Once upon a time, a merchant’s daughter-in-law went to fetch water from a well outside their village. When she began drawing water from the well, four weary, thirsty travelers arrived there. One of the travelers requested her to give them some water.

She hesitated to share some water with them as she didn’t have a tumbler to serve water. Besides, she contended that she didn’t want to face unknown people without her veil.

Feeling bad about not offering water to the travelers, she asked, ‘May I know who you are?’

He replied, ‘I’m a traveler.’

‘But there are only two types of travelers. May I know which type you are?’

He failed to answer the question.

Next, the second traveler asked her for some water. She asked him, ‘Who are you?’

He replied, ‘I’m a poor man.’

‘There are only two types of poor people. Which type are you?’ asked the lady.

Even he was unable to answer the question.

Now, the third traveler asked her for some water. She asked him the same question, to which he responded that he was an illiterate. At this, the woman inquired as to what sort of illiterate he was. Again, the traveler failed to answer her question.

Next, it was the fourth traveler’s turn to request some water. The woman asked him who he was. He replied that he was a fool. Once again, the woman remarked that there were only two types of fools and wondered what kind of fool this fellow was. Again, he failed to answer her question. The woman grabbed the pitcher to go home and asked if they still wanted some water. The four travelers followed her.

After getting home, she put the water pitcher inside the house, covered her face with a veil, and came out with a tumbler filled with water. She offered water to all the four travelers, who continued their journey after drinking the water.

Upset with the woman, her father-in-law complained to the king. The king summoned her to the court. The woman asked the guard if she had to come to the court as a daughter or as a daughter-in-law. The guard told her that the king had called her in as a daughter-in-law.

At the court, the king queried why she had invited the four travelers while her husband was away. She replied that a homemaker was obliged to offer a glass of water to thirsty travelers. As she didn’t have her veil on, she had to ask them to come home. She purposefully asked them cryptic questions so they would follow her home for some water. The king asked her to repeat those questions, and so she did. However, none of the king’s courtiers could answer the questions. The king asked her to answer those questions, and she did so very patiently.

In response to the first question, she said that the sun and the moon were the only travelers in the real sense. The answer to the second question was that a daughter-in-law and a cow are the two poor creatures. Her answer to the third question was food and water, for they went to everyone like illiterates do. The king was now curious about the fourth and final question. He asked her to explain what the two types of fools were. Before going ahead with her reply, she sought the king’s pardon. She then told him that those two kinds of fools were present at the court at that moment. One was her father-in-law, and the other one was the king himself.

This was because her father-in-law had lodged a complaint against her without trying to inquire what the truth was. Likewise, the king hadn’t given any thought to her honor before summoning her. Shocked, the king could not help appreciating the woman’s honesty and intelligence.

…now that you’re here

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Kalai Selvi, Folk Tale writer at Ameya

Kalai is passionate about reading and reinterpreting folk tales from all over the country. Write to her at kalai.muse@gmail.com to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from Folk Tales of Madhya Pradesh by Dr. Shyam Parmar.