THE collection of these legends was commenced with the object alluded to in the Dedication. It was continued, as they appeared in themselves curious illustrations of Indian popular tradition, and in the hope that something might thus be done to rescue them from the danger of oral transmission.
Though varied in their imagery, the changes between the different legends are rung upon very few themes, as if purposely confined to what was most familiar to the people. The similarity between the incidents in some of these and in favourite European stories is curious; and the leading characteristics peculiar to all orthodox fairy tales are here preserved intact. Step-mothers are always cruel, and step-sisters their willing instruments; giants and ogres always stupid; youngest daughters more clever than their elder sisters; and the Jackal (like his European cousin the Fox) usually overcomes every difficulty, and proves a bright moral example of the success of wit against brute force--the triumph of mind over matter.
It is remarkable that in the romances of a country where women are generally supposed by us to be regarded as mere slaves or intriguers, their influence (albeit most frequently put to proof behind the scenes) should be made to appear so great, and, as a rule, exerted wholly for good; and that, in a land where despotism has such a firm hold on the hearts of the people, the liberties of the subject should be so boldly asserted as by the old Milk-woman to the Rajah in 'Little Surya Bai, 1 or the Malee to the Rajah in 'Truth's Triumph'; and few, probably, would have expected to find the Hindoos owning such a romance as 'Brave Seventee Bai'; or to meet with such stories as 'The Valiant Chatteemaker,' and 'The Blind Man, the Deaf Man, and the Donkey,' among a nation which, it has been constantly asserted, possesses no humour, no sense of the ridiculous, and cannot understand a joke.
In 'The Narrator's Narrative' Anna Liberata de Souza's own story is related, as much as possible, in her own words of expressive but broken English. She did not, however, tell it in one continuous narrative; it is the sum of many conversations I had with her, during the eighteen months that she was with us.
The legends themselves are altered as little as possible; half their charm, however, consisted in the Narrator's eager, flexible voice and graphic gestures.
I often asked her if there were no stories of elephants having done wonderful deeds (as from their strength and sagacity one would have imagined them to possess all the qualifications requisite to heroes of romance); but, strange to say, she knew of none in which elephants played any part whatsoever.
As regards the Oriental names, they have generally been written as Anna pronounced them. It was frequently not possible to give the true orthography, and the correctly spelt name does not always give a clue to the popular pronunciation. So with the interpretations and geography. Where it is possible to identify what is described, an attempt has been made to do so; but for other explanations. Anna's is the sole authority: she was quite sure that 'Seventee Bai' meant the 'Daisy Lady,' though no botanist would acknowledge the plant under that name, and she was satisfied that all gentlemen who have travelled know where 'Agra Brum' is, though she had never been there, and no such province appears in any ordinary Gazetteer or description of the city of Akbar.
These few legends, told by one old woman to her grandchildren, can only be considered as representatives of a class. 'That world,' to use her own words, 'is gone'; and those who can tell us about it in this critical and unimaginative age are fast disappearing too, before the onward march of civilisation; yet there must be in the country many a rich gold-mine unexplored. Will no one go to the diggings?
1 Was this narrative of feminine sagacity invented by some old woman, who felt aggrieved at the general contempt entertained for her sex?