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The Man Without a Heart

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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Introduction :

They were seven brothers, poor as well as orphan. They did not have a sister; hence they had to do all household works by themselves. Obviously they didn’t find it very convenient, and after a discussion among themselves, they decided to marry. But no marriageable girl was available in the area they lived in. The senior villagers suggested that they should go abroad to look for brides while the youngest one should take care of household in the meantime. The elder brothers decided that they would bring a beautiful bride also for the youngest one from abroad.

Part 1

The youngest was happy with the proposition. The six elders too set out cheerfully in search of brides. They crossed many roads, fields and valleys. On the way, they saw a small solitary house in the middle of a forest. A very old man stood in front of the house. He called the brothers loud, “Hey youngsters! Where are you going in such a festive mood?
“Why not? Each of us is going to find a beautiful wife, and we will also find another for our youngest brother at home.”
“My young boys! I am here all alone; bring a bride also for me. Only make sure that the bride is young and beautiful.”
The brothers left the place thinking, “Hmmm, what will this kind of an old ice-gray witch-looking man do with a young beautiful bride?”

They reached a city. They found seven sisters in a home – so young and so beautiful that they could never even dream of marrying those kinds of girls before. The six brothers married six of them and took the youngest one along for their youngest brother. On their way back home, they had to cross the same forest again; and the old man was standing in front of his hut as before as if he was waiting for them. He cried again, “Hey, brave boys! I’m so happy that you found such a young and beautiful girl for me!

“No!” The brothers denied, “She is not for you, but for our brother at home. We have promised him so!”

“So what?” – The old man yelled at them, “Promised? You liars! You forgot what you assured me? Now I will assure you something!” Telling this he took a white stick and murmured a few spells and touched all the brothers and their brides with the stick – everyone standing before the youngest girl. Each of them was transformed to one piece of gray stone. But he took the youngest of the sisters inside home and then – taking care of household works as well as keeping everything in order became her duty.

 

Part 2

She liked household duties, but also had a fear that the old man would die soon. How would she survive alone in the lonely hut in the wild? She realized how lonesome life could be when the old man went little far once in a while. One day she expressed her worry before the man. The man answered, “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. I am not going to die. I do not have my heart inside my chest! Even if I die, you will find my white magic stick above the door. Take that and hit the grey stones with that. All your sisters and brother-in-laws will be alive again and you will have enough company.”

“But where do you have your heart?” – asked the young bride.

“Do you need to know everything?” The old man asked, “If you really need to, I would tell you – my heart is attached to the bedsheet.”

As the old man left home and went to his business, the lonely young bride spent time sewing. She embroidered beautiful flowers on the bedsheet so that his heart finds delight in it. But coming back home, the old one laughed at that saying, “You are very nice baby, but it was only a joke. My heart is actually in – hmm.”

“Where is that then father?”

“That is in – errr – above the door.”

On the other day, as the old man went out, the young lady coloured the door bright and decorated that with colourful feathers and fresh flowers; also hanged a beautiful wrath on that. Returning home when the man asked why she had done all that, she said, “I tried all that for the sake of keeping your heart happy.”

The man laughed again, “Good girl, but my heart is kept somewhere else – not above the door.”

This saddened the young bride. She said, “Oh father, you have a heart in you. That means someday you will die and I will be alone!”

The old one repeated what he had already told twice. She repeated her question – “But where did you hide your heart?”

Finally the man opened his mouth, “Far, far away there is a big ancient church in a deserted land. The building is well-protected with iron gates. A deep canal is dug around it. No bridge is built over the canal, so none can reach the church. Only a bird flies in and out of that deserted church. The bird doesn’t eat or drink. It will not die as none will be able to catch it. My heart is inside that bird. Hence I will live as long as it does.”

 

Part 3

The bride sat depressed realizing that she would not be able to do anything to please the heart of the old man.

The old left home for long; sometimes spent entire day outside. The day seemed too long to the lonely girl. One day she saw a young traveller coming towards the hut. He greeted her. She greeted him too. He liked her. So he came nearer. She asked him where he was going and from where he had come.

“Bad luck!” sighed the young wanderer, “I am so unfortunate. I had six brothers. They set out once to get brides for themselves and also for me; but never came back. That is reason I too left home. I am searching my brothers.”

“Oh traveler!” The bride cried, “You do not need to go further. First take a seat here. Have some food and drink, then I will explain you everything.” She gave him food and drink and then narrated the story how his brothers had come to her city, married six of her sisters and took her too along with her sisters with an intension to go back home. She also told how the old man charged them when they arrived near his home on their way and how he finally changed them into grey stones. She candidly explained everything with tears welling up in her eyes. She told him that the old man didn’t have a heart under his chest, but inside an immortal bird in an impenetrable church far – far away.

