The Starry Roof – Children’s Story by Bhagawati Poudel

bhagwati-poudel-2021

 Bhagwati Poudel is an active children's literature writer. She has published half a dozen works. Poudel, a writer involved in the teaching profession, is the president of the Scholar Home School.

In a certain country, there was a home with a starry roof. In it lived a family of two elderly couple and a son. The old man was called Janardan, and his wife Kalpana. Janardan never consumed anything more than his earning, for he believed in his own earning. He always worked at others’ farm as labour and plowman. Since he was a plowman to the whole village, he never had time for himself. He used half his earning to sustain his family, and half he saved in his safe. 

His wife Kalpana too worked in others’ farm as a farmhand. In season of cultivation, she carried manure, and broke the big sods of soil. After that, she would be busy weeding and harvesting; so, she too had no leisure for herself. Back home, she would prepare meal. For a fews hour in the night she would make herself busy making duna-tapari—leaf plates and saucers. Only then, she could manage a few hours for sleeping. 

Haldaar, their son, was however, very lazy. He did nothing at home, nor attended any school. Kalpana used to express pain on finding her only son refusing to study. Since her only son was a loafer, moving all around without a task, people called him Haldaar—the one who went moving here and there, doing nothing. The boy was deeply annoyed at the villagers who teased him, and so, he stopped going around in the village. Kalpana, the mother, was pained to see her son laze without work, doing no work, and no study. She could neither sleep well at night, nor eat well during the day. As a result, she grew pale and weak. 

Kalpana too used to save a little of her earning in a piggy bag, while the rest went for family expense. The family did not have a farm of its own. In the name of property, they had a son, and a home with starry roof at the edge of a forest. As Kalpana—imagination—was her name, she always imagined to make her son a doctor or an engineer. Though the son knew that it required an individual to study very hard to become a doctor or an engineer, he studied nothing beyond recognizing the alphabets. 

One day, Kalpana called her son near her and said, “See, my child! Since your father did not study, we all had to suffer. If you too run away from study, you will suffer as we did. It’s not too late yet. Do attend school from tomorrow. You are our only child; the little savings we have from our work will be enough for you to study up to any level you wish.” 

Thereafter, Kalpana admitted Haldaar to a school. Yet, he had no interest in study. To please his mother, he went for the sake of going, but soon fell into a bad company, and started indulging in bad activities like bunking classes, smoking, drinking etc. The parents soon come to know of it, and chastised him for spoiling himself. In fact, they were deeply wounded to see others’ children return home with prizes and felicitations, and theirs ruining his life in a gutter. But, there was nothing they could do, because it was their son himself who was guilty. 

As years went by, some of Haldaar’s friends became doctors, and some engineers or teachers. The teachers started teaching at the school in their own village. But Haldaar was nothing better than a thrown-away container. No one cared to honor him. His friends got married to beautiful girls. But no one offered to marry such a spoilt and poor man. He was in peril; yet, there was nothing that could save him. In fact, he was guilty for not thinking of all these things in time. 

One day, he gathered some courage and asked his father, “Daddy, do find a wife for me too. All my friends are married.” 

The father said, “That’s difficult. You are not educated, nor do you have any work. Who is blind enough to give his daughter to a loafer like you?” 

“Daddy, aren’t I handsome?” 

“You are handsome, but what worth is that? It’s work that matters. It is pointless for you to suggest me to find you someone’s daughter. Shame on you! As a son, it is so unworthy of you to laze around without doing anything. If you think marriage can improve you, you can find a girl yourself.” 

Having said so, Janardan got a new pair of clothes for his son, and asked him to go out of home in search of a wife. Haldaar too had been bored remaining at home all the time. In new dress, he moved downhill towards the plain. Passing through thick forests with birds, brooks and hills all around, he reached a village in the evening. Darkness had thickened by now, and so, he threw his tired self on a chautari—seating built upon a mound for travelers to rest—and wiped his sweats. 

He looked all around. He saw that houses in the village had roofs made of stones, zinc sheets, and thatch and one or two with leaves. Without caring for other houses, he walked straight to the house with leaf-roof. He stood at a distance and watched; a maiden came with water in an earthen pitcher. Seeing a handsome man stand on the yard, she asked, “Who are you, brother? Why are you staring at our home this way?” 

“The sun set before I reached my destination. I wonder if I would be allowed shelter for a night.” 

Saying so, he entered the home and sat on a cot. The maiden was surprised to see him enter without permission. At this the girl said, “That is the only cot we have. Our home is small too. Such a handsome man like you should look for a better house.” 

“I am on look for a girl’s hand. I will marry a girl who can give me some roasted corn, and a mug full of water,” said Haldaar. Hearing this, the maiden allowed him to stay. 

