The Bald Wife

A certain man had two wives, the younger of whom he loved more than the elder. The younger wife had two tufts of hair on her head, and the elder only one. The man went to a distant town for merchandise; so the two wives lived together in the house. But they hated each other: the younger one, who was her husband’s favourite, ill-treated the other. She made her do all the menial work in the house; rebuked her all day and night; and did not give her enough to eat. One day the younger wife said to the elder, “Come and take away all the lice from the hair of my head.” While the elder wife was searching among the younger one’s hair for the vermin, one lock of hair by chance gave way; on which the younger one, mightily incensed, tore off the single tuft that was on the head of the elder wife, and drove her away from the house.

The elder wife, now become completely bald, determined to go into the forest, and there either die of starvation or be devoured by some wild beast. On her way she passed by a cotton plant. She stopped near it, made for herself a broom with some sticks which lay about, and swept clean the ground round about the plant. The plant was much pleased, and gave her a blessing. She wended on her way, and now saw a plantain tree. She swept the ground round about the plantain tree which, being pleased with her, gave her a blessing. As she went on she saw the shed of a Brahmani bull. As the shed was very dirty, she swept the place clean, on which the bull, being much pleased, blessed her. She next saw a tulasi plant, bowed herself down before it, and cleaned the place round about, on which the plant gave her a blessing. As she was going on in her journey she saw a hut made of branches of trees and leaves, and near it a man sitting cross-legged, apparently absorbed in meditation.

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She stood for a moment behind the venerable muni. “Whoever you may be,” he said, “come before me; do not stand behind me; if you do, I will reduce you to ashes.” The woman, trembling with fear, stood before the muni. “What is your petition?” asked the muni. “Father Muni,” answered the woman, “thou knowest how miserable I am, since thou art all-knowing. My husband does not love me, and his other wife, having torn off the only tuft of hair on my head, has driven me away from the house. Have pity upon me, Father Muni!” The muni, continuing sitting, said, “Go into the tank which you see yonder. Plunge into the water only once, and then come to me again.” The woman went to the tank, washed in it, and plunged into the water only once, according to the bidding of the muni.

When she got out of the water, what a change was seen in her! Her head was full of jet black hair, which was so long that it touched her heels; her complexion had become perfectly fair; and she looked young and beautiful. Filled with joy and gratitude, she went to the muni, and bowed herself to the ground. The muni said to her, “Rise, woman. Go inside the hut, and you will find a number of wicker baskets, and bring out any you like.” The woman went into the hut, and selected a modest-looking basket. The muni said, “Open the basket.” She opened it, and found it filled with ingots of gold, pearls and all sorts of precious stones. The muni said, “Woman, take that basket with you. It will never get empty. When you take away the present contents their room will be supplied by another set, and that by another, and that by another, and the basket will never become empty. Daughter, go in peace.” The woman bowed herself down to the ground in profound but silent gratitude, and went away.

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When she got out of the water, what a change was seen in her!
When she got out of the water, what a change was seen in her!

As she was returning homewards with the basket in her hand, she passed by the tulasi plant whose bottom she had swept. The tulasi plant said to her, “Go in peace, child! thy husband will love thee warmly.” She next came to the shed of the Brahmani bull, who gave her two shell ornaments which were twined round its horns, saying, “Daughter, take these shells, put them on your wrists, and whenever you shake either of them you will get whatever ornaments you wish to obtain.” She then came to the plantain tree, which gave her one of its broad leaves, saying, “Take, child, this leaf; and when you move it you will get not only all sorts of delicious plantains, but all kinds of agreeable food.” She came last of all to the cotton plant, which gave her one of its own branches, saying, “Daughter, take this branch; and when you shake it you will get not only all sorts of cotton clothes, but also of silk and purple. Shake it now in my presence.” She shook the branch, and a fabric of the finest glossy silk fell on her lap. She put on that silk cloth, and wended on her way with the shells on her wrists, and the basket and the branch and the leaf in her hands.

The younger wife was standing at the door of her house, when she saw a beautiful woman approach her. She could scarcely believe her eyes. What a change! The old, bald hag turned into the very Queen of Beauty herself! The elder wife, now grown rich and beautiful, treated the younger wife with kindness. She gave her fine clothes, costly ornaments, and the richest viands. But all to no purpose. The younger wife envied the beauty and hair of her associate. Having heard that she got it all from Father Muni in the forest, she determined to go there. Accordingly she started on her journey. She saw the cotton plant, but did nothing to it; she passed by the plantain tree, the shed of the Brahmani bull, and the tulasi plant, without taking any notice of them. She approached the muni. The muni told her to bathe in the tank, and plunge only once into the water. She gave one plunge, at which she got a glorious head of hair and a beautifully fair complexion. She thought a second plunge would make her still more beautiful.

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Accordingly she plunged into the water again, and came out as bald and ugly as before. She came to the muni, and wept. The sage drove her away, saying, “Be off, you disobedient woman. You will get no boon from me.” She went back to her house mad with grief. The lord of the two women returned from his travels and was struck with the long locks and beauty of his first wife. He loved her dearly; and when he saw her secret and untold resources and her incredible wealth, he almost adored her. They lived together happily for many years, and had for their maid-servant the younger woman, who had been formerly his best beloved.

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Here my story endeth,
The Natiya-thorn withereth;
“Why, O Natiya-thorn, dost wither?”
“Why does thy cow on me browse?”
“Why, O cow, dost thou browse?”
“Why does thy neat-herd not tend me?”
“Why, O neat-herd, dost not tend the cow?”
“Why does thy daughter-in-law not give me rice?”
“Why, O daughter-in-law, dost not give rice?”
“Why does my child cry?”
“Why, O child, dost thou cry?”
“Why does the ant bite me?”
“Why, O ant, dost thou bite?”
Koot! koot! koot!

The Bald Wife – Folk-Tales of Bengal

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