The second embedded story, describing the savage thievery of Siddhikari (“She Who Can Accomplish What One Desires”), also casts an ostensibly religious figure in a dubious light. The wandering Buddhist nun Yogakarandika tells a fairly extended tale that acts as an advertisement for her services to the four brothers who want to seduce Devasmita while Guhasena trades in Cathay. Once employed to help the merchant’s sons, to distract Devasmita’s barking dog, the nun feeds it a sneezing powder. The poor animal’s distress provides the cue for the third embedded story, in which the nun assures Devasmita that in another life, she and the dog “were the wives of a Brahmin” (p. 1348). This reminds us of the “deep metaphysical implications,” to quote the headnote (p. 1344), of stories in a culture that believes in karma. Of course, this nun’s tale has a dubious moral, to recommend adultery—“Our highest duty, you know, is to yield to the demands of sense and element” (p. 1348). The shrewd Devasmita sees through Yogakarandika’s fiction, which reminds us that a story’s success requires the cooperation of its audience. The final embedded story is told by Devasmita to her mother-in-law, as prelude to her sailing in male disguise to Cathay to save her husband from the vengeance that the humiliated merchants’ sons may decide to wreak on him. Here again, the nested story (of the faithful Saktimati, who saves her straying husband’s reputation by bribing a temple priest to let her change places with the woman with whom he has been trapped inside the sanctum) assumes the corruptibility of those in holy orders.
Weights that South Asian merchants used to guarantee the value of their transactions.
– Link 10
In the main narrative, once she reaches Cathay, Devasmita triumphs by bringing the hidden out into the open; instead of buying the cooperation of those who should be safeguarding virtue, she wins ransom money from the members of the merchants’ guild who redeem their four branded...