Hard Knocks

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Part 23 of total 37 stories in the book Tales of Tenali Raman.
  

In the capital city of Vijayanagara, there lived a washerwoman by the name Peepli with her husband, Damodar, and daughter, Chameli. She was known in the town for her excellent service. Her husband used a bullock cart to transport people’s laundry. Peepli would make the clothes shine like new after each wash. She used the ancient Indian formula for soap and the technique of repeatedly beating the wet clothes on a smoothened flat stone.

However there was a problem. Peepli thought just like the clothes she dealt with every day, she could keep her husband also a man of clean character by beating him. Her parents used to beat her as a child telling her that it would make her a good disciplined child. Poor woman carried this wrong idea to her adulthood.

Damodar bore the brunt of her onslaught every evening. He suffered through it partly because the concept of divorce did not exist in those times and partly because he loved his family. Moreover he got habituated to the abuse over time as human beings tend to be. But it made him a weak and depressed soul. Peepli on the other hand began believing in her own stupid idea because there was no resistance from Damodar and continued her abusive, ignorant behavior with elan. Violence, verbal or physical and in whatever scale, if left unchecked tends to become a perpetual source of pleasure for the perpetrator.

Even as Chameli grew up to be a very beautiful young lady, nobody came forward to marry her. All young men in the town were afraid that she would also have her mother’s philosophy of domesticating the husband. Damodar grew concerned day by day about not being able to find a suitable groom for his daughter.

When courtiers of King Krishna Deva Raya heard about this, they decided to make this a challenge for Tenali Ram. Some of them promptly went to Damodar and told him that Tenali Ram would be very much interested in marrying Chameli. With great hope, Damodar hurried to Tenali Ram’s house.

Tenali Ram patiently listened to Damodar’s story. He realized that the courtiers had set him up. His heart filled with compassion for Damodar. He also decided to put an end to the abusive and ignorant behavior of Peepli and change their lives for the better. “I cannot get married for the next couple of years,” said Tenali to Damodar after a moment’s thought, “But I promise to find you a suitable son-in-law very soon. For that purpose, you have to stay at my place for the next two months. Please inform your wife and daughter about this, pack your bags and come over.”

Damodar came to stay with Tenali Ram from the next day. Over the course of the months, since he was spared the abuse every night, Damodar grew healthier and cheerful. Tenali Ram in the mean time found a young man who had come to the city in search for a job. Ishwar was a skilled, strong blacksmith who hadn’t heard of the husband-beating stories of Peepli. Tenali Ram helped Ishwar set up his small business in the city. Subsequently he introduced Damodar to Ishwar and brought up the idea of Ishwar marrying Chameli. Everyone was happy about the proposal.

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On the day of the marriage, Peepli called Chameli and gave her an old, hard pair of leather shoes. “My dear daughter, “said Peepli, “human minds are like the clothes we wear. They need regular cleaning so that they remain in good condition for long. Nobody wants to walk around in dirty clothes. A husband mind, like his clothes, are the responsibility of his wife. You have seen how I use shoes like these to keep your father disciplined. It is very important for you to have control over and discipline your husband. So use these shoes for that purpose and you will have a happy life.” Poor Chameli didn’t know any better. She was as innocent as she was pretty. The obedient daughter decided to begin the course of daily beatings for her husband from the first night itself.

Tenali Ram also had conversations with Damodar and Ishwar on that day. Both men were pleased about the advice they got from Tenali. They thanked him for his wisdom and happily went to the wedding ceremony.

That night when Ishwar came to the bedroom, Chameli promptly raised the shoes to beat him. But she was surprised to find that Iswar had come to bedroom with his hammer. It was a funny sight to see the new husband holding the hammer and new wife holding the shoes in the bedroom. Both of them couldn’t help laughing at each other. Ishwar told Chameli what Tenali Ram had told him. Hearing that Chameli understood the stupidity of her mother’s advice. She was happy that she did not resort to the stupid, violent behavior towards her spouse.

In the mean time, Damodar was back in his house with Peepli after the two months away. As it was time for bed, Peepli fetched the shoes to give Damodar the daily quota of beating. She had been missing the ritual for the two months. But she was in for a surprise. Damodar was stronger after his long stay with Tenali Ram. He blocked Peepli’s beating and told her that there was a change of plan from that night. He went outside their home and fetched the whip that he used to guide the bullocks that pull his cart.

“My dear wife, ” he said to a surprised Peepli, “Tenali Ram told me that just like how you beat me like your clothes to keep my mind clean, I should also whip you like the bullocks to guide you in the right direction. I know you have taught the same lesson to your daughter but don’t worry Ishwar will be using his blacksmith’s hammer to shape her mind if Chameli intends to beat his heart clean!” Peepli realized what a grave error she had been committing. She was ashamed of herself. She cried and begged forgiveness from Damodar for all the years of abuse. She realized that violence was never a means to influence and improve a human mind. Damodar consoled her. He was happy that his wife had changed her ways.

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They decided that they would visit Tenali Ram the very next day to thank him for transforming their lives for the better through his clever intervention.

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