The Cruel Sisters-in-Law

A Santhal Pargana Tale

translated by Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time there lived six brothers who had one sister. The brothers were all married and their wives hated their sister-in-law. It happened that the brothers all went away to trade in a far country and her sisters-in-law took the opportunity to illtreat the girl. They said “If you do not obey us and do what we tell you we will kill you.” The girl said that she would obey their behests to the best of her ability. They said “Then go to the well and bring this earthen pot back full of water.” The khalsi had a large hole in the bottom so that as fast as it was filled the water ran out. The girl took the pot to the well and sitting down began to weep over her fate. As she wept a large frog rose out of the water and asked her what was the matter. She said “My last hour has come. If I cannot fill this pot with water I shall be killed and it has a hole in the bottom.” The frog said, “Be comforted, I will cure that: I will sit on the hole and stop it up with my body and you will be able to fill it.” This it did and the girl took the water back to the house. The sisters-in-law were very angry but could say nothing so they set her another task. They told her to go the jungle and bring home a full bundle of sticks: but she was not to take any rope with which to tie them. The girl collected a large quantity of sticks and then sat down and cried because she was unable to carry them home: as she cried a large snake came up and asked what was the matter. The girl told him, whereupon the snake said that he would curl himself round the sticks and serve as a rope. This he did and the girl was able to carry the sticks home on her head. Defeated in this attempt the sisters-in-law the next day told the girl to go to a field of pulse which had been sown the day before and bring back all the grain by the evening. The girl went to the field and picked up a few grains but it had been sown broadcast and the girl soon saw that the task was hopeless: she sat down and cried and as she cried a flock of pigeons flew to her and asked her what was the matter: she said that she could not pick up all the grain in the field. They said that that was easily managed, and the pigeons spreading over the field soon picked up all the grain and put it into the girl’s basket, so that by evening she returned with the basket full. The sisters-in-law were more than ever enraged. They gave her a pot and told her that she must go to the jungle and bring it back full of bear’s milk. The girl went to the jungle and being very frightened sat down and began to cry: a large she bear came by and asked what was the matter. The girl explained and the she bear, sorry for her distress willingly allowed herself to be milked without doing the girl any harm. The sisters-in-law then resolved to make a more direct attempt on the girl’s life. They took her into the jungle and told her to climb a certain tree and pick them the fruit. The tree had a tall smooth trunk and the girl had to climb the tree by driving pegs into the trunk. When she reached the branches the sisters-in-law pulled the pegs out of the tree and went home leaving the girl to starve. Night came on and the girl stayed in the tree: it so happened that that day the six brothers were returning home and being benighted stopped to sleep under that very tree. The girl thought that they were dacoits and stayed still. She could not help crying in her despair and a warm tear fell on the face of one the brothers sleeping below and woke him up. He looked, up and recognized his sister. The brothers soon rescued her and when they heard of the cruelty of their wives they went home and put them all to death.