From the Galpoghor Series:
The Story of Malan Kumar and Kanchan Shundari
Translated by Kabir Chowdhury
Continued from the Last Issue
When Malan Kumar heard this he hit upon a plan. He thought that there was an opportunity for him. He said to the old woman, "All right, don't be so sad. Give me your clothes. I shall dress like you and deliver the milk for you. And I shall come back and give you the gifts meant for you."
The old woman blessed him and said, "Go, son, live long and be happy. Let God fulfill your heart's desires."
So Malan Kumar went to the palace disguised as the poor old woman, with the pot of milk in one hand and a stick in another, which supported his stooping figure. He went up to the guard at the entrance to the inner courtyard and said, "Open the gate quickly. I have come with milk for the Princess." The guard promptly opened the gate and Malan slowly walked on with the pot of milk in his hand. He wondered where he could find Kanchan Shundari. Then he saw a servant and asked him, "where is the Princess at this moment?" The servant said, "Old woman, you are late today! Go to the Princess quickly with your pot of milk. She has been very annoyed with you for your delay. She is in the South Room." Malan went to the South Room and saw Kanchan sitting there alone with a sad and worried face. She looked pale and worn out.
The Princess recognized Malan Kumar the moment she laid her eyes on him. Malan said, "Kanchan, tell me what you want to do. Do you want to marry this Prince of another Kingdom or do you want to marry me?"
Kanchan Shundari sobbingly said, "What is there for me to say, O King of my soul? You are my husband. I have laid bare everything before your feet. I shall go wherever you will take me. Listen, come with a boat in the canal behind the palace tonight at the darkest hour and stay with your boat by the big pine tree there. We shall flee this land and settle in some other Kingdom."
Malan Kumar, in order to remove any possible suspicion about his real identity, addressed the princess in a loud voice so that others could hear him, and said, "Look, Princess, don't be so sad. Tell me, why are you worrying so? Everywhere in this world girls are being married to young men from other lands. There is nothing to be worried about. Give your heart to the Prince and live in peace with him."
When Malan was saying all this to the Princess the Queen chanced to be passing by. She heard her and being very pleased with the old woman showered her with gifts and rewards. The Princess too gave her many precious presents.
After this the Princess became very cheerful. She took her meal along with the Queen. When the dinner was over she said to the Queen, "Mother, I am not feeling well. I am going back to my room. I think I'll go to bed now."
A few minutes later the princess went to the Queen again and said, "Mother, I don't know why I am feeling so restless today. Father and you have always brought me up amidst so many precious jewels. If I could now have a glimpse of those sparkling pearls perhaps the heaviness of my heart might somewhat be relieved. Why don't you give me the keys to the Treasure Room? I'll go and take a look at those jewels."
Kanchan Kanya took the keys from her mother, went to the Treasure Room and gathered a large number of jewels in her arms. She then returned to her room and quietly lay down on her bed.
In the meantime Malan Kumar went back to the old woman and gave her the gifts and rewards meant for her. Then he returned to his home, and thinking a thousand wandering thoughts, fell asleep.
Now a washer-man with the intention of committing theft lay hidden in Kanchan Kanya's room when Kanchan and Malan were discussing the plans of their elopement. He was a regular rogue, and he had overheard everything. He quietly left the palace, got hold of a boat, went to the canal at the back of the palace and tied the boat to the big pine tree there. The Princess crept out of her bed at the dead of night and went stealthily to the appointed spot only to find a large number of boats on the canal. For one moment she was puzzled. Which one was Malan's boat?
Then she remembered. There one tied to the big pine tree must be her beloved husband's. She got into the boat and untying the rope let it float along the current. In the darkness of the night she did not know that she had boarded the wrong boat.
When it was morning the Princess saw their washer-man quietly rowing the boat sitting at front. This frightened the Princess badly. This was a strange situation indeed. Where had her beloved Malan gone? What had happened to him? She requested the washer-man to drop her at the bank of the river. But he paid no heed to her requests. On the other hand he turned to the Princess and said, "Princess, please listen to me and agree to do what I say. Marry me and be my wife."
The washer-man begged and begged and tried his best to make her say yes to his proposal but with no success. Thus passed a day and a night. Then the princess said to the washer-man, "Drop me at the bank for a little while. I have to answer the call of nature." The washer-man brought the boat to the riverside and dropped the Princess near a bush. As she stepped barefoot on to the bank the Princes turned round and said to the washer-man, "Please look after my shoes." The washer-man waited in the boat for the Princess. And do you know what happened just then? Suddenly a jackal jumped on to the boat, grabbed the Princess's shoes in his teeth, and ran away with them. The washer-man jumped down and ran after the jackal while the unattended boat was carried away by the strong current into mid-stream. A sad and chastened washer-man found that the Princess, the Princess' shoes, and his boat were all gone. Crazy with grief and disappointment he began to lament loudly and wander about in all directions.
When day broke the Princess wondered as to what she would do now. She was alone in an unfamiliar land. If men saw her in this condition she might be in difficulty. She put on the clothes of a male and disguised herself as a young man.
Dressed as a man the Princess reached a market place. There she bought a horse and went riding on the horseback. She rode on and at last arrived at another Kingdom called Imran Mulluk.
The King of Imran Mulluk saw a handsome young soldier on horseback passing by from the window of his room in the palace. He called a messenger and asked him to bring the soldier to him. The messenger complied with the King's orders. The King asked the young man who was really no other than Kanchan Kanya in disguise, "O soldier, where are you coming from and where are you going to?"
"Your Highness, I am stranger here. You fame and that of your country have drawn me to this place, I want to serve here," so said Kanchan Kanya disgusied as a young soldier.
The King said, "What work can you do, young man?"
Prompt came the answer, "I can do anything that a soldier is supposed to do. I am a khettri by caste."
The King said, "You are a tender boy yet. The life of a soldier is hard and full of risks. Will you be able to stand that life?"
: Yes, Your highness, I'll be able to do that
: What salary do you want, soldier?
: Well, Your Highness, pay me whatever you please, whatever you consider fair and proper.
So Kanchan Kanya joined the King's army as a soldier and served for a year. No one ever doubted that she was a man. The King was very pleased with the work of the young soldier and made him his right hand man, the Chief Minister. The Chief Minister worked hard and improved the lot of the people greatly. People were full of his praise. The King was so delighted and happy with his work that he decided to give his own daughter in marriage to him. He planned afterwards to hand over the reign of his kingdom to his son-in-law and spend the rest of his life in prayers and meditation.
One day the King called his Chief Minister to him and said, "Look, will you fulfill a wish of mine?"
The Minister said, "I am your Minister, Your Highness. Please tell me what I can do for you."
The King said, "I wan you to marry my daughter and rule this land for me."
Now the Minister was at a loss as to what to say or do.
What severe trials did Allah put him to? All his secrets would now come to light. How could believe her after that?
After pondering over this problem for some time the Minister said, "Well, Sir, I can fulfill your wish if you agree to build for me a separate and independent house near your palace. I would also ask you to dig a moat in front of my house and put up a boundary wall all around it so that no one could enter it. And there is another condition. After the wedding the Princess would be required to pay homage to a sword as if it were her husband for one full year. If these conditions are acceptable to you I shall be glad to marry your daughter and rule your Kingdom for you."
(To Be Continued)
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