A North Indian folktale retold
Shyam was a worried man. He had to go to Rampur on work. It happened to
be his in-laws village. Shyam intended to stay with them. But being newly
married he hardly knew his in-laws. His wife, too, was not accompanying him. Shy Shyam was really worried!
He thought hard for a while. Then he smiled. He would force his friend, Karan, to accompany him!
“Of course I’ll come with you!” promised Karan. “But you must make two promises.” Shyam agreed.
“First, you mustn’t talk too much!” warned Karan. “Second, don’t gobble your food. A talkative glutton for a son-in-law is the last person any family desires to have!”
Shyam happily agreed to talk less and eat less! The two friends set off for Rampur.
Shyam’s in-laws were delighted to see him. A lavish meal was prepared for them. After all jamai babu was visiting them for the first time! Karan laughed and talked happily. But Shyam hardly spoke a word.
“He’s shy!” declared Karan, with a laugh as Shyam’s mother-in-law wondered if they had offended Shyam in any way. “But he does talk to bhabhiji !” added Karan helpfully.
Shyam felt like boxing Karan on the nose! Soon food was served. Hot poories, steaming pulao with cashew nuts and ghee, spicy potatoes and curd filled with thin slices of cucumber, carrots and onions! A meal fit for a king!
“Wah!” exclaimed Karan. Kya bhadiya khana hai!” (What delicious food!)
Shyam, however, pecked at his food. He was very, very hungry! But he did not want his in-laws to think he ate too much! When kheer was served for dessert, Shyam promptly put out his hand to cover his plate. His mother-in-law put just a drop of kheer (milk-based rice pudding) in his plate and went to serve Karan.
“Wah! Kya kheer hai!” (What delicious kheer ) declared Karan. “Now I know why bhabhiji is such a good cook!”
His friend’s delighted mother-in-law gave him some more kheer . Poor Shyam! He tasted the bit of kheer in his plate. Yummmmmm! It was really delicious.
But he could not pick up courage to ask for more. He watched glumly as Karan ate happily. He certainly had no inhibitions. It wasn’t his in-laws’ house!
That night Shyam couldn’t sleep. His empty stomach rumbled with hunger! The memory of the kheer haunted him. The sweet, milky taste still lingered on his palate, making him yearn for more kheer !
He tossed and turned on his bed. Sleep eluded him. The more he thought of the kheer he had foregone, the hungrier he felt!
Karan snored blissfully! Shyam angrily shook him awake.
“I’m hungry!” muttered Shyam.
“Raid the kitchen!” advised Karan.
“You too come with me!” whispered Shyam.” You can warn me in case someone comes along.”
The two friends made their way to the kitchen. Shyam never could see clearly in the dark!
“See that earthen pot hanging from the beam?” hissed Karan. “The kheer must be there.”
Shyam fumbled with the pot. It broke and the kheer rained down his head and onto his face! He licked the kheer eagerly. Yummmmmmm! It was really delicious!
“Someone’s coming!” muttered Karan. “RUN!”
Karan fled from the kitchen. Shyam couldn’t see a thing! Eyes were sticky with kheer and half shut! He blundered his way out of the kitchen, knocking down pots and pans. He sought refuge in a corner room that seemed to be full of something white and fluffy. It stuck to his head and face!
“Kaun hai?” (Who’s there?) shouted a voice, alarmed by the din of falling utensils.
“Chor, chor!” (thief, thief!) screamed Shyam’s mother-in-law.
Shyam’s father-in-law and mother-in-law crept towards the kitchen fearfully. The father-in-law carried a long, stout stick while his wife clutched a rolling pin! Karan walked behind them. He had to rescue Shyam!
“The thieves drank my kheer !” wailed Shyam’s mother-in- law, on seeing the broken earthen pot dangling from the ceiling beam.
Her husband grimly surveyed the kitchen. He saw a trail of kheer on the ground. Like a hound he followed it, swinging his stick menacingly. Karan followed him.
The trail led to the room where cotton was stocked and in which Shyam was hiding. Shyam’s father-in-law opened the door. He beat the cotton heap with his stick.
“OOOOOOH!” moaned Shyam in pain, as the stick hit his back. “OOOOOOOOOH!”
“Bhooot!” (ghost!) screamed the old man, as a white apparition rose from the cotton heap and walked towards him!
Everyone ran out and the door was firmly shut.
“I know how to get rid of the bhoot,” said Karan. “Just close your eyes while I chant a mantra. The bhoot will rush out of this house. But don’t open your eyes! Otherwise it will decide to reside here forever!”
The in-laws closed their eyes tightly. The door was swung open. Karan chanted some words loudly. Something rushed passed them! It knocked down everything in its way as it rushed out of the house. Mother-in-law had a teeny weeny peek.
“Bhoot!” she screeched, as she glimpsed the white apparition.
“Water!” shouted father-in-law, as his wife swayed to and fro.
Meanwhile Shyam ran all the way to the well. He poured a bucket of water on himself. Clean but soaking wet he returned to the house. There he found Karan.
“So you chased the bhoot!” exclaimed Karan, winking at Shyam.
“You’re wet!” exclaimed his mother-in-law.
Atchooo! sneezed Shyam.
“Garam garam chai banao,” (make him piping hot tea) advised father-in-law.
Hot tea and savouries was served. Shyam tucked in happily. Heroes could eat!
Then they all went back to sleep. The next day the friends made their way home carrying an important baggage. A potful of delicious, scrumptious kheer!