Rimi B. Chatterjee
There was once a god, and he had three sons. The eldest son was a farmer, and tended the land. The second was a warrior, and kept the land safe. The third sat around making up stuff and clowning, and everyone called him a lazy brute.
The three sons were to be married off, as per usual, and so suitable brides had to be found for them. As sons of a god they couldn’t have just anyone. Real goddesses, their father swore, were the only beings worthy of his sons. Everyone thought that was a tall order, but he persevered. It got so even the birds flew away when they spotted him coming and the mosquitoes dived for cover, terrified. At last the sons grew impatient, and the first one said, ‘Father, enough of this nonsense. I want someone to help me plough the land.’
‘Son, you will be fortunate for a thousand eons,’ said his father, ‘for I have found just the bride for you.’ And he married his eldest son to a pretty spotted heifer who was grazing in the fields nearby. This caused a certain amount of comment, since some unimaginative people couldn’t see how exactly she fulfilled the criteria, but the god merely huffed and said, ‘Goddess: doesn’t talk back, gives generously, does as told, is useful about the house. What more?’ And indeed, put like that, they had to see his point.
Then the second son said one day. ‘Father, we are very happy with bari bahu, but now I too am lonely. Give me a bride who will help me fight.’ So his father wrote to an Arab god he knew and a horse swift as the wind came and took the seven steps around the fire with the second son. And the warrior was as happy as the eldest son. By this time the wedding guests knew enough to open their mouths only to guzzle the excellent food, and the only person who got smited was a little assistant to the priest who stepped in a horse-apple and said a bad word. The god whacked him with a thunderbolt but took pity on him and put him back together with the head of a freshwater crayfish. He had a thing about zoomorphs.
‘Well then,’ said the father to the last son. ‘That’s two thirds of my duty done. There’s just you left. Would you like a nice pig? Or maybe a goat would suit you?’‘I don’t want to get married, father,’ said the youngest son, but a goat was found for him and a goat became his wife. Few people came to the ceremony, because by then everyone had had quite enough. The son and his goat were married with a small length of string and a Zippo lighter, and the priest took home a bunch of bananas as compensation for having his dhoti chewed by the bride.
Youngest son settled down and played his flute to the goat, who baa-ed softly and nibbled his chest hair. This was very nice, but he wasn’t sure that it constituted artistic appreciation. Also she never laughed at his jokes, only cocked an ear and looked quizzical. He was aware that in expecting such behaviour he was transgressing the law, and he felt bad at tempting his bride to be naughty, and kind of glad that she didn’t give in. So after much soul-searching he sidled up to his father and said, ‘Father, I’m not happy. I think we might have made a mistake.’
His father glowered. Mistakes didn’t happen in his universe, but he had learned from experience that arguing with his youngest son about anything tended to give him indigestion. So he belched titanically, hoping his son would get discouraged and wander off. But the boy swallowed nervously and went on, ‘The goat is all right, but I think I would like to marry a woman.’
‘Marry a woman!’ the god exploded. ‘Whoever heard of us marrying women?’
‘Well, why not? They’re much more like us than our brides ever could be.’
‘Silence, you scamp! Your bahus are obedient, useful, and above all silent — well, most of the time. What more do you want in a wife?’
‘Well, I would like her to be a bit more like me.’
‘What! Talk, read the newspaper, wear sandals?’
‘You’re out of your mind!’
But the youngest son insisted, and so the god had to make enquiries, even though everyone laughed at him and said they wouldn’t let a woman walk into their house, let alone be their bahu. No one asked the youngest bahu what she thought of it all. So after much arguing and belching the old god stumped down to the post office to send an advertisement that would come out in all the papers. ‘Wanted: a woman to be second wife of third son of well-settled god of best family, must be fair, homely, and traditional with broadminded outlook.’ The youngest son fretted, the elder two shook their heads, the god fumed and in all the commotion no one noticed when the goat went missing. The youngest son wore himself out going to inquire about the post every day, so when he went to bed he always fell immediately asleep and didn’t notice the empty space beside him at all. After a while the old god noticed the place smelt a little less fetid than usual, but he put that down to the clearing up of his indigestion.
