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The Magic Carriage

About Kathakali Mukherjee

Kathakali Mukherjee, born 1971, was a student of Sanskrit – Epigraphy and ancient Indian history. But her interest in language and literary studies led her learning another couple of European languages as well.
She worked for media libraries in Kolkata; also spent several years as technical translator, process and team manager with German and Indian software companies in Bangalore. Currently staying in Gurugram or Kolkata, she is engaged with reading and writing.
Apart from experimenting with short stories, she works on literary translation of fable and fairy tales as well as historical fictions. She is exploring the treasure trove left by esteemed Bengali and German authors between 18th-19th centuries these days.
She writes poems during her busy days when time does not permit her to sit at the writing desk.
Her blog: https://medium.com/@KathakaliM and https://www.indiblogger.in/kathakalim
Her self-published works:
"You and me" is a collection of poems https://www.amazon.in/dp/B01NCSMHK9/
And her effort of translating a selection of articles from Lokrahasya “Secrets of the Humankind – Satiric Articles by Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay,”: https://pothi.com/pothi/book/ebook-kathakali-mukherjee-secrets-humankind

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This is a story of two siblings – a boy named Hans and his sister Margaret. Their parents passed away without leaving any wealth for them. The children did not know how to support themselves. How could they? They were too small to find some work – Hans was only twelve and his sister was even younger. The poor children had no other way but to beg for living in this unkind world. Well, the world didn’t always appear unkind to them. They walked all the day. In the evening they stopped, knocked the door of a house that looked beautiful and asked for the night’s shelter. Most of the householders welcomed them with open arms. Most of them offered them good food, tasty drink and warm shelter. What else one can dream of at the end of a hard day’s journey? Many times, kind-hearted shelter-givers gifted them cloths. They were happy to find a way to survive.

One evening, Hans and Margaret stopped in front of a small house little away from the locality. They knocked on the window. An old lady showed up. As they usually did, the children asked if they could sleep inside that night. The lady opened the door and invited them, “I don’t mind! Please come in.” But the moment they stepped inside, the lady told, “I will let you sleep here overnight, but if my man comes to know this, you are gone! He loves roasted flesh of kids; slaughters all the kids he finds within reach.”

Her words frightened them. However they knew they would not be able to continue walking in the dark any longer. Hence they hid themselves quietly in good faith inside a barrel the old lady showed them. Falling asleep was anyway impossible. After almost an hour, heavy steps of a man, most likely the man-eater, was heard on the stairs. He was an ogre indeed! Soon the children heard him calling his wife loud, roaring and asking why she didn’t cook a human-roast for him. Fortunately he left home again next morning. He growled so much before leaving that the children woke up to that noise.

The old lady, however, served them breakfast. At the same time, she ordered, “You have to do something for me in return. Here you have two brooms. Take these and go upstairs. You have to clean my rooms there. I have twelve rooms. You have to clean only eleven of those. Do not open the twelfth for the God’s sake. I have to leave home right away. Ensure that you are done by the time I come back.”

The children were energetic; they finished their task long before the lady’s arrival. Obvious that little Margaret could not resist her curiosity – why did the old lady forbid them not to open the twelfth? She peeped though its keyhole. To her astonishment, she saw a magnificent golden carriage drawn by a golden roebuck inside. She called Hans to have a look as well. Both wanted to explore more. Taking a good look around, they became sure that nobody was watching them. There was no sign of the lady’s returning soon as well. Quickly they unlocked the room, pulled the carriage out, sat on it and drove it fast.

They did not find much time to enjoy the ride out in the open. Within a short while, they saw the old lady and the ogre walking towards home. Little Hans was scared, “Oh sister! What shall we do now?”

“Don’t worry,” told Margaret, “I’ve learnt a magic spell from grandma.
Rose as red as rose stings,
See me but don’t notice.”

Instantly they transformed into a rose bush – the little Margaret to the rose, Hans to thorns, the roe buck and the carriage to the stalk and leaves.

The beauty of the red rose fascinated the ogre and his wife, as they reached the spot. The old lady wanted to pluck the beautiful rose, but the thorn was so hard that her hand started bleeding. Irritated, she had to leave forgetting the rose. As soon as the old couple moved forward, the children changed to their real form. They were trying to go as far as possible from their tormentors; hence were driving very fast. On their way they saw an oven full of breads. They heard a hollow voice calling them from there, “Remove my bread! Remove my bread!” Margaret went to the oven, picked the already baked breads and brought those to the cart. They carried on till they heard a large pear-tree screaming, “Shake my pears! Shake my pears!” The girl got down and started shaking the tree while Hans picked all the pears patiently and carried those to the carriage. They drove further. Again they heard a pleasing voice calling, “Pluck my grapes! Pluck my grapes!” as they were passing by a vine. This time grapes were brought to the carriage. The golden cart was, thus, filled with fresh breads and juicy fruits.

Meanwhile the ogre and his wife reached home. Much to their dismay, they discovered that the children had flown away with their golden roebuck-driven carriage. Long back, these two old crooks had stolen that wonderful carriage. While stealing it, they killed its owner too. This was an incredibly valuable cart indeed! Not only because it was made of gold, its magic powers had made it even more lucrative. It possessed the power to attract offerings from all sides – like the trees and berry bushes, ovens and vineyards. That was how these people – the ogre and his wife, owned it since ages, albeit in a dishonest way, which helped them lead a splendid life with access to plenty of good food.

Now when they found that they are robbed of the cart, they started chasing those runaway children to snatch it back. Excited at the possibility of having some roasted human-flesh for dinner, the man-eater’s mouth was already watering. He wanted to catch and slaughter them at once. Both the old tricksters ran taking long strides and soon, caught the sight of the children from afar. The children were much ahead, but they reached at the end of the road. Before them lied a large lake, which was not possible to cross. There was neither a bridge nor a boat. They stood there perplexed. There was only a flock of ducks swimming cheerfully in the pond. Margaret went close to the water threw some pieces of bread to them and called out,
“You ducklings, you ducklings, swim together;
Make me a bridge so that I can come over! ”
The ducks, swimming peacefully together formed a bridge and the children on the roebuck-driven carriage reached the other shore crossing the lake.

The man-eater too arrived there within minutes and grumbled in a rough voice,
“You ducklings, you ducklings, swim together;
Make me a bridge so that I can come over! ”
Swimming swiftly, the ducklings came there and formed a bridge again. And – what do you think? They helped the old crooks to reach the other shore? No – as the couple reached till the middle of the lake where the water was deepest, they swam apart. The wicked man-eater, along with his old lady, fell into the water and died.

Our little Hans and Margaret became wealthy. They donated a lot to the poor. They did all good things. They remembered how bad the days were those they have gone through once. They did not want to see others suffering the same way; so always tried to share a part of their wealth with the poor, who still begged for a living.

 

Photo credit : Wikimedia Commons

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