Palo

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There was once a man named Dhuju, and he had sons named Ret Mongla, Saru Sama and Chapat champa; and their wives were named Chibo, Porbet and Palo.

One rainy season the family was busy with the ploughing: Ret Mongla used to take the plough cattle out to get some grazing before the sun rose; and his two brothers took the ploughs to the fields a little later and the old father used to look on and tell them what to do. It was their practice when they wanted to attract each other’s attention to call out: “Ho!” and not “Ya!” or “Brother.” One day it had been arranged that they should sow gundli in a field; but when the eldest brother arrived at the place with the bullocks ready to plough he found that his two brothers had not turned up with the ploughs; so he began to call “Pal, ho!” (Pal = plough share).

Now just then the wife of the youngest brother, Palo, had gone towards that field to throw away the sweepings of the cowshed and she thought Ret Mongla was calling her name; this surprised her and made her very angry; and she made up her mind to pay him back and then if she were scolded for not paying proper respect to her husband’s eldest brother to explain that he had insulted her first. So that morning when she took out their breakfast to the men working in the field, she pretended to be in great hurry, and putting down her basket near the place where the three brothers were ploughing, called out to them: “Come, stop ploughing,” and then with scarcely an interval: “Look sharp and come and eat; or if you don’t I will take your breakfast away again.” So the brothers stopped their work and ate their breakfasts.

But when Palo had gone back and they were sitting having a chew of tobacco, the eldest brother began: “Did you notice how that girl behaved to me just now; she spoke to me in a most rude way as if I were not a person to whom she owed respect.” The other two said that they had noticed it themselves, and her husband Chapat Champa said that he would punish her for it when he got home. Directly he got to the house he began scolding her and she made no answer, but that night when they were alone together she told him that what she had done was because Ret Mongla had insulted her by calling her by name. The next day her mother-in-law took her to task but Palo gave the same explanation.

Then Ret Mongla’s mother went to him and asked him whether there was any truth in this counter-charge; he saw at once what had happened and explained that he had never called out his sister-in-law by name; he had called out for the plough; “Pal ho! Pal ho! because his brothers had not got the ploughs ready; when Palo understood what a mistake she had made, she was covered with confusion and they brought water and she washed Ret Mongla’s feet as she had done on the day of her marriage, and they salaamed to each other and peace was restored. But if the mistake had not been explained Palo would have been turned out of the family.