Indian Fairy Tales: Punchkin
Reading time: (5 minutes).
Thus time went on, till Balna's son was fourteen years old. Then, one day, his aunts told him the history of the family; and no sooner did he hear it than he was seized with great desire to go in search of his father and mother and uncles, and if he could find them alive to bring them home again.
His aunts, on learning his determination, were much alarmed, and tried to dissuade him, saying, "We have lost our husbands and our sister and her husband, and you are now our sole hope; if you go away, what shall we do?"
But he replied, " I pray you not to be discouraged; I will return soon, and if it is possible bring my father and mother and uncles with me." So he set out on his travels; but for some months he could learn nothing to help him in his search.
At last, after he had journeyed many hundreds of weary miles, and become almost hopeless of ever hearing anything further of his parents, he one day came to a country that seemed full of stones, and rocks, and trees, and there he saw a large palace with a high tower; hard by which was a Malee's little house.
As he was looking about, the Malee's wife saw him, and ran out of the house and said, "My dear boy, who are you that dare venture to this dangerous place?"
He answered, "I am a Raja's son, and I come in search of my father, and my uncles, and my mother, whom a wicked enchanter bewitched."
Then the Malee's wife said, "This country and this palace belong to a great enchanter; he is all-powerful, and if any one displeases him he can turn them into stones and trees. All the rocks and trees you see here were living people once, and the Magician turned them to what they now are. Some time ago a Raja's son came here, and shortly afterwards came his six brothers, and they were all turned into stones and trees; and these are not the only unfortunate ones, for up in that tower lives a beautiful Princess, whom the Magician has kept prisoner there for twelve years, because she hates him and will not marry him."
Then the little Prince thought, "These must be my parents and my uncles. I have found what I seek at last."
So he told his story to the Malee's wife, and begged her to help him to remain in that place awhile and inquire further concerning the unhappy people she mentioned; and she promised to befriend him, and advised his disguising himself lest the Magician should see him, and turn him likewise into stone.
To this the Prince agreed. So the Malee's wife dressed him up in a saree, and pretended that he was her daughter.
One day, not long after this, as the Magician was walking in his garden he saw the little girl (as he thought) playing about, and asked her who she was. She told him she was the Malee's daughter, and the Magician said, "You are a pretty little girl, and tomorrow you shall take a present of flowers from me to the beautiful lady who lives in the tower."
The young Prince was much delighted at hearing this, and went immediately to inform the Malee's wife; after consultation with whom he determined that it would be more safe for him to retain his disguise and trust to the chance of a favourable opportunity for establishing some communication with his mother, if it were indeed she.
Now it happened that at Balna's marriage her husband had given her a small gold ring on which her name was engraved, and she had put it on her little son's finger when he was a baby, and afterwards when he was older his aunt had had it enlarged for him, so that he was still able to wear it. The Malee's wife advised him to fasten the well-known treasure to one of the bouquets he presented to his mother, and trust to her recognising it. This was not to be done without difficulty, as such a strict watch was kept over the poor Princess (for fear of her ever establishing communication with her friends) that, though the supposed Malee's daughter was permitted to take her flowers every day, the Magician or one of his slaves was always in the room at the time.
At last one day, however, opportunity favoured him, and when no one was looking, the boy tied the ring to a nosegay and threw it at Balna's feet. It fell with a clang on the floor, and Balna, looking to see what made the strange sound, found the little ring tied to the flowers.
On recognising it, she at once believed the story her son told her of his long search, and begged him to advise her as to what she had better do; at the same time entreating him on no account to endanger his life by trying to rescue her.
She told him that for twelve long years the Magician had kept her shut up in the tower because she refused to marry him, and she was so closely guarded that she saw no hope of release.
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Source: Indian Fairy Tales (1890), by Joseph Jacobs, illustrated by John Batten. Weblink..
Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology.
Laura Gibbs, Ph.D.
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