The groom said, “I will move forward. I will look for the bird. May God help me to fulfill my goal.”

“Yes, do that. Your brothers and my sisters will convert to humans again only if you succeed.”

The young man obviously had to hide himself in the evening. Next morning, after the old one left home, the young lady packed load of foodstuffs for the young man. She wished him good luck praying to God for his success.

It was time to breakfast by the time the wanderer crossed a difficult stretch in the forest. He opened his travel pack, screamed in joy seeing the load of foodstuffs packed in it, “Hallo, it’s time to feast – come whoever wants to be my guest.”

Someone answered from behind, “Moo” – as he looked round, he saw a large red ox saying, “You invited – I want to be your guest.”

“You are welcome! Have food with me, as long as I have it.”

The ox sat comfortably on the ground and began munching the food. Having a bellyful, the content guest said, “I should thank you. If you need help in trouble, whatever it is, think of me, your guest once.” He got up and disappeared in the bushes. Packing whatever food was left, the wanderer began his pilgrimage again. After traveling a long stretch again he realized that the shades of the trees around went shorter. He understood that the time must be midday – his empty stomach too indicated so. He sat on the clean ground, spread his table-cloth, arranged the food and drink on it and called, “Hello all! Time for lunch! Whoever wants to have a share, come here.”

A strong movement was heard in the bush and within moments – a wild boar came out grunting, “Oui, oui, oui!” – Then said, “Did someone call me to have a share of lunch? I am not sure whether it was you who called or you wanted to call me.”

“Welcome! Feel free to join me – but only till it is finished.” – Said the wanderer, and both the happy companions had the meal together. Getting up the wild boar said, “Thanks a ton! I am grateful that you invited a boar!” And he disappeared in the bush.

 

Part 4

The traveler walked a long route again. He went far away. By the evening he felt hungry. He still had enough supply; hence he thought – “How nice it would be to have another meal with company? Think its best time to have dinner”. And he spread his table-cover on the ground once again and placed the foodstuffs and drinks neatly on that before calling out, “Whoever has a wish to dine with me – come join me. You are invited till the time food is over!”

The loud noise of a large bird wafting was heard. A dark shade covered the ground as if a big cloud covered the sky. But it was no cloud. As the young man looked above, he saw a large birdlike griffon. It hooped, “I heard someone here was calling for dinner. Is there anything left for me?”

“Why not? Have a seat here and enjoy. I won’t have too much now!” – The man said.

The griffon sat and had food that was more than enough for it. Then it said, “Call me if you need me someday,” before jumping into the air and vanishing.

Wow! The traveler thought, “I see he is really in a hurry. He could easily carry me to the church. I won’t find anyone better.”

He collected all his sacks together to make his bed but decided to take a small walk before sleeping. It did not take long before he found the trace of a church. Soon he saw the deep and wide canal encircling the church. There was no bridge over it. He understood he reached his destination.

He found a nice place to rest, while he was tired of walking so long. He needed to sleep peacefully. Getting up next morning, he pondered how to cross the ditch. “If the red ox arrived here thirsty, he could drink all the water in the ditch and leave it dry for me.”

No sooner he had the wish the ox was seen beside the canal drinking water from it.

The wanderer stood before the church wall. The wall was thick and its towers were made of iron. He did not find an option to cross. He thought, “Ohh! Who could have a perfect tool to break this wall! Perhaps the strong wild boar could do this if he was here. And within a moment the boar arrived there in an aggressive mood and charged fiercely at the wall. One big stone came out – then another. Stones rummaged one after another hit by his tusk till a large, deep opening to the church was created. The young man entered the building, also saw the bird he had heard of flying under the dome, but he was not in the position to catch it.

Now he made a wish aloud, “If the griffon was here now, I could have the bird without hassle. Who doesn’t know Griffon is the other name of grabbing?” At the same moment he saw the Griffon above his head catching the bird. He carefully kept the bird having the old man’s heart with him. The Griffon too flew away.

