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Wonders of the Nut-twig

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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Wonders of the Nut-twig

 

Prologue

He was a rich merchant. He had to travel to distant lands for business. Once before leaving home, he asked his three daughters, “Girls! I wish to see you happy on my return this time. Tell me what you want me to bring for you.”
The eldest daughter said, “I want a nice pearl necklace, father!” The next one uttered, “I want a finger ring studded with a pretty diamond.” The youngest one, who was very young, clung to her father’s chest and whispered, “Bring me a beautiful green nut twig, papa!”

“Good, my dear daughters!” told the merchant, “I will remember all your wishes. Stay happy!”

 

Part 1

The merchant went far away and made good purchases; but did not forget the wishes of his dear daughters. He bought a precious pearl necklace for the eldest daughter and a similarly precious diamond ring for the middle one. He packed them in his travel bag too. However, nowhere did he find a fresh green nut twig. He was supposed to cross many forests on his way back home. So decided to walk back home instead of taking a carriage, hoping that he would find a lush green nut tree in one of those forests. He did not want to see his youngest daughter disappointed, after all.

But all his efforts seemed to have been in vain. He walked for long. Even after crossing more than half of his route, he did not find any nut tree; leave alone a green twig of that. The affectionate father felt sad anticipating that he would not be able to fulfill the request of his youngest child. He was walking slowly through a dark forest with heavy heart. While passing by a dense bush, his hat got stuck into something. It rustled as if it was locked to a branch of a tree, and he looked up. What a wonder! It was a beautiful green nut twig with a bunch of golden nuts hanging from it. The man was delighted. He stretched his hands up and broke one of the wonderful twigs from the tree.

Within moments, he heard someone roaring, “Who are you? Why did you break off my nut branch?” He looked and saw a fierce wild bear rushing out of the thicket on his hind legs, as if to tear the merchant straight away, furiously grumbling “Is it you? Why? I’ll eat you up.” Trembling in shock, the merchant mumbled, “O my dear bear! Don’t eat me! Let me go with the nut twig; I will give you a big ham and lot many sausages for it!” But the bear roared again, “Keep your ham and your sausages! Only if you promise me to give me whatever meets you first at your home, I will not eat you.”

The merchant was really happy with that proposition. It was his poodle, which usually welcomed him first at his doorsteps, whenever he returned home after a long trip. He thought of sacrificing the poodle’s life instead of his own, agreed to the bear and saved himself. After a big handshake, the bear peacefully went back to its thicket and the merchant hurried away, almost breathless, cheerful for getting his life back.

The golden nut twig was hanging from his hat triumphantly as he was hurrying towards home. His bubbly youngest daughter came running as soon as she saw her papa coming. Jumping and hoping, she reached first at the door to welcome him; even the puddle was left behind. His elder daughters and their mother took little slower steps; they also assembled at the door to welcome him.

The sight of his dearest daughter before all the family members startled him. How sad he felt when the cheery little girl embraced him tight! Slowly he withdrew from the embrace of the girl. Paled at the thought of consequence, he took no time to reveal everything about the nut twig, as soon as his family greeted him. Everyone started crying and grieving. Only the youngest daughter showed courage and decided to live up to her father’s promise.

Anyway, her mother came up with a good advice soon. “Let’s not worry about fulfilling your promise too much, my dear! If the bear comes here to remind you, we will give the shepherd’s daughter instead of ours. I am sure he will be satisfied with her.” The suggestion sounded valid to everyone. The daughters were also happy with their beautiful gifts. The little one loved the twig so much that she never kept it aside. She forgot about the bear and also about the promise made by her father.

 

Part 2

But one day, a black carriage showed up in front of the home of the merchant. And the ugly bear stepped out of that. It entered the house growling – demanding the promise made to him to be fulfilled, frightening everyone inside. The family secretly called the extremely unattractive daughter of the shepherd at once, dressed her up and sent her with the bear.

The journey was long. As the carriage stopped near the bear’s home, he kept his wild, shaggy head on the shepherdess’s lap and grunted:
Love me, caress me –
Soft and gentle, behind my ears,
Or with skins and bones, be the food for bear’s.

