Long long ago, in a village in Northern India, there was an old lady by name Kumati. Kumati had a daughter-in-law by name Sumati.
Sumati was a very nice girl. She was very soft spoken, humble, courteous, well trained in all household work, caring and possessed all other attributes a mother-in-law would look for in a daughter-in-law. Now, Kumati was a tyrannical mother-in-law and would on no account be satisfied with anything Sumati did. She found fault with everything Sumati did, be it cooking, sweeping, tending to the cattle, or any job for that matter.
“Your parents have not trained you well” she would shout at times.
“Are your hands made of butter huh? Can you not scrub the vessels harder you dud?” she would yell.
“You have not come here to eat and sleep. Do all the work before you sit to eat”, she would rave at Sumati just as the girl sat to eat her meal which already would have been very cold.
Sumati was trained by her parents not to talk back at elders and also Sumati did not like quarrelling and so used to keep quiet when Kumati shouted at her. Sumati’s husband Ramu was afraid of his mother and would not open his mouth at all when she shouted. More often than not he would slip out from the house the moment she started shouting.
Sumati, though she would not talk back would hold back her tears and cry alone at night.
One day Kumati had to visit one of her relatives who was very ill.
“Sumati”, she ordered in her pompous tone, “Make ghiya sabzi (bottle gourd vegetable) and rotis for lunch and make only as much as is needed. Do not make more. There is no food to waste here hmm…. I am going to my aunt’s house with Ramu and I will come by one o’ clock”.
She went off and Sumati, after doing the other chores, started making lunch as her mother-in-law had ordered.
When Sumati was almost done there was a knock on the door. Sumati went and opened the door to see a sadhu (mendicant) looking tired and weary standing at the doorstep. He looked at Sumati and asked, “Daughter, may I have some water to drink? I am so thirsty” The sun was blazing outside.
Sumati, courteous as she was, immediately called the visitor in. “Sure, please come in Swami!” she said. “You look very tired. Please be seated”.
She went in and brought a jug of cold sweet smelling water. In those days people used to keep water in earthen pots covered with a wet cloth which kept the water cold. They also put certain herbs in the water which gave the water a very pleasant fragrance. The man seemed glad to be getting a jug of cold water and drank it eagerly.
Sumati was very happy and asked him, “Swami, it looks you are on some pilgrimage. Have you had anything to eat?”
The man looked hesitant and said, “Well…. I will eat on my way… I am on a pilgrimage and I left my village early in the morning”. Saying so, he got up to go.
“Wait Swamiji!” said Sumati. “You must be hungry and there are no proper chavadis for the next many miles. Please wash your hands and feet and sit down. Please eat lunch and go!” (Chavadis were free public guest houses for travellers. In those days, many villages had chavadis as people cared for poor travellers. Food was also available at the chavadi).
The sadhu was happy and sat down. Sumati served the portion of rotis and subzi meant for herself and gave him some thick buttermilk to drink. The man was very happy and blessed Sumati with all his heart. “May God bless you with all good things!” said he and left the house. Just as he was stepping out, guess who were coming? Kumati was coming with her son Ramu. Kumati’s eyes bulged with anger to see a mendicant leaving happily from their house.
Unfortunately, just as the man passed by Kumati, he let out a big burp. Kumati’s suspicions were coming true. The daughter-in-law had wantonly disobeyed her.
Kumati barged into the house and started yelling at Sumati. “How dare you disobey me, you impertinent dunce? I told you specifically that there is no food to waste and you are happily feeding who so ever comes? Did you think this house is a chavadi huh? Will you father give money for all that you are wasting?”
Saying so, she rushed at a bewildered Sumati, pulled her by the shoulder and stopped short of slapping her.
“Out you go!” She shoved her out of the house. “Go to your father’s place you dud. Go and waste your father’s money”.
Sumati fell down and Kumati slammed the door on her. Sumati was sobbing and got up. Fortunately she did not get hurt much. She was very sad at this treatment meted out to her by her mother-in-law but sadder that her husband had kept mum.
Not knowing what to do with herself, she decided to go to her father’s house. But her father’s village was quite far away and it would be late night when she reached. But there was a shorter route through the forest nearby. It was a bit scary, but Sumati thought she would reach by evening if she went through this route.