The young man hurried to reach the young bride’s place as soon as possible. He reached well before evening; hence had enough time to tell her the entire story. The bride gave him food first, then hid him under the bed along with the bird so that the old man could not see him. Returning home, the old man complained of feeling sick. He said that he was not being able to walk any longer which meant his life-bird had been caught by someone. Hearing this from under the bed the young man began reflecting – though the old man did not do any harm to him or his proposed bride, he had transformed all his brothers along with their wives into stones applying evil magic. Not only that, he had captivated the bride for himself. The evil he had done to his family could not be ignored. So he grabbed the bird tight. The wicked man began whining on his bed, “Ohhh – someone caught hold of me. Its death that grasps me tight. Child! – I am dying!“ He fell from bed. The young one quickly tore the neck of the bird off. And the old man remained still on the floor – he died along with the bird.

The brave young man crawled out. The bride took the white magic stick – as she had learned from the old man – hit the 12 grey stones in the yard one after another. All of her six sisters and their husbands looked as if nothing had happened. What a joyous moment it was! All began hugging and kissing each other. That the old man was dead for ever, and no medicine of the world could bring him back to life brought the promise of peaceful life to the brothers and sisters. They left the place together. Back home they celebrated their wedding in cheerful mood and then, spend the rest of life happy.

 

Translator’s Note:

The story taken from Ludwig Bechstein’s collection is an example of Zaubermärchen where evil magic is defeated in order to bring peace and happiness forever – quite common a theme. Many of you might have found it boring – right? Would you still find the story ordinary if I tell you that one version of the same story was collected from remote Kumaon Himalayas region during last half of 19th century by the Russian folklorist Ivan Minayev? Biggest difference between these two is the sorcerer. Whereas in this German version, he is an old unknown forest-dweller, in the Indian, he is a Fakir who wins a kings trust as well as patronage and then kidnaps with his beautiful youngest daughter-in-law. Her husband and then all her brother-in-laws are transformed to trees using magic spell as they try to rescue her. Finally the only grandson of the king finds the life of the sorcerer hidden in parakeet almost same way, kills it and rescues his family (see The Abducted Princess in “Clever Wives and Happy Idiots: folktales from the Kumaon Himalayas” published by Yatra books. ISBN 978-93-83125-09-8). How did similar story evolved in two distant locations in Europe and India? We can speculate movement of stories from one place to another through traders but there is hardly any evidence of regular and wide trading activity between Europe and remote Himalayan villages. Can anyone find a suitable explanation?

They were seven brothers, poor as well as orphan. They did not have a sister; hence they had to do all household works by themselves. Obviously they didn’t find it very convenient, and after a discussion among themselves, they decided to marry. But no marriageable girl was available in the area they lived in. The senior villagers suggested that they should go abroad to look for brides while the youngest one should take care of household in the meantime. The elder brothers decided that they would bring a beautiful bride also for the youngest one from abroad.

The youngest was happy with the proposition. The six elders too set out cheerfully in search of brides. They crossed many roads, fields and valleys. On the way, they saw a small solitary house in the middle of a forest. A very old man stood in front of the house. He called the brothers loud, “Hey youngsters! Where are you going in such a festive mood?
“Why not? Each of us is going to find a beautiful wife, and we will also find another for our youngest brother at home.”
“My young boys! I am here all alone; bring a bride also for me. Only make sure that the bride is young and beautiful.”
The brothers left the place thinking, “Hmmm, what will this kind of an old ice-gray witch-looking man do with a young beautiful bride?”

They reached a city. They found seven sisters in a home – so young and so beautiful that they could never even dream of marrying those kinds of girls before. The six brothers married six of them and took the youngest one along for their youngest brother. On their way back home, they had to cross the same forest again; and the old man was standing in front of his hut as before as if he was waiting for them. He cried again, “Hey, brave boys! I’m so happy that you found such a young and beautiful girl for me!

“No!” The brothers denied, “She is not for you, but for our brother at home. We have promised him so!”

“So what?” – The old man yelled at them, “Promised? You liars! You forgot what you assured me? Now I will assure you something!” Telling this he took a white stick and murmured a few spells and touched all the brothers and their brides with the stick – everyone standing before the youngest girl. Each of them was transformed to one piece of gray stone. But he took the youngest of the sisters inside home and then – taking care of household works as well as keeping everything in order became her duty.

To Be Continued in Part 2….

She liked household duties, but also had a fear that the old man would die soon. How would she survive alone in the lonely hut in the wild? She realized how lonesome life could be when the old man went little far once in a while. One day she expressed her worry before the man. The man answered, “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid. I am not going to die. I do not have my heart inside my chest! Even if I die, you will find my white magic stick above the door. Take that and hit the grey stones with that. All your sisters and brother-in-laws will be alive again and you will have enough company.”

“But where do you have your heart?” – asked the young bride.

