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Once upon a time there lived a poor widow named Boodi. Boodi was as kind as she was poor and her onl

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Title: Once upon a time there lived a poor widow named Boodi. Boodi was as kind as she was poor and her onl


1
Prem and the Goddess
Once upon a time there lived a poor widow named
Boodi. Boodi was as kind as she was poor and her
only joy in this world was Prem, her son, a
lively little boy who looked very much like his
father, now deceased. Prem was very clever. So
clever was Prem that he had taught himself to
read and write from an old book which used to
belong to his father. Prem was very keen to
learn and he kept asking Boodi to send him to
school. Unfortunately, there was no school in
the village where Prem and Boodi lived. The
nearest school was some seven miles away, in a
village called Noagaon.
2
Fear not, beloved mother, Prem said,
fourteen miles is not the end of the world. I
am strong, my legs will carry me fast and
Saraswati, the goddess of learning, will help me.
I am sure she will protect me and stay by my
side if I need help in the jungle. Prem trusted
the goddess of learning completely.
Saraswati, the goddess of learning, was sitting
cross-legged on her lotus flower up in the sky,
and she was getting very bored. For quite a
while, it seemed to her, people on the earth
below had forgotten her. Saraswati was beginning
to feel that nobody was interested in learning
any more. It was then that she heard a little
voice saying, Saraswati will help me, I am sure
she will protect me and stay by my side if I need
help in the jungle.
Prem, my darling, I cannot afford to send you to
stay in the school hostel in Noagaon. We are too
poor and I do not have the money to pay for the
hostel. If I work longer hours and am very
careful with everything, if we eat a bit less and
work a bit more, I may be able to pay your school
fees. I will gladly do this, my son, but if I
do, you will have to walk to Noagaon and back
every day, seven miles going and seven miles
coming back through the thick of the jungle.
Fourteen miles a day is no joke, especially the
return journey when it gets dark and the jungle
is filled with wild beasts. Think twice, oh
Prem, Boodi said.
3
Who could that voice belong to? The goddess
looked down and saw Prem talking to his mother.
The boy was standing in a dark little hut, but
Saraswati could see his eyes shining as he spoke.
Saraswati smiled and muttered to herself aloud
So shall it be indeed. Boodi, who loved Prem
with all her heart, told him, Well, if you
insist, I shall not stop you. Give me time let
me earn enough to pay for school and then you can
go. Prem thanked his mother and promised to try
to earn some money too. I can collect twigs from
the jungle for firewood and you can sell the
twigs, mother dear. For the next few months,
Boodi and Prem worked hard and saved all they
could in order to pay for the school.
At last there was enough money for Prems
dream to come true. One fine morning, he
set out for school at the crack of dawn. He had
to walk seven miles before getting there.
Although it was very early indeed, the sun
already shone brightly, but most of the animals
were still asleep. The morning dew had turned
the spiders webs into strings of diamonds. The
spiders, like the wild beasts, were asleep in
their dens, full after the nights meal.
On his way to Noagaon, Prem met a couple of
spotted deer, a young monkey who had lost his
way, and some giant butterflies. But nobody
else.
4
In a tightly knotted corner of his loin cloth he
was carrying the school money, and in a small
basket of bamboo slats he was carrying his lunch
two pancakes of coarse millet flour and one
pickle, his food for the whole day. As soon as
Prem got to school he gave the money to the
teacher and took his place with the other boys -
all sitting cross-legged in rows on the floor of
the classroom. The first day of school went very
well, even though Prem was dressed very
differently from the other boys. The other boys
came from quite rich families, and wore shirts
and shorts some of them even wore silk garments.
One boy, called Motu, had a skull cap
embroidered with real gold. Prem wore a coarse
loin cloth of home-spun cotton. Boodi had spun
the thread herself and Alganal, the village
weaver, had woven it for her on his hand-made
loom. The other boys all had sandals, while Prem
was barefoot. This however, did not make such a
difference since everybody, including the
teacher, had to leave their shoes outside on the
school verandah. Prem was new, yet he did
not have too much difficulty in following the
lesson. The teacher was quick to notice that
Prem was keen to learn, and he took special
trouble to help him to understand what was going
on.
