From the Galpoghor Series:
The Story of the Bull
Retold by Kabir Chowdhury
Minutes and hours ticked by. Eight o'clock struck. Came the King of the land to Ghafoor's cottage. The young woman courteously welcomed him. She gave him betel leaf and nuts to chew. She engaged him in pleasant and polite conversation. Soon an hour went by. It struck nine. When it struck nine, the Prime Minister came and called out to Ghafoor's wife to open the door of the cottage. The King gave a start and asked, “Who is that?” The pretty woman said, “he is your Prime Minister, Your Highness.” “Oh, God,” groaned the Kink. “There will be a terrible scandal if he sees me here. What shall I do now?” Ghafoor's wife said, “What do you want to do, Sir?” The King said, “Let me slip away by your back door, my dear.”
Well, this was exactly what the young woman wanted. She quietly let the King out by the back door of the cottage and then opened the front door and welcomed the Prime Minister in. She offered him a seat, and betel leaf and nuts to chew. Then she engaged him in polite and pleasant conversation. Soon it was ten o'clock and promptly came the Police Chief and asked Ghafoor's wife to open the door for him. The Prime Minister was quite upset when he learned that the Police Chief was there waiting outside to come in. He entreated, “Do something, please. If he sees me here there will be no end of trouble. And if it reaches my wife's ears I shudder to think of what will happen.” Ghafoor's wife asked demurely, “Shall I then send him away, Sir?” The Prime Minister said, “No, I don't think you need to that. Better let me out by your back door. I'll slip away unnoticed by any one.” She did likewise and let the Prime Minister out by her back door. Then she opened the front door of her cottage and welcomed the Police Chief in and entertained him with betel leaf and nuts. After that she started talking with him and soon it struck eleven when the barber came and called out to Ghafoor's wife to let him in. The Police Chief gave a violent start and asked, “who is that, dear lady?” The young woman said, “He sounds like the King's barber.” When the Police Chief heard this he began to tremble in fear and said, “if that fellow sees me here in your room at this hour of the night and reports it to my wife there is not the least little doubt that she will drive me out of our home.” Ghafoor's wife said, “what can I do, sir? Is there any way that I can help you?” The Police chief like the other two before him entreated the young woman to let him out by the back door. He said, “I'll quietly run away unnoticed by any one.” Then the young lady let the Police Chief out by the back door and allowed him to run away unnoticed by any one. Then she opened her front door, welcomed the barber in and offered him betel leaf and nuts to chew. Then she engaged him in polite and pleasant conversation. After they had talked for a while Ghafoor's wife gave a cough and noisily cleared her throat. Immediately came the sound of another cough from the back of her cottage. Ghafoor following the instructions given to him noisily cleared his throat from his seat on the tree behind the cottage. The barber heard that cough and turned pale. “Who is that?”, he asked with trepidation. The pretty young woman said, “It sounded like my husband. I think it is he.” “But how can that be?”, countered the barber. “Didn't he go away this morning looking for the Afranga bird for the King?” They young woman said, 'That's true. But perhaps he has already found the bird and come back?” Just at this point Ghafoor coughed again and cleared his throat. The barber, looking frightened and bewildered, said, “What shall I do now, dear lady? If he comes in and sees me closeted with you alone in your room at this hour of the night he will surely kill me. Oh, save my life, lady.” Now what did the young woman do? She pointed to the huge big barrel of molasses in the corner of her room and asked the barber to jump in and hide himself there. Without a word the barber rushed to the corner and threw himself into the barrel. He immediately found himself soaking wet up to his ears. The young woman hurried to the barber and said, “Oh, my God, I forgot that there is oil stored in this barrel. When my husband comes in he will most likely want to massage his feet and arms with this oil, and if he comes over to this barrel, I am sure he will discover you.” The barber said in a piteous voice, “what shall I do then?” the young woman now pointed to the other basket placed in another corner of the room, full of shredded cotton, and asked him to go over there quickly and to hide himself in it. In the twinkling of an eye the barber jumped out of the barrel and madly rushed to the basket full of cotton and threw himself inside it. Just then Ghafoor came into the room. The barber tried to hide himself deeper inside the shredded wads of cotton. After a minute or two Ghafoor picked up a mug from another corner of the room and went out. His wife, feigning to seize this opportunity, came running to the barber and whispered to him, “Come quickly, I'll let you out by the back door before by husband returns from the bathroom.” No sooner had the barber heard these words than he jumped out of the basket, and oh, what a sight he presented! With wads of cotton stuck all over his body, his face, his head and shoulders firmly plastered on the sticky molasses, he looked like a strange animal and no human being. However, the young woman kept a straight face. She quietly let him out by her back door and pointing to her right in the pitch darkness said, "Take this path and run away now." The barber ran out without a word and in a second found himself smack inside the iron cage kept hidden there to trap him. The young woman rushed out of her room and promptly shut the door of the cage:
Minutes and hours passed
The crimson dawn came
And the night was gone
Ghafoor went to the King's palace
Paid his respects to the King
