A lovely country was once ruled by a beautiful queen who had a more beautiful daughter. The queen was all praise for her daughter that the young princess was headlong in love with herself. She stood before the looking glass and with her head and chest up asked loudly at her image: “Who is more beautiful than me?” She giggled and answered herself: “I am a class of my own. Who can be more beautiful than me?”

Such was the opinion the headstrong princess had on her beauty and none dared to question her rights.

The power above was thinking differently and wanted to teach her a lesson, so that her pride would have a fall. Accordingly it chose an old and haggard looking woman to do the job. She had nothing but a torn sari on and wrinkles showed all over her body. One evening the princess was having a stroll on the bank of the river. The old lady approached the princess and said, “Not eaten for days….please help.” 

The princess twitched her nose as a sign of disgust and told the old lady to go away. But the old lady instead went closer to her and said, “You are the would-be queen and if you don’t give me food, who will give me?” The angry princess in her fit of fury said, “Get lost, you old hag! Do not come anywhere near me and spoil the beauty of my dear garments.”

“This is too much, my dear young lady! Your pride will have its fall. Beauty does not last and the day is not far when you will be very much like me with wrinkles all over. I too was once beautiful but now, I don’t know where I lost it. Don’t let beauty get into your head,” the old lady said and began to move away from the princess.

“Stop! How dare you? You have come all the way to die in my hands. Show me any three things that are more beautiful than me and I will give you food for life. But if you fail you will die a gruesome death for infuriating me,” said the Princess.

The old lady stood undaunted and laughed showing her toothless mouth. She said, “Look, Princess. I have nothing to lose in this world. I am old enough to die. But if I could drive home some sense into your pride filled head, then my job is done.” “No further argument, oldie! Do what I said,” commanded the princess.

“I can show you a hundred beautiful things on earth that are definitely more beautiful than you. Look at this river before us. It is more beautiful than you,” the old lady said. “What! Are you comparing my beauty with the river? Are you mad or what?” howled the princess. “Definitely this river is more beautiful than you. Look at its bank. So many goats and cows and other animals are drinking from the river. Does the river grudge? Does it howl like you? How magnanimously the river quenches the thirst of so many people who come with their parched tongues! Does the river drive the thirsty people away? Is not the river more beautiful than you?” lectured the old lady.

The princess kept mum. Before she could ask for a second beautiful thing, the old lady showed the mountain at a distance and said: “That mountain is more beautiful than you.” “That mountain? What a comparison!” The princess’ eyes turned red again with anger. “Look at that mountain crowded with trees, plants, shrubs and creepers. They offer fine smelling flowers, lovely edible fruits, berries of different shapes and hues. The mountain magnanimously shelters several animals, birds, insects and worms. The mountain gives all its wealth to all those who come in search of it. Real beauty lies in giving away all that you have,” said the old lady.

The princess became silent. The old lady began to wonder what further comparison could be given to put the young beauty in her place. Just at that moment a mother carrying a baby on her hip went past them. The baby was all smiles and it made everyone smile back. “Ha! How cute!” said the princess with a smile. Pointing at the baby, the old lady said: “This child is more beautiful than you. In less than a second, it made everybody here happy. Real beauty lies in making others happy.”

The princess bent down her head in shame. She understood the meaning of beauty. She realized that she was nothing before the river that quenches the thirst of land, animal, bird and people. She found out that she was not in any way more beautiful than the mountain that houses and shelters lives that are both mobile and immobile. Above all wisdom dawned on her at the sight of the smiling baby who made everyone including herself very happy.

Her purpose over, the old lady left the place without waiting for the princess’ reward.

About the author: P. Raja
P. Raja
P.Raja (October 07, 1952) a son of this divine soil, Pondicherry, India famed for its spiritual heritage, writes in his chosen language, English, and also in his mother tongue, Tamil. More than 5000 of his works – poems, short stories, interviews, articles, book reviews, plays, skits, features and novellas – have seen the light through newspapers and magazines that number to 350 in both India and elsewhere. He has 30 books for adults and 8 books for children in English and 14 books in Tamil. Apart from contributing special articles to Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literature in English (London), Encyclopedia of Tamil Literature in English, and to several other edited volumes, he has also written scripts for Television (Delhi). He broadcasts his short stories and poems from All India Radio, Pondicherry. He was General Council Member of Central Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi (English Advisory Board - 2008-2012) representing the Pondicherry University. He is Editor of TRANSFIRE, a literary quarterly devoted to translations from various languages into English. His website: www.professorraja.comAuthor can be reached at [email protected]

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