Read an exclusive excerpt from The Garden of Tales story, Double Lives

In two ancient villages twenty-four miles apart, live two Seths, equal in years. Nowhere in the country would two people be so rich and so generous. Unlimited love, abundant affection! And fate and that auspicious night it will be, two sets were married at the same time. The handy(1) With their incredible beauty bednis(2). was ordered at the same time. And it was at the same time that the pearl was impregnated in both oysters. With joy, the Seths promised to marry if it was a boy and the other a girl – the children were married in the womb!

An early 19th century Rajput miniature.  (Getty Images) premium
An early 19th century Rajput miniature. (Getty Images)

Intoxicated with love for each other and maddened by wealth, the Seths did not know the laws of nature. In the ninth month, they both gave birth to daughters in the same alignment of the stars. Partly out of rejoicing in the promise made before the child was born, and partly out of grace of habit, one Seth cheated on the other. Although she was a daughter, instead of the customary cane basket, she beat a brass plate. He sent nai(3) Taking the good news to his friend’s village. The festival started by giving jaggery to both houses.

At first, the mother thought it was a joke between the two friends. In time, everything will be revealed. Until then, there was no harm in continuing this masquerade. What is a boy and a girl in the innocence of childhood! It is only in adolescence that these profound differences become well known…

But father knowingly or unknowingly made no effort to put an end to this brawl. He raised his daughter as a son. She grew up with a dhoti tied around her waist, an angrakhi around her torso and a turban tied around her head. At first it was all a joke. But even after reaching old age, when the father’s mind did not change, the mother began to fear the worst.

One day she asked her husband, ‘How can you be so blind with your eyes open?’

‘I’m not blind,’ said Seth, slightly annoyed. ‘I can see all three spheres of the universe!’

Sethani held her head and said, ‘Can’t the one who sees the three regions see his grown-up daughter wearing men’s clothes?’

‘Where do I have time to pay attention to such trivial matters?’ Seth replied sweetly.

Sethani said spontaneously, ‘Father of our child, what is this stupidity? It’s time for our daughter to get married, and you think it’s a small thing?’

But I never refused to marry her. Indeed, can anyone compete with my vision? I arranged a match for her while she was still in the womb!’

Sethani came near her husband and said, ‘What is your arrangement? Is a girl married to a girl, pray?’

‘What is marriage! You get married, that’s it. But a promise cannot be broken even in death!’

Sethani started fainting. These were not words spoken in jest. How could she explain to her husband what was clear as day? Does it even need to explain something? She stood for a while. But if you stay silent now, it will lead to destruction! At last, she composed herself, she said, ‘My good man, your promise cannot honor the demands of the bed. Before carrying such stupidity, understand a little! I haven’t pissed you off all these years thinking it was all a joke.’

‘But I have never done anything for which I should be persecuted! We will get a huge amount in dowry! With much fanfare I will ride my son to go(4). A man’s word cannot be changed. Why should I make up for nature’s mistakes?’

Sethani was confused. Either her husband was still teasing her, or she really didn’t want to go back on her word. But today she did not let the matter stand until a suitable solution was found. Maddened with rage, she said, ‘To hell with your gain! How will a daughter who has a father like you fulfill the need for a bed? Does the idea never occur to you?’

‘Why? Why didn’t it occur to me?’ Seth replied amusedly. ‘When men go abroad, good women wait patiently for eight to ten years. If they end up with a slow, soft husband, the wives somehow manage. Child widows also spend their days without anyone. Our daughter’s destiny is her own. She will survive on her own.’

(Excerpted from The Garden of Tales, a collection of stories by Vijaydan Detha, translated from Rajasthan by Vishesh Kothari; Harper Perennial, 2023)


(1) Hataleva: A marriage ritual where the hands of the bridegroom and the bride are joined at the time of fera.

(2) Bendani: Wife. Also used for daughter-in-law. Beend: Husband.

(3) Nai: The barber caste. But their responsibilities may also include the duties of a butler in the household and they also take care of all the rituals.

(4) Jan: the wedding procession of the bridegroom.

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