The little boy was happy at the inn and as the innkeepers’ children were clamoring for one more fairytale, he decided to stay for one more night before resuming his quest for his sister.
Next morning after day school, the innkeeper’s eight kids formed a semi circle once again around their young storyteller. Their faces were all eager in happy anticipation. They had finished their homework and ate lunch in record time and were ready for another story. The innkeeper’s face was beaming in delight. He was happy that his kids had their own bits of words streams in their treasure chest now. The boy began:
In a distant land east of here over vast plains of Europe and Asia, the mighty Gobi desert of Mongolia and the snow capped Himalaya Mountains there was a small kingdom nestled in the Ganges plain. It was in the country called Hindustan. The kingdom’s name was Sonakpore and the king had a beautiful daughter named Suvarna whom he adored. She had recently come of age and the king wanted to find a suitable groom for his daughter. He sent out an open invitation to all the young men in his kingdom. Caste, status, religious belief did not matter. All the suitors had to do was answer three questions to the King’s satisfaction and if their answers satisfied him, then he would gladly give his beloved daughter’s hand to the winner.
Princess Suvarna was beautiful. She had large almond shaped eyes. They were intensely dark like liquid black crystal. Their beauty was further intensified by long curly eyelashes that fanned her rosy cheeks. Her face had chiseled features. She always wore a smile and constantly daydreamed and clapped her hands. She was like a happy go lucky child and everyone broke into a smile on seeing her. Her happiness was very contagious. She spoke with her expressive eyes and even before she opened her mouth her wish was fulfilled. Hence she hardly ever got a chance to speak. Everything was served to her on a golden platter. She had been brought up lovingly by a father who spoiled her and a mother who wisely instilled caution, respect for elders, proper conduct, kindness, humility and other qualities that would give her respect and dignity in life. Above all her mother taught her to have faith in God.
The whole kingdom was in a festive mood. Aspiring young men from far and near, princes, wealthy merchants, handsome paupers, even the town idlers all made their way to the palace. One by one they entered the palace gates enthusiastically and then as quickly they would be seen leaving the palace with downcast eyes, defeated. In this manner, many days passed by but the king was not satisfied by even a single suitor. He was in a state of despair. He would tell himself, “is there not a single young man in my kingdom who can make my darling princess happy and I can rest in peace knowing that she is in capable hands”! The king started getting sleepless nights. The queen on the other hand was a noble lady and had complete faith in god. She knew there was an appointed time and place for everything and was not worried. She slept soundly.
The three questions were simple and those which any loving father would ask of any young man who wished to marry his daughter:
1) How will you take care of my daughter?
2). How will you keep her happy?
3). How will you keep her from harm?
So far the answers had been like this:
Rich suitors: I will have my whole country at her beck and call, guard her night and day, be with her all the time and appoint personal maids who stayed with the princess full time. Have official food tasters taste all food before she ate, keep a physician available close by and so on and on.
Handsome but Poor suitors and the rest:
After marriage, I would move into the palace to be with your daughter. Thus you would continue caring for her to your own satisfaction and peace of mind. When in due course of time, you pass away, I can take over the reins of the country and this way there will be no disruption in caring for your daughter or the kingdom.
The king so far was not happy with any answers.
Gopal was a simple cowherd. He was also an obedient loving son. Daily after meeting the needs of his aged parents, he would leave with the family cows herding them towards the green pastures in the Ganges plains and lower grassy parts of the mountains. Gopal was dark skinned yet very attractive. His face had a serenity that attracted and held spellbound all those who saw him. He was hard working and never idled except whilst grazing his cows. Then, he would sit under the shade of a clump of trees and pull out his precious flute and immerse himself in music. The sweet tones of his flute would echo in the plains and valleys and for a moment all the listeners would halt and drink in this sweet nectar of wafting notes. They felt an intoxicating languor and a sudden burst of vigor. All their troubles seemed to melt away. Everyone looked forward to Gopal’s mesmerizing flute playing. His midday meal was simple. He carried two flat round pieces of unleavened bread, a pickle, a hot green chilly and a small onion. In a small can he carried buttermilk to drink with his food. He was simple and uncomplicated as was his life.
One day as he was getting ready to play his flute, one of his friends from the village who was the merchant’s son stopped by and told him about the king’s search for a suitable husband for his princess. He also informed him that he too had tried but had been sent packing by the king. He suggested to Gopal that he should try for the princess’s hand too as it was an open invitation to all. Gopal knew his mother had been after him to get married and was looking for a suitable bride. He thought let me try and surprise mother.
Next morning he got ready very early and wore his favorite lucky jacket. When his parents questioned him about this, he said he had been invited by his friend Neelkanth for lunch in the town. He had arranged for his cows to be grazed by another friend. He was ready for the palace. He was confident and fearless.
The king was told about the arrival of yet another suitor for his beloved daughter. His face brightened and suddenly he felt hopeful inside. Eagerly he made his way towards the Public Hall where he held all important meetings and conducted the state business. This hall had a comfortable throne made of gold and studded with precious stones. The seat was made of the finest soft velvet and was royal purple in color. All the numerous gateways had long flowing sheer curtains that billowed in tune with the cross currents of the air that passed through in cross ventilation. The palace was constructed in such a way by an able master architect that it remained cool even in the hot summer months.
