The Good Husband and the Bad Wife

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In a remote village there lived a Brâhmiṇ whose good nature and charitable disposition were proverbial. Equally proverbial also were the ill-nature and uncharitable disposition of the Brâhmaṇî—his wife. But as Paramêśvara (God) had joined them in matrimony, they had to live together as husband and wife, though their temperaments were so incompatible. Every day the Brâhmiṇ had a taste of his wife’s ill-temper, and if any other Brâhmiṇ was invited to dinner by him, his wife, somehow or other, would manage to drive him away.

One fine summer morning a rather stupid Brâhmiṇ friend of his came to visit our hero and was at once invited to dinner. He told his wife to have dinner ready earlier than usual, and went off to the river to bathe. His friend not feeling very well that day wanted a hot bath at the house, and so did not follow him to the river, but remained sitting in the outer verandah. If any other guest had come, the wife would have accused him of greediness to his face and sent him away, but this visitor seemed to be a special friend of her lord, so she did not like to say anything; but she devised a plan to make him go away of his own accord.

She proceeded to smear the ground before her husband’s friend with cowdung, and placed in the midst of it a long pestle, supporting one end of it against the wall. She next approached the pestle most solemnly and performed worship (pûjâ) to it. The guest did not in the least understand what she was doing, and respectfully asked her what it all meant.

“This is what is called pestle worship,” she replied. “I do it as a daily duty, and this pestle is intended to break the head of some human being in honour of a goddess, whose feet are most devoutly worshipped by my husband. Every day as soon as he returns from his bath in the river, he takes this pestle, which I am ordered to keep ready for him before his return, and with it breaks the head of any human being whom he has managed to get hold of by inviting him to a meal. This is his tribute (dakshiṇâ) to the goddess; to-day you are the victim.”

The guest was much alarmed.

“What! break the head of a guest! I at any rate shall not be deceived to-day,” thought he, and prepared to run away.

The Brâhmiṇ’s wife appeared to sympathise with his sad plight, and said:—

“Really, I do pity you. But there is one thing you can do now to save yourself. If you go out by the front door and walk down the street my husband may follow you, so you had better go out by the back door.”

To this plan the guest most thankfully agreed, and hastily ran off by the back door.

Almost immediately our hero returned from his bath, but before he could arrive his wife had cleaned up the place she had prepared for the pestle worship, and when the Brâhmiṇ, not finding his friend in the house inquired of her as to what had become of him, she said in seeming anger:—

“The greedy brute! he wanted me to give him this pestle—this very pestle which I brought forty years ago as a dowry from my mother’s house, and when I refused he ran away by the back-yard in haste.”

But her kind-hearted lord observed that he would rather lose the pestle than his guest, even though it was a part of his wife’s dowry, and more than forty years old. So he ran off with the pestle in his hand after his friend, crying out,

“Oh Brâhmiṇ! Oh Brâhmiṇ! Stop please, and take the pestle.”

But the story told by the old woman now seemed all the more true to the guest when he saw her husband running after him, and so he said,

“You and your pestle may go where you please. Never more will you catch me in your house,” and ran away.

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