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Date of Publish: 2017-02-04


The Fortune-Teller

(An Assamese Folktale)



Once in a village there was a farmer called Phoring. His wife was rather selfish. The husband and the wife were the only members of the family. They did not have any children. It was the month of Magh, and there was a little drizzle. Phoring got up early in the morning and said to his wife, “It’s cloudy today. I feel like having rice-cakes. Can’t you bake some for me? I think I’ll not have rice today.”

The wife said, “But where is bara dhan for making rice-cakes? We don’t have any in the granary.”

“ Well, it seems we can’t have rice-cakes, then,” the husband said.

The wife then said, “Please go out and see if bara dhan is being threshed in any household . Please go and ask for some.”

The husband thought for some time and made a plan. He wrapped an eri warmer around his body and went out. Seeing that the threshing of bara dhan (a sticky variety of rice) was going on at a neighbour’s place, Phoring went in. He had sat near the threshing floor and initiated a chatter with the householder about this and that. He sat there for quite some time, continuing the chatting. Meanwhile, the grains of rice got separated from the stalks. The householder shook the straws free of the grains and pushed them aside. Just then Phoring, complaining of a griping pain, rolled over the heap of paddy with the eri wrapper still around his body. The grains of bara dhan were covered by very fine bristles so that the grains of rice got stuck to the eri wrapper which had a rough surface. Phoring rolled three or four times over the heap of rice before leaving for home, pretending to be writhing in agony.

On reaching home, Phoring shook the eri wrapper and got a basketful of bara dhan.The wife was very happy to see the basket of rice. She at once boiled them, then sunned them and then removed the husks by beating the dried grains. And then she ground the sticky rice. In the evening, after cooking and serving meal to her husband, she took to prepare for baking rice-cakes. After food Phoring was sleepy and so he went to bed.

The wife baked twelve scores of cakes and put them on a bamboo tray. Then, she ate most of the cakes and put away the remaining few in a bowl. Before going to bed she woke her husband up and said, “I’ve finished baking rice-cakes, but I want to set a condition: Whoever gets up earlier tomorrow will eat one third of the cakes, and whoever wakes up late will get the two-thirds.” Phoring agreed and went back to sleep.

Next morning none of them was ready to get up from bed. The sun was getting hotter, yet both went on snoring, pretending to be asleep. In the end, Phoring realized that he could not afford to go on sleeping like this by neglecting his work in the field. Let his wife have two-thirds of the rice-cakes, he would have just one- third, he thought and got up. Seeing him getting out of bed, his wife said, “You’ve got up before me. So you’ll have only one-third of the cakes.”

“It’s all right, you have two-thirds,” said her husband.

Phoring went to the kitchen to eat his share of rice-cakes and found that there were only a few. He asked his wife, “Where are the remaining rice-cakes?”

“Remaining rice-cakes? All the rice-cakes that I had made are there in the bowl. Have one third and keep the rest for me”, she said.

How strange, thought Phoring, only these few cakes from a basketful of rice. Suddenly his eyes fell on the round bamboo tray hanging from the wall. He saw there the impressions left by the rice-cakes. He counted them up to find that they were three scores in total. Without saying anything to his wife he came out and sat down outside. His wife brought the bota, the bell-metal tray, and offered sliced areca nuts, paan and slices of sali bark to her husband. As he took them from the tray Phoring recited a proverb:

Divine the future with the plough

Drive with sticks the spirits out

Someone ate cakes three scores

Who can tell who knows?


His wife had understood the hidden meaning of the lines. She was ashamed of herself and immediately left the place to fetch water from the river. She met a number of women at the river landing and confided the story of rice-cakes to them. She concluded her narration by saying that her husband was in fact a fortune-teller. The word quickly spread, first among the village women, and then all the villagers came to know that Phoring was a fortune-teller.

