The Divorce

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There was once a man who had reason to suspect his wife’s faithfulness. He first tried threatening and scolding her; but this had no good effect, for far from being ashamed she only gave him back harder words than she received. So he set to work to find some way of divorcing her without making a scandal. One day when he came home with a fine basket of fish which he had caught he found that his father-in-law had come to pay them a visit. As he cleaned the fish he grumbled at the thought that his wife would of course give all the best of them to her father; at last an idea struck him. As he handed over the fish to his wife he told her to be careful not to give her father the heads of the mangri fish nor the dust of tobacco, as it was very wrong to give either of those things to a visitor. “Very well,” she answered; but to herself she thought “What does he mean by forbidding me to do these things? I shall take care to give my father nothing but the heads of the fish” for her pleasure was to thwart her husband. So when the evening meal was ready she filled a separate plate for her father with nothing but the fish heads. As her husband heard the old man munching and crunching the bones he smiled to himself at the success of the plot. When his father was about to leave he asked for some tobacco, and the woman brought him only tobacco dust which she had carefully collected out of the bottom of the bag. The old gentleman went off without a word but very disappointed with his treatment.

A few days later the woman went to visit her father’s house, and then he at once asked her what she meant by treating him as she had done. “I am sorry,” said she: “I did it to spite my husband; he went out of his way to tell me not to give you the heads of the fish and the dust of tobacco, and so I picked out nothing but heads for you and gave you all the tobacco dust I could collect because I was so angry with him.” From this her father easily understood that husband and wife were not getting on well together.

Time passed and one day her mother went to visit the troublesome wife. As she was leaving, her daughter asked whether there was any special reason for her coming. Her mother admitted that she had come hoping to borrow a little oil to rub on the cattle at the coming Sohrae festival, but as her son-in-law was not there she did not like to mention it and would not like to take any without his consent. “O never mind him!” said the woman and insisted on her mother taking away a pot—not of cheap mowah or mustard oil,—but of ghee.

Now a little girl saw her do this and the tale was soon all over the village; but the undutiful wife never said a word about it to her husband, and it was only after some days that he heard from others of his wife’s extravagance. When it did reach his ears he seized the opportunity and at once drove her out of the house, and when a panchayat was called insisted on divorcing her for wasting his substance behind his back. No one could deny that the reason was a good one and so the panchayat had to allow the divorce. Thus he got rid of his wife without letting his real reason for doing so be known.