There are many islands in the Bay of Bengal and not all of them are inhabited. But on one island, at one time, there was a small hut which belonged to an old man and his wife. They were very poor. The husband used to make nets and fish in the sea, for that was the only food they could get.

One day he went fishing as usual. He cast his net and waited. Suddenly there was a pull. He started to draw in the net, it seemed heavier than it had ever before. He just about managed to draw it up. But when he looked, he was surprised to find the net empty except for one small fish. However, it was no ordinary fish. It was golden in colour and even stranger, it pleaded with the old man in a human voice, “Please do not kill me, put me back into the sea and I will be of some service to you. I will do whatever you wish.” The old man thought for a minute and answered, “I do not need anything from you, go back and swim in the sea.” He threw the fish back into the sea and went back home.

The Golden Fish [Illustration by Kusum Chamoli]
The Golden Fish [Illustration by Kusum Chamoli]

When he reached home his wife asked him, “Did you catch any fish old man?” He told her all about the little golden fish and how hard it had pleaded to him for its life and had promised to do whatever he wished. Then he told her how he had taken mercy and put it back into the water. His wife was furious. “You old fool! You had a great fortune in your hands and you did not know what to do with it. You could have asked it for some bread. Before long we will not even have any dry crusts, then what will you eat?” She went on nagging him all day till he could stand it no more. So he decided to go to the sea and ask the golden fish for some bread.

On reaching the shore, he shouted in a loud voice, “Little fish, little fish do come to me.” The fish swam up to the shore and asked, “What do you want, old man?”

“My wife is very angry, she sent me to ask you for bread,” he said. “Go home and you will find plenty of bread there,” said the fish. The old man went back home and asked his wife, “Well, is there any bread now?”

“We have bread in plenty,” she said, “But now we are in trouble, the roof of our hut is leaking and the walls also tremble when the storm comes. It could fall to pieces any moment. Go to the golden fish and ask it to build us a big new cottage. The old man went down to the seashore and called, “Little fish, little fish do come to me.” The fish swam up to him again and asked, “What do you want old man?”

“My wife is discontented. She doesn’t want to live in the old hut and wants a new and big cottage. Do build us a new cottage, for she will give me no peace till then,” pleaded the old man. “Do not worry. Go back home and pray to God, it will be done,” said the fish. The old man returned home. A big beautiful cottage stood in the place where his little hut had been. But he had got no farther than the door when his wife came rushing out. “Go back to the golden fish and tell it that your wife doesn’t want to be a fisherman’s wife anymore, she wants to rule this island and be the queen,” she shouted.

The old man wandered down to the seashore and called, “Little fish, little fish do come to me.” The little golden fish swam up and asked, “What do you want now old man?” The old man answered, “It’s not me, it is my old wife. Now she wants to be a queen.” The golden fish again asked him to go home and assured him that his wish would be granted.

When the old man returned, in place of the cottage, he now saw a lofty palace with a golden roof. Sentries were marching to and fro and exercising with their guns. Inside the palace servants were running around. He found his wife dressed as a queen sitting on a golden throne. “Hello wife,” the old man said. “How dare you call me, the queen, your wife!” she stormed. “Take this funny old fellow away and give him a sound whipping.” The soldiers seized the old man by the collar and dragged him to the stables where he was given such a sound whipping that he could hardly stand afterwards. Now the poor old man had a bad time, he spent all day sweeping the yard and had his meals in the kitchen.

After some time the old woman grew bored with being a queen, so she ordered the old man to be found and brought before her. So the old man was produced before the queen. “You old fool! go to the little golden fish and tell it that I do not want to be the queen of this little island anymore. I want to be the empress of all the seas,” she ordered. At first the little man refused to go but she told him, “If you do not go I will have your head chopped off.”

Grinding his teeth the old man went to the seashore and called out, “Little fish, little fish do come to me.” But the little golden fish did not appear. He called a second time, it still did not come. When he called out the third time, the sea began to roar and rise in great waves. The day had been bright and clear but now it suddenly turned dark. Then the golden fish swam up to the shore and asked, “What do you want old man?” He answered: “My old wife has gone completely mad, she no longer wants to be the queen, she wants to be the empress of all seas.” The little golden fish made no answer to the old man this time; it simply turned and swam off into the depths of the sea.

So the old man had to return home. When he got there he couldn’t believe his eyes, he stood staring. The palace had vanished as though it had never been there and in its place stood his old, small hut. Inside his wife was sitting in a ragged dress. They began to live their former life. The old woman did the household work while the old man went fishing. But no matter how often he cast his net into the sea he never again managed to catch the little golden fish.

1157 words | 11 minutes
Readability: Grade 3 (8-9 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: folktales
Tags: #empress, #queen

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