(an Indian folktale)
Once upon a time a poor farmer set off for his fields to work. When he reached the edge of the river, he was startled to find a family of crocodiles lying in his fields. “Get out!” he cried, but the crocodiles only rolled over, crushing the farmer’s wheat.
He ran home to tell his wife the tale.
“Send those nasty creatures into the river where they belong,” she berated him. “Go back and send them away.”
The farmer returned to the field and said, “You crocodiles belong in your world, not in mine.” Then he began to throw rocks at them, hoping to scare them away.
But the crocodiles only opened their mouths, displaying their ferocious teeth.
“Don’t hurt me,” he begged in terror. “Just go back where you belong.”
One of the crocodiles spoke. “We will leave you without harm if you promise us one gift.”
“Anything,” the farmer said. “Only leave me and my land alone.”
“Our king wishes to marry your daughter,” the crocodile said.
The farmer agreed to their request. He thought that now the crocodiles would disappear, and with them so would his problem.
The crocodiles slid into the river.
When the farmer told his wife all that had happened, she cried, “How could you promise our child to a crocodile?”
“There’s nothing to fear. Soon our daughter will be married, and if the crocodiles return, I will tell them she has already wed another.”
Alas, the day before the wedding, the man the farmer’s daughter was promised to became violently ill. He died on their wedding day.
The daughter was distraught.
Everyone loved the farmer’s daughter, for she was lovely and generous and kind. A few months later another young man was promised to her, and they planned to marry. Alas, this young man too became horribly ill, and he too died.
The crocodiles had cursed the farmer’s family, he realized. He confessed to his daughter. “I promised you to the King of the Crocodiles,” he sighed.
Weeping, she said, “Father, we must not break a promise. I will marry him.”
“No!” her mother cried.
The farmer begged her to think; she could not marry one so different, so strange, someone from such an alien world.
But the daughter ran to the riverbank and announced her decision to the crocodiles. “We do not break promises,” she said.
The next day several female crocodiles appeared at the farmer’s house bringing saris and henna to stain the bride-to-be’s hands, as was the custom. After that others came, some playing musical instruments, some bearing jewels and some carrying trays of delicacies.
And at long last, the King of the Crocodiles appeared dressed in fine clothing and a magnificent turban.
The generosity and kindness of the crocodiles comforted the farmer’s daughter. Although she wept on her wedding day, she stayed strong as the crocodiles placed her upon a palanquin and carried her to the river. There they set her down, and the moment her feet touched water, the river divided.
She followed the bridal party and the king along a path to their home.
Months passed. The farmer and his wife heard nothing from their daughter. Their hearts were broken.
At last the farmer decided to go see his child. The King of the Crocodiles had given him a brick and instructions. “Toss the brick into the river, and the waters will part and lead you to the place we live.”
This is precisely what the farmer did, and after he had walked along the path for a while, he reached a palace studded with diamonds, surrounded by scented gardens.
“I have come to see my daughter,” he told the guard at the gate. “She is the bride of the king.”
The guard laughed. “My king’s wife could not be the child of someone as tattered and poor as you.”
In the palace, the farmer’s daughter was humming a tune. She was the happiest young woman, for in the palace kingdom, the King of the Crocodiles transformed into a handsome prince, and she loved him dearly.
But suddenly she heard her father’s voice, and when she looked out the window and saw him standing in the courtyard, her heart swelled with longing.
“Father,” she called, but she had promised her husband she would not leave the palace while he was away. “I will come down to see you when my husband returns.”
The farmer’s heart ached. “My child, it is no wonder you fear your husband …”
Just then he heard hooves galloping close, and when he turned he saw a handsome, gallant man dressed in gold from his crown to his boots.
The farmer dropped to his knees. “Please, good sir, help me. My poor daughter was carried here by the King of the Crocodiles. I’ve come to rescue her.”
The man looked down. “I am the King of the Crocodiles,” he said, “and your daughter and I love each other.”
He explained the ways of his world. “Here I live as myself. It is only on land that I must appear as you see me — ugly and ferocious, so different from you.”
When the farmer learned of his daughter’s happiness, he rejoiced. Still, he asked her to visit home with him. “Your mother must see you with her own eyes.”
The farmer’s daughter looked to her husband, but the King of the Crocodiles shook his head. “We cannot leave this place, but I will give you and your wife some land of your own and a palace, and you can live here with us.”
The farmer returned home to tell his wife the tale, and afterward, they walked together to the river. The farmer tossed a brick, the waters parted, and they crossed the path.
When the farmer’s wife saw her daughter glowing with happiness, she agreed to move to the Crocodile Kingdom, and they all lived happily ever after.