5
The first day of school went very well, even
though Prem was dressed very differently from the
other boys. The other boys came from quite rich
families, and wore shirts and shorts some of
them even wore silk garments. One boy, called
Motu, had a skull cap embroidered with real
gold. Prem wore a coarse loin cloth of home-spun
cotton. Boodi had spun the thread herself and
Alganal, the village weaver, had woven it for her
on his hand-made loom. The other boys all had
sandals, while Prem was barefoot. This however,
did not make such a difference since everybody,
including the teacher, had to leave their shoes
outside on the school verandah. Prem was new,
yet he did not have too much difficulty in
following the lesson.
The teacher was quick to notice that Prem
was keen to learn, and he took special trouble to
help him to understand what was going on. During
the break he asked Prem where he had learned to
read and write. Really, boy, you learned to
read and write by yourself from an old book?
That is very, very good indeed! Prem was so
happy with his first day at school that he even
forgot to eat the lunch he was carrying in his
bamboo basket. After school he started
back for his village, singing happily through the
jungle. As he walked, he realized that he was
hungry. No wonder he had not eaten for well
over twelve hours. He stopped and sat on his
heels knees tucked under his chin, and began to
eat.
6
Suddenly he heard a squeak. It was a chipmunk,
begging for a crumb. Before he knew where he was
or what had happened, Prem was surrounded by
little animals green tailed parrots, chipmunks,
monkeys, even a porcupine, all begging for
crumbs. He gave them a bit and ate the rest and
got up to go home. He walked on through the
thick jungle followed by his little friends. The
sun had begun to set on the horizon, and the
jungle now looked as if it was aglow with a huge
fire as the last rays of the sun shone blood-red
through the leaves. But Prem was not worried.
He was not alone, he had all his little friends
with him. Just as he was beginning to think how
nice it was of them to walk him home, he heard a
strange noise ahead.
The leaves were rustling in an odd way
his little friends suddenly became very quiet and
then began to run for dear life, even the
porcupine. Prem was left quite alone in the dark
jungle. Prem was scared. Why had they
all run away? Could it be that there was danger
ahead? As if to answer his thought, a terrific
roar rolled through the dark jungle. It was Sher
Khan, the tiger, who had gone a-hunting. Poor
Prem did not know what to do, where to hide. In
his terror he shouted, Saraswati, goddess of
learning, I beg you help me!
7
No sooner had he shouted then he saw a kind lady
carrying a veena in her hand. Prem ran to her,
A tiger! There is a tiger! he stuttered. I
know, said the goddess, for it was she, I know.
Sher Khan will not harm you as long as you
continue to be a good boy. See how he loves my
music, and Saraswati began to play the veena.
The music was so sweet that Sher Khan came out of
the jungle and rolled at her feet, purring like a
gigantic cat. Sarawati, Prem and Sher Khan
walked through the darkened jungle as far as the
outskirts of the village, where Boodi was
anxiously waiting for her son to return. As they
got near the village, Saraswati stopped and told
Prem and Sher Khan, You two must be friends from
now on.
Sher Khan, it will be your duty to escort Prem
back through the jungle every evening. See that
nothing happens to him. I shall keep an eye on
you from my home in the sky. She then
vanished. Boodi wanted to hear everything that
had happened at school, how the teacher had
greeted Prem, how the other boys behaved. After
Prem had eaten his evening meal of boiled rice
and spices and a little bit of yogurt, he told
Boodi about the other boys and the kind teacher,
but he did not tell her that the other boys were
better dressed and he did not tell her about his
adventure with the tiger. He did not want to
worry his mother, and he was so tired that he
fell asleep without telling her about meeting
Saraswati on the jungle.

8
Every morning, Prem got up at the crack of
dawn and walked through the jungle, carrying his
lunch in his little bamboo basket. At school he
worked well and made such good progress that he
was soon top of the form. The other boys
did not like this they made fun of him because
his peasants clothes and his bare feet. At
lunch time they would stay away from him and eat
the food that their parents had sent them
pancakes of golden wheat flour, sweetmeats and
candies, fruit and curries. They never offered
Prem anything. Indeed, Prem felt so shy with his
two pancakes of coarse millet flour and his one
little pickle that he never unpacked his lunch at
school. He would wait until the return walk
through the jungle to eat his meal.