The daughter of the shepherd started to move her hands behind the bear’s ears, but the bear did not find her touch to be soothing. He realized that he had been deceived. He wanted to eat the well-dressed shepherdess. Anyway he couldn’t – the girl jumped out of the wagon in fear and ran as fast as a rabbit to save her life.

The bear hurried to the merchant’s home once again and roared fiercely asking for the right bride. Now the adorable girl had to move with the ugly groom after a teary farewell from her family members. Close to his home, he growled again keeping his shaggy head on her lap:
Love me, caress me –
Soft and gentle, behind my ears,
Or with skins and bones, be the food for bear’s.
The girl caressed him so gently that it turned even the terrible bear gentle. His gaze became friendly. The poor bride of the bear too developed some trust in him. The journey did not take long while. The carriage was running unbelievably fast, as if it was a tornado roaring through the air. Soon they reached a dark forest and suddenly, the carriage stopped before a gloomy cave. This was the abode of the bear. The girl was quivering in fear. The bear embraced her with his awkward clawed arms while taking her inside. He told her in a friendly grunt, “This is your home, my little bride. Here you shall stay, and stay happy. Be good so that my wild beasts won’t tear you.” He stopped talking as they took a few steps in the dark cave, opened an iron door and entered the room. The room was filled with poisonous worms, which started licking them greedily as soon as they stepped in. And the bear murmured:
“Don’t look at all sides!
Neither right, nor left,
Go straight; you’ll find peace!”

The girl walked through the room without looking around. Worms too, didn’t move or proceed any longer. They walked through ten rooms. The last one was filled with some abominable creatures like dragons and snakes, venomous toads, basilisks and wormwoods. The bear anyway grumbled again:
“Don’t look at all sides!
Neither right, nor left;
Go straight; you’ll find peace!”

The girl shivered and shook in fear and anxiety like an aspen leaf. But she remained determined, did not look around, neither right, nor left. As the door of the twelfth room opened before her, she saw a brilliant gleam of light beaming inside. She heard a melodious music coming from the room. It seemed that many jubilant voices screamed together to celebrate something. The bride was still trembling with fear, experiencing such contrasting environments within a short period of time, the abominable scene she had seen few moments back and then the surprising loveliness around. Before she could recollect anything, again there was a terrible thunderclap, so loud that she thought that the earth and sky broke together. But soon it was quiet again. The forest, the cave, the poisonous animals, the bear – all had disappeared. She found herself standing inside a splendid castle with rooms adorned with gold. She was surrounded by well-dressed servants waiting for her order. The bear had become a handsome young man, a prince who was the owner of the splendid castle. He pressed his beloved bride to his heart and thanked her a thousand times for releasing him and his servants from the state of being under an evil magic spell. Without her sincere love, it couldn’t have been possible for them to free themselves from the black magic, which transformed them to ugly, abominable creatures long back.

The mighty, wealthy princess still held her beautiful nut branch, which was never to be withered, on her bosom. She loved it even more while it had become the reason of her blessed happiness. She sent the good news of her great fortune to her home. The once-bear prince invited her parents and siblings to stay in his castle forever. They reunited and spent a happy life together.

 

 

Note:
Usual beauty and the beast story, same as frog prince, here bear turns a prince with touch of love from a loving woman. We have to obviously understand metaphors to understand folktales which time and again talks about transformation of bodies. Sometimes evils change forms to attack innocent humans, sometimes humans change form for the sake of survival, at times the metamorphosis happens when the ugly animal finds love. Comparable stories from India include the Santhal folktale “The Dog bride”, Kashmiri tale “The Cat bride”, Bengali fairy tale “Buddhu-Bhutum”, or the Telangana folktale describing mythical character Mandodari from Ramayana.
For readers who want to delve deeper – nut and nut trees played important role in European folktales as symbols for nut has been symbol of fertility in ancient Anglo-Saxon mythology. Later Nut was considered to be symbol of man – the green cover of flesh, the hard shell of bones and the kernel of soul. In German folktales, we find several instances where “Hazelwurm” or snake found under a hazelnut tree was a source of mystical wisdom. Hazelnut was symbol of a heart. In medieval Europe hazel twigs were used by dowsers to locate water or metal, gemstones, or ores under the ground, in a word materials that could bring fortune into a person’s life. The story doesn’t tell us which kind of nut twig it was. As readers we are free to imagine. Above all, it was the twig which helped the beautiful girl to find her fortune hidden in a forest and of course, a desirable man’s love.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

He was a rich merchant. He had to travel to distant lands for business. Once before leaving home, he asked his three daughters, “Girls! I wish to see you happy on my return this time. Tell me what you want me to bring for you.”
The eldest daughter said, “I want a nice pearl necklace, father!” The next one uttered, “I want a finger ring studded with a pretty diamond.” The youngest one, who was very young, clung to her father’s chest and whispered, “Bring me a beautiful green nut twig, papa!”