Wiping away the tears streaming down her cheeks and sobbing, she started to trudge along the forest path. She walked for about an hour when suddenly, cold breeze started to blow. There were dark clouds and there was the roar of thunder. It became very dark and big rain drops started falling plop… plop… and in a matter of minutes, the shower became heavy rain. With nothing to shelter herself from the rain, Sumati ran hither and thither to protect herself from the rain and suddenly, she saw a hollow on the trunk a big tree. Without a thought, she ran to it scrambled up and jumped into the hollow. Fortunately, it was not at a height.
Frightened and cold, she was shivering and huddled inside. The rain was pounding outside. Very tired, Sumati fell asleep.
Suddenly she was rudely awakened by the sound of screeching laughter, on the tree top. Holding her breath, she gingerly peeped outside. It was night and the rain had stopped. The crickets and frogs were singing. The sky was clear and moon was out. In the dim light, she saw two monstrous forms sitting on a branch. She could make out they were rakshasis (demonesses).
“Hee hee hee…” screeched one. “I want to go to Swarna Dweep (Gold Island) and enjoy. Come on, let’s go!” she said to the other.
The other one was not very enthusiastic. “I am very tired” said she. “Today I had to run a lot on the mountains to catch some sheep to eat. I am not coming”
“Don’t worry sis!” said the first one. “I will make the tree carry us. You don’t need to put in any effort! We will fly back on the tree tomorrow.”
“Fine” said the other. “Then come, let’s go”
Suddenly Sumati was shaken by a jerk that she fell down inside the hollow and before she could realise, she felt the tree shake and felt as if it was moving. Slowly, with difficulty she got up holding the sides of the hollow and peeped out and the tree was rising like an aeroplane!
Shocked and surprised, Sumati sank to a corner of the hollow praying fervently to god. The tree kept moving for many hours and suddenly she realised that it was dawn and the sun was coming up fast. The roar of the ocean was heard and she knew it must be some beach. Suddenly there was a bright reflection of what appeared like sand and the tree landed with a “THUD”.
“Come on let’s go…..” cackled one rakshasi and soon Sumati saw both of them running on the golden sand and after a while they disappeared. Sumati waited for some time but felt very sick, holed in the hollow for so long.
She slowly got out of the hollow carefully looking out for the rakshasis but they were nowhere to be seen.
She looked down and found the sand to be strangely bright. She picked up a little in her hand and WOW! It was gold. Surprised as she had never seen anything like that before, she hurriedly filled up the front portion of her pallu (loose end of the saree) with the gold sand as much as she could. She knotted the pallu carefully and looked around with awe at the sparkling sand and the roaring sea and there were no human beings around.
After a while she got into the hollow once again waiting for the rakshasis to come and fly back. It looked like ages and at last after nightfall, the rakshasis came back. They had no reason to suspect Sumati’s presence and the tree flew back as it had come. It landed in the same place in the woods from where it had been taken. Sumati waited for day break patiently. Just as it was dawning, she saw the two rakshasis flying in another direction. Then after the sun had come up and the forest was bright, Sumati slowly got out of the hollow and walked back home.
Her mother-in-law was outside quarrelling with some vegetable vendor. The moment she saw Sumati, her face became crimson with fury. “You fool, did I not tell you to get lost to your father’s place huh?” She yelled.
Sumati did not reply but quietly entered the house. Ramu was sitting there finishing his breakfast.
Kumati hurried behind her, raising her hand and yelling. Sumati suddenly turned around and quickly went to the door and slammed it shut.
“Shhhhh….” Said Sumati to her puzzled mother-in-law. “Speak softly, Amma! I’ve brought something for us. Nobody should know.”
Calming down a little, Kumati asked, “What is it? You must have brought some stale sweetmeat from your father’s house! Did I ask you to come back, you dud!!!”
Sumati said, “No Amma! It is not sweetmeat but gold!!” Saying so, she opened the knot of her pallu and the room was lit up with the brightness of the golden sand!
Kumati’s jaws fell open in surprise and she looked at Sumati unbelievingly. “Where did you get that all from?” she demanded running her hand through the pile of the golden sand.
Sumati told her story to her unbelieving mother-in-law and husband.
Kumati, though happy inside, did not want to show her appreciation of Sumati. Instead she asked her “Why did you bring so little you silly girl? Had I gone, I would have brought enough to last seven generations. Where is that tree? I will go with the rakshasis and show you how to do things smartly. If a dumb one like you can bring this much, let me show you how much a smart woman like me can bring. Come on, show me the tree. I want to go!”
