by K. N. Kaul

Once upon a time in a certain village in Kashmir, there lived a happy family - an old couple with their two children, a daughter and a son. The girl named Sankisar (the golden bead) was about to blossom into a beauty. She was the darling of her parents who loved her as much for her good looks as for her bold, inventive and rumbustious spirit. She had a streak of boyishness about her, ever ready for any adventure, any escapade. Besides helping her mother in household chores, she would help her father too in his fields. It was as always hard work for girls at home whereas boys were pampered and given favoured treatment which many did not deserve. The boy, a lad of about thirteen would cash upon his budding male ego. His faults would often be ignored and the parents would seldom, if ever, snub him for his foolishness.

One day when the boy carne home from school famished, his mother immediately served him with food consisting of boiled rice and vegetables. In the midst of eating, he sighted a strand of hair entangled in the food. The sight of the hair tickled his adolescent mind opening up a small window to unknown pleasures. Brash and thoughtless as he was, he declared, pulling out the strand of hair, "O, I shall marry the girl whom this hair belongs to." The old woman recognised that the strand of hair was Sankisar's. The thoughtless utterance of her son was too stupid to be taken cognizance of. She looked into his eyes trying to see if youth had suddenly and prematurely dawned upon him without she being aware of it. But her indulgence silenced her curiosity. '' I shall marry the girl whom this hair belongs to," the boy repeated to the consternation of his mother. This time, a little alarmed, the mother upbraided him. "How can you marry your own sister, you stupid fool? Don't you see it is Sankisar's hair", she exploded. The sudden pull-up made him persist in his obstinacy and he repeated the line with relish as if it was the burden of a popular song. The words rolling down his tongue were giving him vicarious pleasure. Remonstrations from is mother followed, now in a loud voice which brought Sankisar out of the kitchen. Perfidious words coming out of her brother's mouth were received in utter disbelief. The utterance was by implication incestuous and so too painful for a sensitive maiden like her to bear. A savage impulse to run away from home seized her. She wanted to run away from life itself as her virgin mind refused to believe that of all the people in the world, her own brother could degrade himself to the extent as to persist in repeating the satanic line over and over again. The world exploded around her and like a frightened gazelle before a panther she flew, shutting out her ears with her palms so as not to hear what her brother was now repeating with gusto. On and on she ran distancing herself from home as far as possible. Now out of breath, she could hear the poundings of her little heart. Slowly she composed herself and for the first time looked round.

In the gloom of the late afternoon the shadows had lengthened and the air was languid and still. The silence was frightening. She sat under a big chinar tree and tried to recollect what her brother had uttered. She wanted to fathom the significance of his words. Everything was revolting and under the circumstances she vowed not to go back to her home. She took courage by the thought that one day, sooner or later, one has to set sail and float out to the sea.

While deep in thought, Sankisar saw a Sadhu appearing from nowhere coming straight towards her. In those good old days Sadhus were Sadhus - selfless benefactors of society. She was not now alone in that desolate place and the presence of a holy man brought a flood of tears to her eyes. The Sadhu calmed her taut nerves. "What ails you, my child? Why are you here alone in this jungle and crying?" he asked. She narrated to him all that had happened to her and repeated her resolve to stay anywhere in the world except in her parental house.

The Sadhu was visibly moved by what the girl told him. Combing his long beard with his fingers, he looked straight into the eyes of the girl trying to read her future. After thinking awhile, he dipped his hand into his bag and brought out some seeds. Giving them to the girl he said,'' Here, take these seven seeds and sow them. Very soon seven tall trees will grow and if you climb any of the trees, no one can touch even your shadow." The Sadhu, then disappeared.

The girl looked thoughtfully at the small round seeds and having nothing better to do, dug seven small holes sowing one seed in each hole. The seeds, surprisingly after a few minutes sprouted into tender shoots, from shoots to seedlings and very soon started gaining in height and girth until all the seven seedlings grew into tall trees, taller than any tree Sankisar had seen. Selecting one a bit taller than the rest, she climbed upon it and very soon reached the highest branch and was glad to sit on it away from the disgraceful utterances of her brother. Being tired, her eyelids began to close softly in the cool air and very soon she fell asleep.

It was now fully dark and the old couple got worried about Sankisar's absence from home. She had never behaved so recklessly. They came out in search of her. After roaming about in the village they directed their feet towards the jungle. The full moon bathed the landscape with its soft milky light. The seven tall trees attracted their attention and looking up found Sankisar perched comfortably on its branches.

"Come down, come down, O Sankisar. This is no place to sleep," shouted the old man. "Come down, come down, O Sankisar. This is no place to sleep," echoed the old woman. Sankisar opened her eyes and thought it prudent not to respond. The wily father started cutting down the tree but the resourceful girl jumped on to the other and then to another, and in the process, all but one tree got hewed down. Now Sankisar found herself on the last remaining tree and seeing no way out, she looked up to the mother Moon in desperation and prayed her for urgent help.

"O mother Moon, mother Moon, zoon maj zooni open your door and let me climb up to you, ''she cried in distress. The magnanimous Moon had witnessed all that had happened in the day. She threw out a strong single moonbeam at her upon which Sankisar climbed and soon found herself in the Moonland. Here she heaved a sigh of relief being far, far away from her home. The parents were dismayed at her disappearance and they retraced their steps to their hut more in anger than in sorrow.

