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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
6 December 2000
Danish story-teller Hans Christian Andersen (1805-875) is internationally known for his delightful stories such as 'Thumbelina'(1835), 'The Emperor's New Suit' (1837) and 'The Ugly Duckling' (1844). One of his lesser-known stories was 'The Swineherd' (1842). The reappointment of Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte as the Deputy Minister of Defence by President Chandrika Kumaratunga on November 30, prompts me to present this story to the readers.
I see many parallels between this story and the events in Colombo. Readers are requested to absorb the figurative (and not necessarily the literal) sense of this story to the Sri Lankan scenario. First I equate the following.
1. Poor Prince (Imperial swineherd) = Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte
2. Emperor's daughter = Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
3. Emperor = Sinhalese public
4. lamented Empress = Sirimavo Ratwatte Bandaranaike
5. ladies-in-waiting = retainers and journalist 'torch-carriers' [pandam karaya in Sinhalese and pantham pidippoor in Tamil]
6. mistress of the robes = Buddhist priests
Living things represented:
1. rose, blooming once in five years = general election
2. nightingale = 'Ratwatte pride'
3. pigs = Sri Lankan army
Other items mentioned:
1. cooking pot = 'security information'
2. rattle = a psychogenic tonic tagged as KBS [standing for Kandyan Buddhist Superiority]
Now, I provide the English version of Andersen's tale, as it has appeared in Andersen's Fairy Tales [translated by Mrs.E.V.Lucas and Mrs.H.B.Paull, Grosset & Dunlop, New York, 1981 reprint of 1945 original edition].
"There was once a poor prince who had only a tiny kingdom, but it was big enough to allow him to marry, and he was bent upon marrying.
Now it certainly was rather bold of him to say to the Emperor's daughter, 'Will you have me?'. He did, however, venture to say so, for his name was known far and wide. Let us hear about it.
A rose tree grew on the grave of the Prince's father. It was such a beautiful rose tree. But it bloomed only every fifth year, and then bore only one blossom. What a rose that was! By merely smelling it, one forgot all of one's cares and sorrows.
Then he had a nightingale which sang as if every lovely melody in the world dwelt in her little throat. This rose and this nightingale were to be given to the Princess, so they were put into great silver caskets and sent to her.
The Emperor had them carried before him into the great hall where the Princess was playing at 'visiting' with her ladies-in-waiting; they had nothing else to do. When she saw the caskets with the gifts, she clapped her hands with delight.
'If it were only a little pussy cat!' said she. But there was the lovely rose.
'Oh, how exquisitively it is made!' said all the ladies-in-waiting.
'It is more than beautiful', said the Emperor. 'It is neatly made'. But the Princess touched it, and then she was ready to cry.
'Fie, Papa!' she said. 'It is not made. It is a real one'.
'Well, let us see what there is in the other casket, before we get angry', said the Emperor, and out came the nightingale. It sang so beautifully that at first no one could find anything to say against it.
'Superbe! charmant!' said the ladies-in-waiting, for they all had a smattering of French; one spoke it worse than the other.
'How that bird reminds me of our lamented Empress' musical box', said an old courtier. 'Ah yes, they are the same tunes and the same beautiful execution.'
'So they are,' said the Emperor, crying like a little child.
'I should hardly think it could be a real one', said the Princess.
'Yes, it is a real one', said those who had brought it.
'Oh, let that bird fly away then', said the Princess, and she would not hear of allowing the Prince to come. But he was not to be crushed. He stained his face brown and black, and, pressing his cap over his eyes, he knocked at the door.
'Good Morning, Emperor' said he. 'Can I be taken into service in the palace?'
'Well, there are so many wishing to do that', said the Emperor.
'But let me see. Yes, I need somebody to look after the pigs. We have so many of them.'
So the Prince was made imperial swineherd. A horrid little room was given him near the pigsties, and here he had to live. He sat busily at work all day, and by the evening he had made a beautiful like cooking pot. It had bells all round it, and when the pot boiled they tinkled delightfully and played the old tune.
'Ach du lieber Augustin - Alles ist weg, weg, weg!'
[Alas, dear Augustin - All is lost, lost, lost!]
But the greatest of all its charms was that by holding one's finger in the steam, one could immediately smell all the dinners that were being cooked at every stove in the town. Now this was a very different matter from a rose.
The Princess came walking along with all her ladies-in-waiting, and when she heard the tune she stopped and looked pleased, for she could play 'Ach du lieber Augustin' herself. It was her only tune, and she could only play it with one finger.
'Why, that is my tune', she said. 'This must be a cultivated swineherd. Ask him what the instrument costs'.
