Once upon a time, in a little cottage nestled far away, there lived a kind Brahman and his wife. They were so poor that sometimes they didn't know where their next meal would come from, and they had to make do with wild herbs and roots for their dinners.
One sunny day, as the Brahman ventured into the wilderness to gather these wild herbs, he stumbled upon something quite unexpected – an Aubergine, also known as an egg-plant. He thought to himself, "This might come in handy someday," so he carefully dug it up, took it back to their humble cottage, and planted it right by the doorstep.
Every single day, the Brahman would lovingly water and care for the egg-plant. It grew bigger and stronger with each passing day, until it bore a magnificent fruit as large as a pear. It was a sight to behold, with its shiny, purple and white skin. The Brahman and his wife admired it so much that they couldn't bear to pluck it from the plant.
Days turned into weeks, and their food supply grew scarce. One fine morning, when their cupboards were completely bare, the Brahman turned to his wife and said, "My dear, it's time we enjoyed our egg-fruit. Please, go ahead and pick it so we can prepare it for our meal."
The Brahman's wife took a knife and carefully cut the beautiful egg-fruit from the plant. As she sliced it, she thought she heard a faint, little moan. However, she continued to peel it, and to her astonishment, a tiny voice chimed in, saying, "Oh, please be gentle! Take care while you peel me, or the knife might hurt me!"
Intrigued by this unexpected turn of events, the Brahman's wife looked at the egg-fruit in amazement. Little did she know that their lives were about to take a magical and extraordinary twist. The good woman was terribly perplexed but continued to peel the egg-fruit as gently as she could. She couldn't help but wonder what enchantment had taken hold of this egg-fruit. She sliced through the rind, and to her astonishment, out stepped the most beautiful little maiden dressed in purple and white satin!
The poor Brahman and his wife were not only mightily astonished but also incredibly delighted. Since they had no children of their own, they considered the tiny maiden a godsend and decided to adopt her. They took the greatest care of her, showering her with love and affection. They always called her the Princess Aubergine, for they believed that even if she wasn't a real princess, her dainty and delicate nature was fit for royalty.
Not too far from the Brahman's humble hut, there lived a King with a beautiful Queen and seven strong sons. One day, a slave-girl from the palace happened to pass by the Brahman's cottage. She went inside to ask for a light and, to her amazement, saw the beautiful Aubergine. She rushed back to the palace and told her mistress about the enchanting Princess Aubergine, who was so lovely that if the King ever set eyes on her, he would surely forget not only his Queen but every other woman in the world.
The Queen, however, had a heart filled with jealousy and couldn't stand the thought of anyone being more beautiful than she. She schemed to destroy the lovely Aubergine. Her mind raced with a plan, for she was a sorceress and well-versed in all kinds of magic. She sent a message to Princess Aubergine, stating that the fame of her remarkable beauty had reached the palace. The Queen claimed she wanted to see for herself if the reports were true. Princess Aubergine, flattered by the Queen's message, decided to visit the palace. The Queen pretended to be in awe and declared, 'You were meant to live in royal palaces! From now on, you must never leave my side; you are my sister.'
Princess Aubergine, vain about her beauty, fell right into the Queen's trap. She stayed in the palace and exchanged veils with the Queen, sealing their newfound sisterhood by drinking milk from the same cup. However, the Queen had suspected from the very beginning that Princess Aubergine was not a mere human but a fairy. She knew she had to be cautious with her magical plans. So, while Princess Aubergine was fast asleep, the Queen cast powerful spells upon her. She whispered, 'Beautiful Aubergine, tell me the truth. In what does your life's essence reside?'
Princess Aubergine replied, 'In the life of your eldest son. If you were to harm him, I would also meet my end.'
So the very next morning, the wicked Queen proceeded to where her eldest son lay sleeping, and she took his life with her own hands. Her heart was filled with a dark, cold determination. Then, she sent her slave-girl to the Princess's chambers, hoping to hear that the young Aubergine had met her end. However, to her great dismay, the girl returned with news that the Princess was alive and well.
Tears of rage streamed down the Queen's face, for she realized that her spells had not been strong enough, and she had killed her son in vain. Nevertheless, the Queen was not one to give up easily. The following night, she laid even stronger spells upon the sleeping Princess Aubergine, whispering the same question:
'Princess Aubergine, tell me true, what holds your life?’
Once again, the Princess responded from her slumber, 'In the life of your second son. Kill him, and I too will die.'
And so, the wicked Queen killed her second son with her own hands. But when she sent her slave-girl to check on Aubergine, the girl returned bearing the same news: the Princess was alive and well. The Queen seethed with anger and frustration, for she had killed her second son in vain. Yet, she refused to abandon her wicked plot. The cycle continued night after night. Each time, the Princess Aubergine responded that her life was tied to the Queen's sons. And each time, a young princs fell at his mother's hand, while the Princess remained unscathed.
The sorceress-queen was determined to succeed. She summoned all her dark arts and laid such potent spells on Princess Aubergine that the poor girl could no longer resist them. When the wicked Queen repeated her usual question, the helpless Princess had no choice but to answer truthfully:
'In a river far away, there lives a red and green fish. Inside the fish, there is a bumblebee. Inside the bee, a tiny box, and inside the box is the wonderful nine-lakh necklace. Put it on, and I shall die.'
