Bipasha Bora’s “Ka Sinsa’s Piglet”
Translated by Dibyajyoti Sarma
(It was as if a forest between dream and reality. Each of the forest’s eyes was surprised; it spread both its hands and embraced the virgin who shivered listening to the story of the stone.)
The clouds play hide and seek ceaselessly atop the evergreen hill where the simple folks live. Their tiny, pinewood houses are beautiful like pictures. When children are tired after playing with the piglets all day long, sitting near the fireplace in the evening, the mothers tell them the stories of the brave king U Mailong. To protect the children, whose eyes are moist listening to the fate of the king’s horse turn into stone, and to wake them from torpor, the mothers offer them cobs of corn roasted in coal.
The warrior clan of yore hasn’t forgotten its past and the tales of its heroism.
The strapping young men plant potatoes, roots, and different leafy vegetables. They send crates and crates of juicy oranges and sweet apricots to the valley.
The beautiful kongs, with their cheeks like ripe oranges, smile laced with kowai. In this matrilineal society, even the young girls share the chores with their mothers, feed the domesticated pigs, wash clothes in the spring water, carry water home, take care of their younger siblings; even when the plums from the orchard turn red, they walk seven-eight miles to the market to sell them.
In this sparsely populated hill village, there is no quarrel. Every night, from the kitchens wafts the delectable scent of earth-coloured rice and Ja-snam cooked with chicken blood.
After starting a new season of jhum cultivation, the villagers are enthusiastically preparing for the festival. They have cleaned and decorated the burial grounds of their ancestors. They have planted saplings of cloud white ranunculus flowers. For the festival days, every household has kept aside the delicious kiyad. The fat pigs of the village have been kept separately for the community feast.
Among them, the chief priest selects the most beautiful, white and fleshy piglet in the entire village, as the first offering to the welfare of the villagers. The gathering crowd lick their lips imagining the soft flesh of the fat piglet. They express their happiness with an uproar. The din muffles the deathly screeching of the piglet. Five strong men hold it together and its head is severed in a single sweep of a machete. The head is kept aside; its brain will make an exotic dish.
Then the villagers gather in the courtyard of the chief priest. Making the courtyard clean by sprinkling delicious kiyad, the daloi starts to sing the folk songs of chao-pohor. Soon in the fervour of the festival and in the strength of kiyad, people start dancing to the tune of the drums. The melody of the flute immerses the entire Sinteng village in frolics. The hardworking people are happy and content. What else do you need for such a short life!
Unhappy is just one virgin girl.
With enormous effort, she distances herself from the revelries. Knowing that she would not be able to stand seeing her beloved piglet being sliced into pieces, she leaves the festival ground.
“My father is the dirtiest man in the world and my mother is the cruellest,” she tells herself over and over again as she crossed the periphery of the village and finds herself near the spring.
On the other side of the hill is the holy forest where the spirits reside. She has never toddled towards the ancient forest. Like her, every child in Sinteng has grown up listening to the tales of the ancient forest and the spirits who rule there. Their measureless curiosity to the mysteries of the forest and the fear for that mystery have prevented the villagers from venturing into the forest.
Her hair dishevelled, she looks towards the forest. Her heart full of anguish, she utters: “Spirit Ringkiu, dear spirit. For your satisfaction, to remove all obstacles from the villagers, I and my poor parents have offered our most beloved piglet to you.”
Her heart chocks; tears well up in her eyes remembering her beloved piglet. She heaves a sigh. A herd of tiny silver fishes swim in the clear water beneath her sigh. The wind that was beginning to blow faster now turns into a sad tune. In their inability to help the virgin girl, the bushes around her whisper among themselves.
It’s silent everywhere. As the virgin’s sigh changes shape into a whimper, breaking the ancient silence of the night, a sound of a sharp whistle is heard. Silence again. Again the sharp whistle. The sound emanates from hill beyond where lies the holy forest. After the third whistle, the girl, her head bowed in grief, looks up. Slowly she starts to walk towards the holy forest.
She crosses the hill through her cries.
Beyond the hill is the forest – a damp, deep, ancient, green forest. Considered holy, no human has ever even plucked a leaf from the forest. The fallen leaves through the ages have turned the ground into a brown carpet.
The people of Sinteng believe that even if all the green from the world disappears, all the forests vanish, the trees stop giving shade, even then this holy, virgin forest of theirs will remain the same. Another green tale will spring from this virgin forest.
People’s beliefs and fears have fed this forest from time immemorial. Spirits live here. The virgin girl, however, is unconcerned. She is not even scared. Walking through the carpet of dry leaves, she passes by the wizened trees standing there with their eyes open. For a moment, the brightness of the wild flowers around her makes her forget the pain and sorrow for the piglet. In sudden excitement, she even plucks a few flowers and put them in her hair.
