The Clever Old Woman

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The Clever Old Woman

A Hindi Story by Mansha Sahay

Once upon a time there lived an old woman in a kingdom ruled by a beautiful queen.  She had four sons but they use to fight a lot and their wives were also unkind to each other.  They all lived in the same house but as they argued so much, everyone had separate kitchens. The old woman was very sad as she wished that they would be able to live as one big happy family, helping each other.  She threatened to throw them out of the house if they could not learn to live as a united family and in order to save money she told her sons and their wives that they would only be able to use one kitchen.  She hoped that this would mean that the wives would learn to live in harmony with each other.  The sons were also fed up with the situation and agreed to their mother’s command.

As the old woman was very poor, the sons all gave their daily earnings to their mother.   One day the youngest son went to find work in the city but had no luck. He saw a dead snake when returning home that evening and sadly he picked it up in order to take something back to his mother. When the old woman asked for his earnings, he told her that he had been unable to find work that day and passed the dead snake to her.  She consoled him and asked him to try again the next day.   But knowing that the snake would not make a good meal for them all, she threw the dead snake onto the roof of her mud house.

On that same day, the queen of the kingdom went to a beautiful pond to take a bath. She removed her expensive diamond necklace and left it near the bank in the care of her maids.  Suddenly, an eagle appeared overhead.  The eagle was attracted to the bright shining necklace and swooping down, she clasped it in her claws and flew away. The maids screamed but to no avail. The queen was so upset that she made an announcement that whoever could find the lost necklace would be granted a grand prize.

After flying for a while, the eagle saw the dead snake on the old woman’s roof.  Realising that the snake could be eaten while the necklace could not, she left the necklace there and took away the dead snake.

The next day, the old woman went up to her roof to put some clothing to dry in the sunshine when she spotted the necklace. She understood that this was the queen’s stolen necklace and that the queen desperately wanted it back.

It happened that the festival of light known as Diwali was in 2 days time.  At that festival, everyone lights oil lamps and candles to appease the Goddess of Wealth. The old woman made a plan. She went to the queen’s palace and asked the guard if she could see the queen. When the queen saw her necklace, she was very happy and promised to give the old woman a large sum of money.  

But the old woman declined.  Instead she said, “Thank you very much, my lady, for your offer but I am poor and won’t be able to guard this treasure.  If you agree, I want that on the night of Diwali only my household should be allowed to light oil lamps, and no one else should be allowed to light their lamps.”   

The queen was surprised at this request, but was so grateful that she granted the old woman her wish and issued instructions that only the old woman’s house would be lit at Diwali that year.

The festival of Diwali came.   The old woman asked all the members of her household to clean every nook and cranny of the house and decorate it with beautiful scented flowers.  Everyone worked together on these tasks and in the evening, the old woman lit lamps and candles in every part of her house.

At midnight, the Goddess of Wealth came for her annual visit.  She was disappointed to see pitch darkness everywhere in the kingdom.  Then she saw beautiful lights shining from the old woman’s house.  As the goddess loved lights, she quickly made her way straight to the old woman’s house and knocked on the door.  Hearing the knock, the old woman opened the door signalling her sons, daughters in law and grandchildren to welcome the goddess with flower garlands, perfume and sweets. This they did and the Goddess was very pleased. She asked them what they would like her to give them in return for their devotion to her.


The Goddess of Wealth

The old woman came forward and said “We ask that you stay in our house forever so that we live in prosperity and happiness.”

The Goddess thought for a moment and said “I am happy to stay here in your house for ever but only if you all stay united, not fighting but loving each other. If anyone disobeys this condition, I will leave the house.“

Everyone was so happy to know that the Goddess was pleased, that they all agreed to her request and since then all the members of the family lived in harmony, filled with love and respect for each other.  The old woman was very happy as her desire for her children to live peacefully had finally been granted. And the Goddess of Wealth stayed in their house for all the coming generations.