Bengal: The Origin of Opium (cont.)

This story is part of the Bengali Folktales unit. Story source: Folk-Tales of Bengal by the Rev. Lal Behari Day, with illustrations by Warwick Goble (1912).

The Origin of Opium (cont.)

Summer came on with its drought. As a monkey he found it hard to drink water out of a river or of a pool, and he saw the wild boars splashing in the water all the day long. He envied their lot, and exclaimed, “O how happy those boars are! All day their bodies are cooled and refreshed by water. I wish I were a boar.”

Accordingly at night he recounted to the Rishi the troubles of the life of an ape and the pleasures of that of a boar, and begged of him to change him into a boar. The sage, whose kindness knew no bounds, complied with his pet’s request, and turned him into a wild boar. For two whole days our boar kept his body soaking wet, and on the third day, as he was splashing about in his favourite element, whom should he see but the king of the country riding on a richly caparisoned elephant. The king was out hunting, and it was only by a lucky chance that our boar escaped being bagged.

He dwelt in his own mind on the dangers attending the life of a wild boar and envied the lot of the stately elephant who was so fortunate as to carry about the king of the country on his back. He longed to be an elephant, and at night besought the Rishi to make him one.

Our elephant was roaming about in the wilderness when he saw the king out hunting. The elephant went towards the king’s suite with the view of being caught. The king, seeing the elephant at a distance, admired it on account of its beauty and gave orders that it should be caught and tamed. Our elephant was easily caught, and taken into the royal stables, and was soon tamed.

It so chanced that the queen expressed a wish to bathe in the waters of the holy Ganga. The king, who wished to accompany his royal consort, ordered that the newly-caught elephant should be brought to him. The king and queen mounted on his back. One would suppose that the elephant had now got his wishes, as the king had mounted on his back. But no. There was a fly in the ointment. The elephant, who looked upon himself as a lordly beast, could not brook the idea that a woman, though a queen, should ride on his back. He thought himself degraded. He jumped up so violently that both the king and queen fell to the ground.

The king carefully picked up the queen, took her in his arms, asked her whether she had been much hurt, wiped off the dust from her clothes with his handkerchief, and tenderly kissed her a hundred times. Our elephant, after witnessing the king’s caresses, scampered off to the woods as fast as his legs could carry him. As he ran he thought within himself thus: “After all, I see that a queen is the happiest of all creatures. Of what infinite regard is she the object! The king lifted her up, took her in his arms, made many tender inquiries, wiped off the dust from her clothes with his own royal hands, and kissed her a hundred times! O the happiness of being a queen! I must tell the Rishi to make me a queen!”

So saying, the elephant, after traversing the woods, went at sunset to the Rishi’s hut and fell prostrate on the ground at the feet of the holy sage. The Rishi said, “Well, what’s the news? Why have you left the king’s stud?”

“What shall I say to your reverence? You have been very kind to me; you have granted every wish of mine. I have one more boon to ask, and it will be the last. By becoming an elephant I have got only my bulk increased, but not my happiness. I see that of all creatures a queen is the happiest in the world. Do, holy father, make me a queen.”

“Silly child,” answered the Rishi, “how can I make you a queen? Where can I get a kingdom for you, and a royal husband to boot? All I can do is to change you into an exquisitely beautiful girl, possessed of charms to captivate the heart of a prince, if ever the gods grant you an interview with some great prince!”

Our elephant agreed to the change, and in a moment the sagacious beast was transformed into a beautiful young lady, to whom the holy sage gave the name of Postomani, or the poppy-seed lady.

Postomani lived in the Rishi’s hut and spent her time in tending the flowers and watering the plants. One day, as she was sitting at the door of the hut during the Rishi’s absence, she saw a man dressed in a very rich garb come towards the cottage. She stood up and asked the stranger who he was and what he had come there for.

The stranger answered that he had come a-hunting in those parts, that he had been chasing in vain a deer, that he felt thirsty, and that he came to the hut of the hermit for refreshment.

(900 words)

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