One day, a fisherwoman went selling fish near the royal palace. The queen peeped out of a window and asked the woman to show the fish she had in the basket. As she began showing her catch, a big fish in the basket jumped high toward the queen. The royal queen, who had a penchant for female fish, asked the fisherwoman if this big fish was a male or a female. At this, the big fish let out a loud laugh. The fisherwoman replied that it was a male fish and walked away from there.

Feeling insulted by the fish, the queen rushed to her room in the palace. When the king saw her in such an agitated state, he inquired if there was anything that had upset her. The queen narrated how the fish had laughed at her when she asked if it was a male or a female.

The next morning, the king shared with his vizier what his queen had told him. The king then ordered the vizier to find an answer to this mystery. The king even warned the vizier that if he failed to find the answer within six months, he will be liable for capital punishment.

The vizier spent five months in his desperate search for an answer. He now entrusted this task upon his young son, who was an avid traveler.

On his way to a village, the vizier’s son ran into an old farmer. The two men starting walking together. That was when the vizier’s son suddenly asked the old farmer, “Will it not be pleasant if we were to give each other a lift?” However, the farmer did not understand this question. He was already beginning to wonder what type of a person the vizier’s son might be.

Walking ahead, they saw a field with ripe corn that resembled an extended sea of gold that waved cozily in the afternoon breeze. The vizier’s young son further inquired, “Is this edible or not?” The old farmer shot him a blank look.

Next, they reached a big-looking village. The vizier’s son handed the farmer a knife and asked him to get two horses with it. However, he was to bring the precious knife back unscathed. Irritated by this strange conversation, the old farmer frowned at him.

Both of them kept silent until they were at the bazaar downtown. No one greeted them or asked them to come inside the mosque and take rest. Puzzled by their indifference, the vizier’s son exclaimed, “What a big cemetery!”

Without uttering a word, the old farmer walked by him till they were at the city’s cemetery. There, they came across people remembering their beloved ones and distributing kulchas and chapatis to everyone who walked past the cemetery. This time, the vizier’s son wondered, “What a wonderful city this is!” By then, the old farmer had little doubt that the young man was demented, which was to blame for his insane remarks.

As they continued their march to the village, they crossed a fast, deep stream filled with stones. The old farmer took off his pajamas and shoes and walked through the stream. The vizier’s son, however, crossed the stream without removing his pajamas or shoes. Worried about this increasingly unusual behavior, the old farmer mustered every ounce of his patience to keep quiet until they made it to his home in the village.

When they were finally in the village, the old farmer invited the vizier’s son to stay at his place. At this, the vizier’s son inquired if the beam of his house was strong enough. The old farmer, who had had enough of this nonsensical talk, went inside his home and told his daughter about this. Now, a much wiser person than her father, the farmer’s daughter knew what the vizier’s son meant and explained it to her father. She told him that the vizier’s son wanted to know if he could really afford his stay at the farmer’s home. Puzzled, the old farmer asked her to explain the other remarks that that lunatic had made along the way. And so she did.

She then asked her father to tell him that the beams at their place were strong. She packed a container filled with ghee, twelve chapatis, and a jar of milk. She even included the following message in the package: “The moon is full, twelve months a year, and the sea overflows with water”. Thereafter, she asked the servant to take the package to their guest.

The servant, on his way to meet the vizier’s son, shared some of this ghee and chapatis with his little son. A smart man, the vizier’s son was quick to tell that something was missing in the package. So, he sent a reply through the servant. “New is the moon, eleven months are there in a year, and the sea is not full.” The servant conveyed this message to the farmer’s daughter, who was now sure that the vizier’s son had not received the gift in full.

The old farmer then took the vizier’s son home. This time, the vizier’s son came straight to the point and explained the problem his father was in. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the farmer’s daughter explained what the fish’s laughter meant. It indicated that a man in the palace was plotting to overthrow the king. Both happy and worried at this explanation, the vizier’s son left the village at once with the farmer’s daughter.

Once in the palace, the vizier requested the king to summon all the palace maids and force them to jump over a pit. All maids succeeded in this challenge, except one. The vizier figured out that this person, who was dressed as a maid, was actually a man. The culprit was instantly arrested and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, the queen, who now understood the message in the fish’s laugh, could not help but feel relieved.

…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 to know more about her.

Folk tale adopted and abridged from fairytalez.