The word “mama” means “maternal uncle”, the brother or male sibling of one’s mother. In Himachal Pradesh, an adult guest is politely referred to as “Mama”, too.
Once upon a time, there lived a Garhwali family in the Kumaon village of Himachal Pradesh. The couple had a young son. One day, there was a bitter argument between the husband and wife over who worked harder. The wife argued that she was the one who took care of all the household chores, fetched water from the distant river, went to the village fair about eight miles away, cooked food, and kept the house clean, all on a daily basis. The husband replied that he looked after the cattle, protected the fields, and grew the crops. Ultimately, after the argument got worse, the couple stopped talking for months.
A few days later, a traveler traveling through the village decided to spend the night there. He went to the couple’s house and called for the husband. The wife assumed the guest to be a friend of her husband’s. She ensured he got a comfortable stay at their place. As the husband wasn’t home at the time, their son started chit-chatting with the traveler.
After the son got friendly with the traveler, he asked the latter who he was. The man replied that he was the boy’s “mama”, or maternal uncle.
Happy to hear that, the son went over to his mother and told her what the traveler had said. The wife assumed him to be his husband’s mama instead and decided to serve him a grand dinner.
When the husband got back home, he asked his son about the guest. The son referred to the guest as “mama”. This made him think that the guest was his wife’s uncle.
After serving a grand dinner to the guest, the couple ensured he had a comfortable stay in the other room. The guest got up early in the morning and left without informing them.
The husband woke up early and went to check if the guest had a comfortable night’s sleep. However, he couldn’t find the guest in the room. He thought the guest didn’t have the decency to thank them for the stay. He wanted to give his wife a piece of his mind about how discourteous her uncle was. But since he wasn’t on talking terms with her, he called his son and asked him to convey this to his mother.
When the wife heard this from her son, she yelled at him that he wasn’t her uncle but her husband’s. As the reality dawned on them and they realized that the guest wasn’t related to any of them, the couple burst into laughter. The husband cursed the man for making them spend unnecessarily on a lavish dinner. At this, the wife replied that they should rather be thankful to the guest, for it was because of him that they had resumed talking to each other. Besides, a guest must always be treated like God.
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Kalai is passionate about reading and reinterpreting folk tales from all over the country. Write to her at email@example.com to know more about her.
Folk tale adopted and abridged from Internet Archive.