In the long past a king of Kashmir one day went out hunting. The chase was
long and the quarry eluded his arrows. He missed his way in pursuit of
it and came to a garden where he saw a lovely maiden. No longer able to
restrain himself he approached the maiden thus without knowing who she
you are! You are fit to adorn a palace and will make a pretty queen for
did not feel embarrassed in the least on being complimented thus. She retorted,
"Yes, I too should like to marry someone like you and then my son will
marry your daughter."
The king was
intrigued by this answer and did not know how to deal with her as he was
he returned to his capital, but he could not shake the image of the maiden
from his mind, nor indeed the words she had spoken. He sent men round to
trace her out and learnt that she was a princess. He sent match-makers
to her father proposing his own suit and prayed to him to assent to the
princess becoming his queen. After due deliberation her father communicated
his acceptance of the match. The date was set for the marriage which was
later celebrated befittingly with illumination and feasting, music and
. The princess
came to live in the palace right royally and was attended upon by a suite
of pages and maid servants. But she was never visited by the king, her
husband, nor did he ever talk to her. The princess felt disgusted in a
few weeks and made an excuse to visit her father after a couple of months.
She did not report her
secret to any
one except her mother. The latter was very much grieved but as no remedy
suggested itself to her she advised her daughter to wait patiently.
Two or three
years passed and yet the king did not even make a presence of remembering
his wife. Not to speak of visiting her personally, he did not even send
a messenger to ask after her welfare. But the princess expressed no surprise
nor made any complaint.
One day, however,
she begged her father to grant her a boon to travel beyond his own State.
"I am now fully grown up and yet," she said, "I know so little about the
world. Travelling abroad will add to my knowledge of the world and of the
marvels of creation."
gave some thought to what she said but declined the permission. "You are
not a man," he observed, "and I cannot make sufficient arrangements for
your protection outside my principality."
But the princess
insisted and expressed her resolve to go unescorted, all alone, if he did
not grant her boon. Hard pressed thus, her father made all arrangements
for her journey, appointing wise and gallant men to escort her.
sojourn was leisurely. She was well-provided with money and travelled in
a befitting state in different directions. At last she reached the borders
of her husband's State. She sent word to him that a princess from a distant
land had arrived and wanted to make her obeisance to His Highness. The
king was so highly impressed with the wording of her letter and the etiquette
of her plenipotentiary that he came personally to receive her. She was,
of course, in disguise and the king failed to recognize his wife. Overwhelmed,
however, with the beauty of her looks and with the charm of her personality
he invited her to live as his guest in his palace which she graciously
This was the
plan of the princess herself. She used all her cards—and her arts—so well
that the king lost his heart to her. She too professed to have fallen in
love with the king and they developed an intimacy. After a couple of months
the princess sought his leave which he was very reluctant to give. Ultimately,
before she took her departure the princess got from him his ring and his
handkerchief besides many valuable presents.
Within a few
months of her reaching her father's palace the princess gave birth to a
son. Her father was furious and said that his daughter had made him lose
his face and slash his nose. But the princess explained everything to her
mother and her parents admired her cleverness. The child was dark in complexion
and was named Shabrang which means "of the colour of night."
As the child
grew up he was given instruction in various arts befitting his station.
But his mother wanted him to learn all the tricks of a thief. She, therefore,
asked a clever and experienced thief to train him up in his trade. After
some time the thief reported the successful completion of his assignment.
wanted to assure herself that it was so and set him a couple of tests.
In the first instance she asked him to get an egg from the nest of an eagle
without disturbing the king of birds. Shabrang went nimbly up the massive
trunk of an ancient chinar. He put his hand into the nest while the eagle
was in and came away with an egg so neatly that the bird was not at all
aware of the loss. His mother was satisfied with his training when he came
out with flying colours from another stiffer test.
"Now you are
fit for the task for which I have got you trained," said his mother to Shabrang. 'All these years," she added, "I have been smarting under an
insult and humiliation I have suffered at the hands of your father. It
is now for you to avenge it."
Then she explained
in as delicate a manner as possible that her husband had slighted and deserted
her. She directed him to the State of her husband and asked him to commit
daring burglaries til] the king, out of helplessness,
would be compelled
to win over the captain of the thieves by offering him his daughter in
marriage. "When this stage is reached you should send for me before accepting
the offer," she concluded.
Kashmir. His dark complexion marked him out to be an uncommon man. His
well-developed physique, his sharp looks, his agile body and his polished
and courteous address created a good impression wherever he went. He made
friends with the captain of the palace guards and in a few days he was
himself offered a situation on the bodyguard of the king. He made a survey
of the capital, took note of the important and well to-do people, and studied
the situation of important thoroughfares, canals and bridges. Within a
couple of months of his employment he committed the first burglary and
hid the stolen property in a hole under a tree in the fields. The news
of the burglary spread everywhere. Though people felt concerned, they could
not help admiring the unknown thief for his daring and his cleverness.
was followed in the next few days by several others, each surpassing the
previous one in astounding cleverness and daring. The citizens had never
been harassed thus and the guardians of law never knew a time when they
had been similarly teamed. When the king heard of these outrages he reprimanded
the kotwal and charged him to be on watch and patrol the streets
personally. That same night the kotwal went round the city but not
a mouse was stirring. He saw a woman drawing water from a well in a vegetable
"Who are you?"
"I am a poor
woman working here on this vegetable farm and came here to draw water,"
you do so earlier?"
"My baby is
ill and was crying all through the day It has just gone to sleep and I
"Did you happen
to see any thief?"
"Yes, he came
here last night to steal my turnips and threatened to smother me if I raised
any alarm. He is likely to come again tonight."
