This story is about a very happy family. It consisted of a husband and wife and their two children. The son helped his father with the family business and the daughter was still at school. When the son came of age, his mother wanted him to get married.
The son said, “Why, Mother, why?” If I bring a wife home to live with us, you two will quarrel and make the entire family miserable. Right now we are all so happy together. But if you and your future daughter-in-law are at daggers drawn, then we will have serious problems.”
But his mother remained firm. “No, I really want you to get married. I promise I will never be unkind to my daughter-in-law. I will never scold her or quarrel with her — never, never, never! I am getting old, so I need somebody to help me with my household activities.”
Her husband had been following the conversation. He said to his wife, “Do you promise that you will never scold your daughter-in-law?”
“Yes,” she said, “I promise. I will treat her as my own daughter.”
So the son got married to please his mother, but alas, his mother totally forgot her promise. She used to find fault with her daughter-in-law at every moment. She would blame her for every mishap in the household, and then the daughter-in-law would cry and cry. The son suffered badly because his mother was making his wife’s life so miserable. His sister also suffered when their mother would scold the daughter-in-law in season and out of season, without rhyme or reason. They all felt sorry for the new member of the family. They saw that their mother had become a neurotic and impossible old lady. The daughter-in-law tried desperately to please her, but to no avail.
One day the mother’s brother was coming to visit the family. She was thrilled that her brother would be visiting after a very long time, and she wanted to feed him a most delicious meal, so she prepared quite a few dishes. The last item was dal. By then it was getting late, so the mother put the pot of water and dal on the stove and said to her daughter-in-law, “Look, Sita, I must go and take my bath in the Ganges before it is dark. I have put the dal on the stove. Let the water boil. Then, when the time comes, you will add some salt. I have already put in the other spices. You will only add the salt — without fail! Do not forget. You are quite often unmindful and careless. I do not want to scold you right now. I do not want to ruin the atmosphere, since my brother is coming after such a long time. We are so fond of each other! Nobody can ever imagine how close we were when we were young. I am only asking you to do this simple job. Do not disappoint me!”
The mother left to bathe in the Ganges. In a little while, Sita found that it was time for her to put salt in the dal, and she did so, very carefully and accurately. Then she was free to leave the kitchen and complete some other household jobs.
After five minutes had elapsed, Sita’s sister-in-law entered the kitchen. She was always very sympathetic to Sita. When she saw the pot of water boiling on the stove, she said to herself, “Perhaps my sister-in-law has forgotten to do her job. Poor girl, she is so nice! My mother always scolds her. My mother is too old to change her nature. Now, in case Sita has forgotten, let me save her.”
So the sister-in-law put some salt in the pot and went away. She was so happy that she had saved poor Sita from yet another scolding.
In a few more minutes, Sita’s husband happened to pass through the kitchen. When he saw the pot of water and dal boiling on the stove, he said, “I know my mother will behave in such an undivine way if my wife forgets to put salt in the dal. In fact, I am sure Sita has forgotten; otherwise, she would be here looking after the pot. I really love my wife and I am so sad that she has to put up with my mother day in and day out. Let me add the salt on her behalf.” So Sita’s husband took some salt and added it to the pot. He was sure that he had saved his wife from a terrible scolding.
Finally, the mother came back from bathing in the Ganges. As usual, she was convinced that Sita had forgotten to do her job. When she saw that the pot of dal was still on the stove, all her worst fears were confirmed. She said, “My daughter-in-law is so undivine! She is useless, useless! She does not even have the common sense or wisdom to turn off the stove. I am sure she has not set foot in the kitchen since I left; otherwise, she would have turned off the stove by now. As to adding salt, it is out of the question! As usual, I have to do everything myself.” With that, the mother added a generous portion of salt to the pot.
Later in the evening, the mother’s brother arrived and the whole family sat down to enjoy the feast. After the honoured guest had eaten, the mother asked her brother, “How did you like the meal?”
Her brother answered, “Everything was simply excellent!”
“But which dish did you like the best?” his sister asked.
“Without a doubt, the dal was absolutely the best,” he replied.
The mother became a little sad at this reply. The dal was the only dish which she had not prepared by herself from beginning to end; the matter of the salt she had left to her daughter-in-law. Then she consoled herself by saying that, since her daughter-in-law had forgotten the salt, she herself had actually been the one to give the dal its final touch.
She asked her brother, “Was it only the dal that you liked, or did the other dishes appeal to you also?”
Her brother said, “I did like them, but the dal was very special.”
The mother was so flattered. She asked her brother if he could elaborate a little. He said, “The reason your dal was so special is that now I do not need to take salt for ten more incarnations!”
“What do you mean? What do you mean?” cried his sister in dismay.
He replied, “I am saying that for this incarnation and for nine more incarnations I shall not have to take salt.”
“I cannot imagine what has happened,” said his sister pitifully. “Since you are our guest, I served you first. I have not even tasted that dish. We were all waiting for you to eat before we started. How could my food be so horrible?”
She went on moaning and holding her head. Meanwhile, her brother had to leave the table and go outside. Alas, from the dinner table they heard him vomiting. The whole family was so sad. The mother asked her daughter-in-law, “Sita, did you put salt in the dal?”
“Yes, mother,” replied Sita, “how could I disobey you? I did add salt — but I only added a small amount.”
Then the daughter confessed, “Mother, I thought that Sita had forgotten the salt. Sometimes she is unmindful, but we love her because she is so kind, so affectionate, so compassionate. I wanted to save her from your anger, so I added some salt on her behalf.”
Sita smiled gratefully at her sister-in-law. Then Sita’s husband said, “Mother, I am also to blame. I did not want you to insult my wife, which you so often do. I wanted to spare her, so I also put some salt in the pot.”
Then the mother said quietly, “I also added some salt, even though I had asked Sita to do it. When I came back from my bath, I saw that the pot was still on the stove after such a long time. I thought Sita’s common sense would have told her to turn off the stove. So I came to the conclusion that she had not been in the kitchen at all, and I, too, added salt. Please forgive me, Sita.”
The mother was deeply mortified that her food had made her brother violently ill. She was also embarrassed that this had happened only because the other members of the family were trying to save Sita from her endless scoldings. At that very moment she took an oath that, from that day on, she would love and care for Sita as her own daughter — and this time she did keep her promise!