Sandrembi and Chaishra

Narrated by Victoria Aheibam

One upon a time there was a man with two wives and two daughters. Sandrembi, his daughter from his first wife, was pretty and kind hearted like her mother. Chaishra, his daughter from the second wife was ugly as she was wicked, much like her mother. When the man passed away, Chaishra and her mother started finding ways to get rid of Sandrembi and her mother. Kind hearted as they always were, Sandrembi and her mother would never think of conspiring against the other two.

One day the two mothers went fishing to the river. As luck would have it, Sandrembi’s mother had a windfall and caught so many fishes in no time. She put them all in her tungol. But Chaishra’s mother would not get even a single fish to catch. She was destined to have only snakes to catch that day. She put all of them in her tungol. When evening came, they were very tired. So, they packed up for the day and set out to return home. On their way back, they decided to take some rest beneath a large fig tree laden with ripe and enticing fruits. Chaishra’s mother climbed up on the tree and started plucking the fruits. She shouted down, “Sister, open up your mouth and I’ll drop this ripe fig for you.” Sandrembi’s mother opened her mouth and was greeted by a ripe fruit. She found it very delicious. Chaishra’s mother again shouted down, “Sister, open up your mouth again, close your eyes and I’ll drop a more delicious one this time.” Sandrembi’s mother closed her eyes and waited for the more delicious fruit with an open mouth without an ounce of doubt. Chaishra’s mother had other plans. The next moment what came down the throat of Sandrembi’s mother was not the ripe fruit but the snakes that Chaishra’s mother had in her tungol. Sandrembi’s mother was severely bitten and died there. Chaishra’s mother took her dead body and threw it into the river and went back home alone with all the catch of Sandrembi’s mother.

When Sandrembi saw Chaishra’s mother coming back alone, she was very worried. She inquired about her mother to her step mother who bluntly replied, “Your mother is still fishing under the fig tree and didn’t want to return home with me.” As the evening turned into night Sandrembi cried for her mother in her helplessness. After crying till very late into the night, Sandrembi fell asleep. Sandrembi’s mother visited her in her dreams and revealed, “My dear Sandrembi, Chaishra’s mother killed me today and threw me in the river. Now I have become a turtle. Tomorrow early morning go to the river and take me out from the river and put me in a mud-pot. After five days in the pot, I shall resurrect as your mother again.”

The next morning before sunrise, Sandrembi hurried to the river to catch the turtle. In the beginning she caught only fishes which she let go and after a long time she caught the turtle. She took it home with great care. Chaishra’s mother saw her coming home and asked, “How many fishes have you caught?” Sandrembi was frightened to see her and answered slowly, “None”. Chaishra’s mother was furious to hear that and shouted angrily, “Then go to the kitchen and cook the food.”

Sandrembi walked into the kitchen and with great care put the turtle in a mud-pot and filled it with water. Chaishra saw it all and she was quick to report the whole turtle episode to her mother. The wicked mother-daughter duo got down to business to come up with a plan to kill the turtle.

As if on cue, Chaishra started crying insisting she must have turtle for lunch. Chaishra’s mother ordered Sandrembi to cook the turtle that she had very carefully kept hiding in the kitchen. A hapless Sandrembi did not have any choice but to cook the turtle that would have reincarnated into her mother in five days. She started cooking it. She could do nothing but watch in painful despair. As the fire started burning vigorously she heard a voice from inside the cooking pot.

“Sandrembi, it’s up to my legs now!”

Heart broken, Sandrembi could not bear it and pull out the firewood from under the boiling pot with tear drops rolling down her cheeks. When Chaishra’s mother saw what she was doing, she shouted angrily, “What are you doing? Your step-sister is crying. Chaishra, come and slap her face.” Chaishra so obediently came and slapped her and she pushed the firewood under the pot. Sandrembi could hear the tearful voice of the turtle from inside the pot.

“Sandrembi, it’s up to my waist now!” Then after a while, “Sandrembi, it’s up to my chest … Sandrembi it’s engulfing my throat.” At last the turtle died. The wicked mother and daughter ate up the cooked turtle and threw away the bones and the shell at the backyard. Poor Sandrembi cried and cried.

That night Sandrembi saw her mother again in her dreams. Her mother told her, “Dear daughter, collect all the bones and the shell from the backyard, wrap it up in a piece of cloth and put it in a basket. After seven days I shall come back to life again.”

Sandrembi did exactly as her mother told her in the dream. But Sandrembi was so very eager to see her mother that she could not wait until the seventh day. So, on the sixth day she opened the cloth and a sparrow came flying out of it. What could poor Sandrembi do, but cry.

Months and years passed. Sandrembi and Chaishra were now fully grown up young woman. One day the two sisters went to fetch water from the river. Sandrembi who was in torn and shabby clothes was carrying a poon on her head. Chaishra on the other hand was attired in neat and clean clothes and was carrying a sanaboon. That very day the king happened to pass through their village and crossed ways with them. When he saw Sandrembi, he was awestruck. His heart was filled with love for the beautiful young lady.

The king started teasing, “I prefer the one carrying the poon. I don’t like the one carrying the sanaboon.”

Then the king came up to Sandrembi and said, “Beautiful lady, I am very thirsty. Will you give me some water to drink from your poon?”

