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YASHPEH
International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 628


The Three Fools

Book Name:

Folklore of the Santal Parganas

Tradition: India

Once upon a time three men were sitting at the foot of a tamarind tree and a stranger came up to them with a bunch of plantains on his shoulder and he put the plantains on the ground in front of them and bowed and went away. Thereupon the three men began to quarrel as to who was to have the plantains; each said that they were his because it was to him that the man had bowed. So they started calling each other “Fool” and after quarrelling for some time one said “Well, yes, I admit that I am a great fool” and the other two asked why he thought himself a fool and he said “Well one day my wife went to the jungle with the other village women to get firewood and left our baby in my charge; as she was a long time coming back the child became hungry and began to cry; I walked him about but he would not stop crying; I tried to feed him with rice and with rice water and with Gur and with cow’s milk but he would not eat or stop crying; I was in despair when his mother came back and took him up and gave him the breast and the child was quiet at once.

Seeing this I said to my wife “Human milk must be sweeter than anything else.” My wife said “Who can say whether it is nice; we all drink it when we are infants; but when we grow up we cannot say what it is like.” Then I said that I would try what it was like and I sucked her breast and found that it was much sweeter than cow’s milk; after that I formed the habit and used to drink her milk every day; and as I left none for the child it died soon afterwards of starvation; this shows what a fool I am.”

Then one of the other men said “But I am a bigger fool than you.” And they asked him in what way; and he said “I was married and was very much in love with my wife; once when she had gone on a visit to her father’s I went to fetch her home; and she was got up in all her finery, with her hair well dressed and vermilion on her forehead and red arta on her feet. On our way home it began to rain and we took shelter in a village; and when the shower was over we went on; and we came to a river which was in flood from the rain; the water was up to a man’s armpits and I decided to carry my wife across so that the arta on her feet might not get washed off. So I took her on my shoulder and to prevent her feet getting wet I held her feet uppermost and as her head was under water when I got across I found that she had been drowned; and if I had not been such a fool she would not have been killed.”

Then the third man said “And I also am a fool. I had quarrelled with my own family so I lived with my wife in a house alone at the end of the village and we had no children. Now I was very fond of smoking; and one night I wanted a light for my hookah but there was none in the house; so I started to go and ask for a light from some neighbour; but as it was very dark I did not like to leave my wife all alone: nor did I like to send her out alone to ask for the light; so at last I took my hookah in my hand and set my wife astride on my shoulder and went round from house to house like that, asking for a light; and all the villagers laughed like anything; so I am a fool.” Then they agreed that they were all three fools and had better divide the plantains equally among them and go home; and that is what they did.

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