For class this week we were given the opportunity to hear and explore both some Bangladeshi and Indian folk and fairy tales. Speaking from his personal experience with Bangladeshi fairy tales, Dr. Shabbir Mian from the physics department presented a lecture on Rupkotha or literally “beautiful words.” Rupkotha he explained are tales which are frequently told to children and passed down orally. Because they are a part of an oral folk literature, these tales have numerous variants, though all reflect the environment of the culture which they are a product of. These stories most often expose a conflict between two opposing conditions; good and evil, vice and virtue, etc. The climax of this conflict is that the positive elements of the tale (virtue and good) are rewarded, while the negative aspects are punished. These good and evil elements are embodied in a variety of characters that can range from demons, monsters, and witches, to kings, queens, princes, and saints, to ghosts and talking animals. Common themes in Bengali tales include the ascetic offering help to the hero, a goddess similarly offering a gift, rulers seeking council from wise talking animals. The common characters of witches and demons tend to follow a pattern in which the witches are smart and cunning, and the demons are brutish and unintelligent. The common Western theme of a jealous stepmother is usurped in Bengali culture by the jealous/evil second wife. There are also many similarities between fairy tales in Bangladesh and the West as well though. Many modern Rupkothas for example borrow from European stories and as a result sometimes form hybrid tales mixing local and foreign customs. Amongst current readers of fairy tales in Bangladesh, Western tales such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Cinderella” have all become popular, though often with slight Bengali twists.
One Bengali story which has not been heavily laden by Western themes is the story of “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus.” Although it represents a largely Bengali version of a fairy tale, it interestingly depicts themes that seems common throughout fairy tales world wide. In the tale before the action of the narrative can begin the good first wife must be killed and replaced by the second evil wife. This idea mirrors particularly the case of “Snow White” where the good mother must die before she is usurped by the evil step mother. In the case of the tale of “Blue Lotus and Red Lotus” the death of the good mother at the hands of the bad mother, and eventually the destruction of the bad mother at the hands of the protagonist brothers may be representative of the oedipal conflicts. In order to grow as individuals they must psychologically overcome their reliance and attraction to the good mother. In order to do this they unconsciously project an evil impostor in her place so that they can destroy her and move past their psychological hang ups.
We might look at this same tale from a different psychological standpoint as well in exploring the duel nature of the sibling protagonists. When the children are first devoured by their mother they are regurgitated as metal balls. The first of these balls was golden and produced the purely human child. The second of these balls was made of iron and produced the semi-demonic second child. While Dr. Esa has explained that gold in many cultures is symbolic of the divine, it can also be associated with light, knowledge, and enlightenment. In this case, it is possible that the human child is meant to represent the enlightened or conscious part of our minds. In contrast the half-demon child, sprung from the darkness of iron, may represent the dark, wild, and sometimes “demonic” instincts of our unconscious id. If we for argument sake assume that this is the case, than it is no coincidence that it is only together that the two children succeed in overcoming their oedipal conflicts. A psychologically healthy and stable mind is needed to overcome such conflicts, and a psychologically healthy mind (as we see in tales such as “Sinbad” and “1001 Nights”) seeks a balance between the conscious ego and unconscious id. If this is the case, one might further argue that the two brothers are actually two halves of the same whole. To add to this argument the book seems to make almost no distinction between the boys except in ability. Furthermore while they are originally born to different mothers, they are symbolically reborn from the same mother at the same time when they are regurgitated after their ingestion by the demon wife.