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Folk Tales of Kumaon

Devaki represents the dauntless spirit of hill women, who exhibit extraordinary determination, fortitude, bravery and endurance in the face of any kind of catastrophe or affliction

By Anjali Nauriyal

This is Devaki’s story, the story of a dauntless woman, a daredevil who displayed bravery to protect her dignity, in a world out to destroy her.

Her story unfolds in the wake of the fierce war between France and Germany that rattled the world.

It so happened that a young man named Amar Singh, a native of Village Goth in the Rath region of Uttarakhand, got enrolled in the Indian Army. He was newly married to an alluring village girl named Devaki. But as luck would have it, the moment he joined the Army he received orders to proceed for the war as part of the British Corps.

Her husband was gone for months. Devaki a simple hill woman waited in agony for her husband to return from war. For a young, woman, to live a life of yearning in the absence of her husband was tough.

But Devaki waited patiently in the fond hope that her beloved husband would return some day soon. She made sure she remained unsullied, free of sin and protected her existence with valour and honesty.

In the war Amar Singh may not have achieved any major feat, but his wife, who pined for him all day long, and prayed for his safety, loved him dearly. Burdened with household work, she lived a life of misery but the entire village vouched for her righteous and high-principled stance.

In springtime when the mountains were covered with flowers of all hues, and the birds chirped happily in the skies, Devaki was despondent as her beloved was not by her side.

She prayed to the deities for his safety and early return. But destiny had something else in store for her. Her husband was one unfortunate day killed in the battlefield.

When this inauspicious news reaches Devaki, she was devastated. But she was proud to live the life of a soldier’s widow, who had sacrificed his life in the line of duty.

Regarding her suffering as God’s plan she began to live a sedate, dignified life as a martyr’s wife, serving her community and the needy.

Months later it so happened that when some daughters-in-law of the village were returning home, after collecting fodder for their animals and firewood, while some others were washing and bathing by the riverside, a robust Kabuliwala with brown eyes came to the village to hawk his merchandise. He wore a dark and dirty robe that made him look grimy, unwashed and menacing.

Looking at his him no villager was willing to give him shelter for the night.

When he had nowhere to go, Kabuliwala decided to appeal to the frail woman who lived a lonely life in the outskirts of the village. She was known to serve the poor and the needy and those in crisis.

Kabuliwala decided to appeal to her. He reached her dwelling place and requested her to provide him shelter for the night. He appealed to her ardently, ”Sister I am an outsider in this village. I need shelter for the night. I will return at the crack of dawn.”

Though unguarded and defenseless, Devaki sympathized with him. As it is she regarded it her duty to treat everyone well empathy and compassion, especially those who were disadvantaged and poverty-stricken. She felt sorry for his plight and allowed him to take shelter in the room in the ground floor. She also provided him food and water.

In the dead of the night, when only dogs could be heard barking, the ungrateful Kabuliwala climbed the stairs to reach the first floor of her house, and halting outside her door shouted. “If you want to save yourself, open the door, else it will be the end of you.”

In her sleep Devaki heard his thunderous voice. She got up with a start. She was horror-struck and didn’t know what to do to safeguard herself. The hulk was heavily built. One push by him and the door broke open. The man began moving in with blood shot eyes, and a knife in his hand.

Devaki shouted hysterically, “You wretched man! Don’t you dare wake up a sleeping lioness. Don’t burn your hands in fire. Else you will not see the light of day.”

Devaki then picked up a shining dagger, that was placed under her bed and in one swift moment severed the baddie’s head.

(Dr Anjali Nauriyal, veteran journalist, author, actor and
social worker is currently Senior Fellow with Ministry of Culture, GOI)