“Do you need to know everything?” The old man asked, “If you really need to, I would tell you – my heart is attached to the bedsheet.”

As the old man left home and went to his business, the lonely young bride spent time sewing. She embroidered beautiful flowers on the bedsheet so that his heart finds delight in it. But coming back home, the old one laughed at that saying, “You are very nice baby, but it was only a joke. My heart is actually in – hmm.”

“Where is that then father?”

“That is in – errr – above the door.”

On the other day, as the old man went out, the young lady coloured the door bright and decorated that with colourful feathers and fresh flowers; also hanged a beautiful wrath on that. Returning home when the man asked why she had done all that, she said, “I tried all that for the sake of keeping your heart happy.”

The man laughed again, “Good girl, but my heart is kept somewhere else – not above the door.”

This saddened the young bride. She said, “Oh father, you have a heart in you. That means someday you will die and I will be alone!”

The old one repeated what he had already told twice. She repeated her question – “But where did you hide your heart?”

Finally the man opened his mouth, “Far, far away there is a big ancient church in a deserted land. The building is well-protected with iron gates. A deep canal is dug around it. No bridge is built over the canal, so none can reach the church. Only a bird flies in and out of that deserted church. The bird doesn’t eat or drink. It will not die as none will be able to catch it. My heart is inside that bird. Hence I will live as long as it does.”

To Be Continued in Part 3…

The bride sat depressed realizing that she would not be able to do anything to please the heart of the old man.

The old left home for long; sometimes spent entire day outside. The day seemed too long to the lonely girl. One day she saw a young traveller coming towards the hut. He greeted her. She greeted him too. He liked her. So he came nearer. She asked him where he was going and from where he had come.

“Bad luck!” sighed the young wanderer, “I am so unfortunate. I had six brothers. They set out once to get brides for themselves and also for me; but never came back. That is reason I too left home. I am searching my brothers.”

“Oh traveler!” The bride cried, “You do not need to go further. First take a seat here. Have some food and drink, then I will explain you everything.” She gave him food and drink and then narrated the story how his brothers had come to her city, married six of her sisters and took her too along with her sisters with an intension to go back home. She also told how the old man charged them when they arrived near his home on their way and how he finally changed them into grey stones. She candidly explained everything with tears welling up in her eyes. She told him that the old man didn’t have a heart under his chest, but inside an immortal bird in an impenetrable church far – far away.

The groom said, “I will move forward. I will look for the bird. May God help me to fulfill my goal.”

“Yes, do that. Your brothers and my sisters will convert to humans again only if you succeed.”

The young man obviously had to hide himself in the evening. Next morning, after the old one left home, the young lady packed load of foodstuffs for the young man. She wished him good luck praying to God for his success.

It was time to breakfast by the time the wanderer crossed a difficult stretch in the forest. He opened his travel pack, screamed in joy seeing the load of foodstuffs packed in it, “Hallo, it’s time to feast – come whoever wants to be my guest.”

Someone answered from behind, “Moo” – as he looked round, he saw a large red ox saying, “You invited – I want to be your guest.”

“You are welcome! Have food with me, as long as I have it.”

The ox sat comfortably on the ground and began munching the food. Having a bellyful, the content guest said, “I should thank you. If you need help in trouble, whatever it is, think of me, your guest once.” He got up and disappeared in the bushes. Packing whatever food was left, the wanderer began his pilgrimage again. After traveling a long stretch again he realized that the shades of the trees around went shorter. He understood that the time must be midday – his empty stomach too indicated so. He sat on the clean ground, spread his table-cloth, arranged the food and drink on it and called, “Hello all! Time for lunch! Whoever wants to have a share, come here.”

A strong movement was heard in the bush and within moments – a wild boar came out grunting, “Oui, oui, oui!” – Then said, “Did someone call me to have a share of lunch? I am not sure whether it was you who called or you wanted to call me.”

“Welcome! Feel free to join me – but only till it is finished.” – Said the wanderer, and both the happy companions had the meal together. Getting up the wild boar said, “Thanks a ton! I am grateful that you invited a boar!” And he disappeared in the bush.

To Be Continued in Part 4….

The traveler walked a long route again. He went far away. By the evening he felt hungry. He still had enough supply; hence he thought – “How nice it would be to have another meal with company? Think its best time to have dinner”. And he spread his table-cover on the ground once again and placed the foodstuffs and drinks neatly on that before calling out, “Whoever has a wish to dine with me – come join me. You are invited till the time food is over!”