Sumati protested. “This is enough for us Amma” she said. “This will last us for generations! Those rakshasis are dangerous, and it is very tiring to travel in the tree Amma. You are old also.”
The moment Sumati uttered the word “old”, Kumati was doubly furious.
“You are calling me old, you good for nothing goose? How dare you call me so? Will you show me the tree in the jungle or shall I pack you to your father’s place once again?”
Sumati knew it was futile to talk to her mother-in-law anymore.
“Ok Amma. I will take you to the tree in the afternoon”, she said.
“Afternoon? What afternoon?” shouted Kumati. “I am telling you I want to go NOW. Come on.”
Knowing that there was no other solution, Sumati took Kumati to the jungle to the tree, accompanied by Ramu.
As soon as Sumati pointed out to the tree, Kumati hastened and almost ran and climbed into the hollow with great difficulty, since she was plump unlike Sumati, who was slim.
“Do not make any noise Amma” said a concerned Sumati. She was worried that her mother-in-law’s loud mouth would cost her dearly. “And be careful to climb out of the hollow only after the rakshasis have gone very far okay?”
“I know, you stupid girl. You think you know everything huh? Remember that I am twice your age, now go home both of you, and do not forget to keep what you brought in the steel almirah and lock it” said Kumati.
Sumati and Ramu went home worrying for her safety.
Kumati waited impatiently till night peeping in and out of the hole every now and then. With her big figure, it was very uncomfortable inside but it was her doing and so she could not complain.
At last she heard a ‘swoosh’ sound and the tree jerked as the rakshasis sat on their favourite branch. Kumati was frightened at the sight of them but sat silently.
For a long time, they were talking and talking, with screeching laughter in between and Kumati was getting impatient. “When will they go to Swarna Dweep?” she wondered.
Suddenly she heard the word “Dweep” and sharpened her ears. The rakshasis were planning the trip.
“It’s a long time since I had Hilsa fish, I feel like having a feast of Hilsa now” said one rakshasi.
“Why not sis?” said the other. “We will go to ‘Matsya Dweep’ (fish island) now and have it. We can ride on the tree like yesterday” said the other.
Kumati was horrified. To fly all the way to pick fish! What would her son and Sumati think of her? She imagined her son Ramu and Sumati making fun of her when she returned and laughing aloud. She imagined the other villagers joining with them and laughing at Kumati.
The tree shook and took off. Kumati came back from her imagination but it was a bit too late. The tree had risen.
“Go to Swarna Dweep, go to Swarna Dweep!” Kumati yelled.
The shocked rakshasis looked down to see from where the sound was coming and were surprised to find a human being peering at them from the hollow.
“Who are you? And what business do you have to take shelter in our home?” roared one of them as she hung down from the branch upside down and brought her face near the hollow of the tree. The tree was flying at a slow pace.
A terrified Kumati started crying and put her hands on her eyes not able to face the gory rakshasi.
“Drop her down sis!” said the other rakshasi. “We will go as scheduled”.
“Yes! With pleasure!!” said the other and she jumped from the branch and held the tree like a rattle, turned it horizontally and shook it, shrieking loudly. The tree was passing Kumati’s house then.
Kumati fell down from the hollow and in few moments, she fell in the pond behind her house with a big ‘pachaak!’ Water splashed out of the pond. The pond was not so deep and it had clayey soil and so Kumati was not injured, but with great difficulty, she gathered herself and with clay and mud splashed on her she looked so comical.
Sumati was worried about her mother-in-law and could not sleep. Just as she heard the ‘pachaak’ sound at their backyard, she woke Ramu up.
“Husband, I heard a big sound at our back yard. Please wake up and see, please” she said. Ramu woke up groggily and with the help of a fire torch went to the back yard only to see a plump figure wet and smeared with clay pulling herself towards the house.
Sumati ran to her, opening the backyard gate. “Amma, what happened Amma? Are you okay? Did the rakshasis harm you Amma? Are you hurt anywhere?” she asked her and put her hand comfortingly on Kumati’s shoulder. Ramu was also shocked at her appearance and chided her for not listening to them.
Kumati was surprised that instead of making fun of her, they both were genuinely concerned about her. She realised her folly and also realised that her loud mouth had landed her in trouble.
She realised that “Silence is Golden”
From that day onwards, Kumati was completely a transformed woman and they lived happily ever after.