Sandrembi was afraid of her stepmother, so she politely declined, “Forgive me, my King, I cannot give you water. Please drink as much as you want from my sister’s sanaboon.”

“I don’t want to drink from the sanaboon, I want to drink from your poon,” saying this, the king climbed up on his horse and galloped away. When they reached home, Chaishra told the whole story to her mother.

The next day, the two sisters again went to fetch water. This time Chaishra was wearing Sandrembi’s old and torn clothes and was carrying the poon. Sandrembi was made to wear Chaishra’s clean and new clothes and carry the Sanaboon. When they came up from the river, the king was waiting for them on the horseback. He started teasing again in the same fashion as he did the previous day. “I prefer the one carrying the sanaboon. I don’t like the one carrying the poon.”

The king came closer to Sandrembi and said, “Pretty lady, I am very thirsty.” The next moment the king took hold of Sandrembi’s hand, pulled her up on his horseback and away he rode off towards the palace. The next day, Sandrembi and the king got married with much fanfare. The following year, Sandrembi the beautiful queen gave birth to a lovely prince.

All the while, the mother-daughter duo was burning with jealousy for Sandrembi’s good fortune. They spent most of their time either dreaming about the lives they would have been living had Chaishra been in Sandrembi’s place or thinking of a plan to kill Sandrembi. So, one fine day they went to the palace and invited Sandrembi to have lunch with them at their place. The king gave Sandrembi the permission to go but told her not to take their son along with her.

After lunch, when it was time to go back to the palace, Sandrembi saw that her sister had put on all her clothes. Sandrembi said, “Sister, it is getting late, I must go now. My baby must be crying of hunger.”

Chaishra took off the clothes and instead of handing them over to Sandrembi threw them under the bed. When Sandrembi knelt down to take out the clothes from under the bed, the duo poured boiling water over her and poor Sandrembi had an instant and dreadful death. Her soul turned into a pigeon and flew away. Chaishra immediately put on her sister’s clothes and hurried to the palace. The king was surprised to see the undesirable change on his queen’s face. He inquired, “What has happened to you? Why is your face so dark around the eyes? And why are your heels all cracked?”

“Oh my king, I cried the whole day remembering my beloved parents who are no more. That’s why my face is dark around the eyes. I was worried that my baby must be crying so I came running all the way. That’s why my heels are cracked.”

A few days later, a pigeon came flying over the palace garden. When the gardener was cutting the grass, the pigeon perched on a tree branch and started crooning in a strange manner:

O Royal Gardener!
Let it be reported to your Queen
Let it be reported to your King
His Majesty be blessed
Sandrembi on a tree branch
Chaishra on the throne
O Humble King
No clue on your Queen!

The gardener was surprised and frightened at the same time to hear a bird talking like a human being. He immediately went and informed the king about the talking pigeon. The king came to the garden and saw the lovely pigeon sitting on the tree branch. The king said, “Oh lovely pigeon! If you are truly my sweetheart Sandrembi, then fly down here and pick up the rice grains from my palm.”

The pigeon flew down and picked up the grains from the king’s palm. The king carried the pigeon into the palace and kept it in a golden cage. The king dreamt of Sandrembi that night. In the dream she said “My king, please keep me in the palace for seven days. At the end of the seventh day, I will spring back to life as your sweetheart Sandrembi.”

Before the completion of the seven days, the king went for hunting. When he returned to the palace his anger knew no bounds to see the golden cage empty. Chaishra tried her best to calm down the furious king, “My king the pigeon tried to bite our son. It was a very dangerous pigeon. So, I had to kill it and cook it. Here it is. Please relish it.”

The king became even angrier when he saw the bowl of cooked pigeon. He shouted furiously at Chaishra, “You evil lady, throw that away right now!”

Chaishra threw away the pigeon dish near the palace. Within a few days, a mango sapling sprang up from that very area where the dish was thrown. After a few months the sapling grew into a huge mango tree bearing a single mango fruit. The king took good care of the mango. But one day the gardener plucked off the mango and took it home. The next day the gardener searched for a knife to cut the mango but he could not find the knife. Again the next day he got a knife but could not find the mango. It went on like that for seven days.

On the eighth day the mango turned into a beautiful woman. When the gardener returned home he was surprised to see a variety of cooked dishes in his kitchen. He searched his house to find out who had cooked the food. As the beautiful woman was hiding in a dark corner the gardener could not see her. For about a week whenever the gardener returned home he would find his dinner ready. One day the gardener hid near his house to find out who was behind the dinner magic. When the woman started cooking in the kitchen the gardener caught her from behind. He was surprised and happy to see that the woman was none other than his queen Sandrembi. She then told her whole story to the gardener who went immediately to the palace and reported everything to the king. The king sent his royal guards to fetch Sandrembi from the gardener’s house.

The very next day Sandrembi and Chaishra were each given a sword by the king and were asked to fight in front of the whole public. When Chaishra brought down the sword on Sandrembi, it didn’t hurt her an inch! But when Sandrembi struck Chaishra with the sword, she died instantly. Everybody praised their beloved queen. Sandrembi was once again united with her king and son. And happily they lived ever after.

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