“Good, my dear daughters!” told the merchant, “I will remember all your wishes. Stay happy!”

The merchant went far away and made good purchases; but did not forget the wishes of his dear daughters. He bought a precious pearl necklace for the eldest daughter and a similarly precious diamond ring for the middle one. He packed them in his travel bag too. However, nowhere did he find a fresh green nut twig. He was supposed to cross many forests on his way back home. So decided to walk back home instead of taking a carriage, hoping that he would find a lush green nut tree in one of those forests. He did not want to see his youngest daughter disappointed, after all.

But all his efforts seemed to have been in vain. He walked for long. Even after crossing more than half of his route, he did not find any nut tree; leave alone a green twig of that. The affectionate father felt sad anticipating that he would not be able to fulfill the request of his youngest child. He was walking slowly through a dark forest with heavy heart. While passing by a dense bush, his hat got stuck into something. It rustled as if it was locked to a branch of a tree, and he looked up. What a wonder! It was a beautiful green nut twig with a bunch of golden nuts hanging from it. The man was delighted. He stretched his hands up and broke one of the wonderful twigs from the tree.

Within moments, he heard someone roaring, “Who are you? Why did you break off my nut branch?” He looked and saw a fierce wild bear rushing out of the thicket on his hind legs, as if to tear the merchant straight away, furiously grumbling “Is it you? Why? I’ll eat you up.” Trembling in shock, the merchant mumbled, “O my dear bear! Don’t eat me! Let me go with the nut twig; I will give you a big ham and lot many sausages for it!” But the bear roared again, “Keep your ham and your sausages! Only if you promise me to give me whatever meets you first at your home, I will not eat you.”

The merchant was really happy with that proposition. It was his poodle, which usually welcomed him first at his doorsteps, whenever he returned home after a long trip. He thought of sacrificing the poodle’s life instead of his own, agreed to the bear and saved himself. After a big handshake, the bear peacefully went back to its thicket and the merchant hurried away, almost breathless, cheerful for getting his life back.

The golden nut twig was hanging from his hat triumphantly as he was hurrying towards home. His bubbly youngest daughter came running as soon as she saw her papa coming. Jumping and hoping, she reached first at the door to welcome him; even the puddle was left behind. His elder daughters and their mother took little slower steps; they also assembled at the door to welcome him.

The sight of his dearest daughter before all the family members startled him. How sad he felt when the cheery little girl embraced him tight! Slowly he withdrew from the embrace of the girl. Paled at the thought of consequence, he took no time to reveal everything about the nut twig, as soon as his family greeted him. Everyone started crying and grieving. Only the youngest daughter showed courage and decided to live up to her father’s promise.

Anyway, her mother came up with a good advice soon. “Let’s not worry about fulfilling your promise too much, my dear! If the bear comes here to remind you, we will give the shepherd’s daughter instead of ours. I am sure he will be satisfied with her.” The suggestion sounded valid to everyone. The daughters were also happy with their beautiful gifts. The little one loved the twig so much that she never kept it aside. She forgot about the bear and also about the promise made by her father.

But one day, a black carriage showed up in front of the home of the merchant. And the ugly bear stepped out of that. It entered the house growling – demanding the promise made to him to be fulfilled, frightening everyone inside. The family secretly called the extremely unattractive daughter of the shepherd at once, dressed her up and sent her with the bear.

The journey was long. As the carriage stopped near the bear’s home, he kept his wild, shaggy head on the shepherdess’s lap and grunted:
Love me, caress me –
Soft and gentle, behind my ears,
Or with skins and bones, be the food for bear’s.

The daughter of the shepherd started to move her hands behind the bear’s ears, but the bear did not find her touch to be soothing. He realized that he had been deceived. He wanted to eat the well-dressed shepherdess. Anyway he couldn’t – the girl jumped out of the wagon in fear and ran as fast as a rabbit to save her life.

