The Father and the Father-in-Law

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

There was once a Raja who had five sons and his only daughter was married to a neighbouring Raja.

In the course of time this Raja fell into poverty; all his horses and cattle died and his lands were sold. At last they had even to sell their household utensils and clothes for food. They had only cups and dishes made of gourds to use and the Raja’s wife and sons had to go and work as day labourers in order to get food to eat. At last one day the Raja made up his mind to go and visit his married daughter and ask her husband’s family to give him a brass cup (bāti) that he might have something suitable to drink out of. Off he went and when he reached the house he was welcomed very politely by his daughter’s father-in-law and given a seat and water to wash his feet, and a hookah was produced and then the following conversation began.

“Where have you come from, father of my daughter-in-law?”

“I have walked from home, father of my son-in-law?”

“You come here so often that you make me quite frightened! How is it? Is it well with you and yours? with body and skin? Would it not be well for us to exchange news?”

“Yes indeed; for how can you know how I am getting on if I do not tell you. By your kind enquiries my life has grown as big as a mountain, my bosom is as broad as a mat, and my beard has become as long as a buffalo horn.”

“And I also, father of my daughter-in-law, am delighted at your coming and enquiring about me; otherwise I should wonder where you had settled down, and be thinking that you did not know the way relations should behave to each other; at present, I am glad to say, the seed left after sowing, the living who have been left behind by death, by your favour and the goodness of God, are all doing well. Is it not a proverb. ‘The eye won’t walk, but the ear will go and come back in no time. Now the ear is the visitor and so far as it has looked our friends up, it is well with all, so far as I know.”

The other answered; “Then I understand that by the goodness of God, all is very well with you all, O father of my son-in-law. That is what we want, that it may be well with us, body and soul.”

“Life is our wealth; life is great wealth. So long as life lasts wealth will come. Even if there is nothing in the house, we can work and earn wealth, but if life goes where shall we obtain it?”

The visitor answered “That is true; and we have been suffering much from the ‘standing’ disease; (i.e. hunger) I have tried to get medicine to cure it in vain; the Doctors know of none. I should be greatly obliged if you could give me some medicine for it.”

“The very same disease has overflowed this part of the country” was the reply:—at this they both laughed; and the visitor resumed,—

“Don’t they say ‘we asked after them and they did not ask anything about us in return;’? it is right now for me to ask how you are getting on” and so saying he proceeded in his turn to put the same questions and to receive the same answers.

Then they went out and bathed and came back and had some curds and rice and sat for a while smoking their hookahs. Then a goat was killed and cooked and they had a grand feast. But the Raja did not forget about the bati, and he took his daughter aside and told her to sound her mother-in-law about it. She brought back a message that if he wanted anything he should ask for it himself. So he went very shamefacedly to his host and told him that be must he leaving: “Well, good-bye, are you sure you only came to pay us a visit and had no other object?” The Raja seized the opening that this reply gave him and said “Yes, I had something in my mind; we are so poor now that we have not even a brass cup to drink out of, and I hoped that you would give me one of yours.”

“My dear Sir, you say that you have gourds to drink but of: we have not even that; we have to go down to the stream and drink out of our hands; I certainly cannot give you a bati.” At this rebuff the poor Raja got up and went away feeling very angry at the manner in which he had been treated.

When he reached home the Raja vowed that he would not even live in the neighbourhood of such faithless friends so he went with all his family to a far country. In their new home his luck changed and he prospered so much that in a few years he became the Raja of the country.

Meanwhile the other Raja—the father-in-law,—fell into such poverty that he and his family had to beg for their living.

The first Raja heard about this and made a plan to attract them to the place where he lived. He ordered a great tank to be dug and promised the workers one pice for each basket of earth they removed. This liberal wage attracted labourers from all sides; they came in such numbers that they looked like ants working and among them came the father-in-law and his family and asked the Raja for work. The Raja recognised them at once though they did not know him; at first the sight of their distress pleased him but then he reflected that if he cherished anger Chando would be angry with him, so he decided to treat them well and invited them to his palace. The poor creatures thought that they were probably doomed for sacrifice but could only do as they were bid. Great was their amazement when they were well fed and entertained and when they learnt who their benefactor was they burst into tears; and the Raja pointed out to them how wrong it was to laugh at the poor, because wealth might all fly away as theirs had done.