Bengal: The Origin of Opium (end)

You might enjoy comparing this story about opium to the Jewish legend about Noah, Satan, and the invention of wine: The Curse of Drunkenness.

[Notes by LKG]

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 (end)

Postomani: “Stranger, look upon this cot as your own house. I’ll do everything I can to make you comfortable; I am only sorry we are too poor suitably to entertain, a man of your rank for, if I mistake not, you are the king of this country.”

The king smiled. Postomani then brought out a water-pot, and made as if she would wash the feet of her royal guest with her own hands when the king said, “Holy maid, do not touch my feet, for I am only a Kshatriya, and you are the daughter of a holy sage.”

Postomani: “Noble sir, I am not the daughter of the Rishi, neither am I a Brahmani girl, so there can be no harm in my touching your feet. Besides, you are my guest, and I am bound to wash your feet.”

King: “Forgive my impertinence. What caste do you belong to?”

Postomani: “I have heard from the sage that my parents were Kshatriyas.”

King: “May I ask you whether your father was a king? For your uncommon beauty and your stately demeanour show that you are a born princess.”

Postomani, without answering the question, went inside the hut, brought out a tray of the most delicious fruits, and set it before the king. The king, however, would not touch the fruits till the maid had answered his questions.

When pressed hard, Postomani gave the following answer: “The holy sage says that my father was a king. Having been overcome in battle, he, along with my mother, fled into the woods. My poor father was eaten up by a tiger, and my mother at that time was brought to bed of me, and she closed her eyes as I opened mine. Strange to say, there was a bee-hive on the tree at the foot of which I lay; drops of honey fell into my mouth and kept alive the spark of life till the kind Rishi found me and brought me into his hut. This is the simple story of the wretched girl who now stands before the king.”

King. “Call not yourself wretched. You are the loveliest and most beautiful of women. You would adorn the palace of the mightiest sovereign.”

The upshot was that the king made love to the girl, and they were joined in marriage by the Rishi. Postomani was treated as the favourite queen, and the former queen was in disgrace. Postomani’s happiness, however, was short-lived. One day as she was standing by a well, she became giddy, fell into the water, and died.

The Rishi then appeared before the king and said: “O king, grieve not over the past. What is fixed by fate must come to pass. The queen, who has just been drowned, was not of royal blood. She was born a mouse; I then changed her successively, according to her own wish, into a cat, a dog, an ape, a boar, an elephant, and a beautiful girl. Now that she is gone, do you again take into favour your former queen.

“As for my reputed daughter, through the favour of the gods I’ll make her name immortal. Let her body remain in the well; fill the well up with earth. Out of her flesh and bones will grow a tree which shall be called after her Posto, that is, the Poppy tree. From this tree will be obtained a drug called opium, which will be celebrated as a powerful medicine through all ages, and which will always be either swallowed or smoked as a wonderful narcotic to the end of time.

“The opium swallower or smoker will have one quality of each of the animals to which Postomani was transformed. He will be mischievous like a mouse, fond of milk like a cat, quarrelsome like a dog, filthy like an ape, savage like a boar, and high-tempered like a queen.”

(700 words)

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