A Story and a Song
Tell me a story...
A housewife knew a story. She also knew a song. But she kept them to herself, never told anyone the story or sang the song. Imprisoned within her, the story and the song were feeling choked. They wanted release, wanted to run away. One day, when the woman was sleeping with her mouth open, the story escaped, fell out of her, took the shape of a pair of shoes, and sat outside the house. The song also escaped, took the shape of something like a man’s coat, and hung on a peg.
The woman’s husband came home, looked at the coat and shoes, and asked her, “Who’s visiting?”
“No one,” she said.
“But whose coat and shoes are these?”
“I don’t know,” she replied.
He wasn’t satisfied with her answer. He was suspicious. Their conversation was unpleasant. The unpleasantness led to a quarrel. The husband flew into a rage, picked up his blanket, and went to the Monkey God’s temple to sleep.
The woman didn’t understand what was happening. She lay down alone that night. She asked the same question over and over: “Whose coat and shoes are these?” Baffled and unhappy, she put out the lamp and went to sleep.
All the lamp flames of the town, once they were put out, used to come to the Monkey God’s temple and spend the night there, gossiping. On this night, all the lamps of all the houses were represented there—all except one, which came late.
The others asked the latecomer, “Why are you so late tonight?”
“At our house, the couple quarreled late into the night,” said the flame.
“Why did they quarrel?”
“When the husband wasn’t home, a pair of shoes came onto the verandah, and a man’s coat somehow got onto a peg. The husband asked her whose they were. The wife said she didn’t know. So they quarreled.”
“Where did the coat and shoes come from?”
“The lady of our house,” said the flame, “knows a story and a song. She never tells the story, and has never sung the song to anyone. The story and the song got suffocated inside; so they got out and have turned into a coat and a pair of shoes. They took revenge. The woman doesn’t even know.”
The husband, lying under his blanket in the temple, heard the lamp’s explanation. His suspicions were cleared. When he went home, it was dawn. He asked his wife about her story and her song. But she had forgotten them. “What story, what song?” she said.
“A Story and a Song.” Ramanujan, A. K. A Flowering Tree and Other Oral Tales from India.Berkeley London: University of California Press, ©1997.
Used with the permission of University of California Press.