November 4, 2014
“This is All India Radio...”could be heard in the background from the radio hanging on my father’s shoulder. The dark shadows lingered around and were ready to pounce on our every step. The silhouette of trees fell on our every move. The moonlight fell on a few places but that did not light the whole road winding up the hill which led to my house. It was during plantation season and I could hear people in their hut drinking and singing folksong after a heavy day’s work.
My whole family was walking behind me and I was leading but not with a brave heart. I had to look behind after every step. After sometimes, I let my father lead the way and the rest of us followed him in line like the army patrolling the area. My father was busy tuning his radio for some old classical Hindi songs while the rest of us were busy making sure nobody was left far behind.
It was thrilling and fun yet a little scary. We talked aloud to remind ourselves we were not scared. There is a saying that the spirits are afraid of noise and sound. So we yelled and sang songs to help ourselves. My mother did not approve the racketing noise and shooed us to keep quiet. Our voices and the evening rituals of the crickets and insects broke through the silence of the night. “Why let the whole world know you are coming back from field?” my mother said. She was never a fan of noisy raucous bunch of us. So she began telling the story to keep us occupied. After mother’s announcement of story, all of us wanted to walk on the same wavelength but the road was too narrow for six of us to walk together so we had to fight to walk near the mother.
My mother only sighed, my father shouted, “Halla shoshooo” (Don’t make noise). The decree had reached our ear and we kept quiet to let our mother tell us the story.
“In good old days, people did not have stitched cloths that you use today”, she began. They put together two pieces of cloth and tie a knot on the shoulder blade. In other words, we called it as “SAPU”. There lived two orphans who lost their parents early in their life. They worked hard in the field and lived gathering seasonal fruits and firewood. During the plantation season, when they reached their field in the morning, they always found their field freshly dug and watered every day.
One day, the elder brother made a plan to wait in the field to see who came to the field every day after they left. They hid themselves behind the brush waiting for the stranger to come who prepared the bed for plantation. After sometime, in the moonlit night, they saw their parents coming to the field. They were frightened but excited to see their parents again. The younger sister started crying for her parents but the brother consoled her and asked not to cry because then parents would hear her and go away. Tears were synonymous to floods. It is said that when spirits sees tears, they retreat back to their world saying, “The flood is coming”. The children waited till midnight watching their parents work in the field. They heard them talk about how early they left their children to fend for themselves in their young age. The parents were worried because their children were young and there was no one to look after them after they left the world of the living.
The brother saw an opportunity to visit the world of the dead. He said to his sister to jump inside the Sapu, (shawl) to go with their parents. So that night with their plan, they waited for them to get ready to go back to their world. As the dusk started to break, their parents started to leave the place when these two orphans jumped inside the shawl of their parents and left with them. Unfortunately the shawl of the father was not tightly secured. The brother fell off the sapu and was left alone in the world of the living.
The sister crossed the great Bunyan tree with her parents in her mother’s sapu and entered the world of the dead. She met her dead relatives and her grandparents. She felt good to see all of them again but she was not happy because her brother was not with her. Her parents were happy to have her but they were sad she followed them because she had her life to live unlike them.
They sent her back to be with her brother. They prepared lunch with delicious chicken curry for her and sent her home. She was instructed to eat her lunch before crossing the great Bunyan tree but she crossed the great banyan tree and reached her village gate. She ran to tell her brother of her adventure but found her brother cold and dead beside the fireplace in the kitchen. The brother had died while waiting for her. He was so sad and blamed himself for sister’s leaving the world of the living with their parents. When the sister opened the lunch her parents had packed for her, she found sand and rotten wood instead of the white rice and chicken curry. She remembered her mother telling her to open her lunch and eat before she crossed the great Banyan tree. She realized how different the world of the living and the dead were. She lived the rest of her life alone in her parents’ house mourning for both her parents and her brother wishing to be with them again.
I was intrigued by the story but it was still dark and the moon beams just reached few spots and the singing of the insects made the surroundings more eerie. My father howled sometimes followed by my younger brothers and I did the same but my mother said girls ‘don’t howl’ so I avoided doing that in the future even if I wanted to do so. We walked for some few distances without any noise except our breathing and humming of some drunkards behind us. We saw a buffalo before us and the dark image of him made us ran and shout. It was fun. The part where there was darkness, we loved to shout even if we knew no harm would come upon us. What was more fun than coming back from the field in the moonlit night was shouting and yelling at every tiny dark image in front of us.
Further, when I reached home, my grandmother said when we die; a huge caterpillar would guard the entrance of another world. It forced every passenger to clean its hair for louse. Some were exempted because when they died their relatives put fig fruit in their coffin. The seeds of the figs looked like the louse, so the dead would grind the fig seeds with their teeth and show that they have done their part. Only then the caterpillar allowed them to pass.
Fun adds flavours in life and these best things in life are free.