The Two Old Women

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The Two Old Women: Tetan Buri and Boka Buri

A Bangali folk tale told by David Heathfield


Tetan Buri… aha! Boka Buri… hmmm.
Tetan Buri… aha! Boka Buri… hmmm.
Tetan Buri… aha! Boka Buri… hmmm.

There were once two sisters: Tetan Buri, clever sister… aha!  And Boka Buri, foolish sister… hmmm.

Tetan Buri and Boka Buri shared three things. They shared one blanket. They shared one cow. And they shared one mango tree.

‘Aha, sister. I will have the blanket during the night, and you will have the blanket during the day… aha!’

‘Hmmm, very well, sister.’

Boka Buri only had the blanket during the day when the sun blazed down. But at night when it was cold she had to give the blanket to her clever sister.

‘Aha! I will have the back end of the cow, and you will have the front end of the cow… aha!’

‘Hmmm, very well, sister.’

Boka Buri, foolish sister, had to feed the cow and water the cow; while clever sister came along and milked the cow and made yogurt and butter.

Boka Buri was hungry.

‘The mango tree! I will have the top half of the mango tree, and you will have the bottom half of the mango tree… aha!’

‘Hmmm, very well, sister.’

Boka Buri had to water the mango tree and weed around its base. Tetan Buri came and picked the delicious, ripe fruit and kept them all for herself.

Boka Buri was cold at night and so hungry.

She went into the village, and there she went to the hairdresser.

While the hairdresser cut her hair she listened to Boka Buri’s troubles: ‘Foolish woman. What you must do is this… When you go back to your sister give her the blanket at night, but only after you have dipped it in the river. As for the cow… don’t feed the cow, just shout at the cow. And as for the tree… chop it in half.’

‘Very well.’

Boka Buri went back to the sister. She gave her the blanket, but only after she had dipped it in the river.

Tetan Buri took the blanket… ‘aha… aaaggghhhh.’

It was so cold. She shivered all through the night with the wet blanket around her.

The next day, she went to get milk from the cow. But Boka Buri had not fed the cow. Boka Buri had only shouted at the cow. And when she tried to milk the cow, the cow just kicked Tetan Buri… ‘aaaggghhhh!!’

Not sharingNow, Tetan Buri went to pick mangoes from the tree. But when she got there, there stood Boka Buri with an axe in her hands about to chop the tree in half.

‘What are you doing, sister?’

‘Oh,’ said Boka Buri, ‘I am going to cut the tree in half. I am going to chop my half from your half.’

‘No,’ said the sister. ‘What can I do to stop you?’

‘Hmmm, go and talk to the hairdresser.’

Tetan Buri went to the hairdresser. The hairdresser had no sympathy: ‘I will not help you. But why don’t you ask the rest of the community.’

The doors of the shop were opened and all of the people of the community squeezed inside.

They listened to Tetan Buri’s woes: how she was cold at night with a wet blanket; how she only had the cow kick her and no milk to make yogurt or butter; how her sister was going to chop the tree in half.

‘What you must do,’ they said, ‘is share the work. Share the blanket. Sleep next to your sister. You will keep each other warm… snug and warm.’

‘Share the blanket?’

‘And share the feeding and the watering of the cow, and milk the cow together, and together churn the butter and make the yogurt.’

‘Work together?’

‘And,’ said the people of the community, ‘what you must do, Tetan Buri, is to look after the tree. Tend the tree with your sister. Weed the tree and water the tree and together you will share an abundance of fruit.’

‘Aha.’

And so it was that Tetan Buri and Boka Buri shared the blanket and kept each other warm at night; shared the milk to make butter and yogurt; and shared those delicious mangoes. And so much did they have that they had plenty to share with the rest of the community.

 Tetan Buri… aha! And Boka Buri, the not so foolish sister… hmmm.