Trumpets heralded the arrival of the king and the royal session began. Gopal was presented to the king. The king was impressed by the bearing of this cowherd. He carried himself with confidence. The king put forth the three questions to him:
How will you take care of my daughter? Gopal said, “Your highness I will care for your daughter in the same way as I care for my parents whom I love dearly”.
How will you keep her happy? “I will try my best to keep her happy, your highness. That is all I can promise”.
How will you keep her from harm? Gopal replied, “Birth and death are in the hands of God. I will try my utmost to care for her. I cannot promise more than that. Rest is in God’s hands”.
The king was very happy with Gopal’s answers and decided to marry his daughter to him. After ensuring that he was not offending Gopal’s parents, he had a nice home built where Gopal had his old home so that his daughter could be comfortable. Gopal and his parents accepted all this grudgingly as they were proud people and mindful of their self respect and dignity. As per Gopal’s wishes, the king had a simple marriage celebration and bid a tearful farewell to his daughter. The queen was happy as she had fallen under the spell of Gopal. She knew her daughter was in good hands.
Gopal saw his wife Survarna for the first time on his wedding night and was mesmerized by her great beauty and childlike simplicity. He fell in love with her. Suvarna too liked this simple cowherd and was crazy about his flute. She would begin to sway to his music as though under a spell. There was only one problem in their happy married life. Suvarna could not talk!! Try as she might no words would emerge from her lovely mouth. All her life she had been given everything on a platter even before she uttered a word. Gopal was grief stricken. He decided to find a cure for his beloved wife.
Exactly a year ago this day.
Gopal was as usual lost in his flute playing and was unaware of his surroundings. Suddenly, an old monk had appeared out of nowhere and asked for food. Gopal had emerged from his reverie and had offered his lunch pack with due respect. The holy man ate the simple fare with great enjoyment. After he had enjoyed the last morsel and drunk the buttermilk, he had suddenly changed in appearance. He transformed himself to the Indian god Shiva. He now had a tiger skin around his torso, a snake around his neck, matted hair, and a trident in one hand. He was astride a magnificent bull. Gopal was wonderstruck and quickly lay down flat on the ground to pay his respects in the Hindu way. The lord was very pleased with his simplicity and had asked Gopal if he desired anything from him. Gopal said Lord I have everything I need. All I need is your blessings for my friends and family. The lord was very pleased with this answer and had then given him a holy chant of seven words. He said, “every time you chant these words, a gold pot would appear out of thin air with whatever food you desire and it would not empty until you have fed your family. Then it would disappear”. Lord Shiva next said, “ Gopal you have to make a solemn promise to never reveal the secret about this divine boon”. Gopal had promised the lord accordingly. As Gopal had fed the lord with his lunch selflessly God had rewarded his act of kindness. Gopal’s family had never slept hungry from that day onwards.
Gopal had only one thought in mind. He wanted to gift his lovely wife with a stream of words. His mind was in a whirl. Suddenly he had a brilliant idea. He went to a secluded spot on the nearby hill and prayed to Lord Shiva fervently. He asked for the lord’s blessing in his efforts to make his wife speak and sing. Next he chanted the sacred words and the golden pot appeared. He wished the pot to be full of sweet fragrant words. He opened his eyes and found the magical gold pot full of alphabet soup with all kinds of glorious words floating in it. It appeared to be a healthy vegetable broth. He quickly took it home and made Suvarna drink it to the last drop. When the soup was finished, the golden pot disappeared and she fell into a deep sleep.
Next morning, Survarna woke up with a lot of excitement. She felt on top of the world and wanted to sing. She opened her mouth and out came a beautiful melody never heard before. The old parents and Gopal himself were enchanted. They quietly they let Suvarna sing to her heart’s content and rejoiced. Their cup of happiness overflowed.
Gopal sent a letter to the King and requested him to hold a musical competition in exactly a week’s time. He next prepared Suvarna with all the songs he knew. He played the flute and she sang the songs in accompaniment. Together they created magic. They were ready.
The following week, Gopal and his family donned their best clothes and boarded the horse drawn carriage which the king had gifted his daughter. It was pulled by a pair of finest Arabian horses this side of the mountains. They were at the palace gates in no time. The king and queen were waiting at the entrance and with great fanfare and pomp escorted them to the main hall. The nobles and citizens of Sonakpore were already seated. Gopal, Suvarna and his parents were seated next to the king and queen and the evening began. All the known artists, maestros, singers, musicians presented their items. The hall echoed with “bravo” and thundering claps in appreciation. Now it was Gopal’s turn. Gently he helped Suvarna to her feet and together they stood in front of the audience.
Gopal removed his flute from his belt and started playing. Suvarna soon opened her lips and sang along. Her voice was crystal clear and pure. She poured her all into it and the king and queen were beside themselves with joy. They had been as much in the dark about this miracle as the townspeople. Everyone was on their feet clapping and weeping in happiness. There was no question about the winner. The king named his daughter
The Nightingale of Sonakpur. He kissed Gopal on his forehead in gratitude. The queen always knew things would turn out well in the end as she had implicit faith in god.