My retelling of a woman-positive fairy tale from Punjab, originally posted at the Dholrhythms blog.
Once upon a time there lived a king with two beloved daughters, Kupti and Imani, whom he loved very much. He spent many hours of the day talking to them. One day he asked his older daughter Kupti:
“Are you content to leave your life and fortune in my hands?”
“Of course,” said Kupti. “Who else would I leave them to?”
But when he asked his younger daughter, Imani, she said:
“Oh no! I’d rather go out and make my own fortune!”
The king was a bit displeased to hear this, but he said, “Well, if that is what you want, that’s what you’ll get.”
And so he sent for the poorest man in his kingdom, a lame, elderly fakir, and he said,
“As you are so old, and can’t move around much, you could do with someone to help take care of you. My youngest daughter wants to earn her living, so she can do that with you.”
I suspect the poor fakir was more terrified than happy at this news, but he didn’t have any choice but to accept. So off home he went, and Imani with him.
When they arrived at Imani’s new home, she turned to the fakir and asked “Do you have any money?”
“A penny, maybe, somewhere, ” said the fakir.
“Give me the penny,” Imani said, “then go borrow me a spinning wheel and a loom.”
And Imani took the penny and bought a small bottle of oil and a little bit of flax. When the fakir returned with the spinning wheel and loom, she sat him down and massaged his bad leg with the oil for an hour. Then she sat down at the spinning wheel and spun the flax all night long, into fine beautiful thread like spider’s silk.
In the morning she sat at the loom and wove the thread into a beautiful silver cloth. Then she sent the fakir into the marketplace to sell it. Kupti happened to be passing by the marketplace that day, and she saw the fakir standing there, offering the cloth.
“How much?” she asked.
“Two gold pieces,” said the fakir.
“For that?” said Kupti. “That’s a lot of money for a little bit of cloth.”
She hoped to bargain him down. But the fakir just shrugged.
“It’s special cloth, one of a kind,” he said. “If you don’t want to buy it, someone else will.”
And what could Kupti do? She bought the cloth, and the fakir brought the money home.
Every day, Imani and the fakir did the same thing. She would buy a penny’s worth of oil and flax, massage the fakir’s leg, then spin and weave her cloth. The fakir would take it to the marketplace and sell the cloth for high prices. Eventually the pair became famous for their beautiful textiles; the fakir’s leg got stronger and straighter, and their cache of gold got bigger and bigger. Finally one day Imani sent for some builders, and she had them build a beautiful house for the two of them — the finest in the city, except for her father’s own palace.
When the king heard about this, he shook his head and hid a smile.
“Well, she said she would make her own fortune, and she did!”
He wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he was quite proud of her.
This tale is based on the story “Kupti and Imani” from Andrew Lang’s Olive Fairy Book (1907). The story was collected in the Punjab by a “Major Campbell,” probably in Firozpur. There’s more to it: Imani rescues a handsome young king from her own sister’s scheming. But this first part is the part I like best.
One paisa coin: Source
Illustration of a woman at the charka: Source
Image of Punjabi house by Jugni, some rights reserved.