So one of the ladies-in-waiting had to go into his room, but before she entered she put on wooden clog-shoes.
'How much do you want for the pot?' she asked.
'I must have ten kisses from the Princess', said the swineherd.
'Heaven preserve us!' said the lady.
'I won't take less', said the swineherd.
'Well, what does he say?' asked the Princess.
'I really cannot tell you', said the lady-in-waiting. 'It is so shocking'.
'Then you must whisper it', and she whispered it.
'He is a wretch!' said the Princess, and went away at once. But she had only gone a little way when she heard the bells tinkling beautifully.
'Ach du lieber Augustin'.
'Go and ask him if he will take ten kisses from the ladies-in-waiting'.
'No, thank you', said the swineherd. 'Ten kisses from the Princess, or I keep my pot'.
'How tiresome it is', said the Princess. 'Then you will have to stand round me, so that no one may see'.
So the ladies-in-waiting stood around her and spread out their skirts while the swineherd took his ten kisses, and then the pot was hers.
What a delight it was to them! The pot was kept on the boil day and night. They knew what was cooking on every stove in the town, from the chamberlain's to the shoemaker's. The ladies-in-waiting danced about and clapped their hands.
'We know who has sweet soup and pancakes for dinner, and who has cutlets. How amusing it is'.
'Highly interesting', said the mistress of the robes.
'Yes, but hold your tongues, for I am the Emperor's daughter'.
'Heaven preserve us!' they all said.
The swineherd [that is to say, the Prince, only nobody knew that he was not a real swineherd] did not let the day pass in idleness, and he now constructed a rattle. When it was swung it played all the waltzes, galops and jig tunes ever heard since the creation of the world.
'But this is superbe!' said the Princess, as she walked by.
'I have never heard finer compositions. Go and ask him what the instrument costs, but let us have no more kissing.'
'He wants a hundred kisses from the Princess' said the lady-in-waiting.
'I think he is mad!' said the Princess, and she went away, but she had not gone far when she stopped.
'One must encourage art' she said. 'I am the Emperor's daughter. Tell him he can have ten kisses, the same as yesterday, and he can take others from the ladies-in-waiting.
'But we don't like that at all', said the ladies.
'Oh, nonsense! If I can kiss him you can do the same. Remember that I pay you wages as well as give you board and lodging'. So the lady-in-waiting had to go again.
'A hundred kisses from the Princess, or let each keep his own'.
'Stand in front of me', said she, and all the ladies stood round while he kissed her.
'Whatever is the meaning of that crowd round the pigsties?' said the Emperor as he stepped out onto the veranda. He rubbed his eyes and put on his spectacles. 'Why, it is the ladies-in-waiting. What game are they up to? I must go and see!' So he pulled up the heels of his slippers for they were shoes which he had trodden down.
Bless us, what a hurry he was in! When he got into the yard he walked very softly, and the ladies were so busy counting the kisses, so that there should be fairplay, and neither too few nor too many kisses, and they never heard the Emperor. He stood on tiptoe.
'What is all this?' he said when he saw what was going on, and he hit them on the head with his slipper just as the swineherd was taking his eighty-sixth kiss.
'Out you go!' said the Emperor. He was very furious, and he put both the Princess and the Prince out of his realm.
There she stood crying, and the swineherd scolded, and the rain poured down in torrents.
'Oh, miserable creature that I am!' said the Princess.
'If only I had accepted the handsome Prince. Oh, how unhappy I am!'
The swineherd went behind a tree, wiped the black and brown stain from his face, and threw away his ugly clothes. When he stepped out dressed as a prince, he was so handsome that the Princess could not help curtseying to him.
'I am come to despise thee' he said. 'Thou wouldst not have an honorable prince. Thou couldst not prize the rose or the nightingale. But thou wouldst kiss the swineherd for a trumpery musical box! As thou hast made thy bed, so must thou lie upon it'.
Then he went back into his own little kingdom and shut and locked the door. So she had to stand outside and sing in earnest:
Ach du lieber Augustin - Alles ist weg, weg, weg!' [end]
When I read this story, I could only marvel how Hans Christian Andersen has anticipated the Sri Lankan scene, almost 160 years ago. His characterization of 'rose, blooming once in five years', 'cooking pot', 'rattle' and even the 'kisses' (in Sri Lankan terms, none other than the military budget) are surrealistically fitting to the year 2000 scenario in Sri Lanka.
As is evident, the final scene on this Andersen's story is yet to be played out in Sri Lanka. But as the events turn out, one can be certain that 'The Swineherd' will meet his end as Andersen has presented.