what she thought about the match and they both agreed that it would be very suitable: the girl understood Kora’s riddles so well that they seemed made for each other. So the next morning when Kora proposed to start off on his journey again, the old man asked whether he would care to stay with them and marry his daughter. Kora was delighted to find a wife so soon, and readily agreed to work for five years in his father-in-law’s house to win his bride: so a day was fixed for the betrothal ceremony, and thus Kora succeeded in arranging his own marriage.

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