This is a folk tale from India which has many versions. The storyline remains the same but the dish in the story varies. This is my attempt to retell the story.
Once upon a time there lived a couple, Domma and Dommi in a village. They were very poor and old and had no children or relatives. They did not have any money and Domma used to seek alms in the village every day. With the rice he got, Dommi made rice gruel and they ate it every day.
One day, a rich man of their village was donating food for everyone in the village on the occasion of his grandson’s first birthday.
Domma and Dommi also went and got their share of the food from the rich man’s house. The sweet for the day was yummy ‘Poli’ which was served with the food. (Poli also called Holige is a sweet roti like dish made with channa dal, jaggery and ghee).
Both Domma and Dommi loved Polis and they relished it to the last crumb.
“The Poli was excellent Dommi” said Domma. “I have a craving to eat more!”
“Yes, very true” said Dommi. “Let’s go in the queue again and get some Polis”.
So they went and stood in the long queue and unfortunately before their turn came, the sweet got over.
“Bad Luck!” said Domma. “Bad luck follows us everywhere. Tchch…”
“Don’t feel bad” said Dommi. “Maybe for a few days we will save some rice from what we get. We will eat less of the rice gruel and then sell the saved rice in the market. With that money we can buy some channa dal and jaggery and I will make the Polis at home and we will eat!”
“Good idea!” said Domma. And from the next day onwards they ate less gruel, saved the rice and after a month or two saved enough rice to sell in the market. Domma sold the rice and bought channa dal, jaggery and a wee bit of ghee and brought it home.
Dommi cleaned the dal and the jaggery and ground them and prepared them for making Poli and with the dough, she made five Polis.
“Five Polis” said Domma, “but we are two of us and so how do we divide? I do not like eating half a Poli. What do we do? Split it three for me and two for you, since I took the trouble of going to the market and buying the stuff?”
“Oho! So if buying the stuff is big trouble then what do you call the job of cleaning, grinding, kneading flour and making the Polis huh? Also remember, I too like Polis as much as you do hmm…” said Dommi.
“Okay then we shall do one thing” said Domma. “Keep the Polis on a plate in the centre of the house and both of us shall not talk a word. The person to break the rule will have two and the other will have three okay?”
Dommi agreed. She kept the Polis on a plate in the centre of the room and covered it with another plate and they sat and sat without eating or talking. Sitting continuously was tiring and they were hungry too and so they lay down, Domma on the northern entrance and southern entrance of the room respectively.
After a while both shut their eyes tight as they feared they would speak first if they saw each other. Each of them waited for the other to open their eyes or talk about so that they could get three Polis. But both Domma and Dommi were so adamant and also loved Polis, that neither of them moved or opened their eyes. One, two, three days passed. Still both of them were lying on the ground like logs.
The residents of the houses where Domma used to get alms regularly noticed the absence of Domma continuously for three days and discussed among themselves, but did not know why Domma did not turn up. In olden days, people used to be genuinely concerned and so they decided to go the next day and find out if Domma was ill or something. And so three or four of the residents gathered and went to Domma’s house, only to see him lying motionless on the floor. They were shocked. They were even more shaken on seeing Dommi also lying at the other entrance of the room.
Both Domma and Dommi could hear the voices of the people but chose to maintain their silence and posture as each wanted more number of Polis and the person who broke the silence first would get the lesser number of Polis.
“Poor Domma and Dommi! Looks like they died of hunger” said one resident.
“So pathetic to die of hunger when so many of us could have given them food!” said another.
“Even more pathetic is that there is no one to even do the final rites for them, Oh God!” said another.
“I think we will all have to jointly give them their final send off!” said yet another. “After all, doing final rites for orphans is one of the greatest good deeds one can do and we are blessed to earn merit by doing it! Come let us arrange for them to be carried to the burial ground.”
The man then turned around to is friend and said, “Go to the burial ground and make ready two pyres.”
Domma and Dommi were both hearing all these conversations but in their heart of hearts both did not want to give up that one extra Poli and they kept lying with their bodies stiff.
The men came after arranging for the funeral pyres to be set and they lifted and placed Domma and Dommi onto stretchers made with coconut leaves and carried them to the burial ground and also placed them on the pyres.
Domma and Dommi still held tight and did not move a bit.
“Ok let’s light the pyres” announced one person.
Suddenly there was a scream!
“Two Polis are enough for me, I give up!” shouted Domma as he sat upright on the pyre trying to jump off, shocking all the onlookers around.
Their next shock was that Dommi also got up laughing aloud, “Hahahahaha… I knew it. I knew that I was more determined than you Domma. Now I will have three Polis for myself”. Saying so she jumped down from the pyre and both of them started running like race-horses to their home. The onlookers ran behind them, bewildered not knowing what these two were talking about. They had all been fooled into believing that these two had died, and so much of their time had been wasted.
The people ran puffing and panting behind them and were reaching Domma’s house when they heard the wailing of both Domma and Dommi in loud voices.
“Now, what??” thought the people and as they reached the living room, the only room of Domma’s house, both of them were squatting on the ground near a plate on which were lying crumbled little bits of Poli. A fat cat just then ran out of the house.
“Boo-hoo-hoo” cried Dommi, “we need not have had an argument and could have equally divided the Polis. See now the cat has eaten it … Boo-hoo-hoo!” (The people had forgotten to close the door of the house when they carried Domma and Dommi to the burial ground!)
“I knew it, I knew it. See all the effort is wasted. All because of you!” said Domma. “You should have agreed to my suggestion”
Slowly the people around understood what had happened and beating their foreheads and cursing themselves for having squandered their time and energy, went back to their homes.
That was the last time ever that Domma and Dommi desired to eat Poli.