He always shared it with his friends, the
little animals, and gave some crumbs to Sher Khan
also. Every evening Sher Khan would wait for
Prem at the place where it got dark and walk him
to the outskirts of the village. He and Sher
Khan became fast friends sometimes She Khan
would give Prem a pickaback ride. For
Prem, the last day of the term was a day he came
to dread above all days. The custom in the
school was for each pupil to give the teacher a
present. Prem was very fond of his teacher and
very grateful for all the trouble he was taking
over him. But he and Boodi were so poor that he
could not spare anything to give his teacher as a
present. At first, Prem had thought of bringing
his teacher a bunch of wild orchids picked on his
way to school.
9
The jungle was full of lovely wild
orchids. Some grew on trees, others on the
ground all he would have to do was to pick
them. But when Prem heard the other boys
boasting to each other of the presents they were
going to bring, he lost heart. How could a bunch
of wild orchids compare with a pound of tea, or a
couple of fat chickens, or a sari for the
teachers wife, or with the silk bedspread with
gold tassels which Motu, the merchants son, was
going to bring? And what will you bring
you peasant beggar? the other boys teased Prem.
Teachers pet, you will probably bring him
nothing, or at best some wild flowers which cost
you nothing.
What could Prem bring? To ask Boodi was out of
the question. She was already saving up to pay
for next term. So, on the last day of school,
Prem was walking slowly instead of running
happily with a song on his lips as he usually
did. Suddenly, he had an idea. He would not go
to school. He would pretend he had been ill with
fever. But that would be a lie. Besides, Prem
wanted so much to give a present to his teacher.
Oh Saraswati, goddess of learning, oh wise one,
give me an idea, Prem said without realizing
that he was thinking aloud. The goddess heard.
Without coming to earth, she shouted into the
jungle, Who can give more than what he has?
Share your meal with your teacher.
10
Prem heard her. That day, like every day, he was
carrying two pancakes and one pickle in his
little bamboo basket. But today, because it was
his last day of the term, Boodi had made the
pancakes with precious wheat flour, as a
surprise. Prem did not know this. He had heard
the goddess and sat down to cry. The whole class
would laugh. But if the goddess said that he
must share his meal, he must obey her. Prem
heaved a deep sigh, wiped his eyes with the
corner of his loin cloth, and walked to
school. At the lunch break, all the pupils
brought out their presents. The teacher was very
pleased, especially with Motus silk and golden
bedspread. Prem waited until all the other boys
had given their presents, then, timidly, he came
forward, holding his little bamboo basket.
Sir, he said, his voice trembling with shame,
please share my modest lunch with me. The
teacher who knew how poor Prem was, said kindly,
Thank you Prem, thank you very much. He opened
the little bamboo basket and took the pickle and
one pancake, handing the other pancake to Prem.
Let us eat together, he said. As he was going
to close the empty bamboo basket, he saw to his
surprise that it contained yet another pickle and
two more pancakes. He gave another pancake and
the pickle to Prem, and took the remaining
pancake for himself. Now, the bamboo basket
would be empty.
11
That evening, on his way home, Prem was
dancing through the jungle. He was so happy that
he gave all his animal friends lots of pancakes
of golden wheat flour and ate a lot himself. The
friend that got the most pancakes and pickles
was, of course, Sher Khan, because he was the
biggest. When he got home, Prem told
Boodi what had happened and he fed her a princely
meal of wheat pancakes and pickles. Before going
to sleep, both mother and son prayed to the
goddess Saraswati and thanked her for the good
care she was taking of Prem. During the night,
Prem had a dream. The goddess came to his
bedside, smiling in a friendly way, to tell him
that tomorrow the bamboo basket would no longer
be magic
But nothing of the sort. Inside there was still
a pickle and two pancakes. The teacher was
puzzled. Calling Motu, he told him to bring a
tray. When the tray was brought, the teacher
began to take out pancakes and pickles from the
little bamboo basket, but her could not empty it.
The more pancakes he took out, the more were
left in Prems bamboo basket. The tray was
heaped full and so was another tray and another,
and yet the bamboo basket was not empty. The
boys and the teacher became quite
excited. Truly this is a miracle! said the
teacher, and the boys began to look at Prem with
respect.
12
Knowledge, not magic, Prem, is the fountain of
plenty. Learn all that you can, become wise, and
you will not go hungry. If you learn, you will
be able to earn wealth and fame and also be able
to look after your mother. Her image faded away
and Prem awoke to find that the little bamboo
basket by his side, magic no longer, was empty
The End
To be used in connection with unit of study on
Nepalese Folk Tales prepared by Marianne Peel
Forman, Language Arts Teacher, C.E. MacDonald
Middle School, East Lansing, Michigan
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