Some time later an odd creature presented itself at the door. She wore simple, practical clothes and a neat woollen waistcoast; she had shiny shoes and a cloth bag full of books. ‘I’ve come in answer to your ad,’ she said brightly to the god. He looked her slowly up and down. ‘And you are…?’
‘A woman, of course. In fact I have a BA in agrarian recycling.’
There was a silence, filled with divine incomprehension. She beamed at him. Then she looked past his shoulder and clapped her hands in glee. ‘Why, you must be Kapila!’ The heifer, having wandered round the corner, looked up in surprise. ‘How lovely to see you. You’re not still wearing that old nosering, are you? Let me have a look…oops! What a butterfingers I am. Never mind, you look nicer without it, and I think a diamond stud would suit you so much better. And Vadavi!’ The horse sidled shyly into the courtyard, whickering. ‘Let me have a look at you. Those blinkers are so stylish…oh dear. Never mind, I’m sure you’ll see much better without them.’
‘Youngest son!’ roared the god. ‘Look what a mischief you’ve conjured out of the air. Throw it out, by heaven, or there’ll be thunderbolts and smitings before the day’s done.’
Youngest son came running, then stopped so short the other brothers almost ran into him.
‘This,’ said the god with towering scorn, ‘is a woman.’
‘Have you been drinking, father? That’s my wife.’
‘What?’ the god rubbed his eyes. The smoke from the ritual fires got into them all the time and to tell the truth he had always been a bit shortsighted. He squinted at the woman with her woolly waistcoat. She twinkled back at him with beady eyes. Her bouncy hair curled inward at each of her temples, just as if it were a little horn. There was something indescribably frisky about her. ‘Well, I’ll be damned. How is this possible?’
‘Correspondence courses,’ she said smugly. ‘Taken while I was working for an NGO dealing with animal rights. It’s amazing what a little education and a new wardrobe will do. Aren’t you glad I’m back?’
The god noticed his son’s jaw had dropped and used a gnarled forefinger to prop it up again, hissing, ‘Don’t you know it’s immoral to stare at women?’
‘But she’s my wife!’
‘Nevertheless, you should not raise your eyes and look a woman in the face. It’s all right to talk to them if you only look as far as their…their…’ He let go of his son’s chin and harrumphed very loudly. His annoyance was mounting dangerously, and his fingers were itching. ‘Ask her, where was she all these days? Is it right and proper for a wife to wander off and take correspondence courses? Who saw her? Where did she live? And why is she dressed like a woman of the city? Chhi!’
‘That’s because I am a woman of the city, now. I thought you knew. Didn’t you get the note I left in Kapila’s manger? I wrote it on a stale chapatti.’
‘You left a note in her food?’
‘Well, there wasn’t anything else to write on. You aren’t a very literate household, you know. Anyway, I’ve decided I like it in the city, and as it isn’t proper for a young woman to live alone there, I’ve come to ask my husband to accompany me back.’
‘My son is not going anywhere!’ roared the god.
‘Oh dear, then I’ll have to find someone else to share my flat. One must observe the proprieties, of course. Is that your final word?’
‘No, no,’ squawked the youngest son. He vaulted over the table and took her by the hand. ‘I’m coming with you. Just let me pack my flute…’
‘I don’t think there’ll be time,’ said the goat, as she watched her father-in-law slowly turning purple. ‘In fact, I think we should leave now.’
‘Oh,’ said middle bahu, ‘Why don’t you get on my back then? I’ve always wanted to do that thing where the lovers run away on horseback with the savage raiders in hot pursuit. My mane will look lovely in the wind. Oooooh! Come on then.’
The middle son howled. ‘But there are men to kill before dinnertime! How can I be a war god without a horse?’ However, Vadavi had already disappeared in a cloud of dust with her sister-and-brother-in-law waving gaily from her back. The eldest son sprang up to stop them, but to his surprise he took leave of the earth on the points of two very sharp horns.
‘Wow,’ said Kapila. ‘That felt good. Let’s do it again!’ She pawed the ground for effect and lowered her head. Her husband scrambled up and ran for it, holding his backside with both hands, while her father-in-law danced in rage and yelled, ‘There are fields to plough before nightfall! Your neck goes back in the yoke!’ So she tossed him instead, and watched in amazement as he disappeared over the roof of their house at the end of a long descending wail.
‘Awesome,’ she mooed, and trotted off to find some sweet grass.