Sankisar lived happily with mother Moon, her foster mother for many days. One day the Moon asked to comb her hair, at the same time cautioning her to avoid the top of her scalp. There even a light brush of the comb would give her a bald patch. Sankisar was happy to be of some service and did the job diligently and with care. One day her comb got entangled in the Moon's hair at the top of her scalp inadvertently and out came thick strands of her hair leaving the area bald as her palm. This was more than mother Moon could bear. She scolded the girl harshly. Sankisar buttoned up her lips from crying which irritated her foster mother all the more. On a strong sliding moonbeam she pushed Sankisar down to the earth, and that was the end of her short honeymoon on the moon.

The free fall from the moon to the earth was breathtaking for the little girl. Sankisar lost her consciousness while in flight but surprisingly landed in the nest of a crow. The old crow was at that time trying to smoothen his ruffled feathers preparing for a comfortable night's rest. The unexpected sight of a girl spread eagled in his nest made him sit up in surprise.

"Who are you, my dear? Where are you coming from?" he cawed, trying to bring the girl to senses.

Sankisar was by this time sobbing hysterically, the fall having knocked the wind out of her. She saw the kind and gentle face of the crow. It was more than enough that she was alive.

"O father crow (kaw mole), help me. My naughty brother wants to make me his wife. I escaped to mother Moon but even she has now deserted me. I have nowhere to go, no one, to help me and I am feeling so hungry," she wailed.

The old crow was moved. He brought some sweet apples for Sankisar to eat. "Eat these apples, my daughter. You may live in this nest with me as long as you like,'' reassured the crow. For the first time since the crash-landing, Sankisar felt her eyelids closing in a slow motion.

One day Sankisar's mother spotted her out sitting in the nest. In a pleading voice she said, "O my daughter, this is no place to live. Come home with me and I shall give you beautiful dolls to play with."

The old crow could not bear to look small before his foster daughter. Out he flew and brought beautiful dolls for Sankisar.

The next day Sankisar's father came to take her home. "O my daughter, this is no place to live. Come home with me and I shall buy you a beautiful spinning wheel," said he, thinking that the offer would surely tempt her. Out flew the crow and brought a beautiful spinning wheel for Sankisar.

The third day Sankisar's brother came to take her home. ''O my sister, this is no place to live. Come home with me and I shall give you a beautiful bridal dress to wear", pleaded he.

Out flew the crow-and brought a beautiful spangled bridal dress studded with pearls.

Sankisar was very happy at the windfall. She put on the beautiful dress and began to spin thread as fine as gossamer. The old crow looked on feeling happy at her craftsmanship. The pink bridal dress had added colour to her roses and she looked extremely channing in the mild autumn sun." She is fit to sit on the throne of this country," muttered the crow to himself.

The crow's words were prophetic. The next day, it so happened that the king on a hunting expedition, happened to pass by the same jungle. Seeing a beautiful girl attired in a bridal dress and spinning in a nest was a sight too real to be true. He took her to be a fairy of the jungle. The soft lilting tune of some ditty which she was humming to herself at that time tinkled little silver beUs in his heart.

"O fairy, this is not the place to spin. Come to my palace and I will make you my queen," he said to Sankisar.

Sankisar was surprised out of her reverie. The face of the young king impressed her. It was her heart and not her voice that spoke," How can I go with you without the permission of my father crow?"

The winsome smile of the girl convinced the king that she was much too willing to come. But the Wazir could not brook this insolence from a girl towards his king. He ordered the hunting party to chop down the tree. Sankisar requested the king to leave the tree unhanned and picked her way down to the earth. The king pleased at the stratagem of his Wazir, came forward and put his own ring on the girl's finger. Thus was Sankisar's marriage performed in a kingly-style and for the king the hunt had got him the most beautiful catch he could dream of.

The king had already six wives living in his palace. The new bride was now put to match the combined wisdom of the six women. The king, one day gave an equal quantity of paddy to all his seven wives and said, "The one who husks the lot first will be my chief queen. So on to the work."

Sankisar looked about her not knowing what to do. She had never husked paddy before. She sat down in dismay but harsh cawing of father crow kindled some hope in her heart. She requested him to help her out of the difficulty. Out flew the crow and after some time returned with thousands of birds and crows who husked the paddy within minutes for her. Looking at the neat pile of rice, all the six queens were surprised. "How did you do it?", asked one of them. She replied. "I threw the paddy, the mortar and the pestle into the Vitasta and up floated the rice". The queens tried to do what Sankisar had told them but lost their paddy, along with their pestles and mortars in the bargain.

The king wanted to give six queens another chance. "The queen whose room presents the best picture shall be my chief queen," he declared. The old crow brought thousands of birds and crows with herbs and flowers in their beaks. They smeared the walls of Sankisar's room with pink roses which gave her room fragrant rosy colour. "How did you do it?", said one of the queens to Sankisar. "That was simple. I got cow dung and cow piss and smeared the walls with the solution," she replied. The king now wanted to give his six queens a last chance. "The one who cooks the most delicious dish will be my chief queen," he declared.

The old faithful crow would not let her foster daughter be dethroned. Out he flew and returned with many birds and crows who had brought all the ingredients and fragrant spices with them. When the dish was ready, its fragrance spread. "How did you do it ?" asked one of the queens. "I cooked 'trumbi' (some inedible herb) in cow dung for spices and cow piss for oil", answered Sankisar.

The result of the third test convinced the king that all his six wives were no match for Sankisar. He divorced them and made Sankisar his queen.

Source: Koshur Samachar

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