The bear hurried to the merchant’s home once again and roared fiercely asking for the right bride. Now the adorable girl had to move with the ugly groom after a teary farewell from her family members. Close to his home, he growled again keeping his shaggy head on her lap:
Love me, caress me –
Soft and gentle, behind my ears,
Or with skins and bones, be the food for bear’s.
The girl caressed him so gently that it turned even the terrible bear gentle. His gaze became friendly. The poor bride of the bear too developed some trust in him. The journey did not take long while. The carriage was running unbelievably fast, as if it was a tornado roaring through the air. Soon they reached a dark forest and suddenly, the carriage stopped before a gloomy cave. This was the abode of the bear. The girl was quivering in fear. The bear embraced her with his awkward clawed arms while taking her inside. He told her in a friendly grunt, “This is your home, my little bride. Here you shall stay, and stay happy. Be good so that my wild beasts won’t tear you.” He stopped talking as they took a few steps in the dark cave, opened an iron door and entered the room. The room was filled with poisonous worms, which started licking them greedily as soon as they stepped in. And the bear murmured:
“Don’t look at all sides!
Neither right, nor left,
Go straight; you’ll find peace!”

The girl walked through the room without looking around. Worms too, didn’t move or proceed any longer. They walked through ten rooms. The last one was filled with some abominable creatures like dragons and snakes, venomous toads, basilisks and wormwoods. The bear anyway grumbled again:
“Don’t look at all sides!
Neither right, nor left;
Go straight; you’ll find peace!”

The girl shivered and shook in fear and anxiety like an aspen leaf. But she remained determined, did not look around, neither right, nor left. As the door of the twelfth room opened before her, she saw a brilliant gleam of light beaming inside. She heard a melodious music coming from the room. It seemed that many jubilant voices screamed together to celebrate something. The bride was still trembling with fear, experiencing such contrasting environments within a short period of time, the abominable scene she had seen few moments back and then the surprising loveliness around. Before she could recollect anything, again there was a terrible thunderclap, so loud that she thought that the earth and sky broke together. But soon it was quiet again. The forest, the cave, the poisonous animals, the bear – all had disappeared. She found herself standing inside a splendid castle with rooms adorned with gold. She was surrounded by well-dressed servants waiting for her order. The bear had become a handsome young man, a prince who was the owner of the splendid castle. He pressed his beloved bride to his heart and thanked her a thousand times for releasing him and his servants from the state of being under an evil magic spell. Without her sincere love, it couldn’t have been possible for them to free themselves from the black magic, which transformed them to ugly, abominable creatures long back.

The mighty, wealthy princess still held her beautiful nut branch, which was never to be withered, on her bosom. She loved it even more while it had become the reason of her blessed happiness. She sent the good news of her great fortune to her home. The once-bear prince invited her parents and siblings to stay in his castle forever. They reunited and spent a happy life together.

NOTE:

Usual beauty and the beast story, same as frog prince, here bear turns a prince with touch of love from a loving woman. We have to obviously understand metaphors to understand folktales, which time and again talks about transformation of bodies. Sometimes evils change forms to attack innocent humans, sometimes humans change form for the sake of survival, at times the metamorphosis happens when the ugly animal finds love.

Comparable stories from India include the Santhal folktale “The Dog bride”, Kashmiri tale “The Cat bride”, Bengali fairy tale “Buddhu-Bhutum”, or the Telangana folktale describing mythical character Mandodari from Ramayana.

For readers who want to delve deeper – nut and nut trees played important role in European folktales as symbols for nut has been symbol of fertility in ancient Anglo-Saxon mythology. Later Nut was considered to be symbol of man – the green cover of flesh, the hard shell of bones and the kernel of soul. In German folktales, we find several instances where “Hazelworm” or snake found under a hazelnut tree was a source of mystical wisdom. Hazelnut was symbol of a heart. In medieval Europe hazel twigs were used by dowsers to locate water or metal, gemstones, or ores under the ground, in a word materials that could bring fortune into a person’s life. The story doesn’t tell us which kind of nut twig it was. As readers we are free to imagine. Above all, it was the twig which helped the beautiful girl to find her fortune hidden in a forest and of course, a desirable man’s love.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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