"O King, I have got your baby Afranga bird, but it is in an iron cage in my cottage. You have to give me three or four people to carry the cage with the bird from my cottage to your palace." When the King heard Ghafoor's words he was struck dumb with wonder. How could the fellow capture a bird that was never on sea or land or in the air? However, he gave Ghafoor four people and they went to the cottage in the forest. There they carried the cage with the strangely transformed barber inside it on their shoulders and returned to the palace. The Kings saw the weird creature in the cage and said, "Thank you, thank you, my man. What a beautiful baby Afranga bird! Neither my forefathers nor I ever saw such a creature before!" People came from all corners of the country to have a look at the strange bird. All this time the barber moved from one end of the cage to another restlessly. The King said, "Let us place the cage in the outer courtyard of the palace so that people can look at the strange bird to their heart's content." The King's direction was immediately complied with. Visitors streamed in and watched the strange creature in the cage with wide-eyed curiosity. After some time when all outsiders had left, the King quietly strolled up to the cage and murmured to himself, “It is all due to my barber's cleverness that such a strange creature has been added to my menagerie, but where is that barber gone? I don't see him anywhere." The King's soft words reached the barber inside the cage. He at once whispered to the King, "Your Majesty, I am that unfortunate barber of yours." When the King heard these words he was dumbfounded. When he recovered himself to some extent he asked, "What happened to you? Why are you in this cage and how did you come to look like this?" The barber said tearfully, "Don't ask me any questions, Your Majesty. Please open the door of the cage, for God's sake, and let me out." The King angrily told the barber that he had disgraced him more than once and now if he found himself in this pitiable state it only served him right. However, the barber wept bitterly and entreated him to save his life this once. He cried, "Please let me out, Your majesty. I promise that I shall avenge myself and present that pretty woman to you without fail. Don't forget that I am a barber after all." The foolish King, eager to possess Ghafoor's pretty wife, released the barber and let him go. The barber went to his home and washed himself clean, rubbing off the pieces of cotton and liquid molasses with a cake of soap. He rested for a week, after which he presented himself before the King and said, "I have thought of a plan, Your Majesty. he won't escape this time. You can already consider his pretty wife as good as yours." When the King wanted to hear of his plan he said, "You will have Ghafoor brought before you and tell him that you are anxious to find out how your long deceased venerable father is doing in his grave. Tell him that since he has already done so many wonders this should not be difficult for him. Ask him to get into the grave of your father and find out his condition." "But if he can't accomplish this miracle?" asked the King.
"That is exactly what we want," replied the barber. "We shall not lift him out of that hole and bury him there." The King said, "This seems to be an excellent plan. All right, I'll carry it out." He patted the barber on the back and sent him home.
After a week had elapsed the King sent for Ghafoor. When the latter appeared before him he said, "Look, young man, you have done quite a few wonders. Now here is the last miracle you must perform for my sake." Ghafoor asked, "What is it, Your Majesty?" The King explained what he wanted him to do this time. When Ghafoor tried to say that it was something quite absurd and impossible, he paid little heed to his protestations. He firmly added, "Tomorrow we'll dig open father's grave and drop you in." When Ghafoor saw that the King was determined to carry this gruesome project through he agreed to do as the King bade. Then he came back to the bull, his steadfast friend and savior, and told him everything. With a heavy heart he said, "The King has made up his mind to kill me. Only then will he give up." The bull said, "You don't know, my friend, that your evil star is not the King but the King's barber. We have to eliminate him, otherwise you will never be left in peace. All right, don't worry any more. Go to the King's palace tomorrow morning, do what he tells you, and leave the rest to me."
Ghafoor felt somewhat better when he heard these words of the bull. He took his meal and went to bed.
In the mean time the bull again rushed to the Demon King in his hill range. After explaning Ghafoor's predicament he requested the Demon King to get an underground tunnel dug in course of the night linking Ghafoor's cottage with the grave of the King's father. The Demon King heard the bull in silence and immediately directed his one million demons to dig a tunnel connecting Ghafoor's cottage with the grave in question and to throw away the dug up earth into the sea. The crafty and agile demons at once started working and completed the task before the night was three quarters gone.
In the morning Ghafoor reported himself to the King, where-upon the latter had his father's grave opened up. He then dropped Ghafoor into the grave and immediately started throwing basket loads of earth in it. Soon the opened up grave was closed again with Ghafoor inside it. But this did not bother Ghafoor at all. He made all haste and followed the tunnel unerringly and came out through the other end to the tunnel.
All day went by. The night also passed. In the morning Ghafoor went to the palace and appeared before the King who was astounded to see him. How on earth did the fellow come out the grave? Accompanied by his courtiers he rushed to the grave and found it sealed with earth. He faced Ghafoor and asked, "So, how did you find my father?" Ghafoor said, "O King, your venerable father is happy and in peace. He has only one complaint. His finger nails, both his hands, and his feet's have grown abominably long. And all his face is covered with long and thick beard, dense as a forest. That is the only discomfort he is suffering from."
"Is that so?" said the King. "Well, did my father tell you anything?" Ghafoor answered, "Yes, Your Majesty. He said, 'I left such a prosperous Kingdom for my son! And he is spending all his time enjoying himself and being a King. He has hardly a moment to think of my discomfort.' He said this to me and sighed." "Is that true, Ghafoor?" asked the King. "Can I tell you a lie, Your Majesty?" countered Ghafoor innocently.
The King immediately asked the Prime Minister to drop his barber into his father's grave with his box of tools containing a razor, a nail-cutter, and other implements. When the barber learnt about this plan he quietly slinked away and left the court. But how far could he go? The King's men caught hold of him in no time, brought him back beside the grave of the King's father and dropped him in with his tool-box. They told him to cut the nails of the King's father and to shave his beard and to look after his other needs. Then they sealed up the mouth of the grave.
Now the evil fellow was trapped. He ran this way and that, but found no route by which he could escape. Before the day was over he ran out of breath and was choked to death for want air.
Ghafoor's evil star was gone and now all his problems also vanished. With his pretty wife and the bull he lived happily ever after. And here ends my story, too.
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(R) thedailystar.net 2008