"Then I may
keep watch here and seize him," said the kotwal who vividly remembered
the admonition that had been administered to him earlier that day.
"By all means,"
said the woman, "but he is hardly expected to come here when he sees you
in your uniform. You had better exchange your clothes with mine and sit
perched on the pole aloft to avoid detection."
The kotwal accepted
the advice which appeared to be sound. Dressed as a farmer's wife he sat
on the heavy end of the shaft. The woman pulled down the rope to raise
him up and tied it to a peg on the ground. "I'll let you down," she said,
"the moment he appears", and went towards her mud hut in a corner.
Early in the
morning the king received the news of other burglaries during the night.
He sent for the kotwal but he was nowhere to be seen. The report
gained currency all round that the kotwal was missing, for he had
not been seen since the previous evening. Search parties were sent round
and the whole city was combed. The kotwal was finally discovered
perched on the shaft which lifted water out of the well. He was overcome
with shame and mortification at his gullibility and the predicament in
which he was found. All his prestige was gone into dust. "Sir !" he addressed
the king broken hearted, "I deserve to be whinged and imprisoned for my
folly." The king, however, consoled him and asked the wozir to take
in hand the arrangements for the next night's watch.
The wasir confident
of his wisdom and experience set about his task in all earnestness. He
patrolled the streets and found everything in order. Going towards the
outskirts of the city he heard a grinding sound and saw a dim light coming
out of a doorway. On reaching the spot he saw an old woman grinding corn.
"Why are you
working so late?" he asked.
can we do, protector of the weak?" she replied. "I should have been asleep
in bed had not that incarnation of the devil come and beat me. He gave
me this corn to grind and threatened to kill me if I do not finish it by
the time he returns this way."
The wazir could
not let go this opportunity and decided to change places with the old woman.
"But your clothes?" said the old woman as she accepted the proposal of
the wazir, "your clothes will at once scare him away. He will come
later and beat me." Accordingly the wazir exchanged his clothes
with the old woman and started grinding corn.
having donned the wozir's garments Shabrang committed more startling
burglaries. In the morning reports were again made to the king about the
thief. He sent for the wozir but he was nowhere to be seen. Inquiries
were made, search parties were sent round and the wozir was found
disguised as an old woman in a state of utter mortification. "Sire," he
said to the king, "time was when people considered me wise and clever enough
for the exalted post at the feet of your majesty. It no longer holds true
now, for obviously I have been baffled, outwitted and defeated. The humble
prayer of your worthless servant is to relieve him of this charge and to
appoint a really wise man in my place who can rid the state of this pestilence."
The king, of
course, realized that the wozir was speaking under the stress of
his humiliation and tried to comfort him. He consulted other wise and venerable
citizens as to how the menace could be countered. They offered various
suggestions but the king was not inclined to accept any. "This is an extraordinary
emergency," he said, "and can be tackled in an extraordinary way." He said
that it could not be a common thief or cut-throat who had set the police
and magistracy at defiance and given an affront even to the illustrious wazir himself.
He suggested an unorthodox plan the novelty of which staggered the whole
assembly: it was to be made known by the beat of the drum that he would
give his daughter in marriage to the thief if he surrendered himself and
took an oath to abstain from such deeds subsequently.
the State was agog with excitement on hearing this startling news. Kashmir
has a fertile soil for rumours which have a substratum of truth and wildest
fantasies were built on the proclamation which spread all over the State
in no time. "Who is the thief?" "Will he accept the offer?" "He is surely
some foreign prince," was what the people asked and said.
The king held
a public audience on the third day in accordance with his proclamation
and awaited the hero of the burglaries to make his appearance public. On
both sides of the king were seated his courtiers and the wise men of his
realm. The atmosphere was tense with expectation and for some time it appeared
as if the thief had spurned the offer.
crier once again renewed the offer on behalf of the king. There was a stir
at the gate and walking past the guards Shabrang stepped forward and made
obeisance to the king. "What could this foreigner have to say to his majesty
on this occasion?" thought the prince. In the meantime Shabrang stood erect
gracefully and declared in all solemnity that he was responsible for all
the burglaries. It was as startling a piece of news as any of the exploits
he had been responsible for and nobody could have associated him with a
theft. But such is the love of people for taking credit for prophecies
that everybody began to whisper into the ear of his neighbour. "Did I not
say that this young man appeared suspect?" "Did I not say that only a foreigner
could have done it?"
The king himself
was surprised and when he demanded proof Shabrang took him to the spot
where all his booty was sat ely buried. Everything stolen was recovered
including the uniform of the police kotwal and the robes of the wazir. The
king was satisfied and made an offer of the hand of his daughter in marriage
to Shabrang. The latter declared that his purpose was now fully served
and no more burglaries would occur. The citizens heaved a sigh of relief
and the kotwal and wazir gave gifts to the poor and the holy
by way of thanksgiving.
sent for his mother intimating to her every detail. She was accorded a
warm reception due to the would-be mother-in-law of the royal princess
and was lodged in the palace. In due course the king, true to his proclamation,
came to pay a call on his female guest and made an offer of his daughter
in marriage to Shabrang. She said that she would have accepted the offer
gladly but that could not be. "Shabrang can no more marry the princess,"
she said, "than a brother can take his sister for a wife."
The king was
puzzled by this answer and frankly confessed it. Shabrang's mother then
produced the ring and handkerchief that she had got from the king when
she visited him in disguise before Shabrang's birth. She also reminded
him of the occasion when they first met in a garden and the words they
had exchanged then. What had appeared as a puzzle then had actually happened
now and the king felt that he had really been outwitted by the clever lady.
The king and his queen were reconciled to each other and Shabrang was acknowledged
not as the king's son-in-law but as the heir-apparent.