The girl brought in a pile of wood and made fire. She pulled some cobs of dry maize from the bunch hung above the mantelpiece, and started roasting in a pan. As the corns started jumping in heat, she asked Haldaar to pull a leaf to cover the popcorn. Haldaar obeyed her. Then she asked him to pull an aluminium plate. 

After eating popcorn, Haldaar walked out of the maiden’s home and headed towards another home with leaf-roof. There too, he said the same things as in the previous home. A girl, Pramila, served him popcorn and water. Haldaar thought, ‘This girl is fit for me, but she is in school dress. She must be educated. She might not accept me for her husband.’ 

Before Haldaar had decided anything, the girl stood from her position, and walked out towards the neighbourhood. Haldaar followed her and asked why she was leaving, giving him popcorn. 

“This is not my home, brother. This is my friend’s. I am going homeward; it’s a little further.” 

Haldaar followed her to her home and asked if he could stay at hers for a night. Pramila informed her parents about the coming of a guest. Mother said, “Guests coming in the evening should be fed and allowed shelter at all cost.” So, Haldaar was invited to enter. 

After dinner, they sat down to talk their joys and sorrows.  Coming to know that Haldaar was intent upon marrying, Pramila’s father asked him five questions: 1. “What’s your name and what work do you do? 2. How’s your family? 3. What do your parents do? 4. How much land do you have? 5. How’s your home?” 

Haldaar answered: “My name is Haldaar. I wake up at dawn, and go to the well with a  musical band. Mother wakes up early and heats milk. Our field is so big that we never finish ploughing. If you talk of foods, we never eat twice from the same plate. As for home, it has a starry roof.” 

Satisfied with the answers, Pramila’s father decided to give away his daughter in marriage to Haldaar. Pramila too was happy to find a husband who looked liked a townsman. Soon, they held the ceremony, and Haldaar walked away with his bride. The bride constantly dreamt how the house with ‘starry roof’ would look like. She was restless to reach home as soon as possible. 

The way was all but uphill. Haldaar’s home was at least five-hour walk from Pramila’s parents’. When it was thickly dark, they reached Haldaar’s home with a ‘starry roof’. 

On reaching home, Pramila looked all around and asked, “What’s this? Where did you bring me? Where is your home with starry roof?” 

She was flabbergasted, when Haldaar pointed at the same hut and said, “This is my home with starry roof.” 

“How can such a hut be a home with a starry roof? You cheated me.” 

“Do not be panicked. At night you will see whether or not the roof is starry,” said Haldaar, consolling. 

After dinner, Haldaar took Pramila to the attic, upstairs. The room had neither windows, nor any doors. Moreover, it was very near to the forest. Pramila was afraid lest a beast should walk from the woods and eat them up. Pointing at the open sky full of stars, Haldaar said, “Look at the stars, up there.” 

Pramila was even more surprised. Haldaar was showing the stars that were visible from the holes on the roof made of dry leaves. All her hopes were gone. 

Waking up early next morning, Pramila looked all around. She remembered what Haldaar had claimed. She wanted to see how her mother-in-law heated milk. Making a big fire, the woman was heating her breasts. She asked, “Don’t you have a blouse, mother?” 

The mother-in-law said, “No, I don’t. Happiness can hide; sorrow cannot. Maybe the sun has come up now,” she said, and peeped out.

 By then, Pramila had learnt the falsity of two claims: starry roof and heating of milk. She had three more things to discover. She remembered the boy’s claim that he was called Haldaar and he went to the well with a musical band. She went to the boy and said, “Isn’t the musical band playing today?” Remembering his task, Haldaar woke up with a start and came down on the porch. He took up two hollow cylinders of bamboo wherefrom two pitchers hung, and walked towards the well. Pramila followed him. As Haldaar walked, the bamboo cylinders hit one another and a music came from them. Pramila came to know what the musical band meant, and laughed. 

Then, Pramila remembered another answer of Haldaar: ‘Our field is so big that we never finish ploughing.’  Since Haldaar’s father was the plowman to the whole village, it was obvious that he was never done with ploughing. She someone came to know of this, and was infuriated beyond telling. She regretted that an illiterate man had duped an educated girl like her. She remembered a saying about a monkey: it neither made its own home, nor allowed others to make theirs. 

Yet, there was one more thing to discover: the issue of not taking meals in the same plate twice. She discovered that the family ate in leaf plates and flung them after use. Frustrated, she left the boy’s home for her own parents’.

 When the bride left, Haldaar realized that lack of education was the cause of all his plight. But since it was already too late for him to join school, he bacame a village spokesman going to every door and advising the elders, “Do send the kids to school; they need to study. If you have any work left, I will help you. But, let the kids study.” 

Translated by Mahesh Paudyal 

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