This post might be getting to you a little late and I apologize for that. I try to publish one post during each calendar week. Things got a little crazy this week, though.
Speaking of being busy and things falling through the cracks, lately I’ve been thinking of the stories and books that get past even me. The truth is that I’ve read so many folk tale books that sometimes good stories from interesting cultures end up forgotten. Take this book here, for instance:
Folktales from India edited by A.K. Ramanujan. This book boasts tales from twenty-two different languages. However, I haven’t spotlighted a single one. In fact, I barely remember any of them. Though, one does come back to mind. The story of a girl raised by a bird . . .
The tale starts out with a rich potter who has all daughters and no sons. Fed up with this situation and experiencing the unusual rage characteristic of fairy tale fathers swears that if his then-pregnant wife gives birth to another daughter then he would sell his wife to the Gypsies. Unfortunately, as expected she gave birth to another daughter. Fearing what will happen to her if she brings home another girl, she wraps the child in a sari, put her in a pot and set her floating down the river.
The pot is then spotted by a washerman who takes the child back to his own family. However, he doesn’t even have time to present the child to his wife when a great bird of prey spots the child and develops a fondness for it. The bird swoops down and snatches the baby away.
This great bird is a kite.
[sigh] No, not that kind of kite!
Okay, that’s better. In fact, I should note that the picture is of a black kite, which is a species that is indeed native to India.
The kite then builds a great nest and raises the baby in it. Any time she sees something the humans have that she thinks the baby would like, she swoops down and grabs it. The kite even managed to snatch the clothes and jewelry from the realm’s princess when she laid them on the bank while she bathed. The girl grew up into a young woman, and the kite started to worry about her staying there alone. So, she tells her to sing a special song whenever she wants to call on her mother the kite.
Now one day a merchant sat down under the kite’s tree when suddenly a very long hair floated down to him (it was about seven cubits long. I suppose she hadn’t the means to cut it while living in a tree). He looks up and sees a beautiful girl sitting comfortably on a branch brushing her hair. He calls up to her, asking if she’s human, a goddess or an evil spirit. The girl is frightened because she has never seen a human man before. So, she sings the song that calls her mother the kite. Now, the kite sees the merchant and like many mothers in India likely have before, sizes him up and decides that he may be a good husband for her daughter.
Now, I’m not going to summarize too much more. This isn’t meant to be a transcription, it’s meant to be a teaser. Anyway, the merchant has seven other wives. Needless to say, the kite’s daughter has her hands dealing with them seeing as they are very jealous and very crafty.
Why does this one particular story stick out to me among the others? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of how it echoes other stories I know in places while putting its own regional spin on it. The girl being raised by an animal echoes the life of another famous resident of India, Mowgli from The Jungle Book. Her isolation from people and her long hair echo “Rapunzel” in a way. Also, her mistreatment by her co-wives reminds me of Cinderella’s mistreatment at the hands of her stepsisters. Also, I’m just tickled by the idea of her adoptive bird mother sizing up men for good matches.
Now the rest of this story might be a little hard for people to find. It’s another one of those ones that’s not on the internet. There’s a brief description of it in this article. I can point you to the book through WorldCat, though. In the meantime, I’ll consider putting a “To Reread” pile next to my “To be Read” pile. I also suggest everyone else out there stop every once in a while and consider the stories you may have let slip through the cracks of your consciousness. And until next time, this is Adam the Fairy Tale Geek signing off.