The Three Brothers

A folk tale from northern India

The wife of the headman of a village died soon after giving birth to a baby boy. The headman was inconsolable but was persuaded by his family and friends to marry again so that the child would have someone to look after him.

Fortunately, his second wife turned out to be a large-hearted and sensible woman who gave the child all the love and care he would have received from his own mother. In the course of the years she presented the headman with two more sons, but her affection for the oldest never diminished. She treated all three boys alike and the two younger ones never realized they had a stepbrother. When the headman passed away, the widow entrusted the responsibilities of the household and the fields to the eldest son and he managed them so well that the family prospered. This made the neighbours envious. One day, one of them told the widow's sons the truth about their eldest brother and advised them to drive him away from the house lest he should deprive them of their share of their father's property. The boys were shocked at the revelation, and, frightened by the prospect of losing their share of the property, decided to murder him. When they told their mother about what they planned to do, she said to them: "Don't bloody your hands; I will get rid of him for you." That night when everybody was asleep, she suddenly jumped out of bed and started shouting: "Snake! Snake!"

"Where? Where did you see it, mother?" asked the eldest son, getting up from his mat.

"Alas," said the widow. "I saw it disappearing into your stomach."

The young man turned pale. From that day on, he lost all appetite for food and would lie on his mat the whole day long. Soon he became so weak that he could not even sit up on his mat.

The neighbours rejoiced and took advantage of the situation. They built a wall across the widow's courtyard and claimed a part of the house as their own. In the fields they shifted their boundaries to enclose large portions of the widow's lands.

The younger sons could not deal with the situation and one day they said to their mother: "If our elder brother was not bed-ridden, such terrible things would not have happened to us."

The widow kept quiet, but in the dead of the night she again started shouting: "Snake! Snake!"

Everyone woke up.

"Where...where did you see it mother?" asked the eldest son, weakly.

"Son, I saw it coming out of your stomach," replied the woman. "It disappeared into the darkness." From that day on the condition of the eldest son started improving. Soon he was able to walk into the courtyard where he saw the new wall. "Who has built this!" he thundered. The neighbours came running and meekly pulled down the wall.

The following week he went to the family fields and seeing the new boundaries shouted: "Who has done this!"

The neighbours trembled in fear and quickly vacated the land they had grabbed.

The widow and her three sons lived in peace and harmony ever after.