A villager had lost one black cow of his. When he had failed to find the cow after searching for five days, the man approached Phoring, who he had meanwhile heard to be a fortune-teller. The man asked him if he could find some clue. Co-incidentally, that morning Phoring saw that black cow grazing in the field filled with tall reed-like grasses behind his homestead. So Phoring told the man, “Go and find your cow behind my homestead.” The man followed his advice and immediately found his cow. After this incident it got well grounded all around that Phoring was an accomplished fortune-teller.

The news soon reached the King. Incidentally, the king had lost a gold necklace worth one hundred thousand coins. He searched it in every nook and cranny of the palace but the chain was not to be found. So, the King summoned Phoring to the court and asked him to find the lost gold chain.

When the King’s messenger conveyed the King’s order to Phoring, he was about to faint. If he refuses to go, the King will execute him. The King will execute him even if he goes but fails to find out the chain, or confesses that he is not a fortune-teller. He was completely at a loss, unable to decide what to do. So, by leaving everything to destiny and God he had left his home and presented himself before the King.

The King warmly welcomed the fortune-teller and ordered that he should be taken inside and served refreshments. Phoring was served such tasty foods as doi, milk, softened rice, molasses and other delicacies.

The King had two queens; one was called Madoi, the other Hadoi. It was Hadoi who had stolen the gold chain and hidden it somewhere. Learning that the fortune-teller had arrived, she was utterly terrified, apprehending that she would get caught. So she stood near the room where Phoring was eating and observed him through a chink in the wall. Phoring was equally frightened. When he saw the bowl of softened rice and doi (curd), he said to himself, aloud, “Uh-huh--doi! Eat well today; who knows what the King is going to do to you tomorrow!”


When the junior queen heard these words she thought, “O, I’m done for, the fortune-teller has got me.” She came out and said, holding his hand, “O Fortune-teller, please do not reveal this secret. I’ll give you whatever you want.”

It was immediately clear to the fortune-teller that queen Hadoi was the thief. He said to the queen, “Your Majesty, I’ll not divulge the secret but you must bring the chain immediately and put it in the King’s handy box.” Then and there the queen followed his instruction.

Next day the King summoned the fortune-teller and asked him to tell who had stolen the necklace. The fortune-teller bowed to the king and said, “My Lord, I don’t see anyone stealing the necklace. I think it is in your lordship’s handy box.”

The King had his handy box brought to him. When it was opened the gold chain was found to be lying there. Everybody was astounded at this. The King honoured him by making him a courtier and by generously rewarding him with lands, cash and other goods.

One day the king caught a phoring, a grasshopper, and held it in his fist and then asked the fortune-teller, “Tell me what I have here in my fist.”

The fortune-teller thought his days were over. So he said in a saddened voice:

One I predicted by counting

Another by seeing

Saying ha-doi brought out the chain

Now Phoring, your life comes to an end.


The King did not know the fortune-teller’s name. So he thought that by “phoring” he meant the grasshopper. The King released the grasshopper and gifted the fortune teller with his own dress.

One day the King hid a xeluk, the root of a water-lily, in his palm and said to the fortune-teller, “Tell me what I have in my fist.” Utterly nervous, Phoring muttered, barepoti xolako, meaning, “I escape somehow every time!” The King heard it as the proverb, burepati xeluk, meaning “I find the root of a water-lily at every dip.” The King rewarded the fortune-teller once more with a handsome amount of gold and silver.

Our clothes got blackened and so we came back home.





Translated from Assamese by Madan Sarma and Gautam Kumar Borah

( Madan Sarma is Professor, Dept of English and Foreign Languages, Tezpur University. He can be reached at - madansarmajan@gmail.com

Gautam K. Borah is Professor, Dept of English and Foreign Languages, Tezpur University. He can be reached at gkbtez@gmail.com )

Illustrations - Utpal Talukdar.

(Utpal Talukdar is an illustrator and a cartoonist. He has completed several projects of children literature with National Book Trust of India. He is a reciepient of Parag Kumar Das Journalism Award)

This tale has been taken from "Burhi Aair Sadhu"- a collection of Assamee folktales, collected by Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa and published in 1911.


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