Satisfied with the answer, the Queen began her quest to find the red and green fish. When her husband, the King, inquired about her troubles, she told him of her desire to possess the remarkable nine-lakh necklace.
'Where can this necklace be found?' asked the King.
And the Queen replied with the words of Princess Aubergine, 'In a river far away, there lives a red and green fish. Inside the fish, there is a bumblebee, inside the bee a tiny box, and in the box is the nine-lakh necklace.' The King, filled with kindness and compassion, grieved for his lost sons and wished to bring joy to his distressed wife. He commanded all the fishermen in his kingdom to work tirelessly until the red and green fish was found. Thus, the fishermen embarked on their mission, and soon, the Queen's desire was fulfilled. The red and green fish was captured, and when the wicked sorceress opened it, there she found the bumblebee. Inside the bee was the tiny box, and within the box rested the wonderful nine-lakh necklace.
Without hesitation, the Queen placed the necklace around her neck, the jewel that held the fate of Princess Aubergine, in her never-ending quest for beauty and power. Now, as soon as Princess Aubergine had been forced to reveal the secret of her life due to the Queen's dark magic, she knew her fate was sealed. With a heavy heart, she returned to the humble cottage of her foster-parents. Tearfully, she told them of her impending death and made a special request: that when she passed, they should not burn or bury her body. She shared her wish: "Dress me in my finest clothes, lay me on my bed, scatter flowers over me, and carry me to the wildest wilderness. There, you must place the bed on the ground and build a high mud wall around it so that no one will be able to see over."
Her foster-parents, grief-stricken, promised to fulfill her wishes. When the time came, and the Princess Aubergine breathed her last (which happened at the very moment the wicked Queen put on the nine-lakh necklace), they dressed her in her finest attire, covered her with flowers, and carried her to the remote wilderness. Meanwhile, the Queen sent her slave-girl to the Brahman's cottage to verify if Princess Aubergine had truly met her demise. When the girl returned, she conveyed the news: "She is dead but neither burnt nor buried. She lies out in the wilderness to the north, adorned with flowers, as beautiful as the moon."
The Queen, not content with this reply but unable to do more, had no choice but to accept it. The King, deeply mourning the loss of his seven sons, tried to soothe his grief by hunting in the wilderness daily. The Queen, fearing he might stumble upon the deceased Princess Aubergine during his wanderings, made him promise never to hunt toward the north. She warned, "Some evil will surely befall you if you do.”
Despite the King's promise, one day he forgot, lost his way, and came upon a high enclosure, bereft of a door. Curiosity getting the better of him, he climbed over the wall. To his astonishment, he discovered a lovely Princess resting on a bed of flowers, appearing as though she had just fallen asleep. It seemed impossible that she could be dead. Kneeling beside her, he spent the entire day praying and beseeching her to open her eyes. When night fell, he returned to his palace, only to rush back with the dawn's light, this time with his bow in hand, dismissing all his attendants under the guise of hunting alone. Thus, he continued, day after day, kneeling beside the beautiful Aubergine, imploring her to awaken. But she remained motionless.
After a year, he found the most beautiful little boy lying beside the Princess. Astonished, he cared for the child with tenderness throughout the day. At night, he placed the child beside its lifeless mother. With time, the child learned to speak and, when asked if his mother was always dead, he replied, "No! At night, she is alive and cares for me as you do during the day."
Hearing this, the King asked the boy to inquire why his mother had passed away and, more importantly, how the wicked Queen was to be punished and the necklace recovered. The next day, the boy conveyed his mother's response: "My mother says that I am the only one who can retrieve the necklace. Tonight, when you return to the palace, you must take me with you." And so, the King brought the boy back to the palace, announcing to all his ministers and courtiers that the child was his heir.
This declaration enraged the sorceress-queen, who was consumed by jealousy, thinking of her own deceased sons. She hatched a plan to poison the boy. She prepared enticing sweetmeats and, pretending to show affection, offered him a handful, urging him to eat. But the clever child, sensing her malevolent intent, refused to eat the sweets until she handed him the glittering necklace she wore around her neck, to play with. As soon as he touched it, he sprinted away, eluding the grasp of the servants and guards. He didn't stop running until he reached the place where the beautiful Princess Aubergine lay in eternal rest. He threw the necklace over her head, and she immediately rose, even lovelier than before.
The King, beseeching her to return to the palace as his bride, was met with a condition: "I will never be your wife until that wicked sorceress is dead, for she would only murder me and my son, just as she did your seven sons. If you dig a deep ditch at the threshold of the palace, fill it with scorpions and snakes, throw the wicked Queen into it, and bury her alive, then I shall walk over her grave to be your wife."
So the King ordered a deep ditch to be dug and had it filled with scorpions and snakes. He went to the sorceress-queen and urged her to witness something marvelous. When she refused, suspecting a trap, the guards seized her, bound her, and cast her into the ditch among the scorpions and snakes, burying her alive with them. As for Princess Aubergine, she and her son strolled over the grave and lived happily in the palace ever after.
Source: Tales of the Punjab