The loud noise of a large bird wafting was heard. A dark shade covered the ground as if a big cloud covered the sky. But it was no cloud. As the young man looked above, he saw a large birdlike griffon. It hooped, “I heard someone here was calling for dinner. Is there anything left for me?”

“Why not? Have a seat here and enjoy. I won’t have too much now!” – The man said.

The griffon sat and had food that was more than enough for it. Then it said, “Call me if you need me someday,” before jumping into the air and vanishing.

Wow! The traveler thought, “I see he is really in a hurry. He could easily carry me to the church. I won’t find anyone better.”

He collected all his sacks together to make his bed but decided to take a small walk before sleeping. It did not take long before he found the trace of a church. Soon he saw the deep and wide canal encircling the church. There was no bridge over it. He understood he reached his destination.

He found a nice place to rest, while he was tired of walking so long. He needed to sleep peacefully. Getting up next morning, he pondered how to cross the ditch. “If the red ox arrived here thirsty, he could drink all the water in the ditch and leave it dry for me.”

No sooner he had the wish the ox was seen beside the canal drinking water from it.

The wanderer stood before the church wall. The wall was thick and its towers were made of iron. He did not find an option to cross. He thought, “Ohh! Who could have a perfect tool to break this wall! Perhaps the strong wild boar could do this if he was here. And within a moment the boar arrived there in an aggressive mood and charged fiercely at the wall. One big stone came out – then another. Stones rummaged one after another hit by his tusk till a large, deep opening to the church was created. The young man entered the building, also saw the bird he had heard of flying under the dome, but he was not in the position to catch it.

Now he made a wish aloud, “If the griffon was here now, I could have the bird without hassle. Who doesn’t know Griffon is the other name of grabbing?” At the same moment he saw the Griffon above his head catching the bird. He carefully kept the bird having the old man’s heart with him. The Griffon too flew away.

The young man hurried to reach the young bride’s place as soon as possible. He reached well before evening; hence had enough time to tell her the entire story. The bride gave him food first, then hid him under the bed along with the bird so that the old man could not see him. Returning home, the old man complained of feeling sick. He said that he was not being able to walk any longer which meant his life-bird had been caught by someone. Hearing this from under the bed the young man began reflecting – though the old man did not do any harm to him or his proposed bride, he had transformed all his brothers along with their wives into stones applying evil magic. Not only that, he had captivated the bride for himself. The evil he had done to his family could not be ignored. So he grabbed the bird tight. The wicked man began whining on his bed, “Ohhh – someone caught hold of me. Its death that grasps me tight. Child! – I am dying!“ He fell from bed. The young one quickly tore the neck of the bird off. And the old man remained still on the floor – he died along with the bird.

The brave young man crawled out. The bride took the white magic stick – as she had learned from the old man – hit the 12 grey stones in the yard one after another. All of her six sisters and their husbands looked as if nothing had happened. What a joyous moment it was! All began hugging and kissing each other. That the old man was dead for ever, and no medicine of the world could bring him back to life brought the promise of peaceful life to the brothers and sisters. They left the place together. Back home they celebrated their wedding in cheerful mood and then, spend the rest of life happy.

The End

The story taken from Ludwig Bechstein’s collection is an example of Zaubermärchen where evil magic is defeated in order to bring peace and happiness forever – quite common a theme. Many of you might have found it boring – right? Would you still find the story ordinary if I tell you that one version of the same story was collected from remote Kumaon Himalayas region during last half of 19th century by the Russian folklorist Ivan Minayev? Biggest difference between these two is the sorcerer. Whereas in this German version, he is an old unknown forest-dweller, in the Indian, he is a Fakir who wins a kings trust as well as patronage and then kidnaps with his beautiful youngest daughter-in-law. Her husband and then all her brother-in-laws are transformed to trees using magic spell as they try to rescue her. Finally the only grandson of the king finds the life of the sorcerer hidden in parakeet almost same way, kills it and rescues his family (see The Abducted Princess in “Clever Wives and Happy Idiots: folktales from the Kumaon Himalayas” published by Yatra books. ISBN 978-93-83125-09-8). How did similar story evolved in two distant locations in Europe and India? We can speculate movement of stories from one place to another through traders but there is hardly any evidence of regular and wide trading activity between Europe and remote Himalayan villages. Can anyone find a suitable explanation?

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1 Response Comment

  • Aparna Mondal11/03/2019 at 10:48 AM

    Lovely Kathakali ! . I love the way you tell those folk tales. The note presenting the comparisons of the same kind of stories with varied local versions speaks of the research you did on the folktales . Very interesting indeed. Will love to read the subsequent episodes .

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