Walking aimlessly for a long time, she discovers a clearing in the middle of the forest. The place is full of rocks – large, flat rocks standing upright, their eyes open to the sky. Here, reclining her exhausted body on the surface of the largest rock, the virgin sits. The cold of the rock makes her shudder. She knows, this forest, each hill of this forest, each cave, each river and, each strangely shaped rock has a story. Like this mysterious, ancient forest, these stories are exciting and blood-cuddling.
She is wonder-struck looking at each upright rock. Putting her ear on the surface of the rock, she listens.
She listens to the story of the rock.
It was a long time ago.
It is the story of a giant of a man called U Mar Falangki. He is tasked with making the flat rock, on which the virgin is now reclining, stand upside in the middle of the rocky ground. Despite his inhuman efforts, he cannot just get it done. As it turns into a question of his pride, the gathering crowd throws a raw egg and on its broken egg yolk reads the demand: The rock wants a human head to remain upright.
A human head for a rock? How is this possible?
Falangki hopes that someone will come forward to offer his head for the cause. Nobody does. Nobody leaves the ground either. Cunning Falangki is determined; he will make the rock stand. He lets his golden box of tobacco fall on the ground, as if by mistake. As one poor chap bends down to pick it up, Falangki lifts the rock and bludgeons the poor man’s head. The rock stands the same way until today.
Remembering the story, the virgin feels a shiver down her spine. She feels something sticky, something wet around her. She gets up. An ungainly, rotten stench assaults her nostrils. Truly… the green grass is soaked with someone’s fresh, scarlet blood. She imagines it to be the blood of the poor man Falangki bludgeoned.
This is a beginning.
Surprising her, a river of fresh, warm blood flows between her two legs. She is embarrassed. She is helpless. She encounters her life’s biggest change. The forest has blessed her with this fertility. She has menstruated for the first time. For the first time, she feels the terror for her own body. She starts shivering like a plantain leaf in a storm. Then retching at the smell of the gushing blood, she plans to leave the forest. But she has already lost her way back. The girl, exhausted and terrified, crying and retching, falls on the ground and loses consciousness.
The music of a flute wakes her up. Reclining on a stone, a silver-haired flutist plays a haunting tune. His flute is much longer than the flutes the girl has seen in her village. She is mesmerised. Still on the ground, she observes the flutist’s queer dress and the colourful headgear. Even his face doesn’t look anything likes the faces of her people. She is drawn to the lissom fingers of the flutist who keeps playing unmindful of her presence. Even the green leaves around them are drawn to the magic of this unearthly tune.
She forgets her hunger and her exhaustion, her father and her mother, her dead piglet, her beloved village and her people. Such is the magic of the music. Mesmerising. Forgetting everything, she laughs. The flutist stops at her laughter. He looks at her. An unseen melody of an unseen flute mesmerises him. As if Nature herself stands before him in her most primitive form. Without covers. He smells the stench of fresh blood. The smell intoxicates him.
The flutist opens his bag and fishes out a fistful of white berry. The hungry, menstruating girl grabs the berries from his hand and starts munching on them.
“The daughter of the forest.”
The flutist says softly. Then closing his eyes, he plays another tune. He keeps playing, keeps playing, until he is out of breath. The girl inches closer to him and after a while, keeping her head on the bosom of his floating tune, she goes to sleep, without a worry.
Spending the whole night in revelry, the villagers wake up late.
The girl called Ka Sinsa is missing from the night before. The elders gather around a large, warm fire. The youths begin their search.
Where could she go? Looking at the coloured beads she had collected for the festival, her mother starts wailing, screaming about her daughter and her piglet. Her little brother, lost, looks at the gathering crowd. Calling out to her, her father climbs down toward the valley on the east of the hill. The crowd keep telling each other, she was last seen in the festival ground. Some even noticed her weep for the piglet. After that who knows how did she vanish.
I’m a khadu girl
Tell my mother
I wouldn’t be back
I wouldn’t eat her yadoh
If she doesn’t agree with me
Eventually, the youths find themselves next to the spring at the end of the village. From this point, nobody has seen anyone go any further toward the holy forest. They hear the whistles from the forest, one after another. Disappointed, as they turn to return to the village, they look again towards the whistling forest. The braver ones among them decide to venture into the forest. Finally, they reach the rocky clearing.
They carry the poor girl home. All through the way, one or another boy shares the burden. Seeing the girl, with dry blood on the corner of her mouth, her mother falls on her. Her tiny, wild flower-like body is mangled. The condition of her lower half is indescribable. Teeth and nails have torn apart her tiny genital. Looking at the dead body, the woman who had given birth to her loses her speech.
“She is my khadu. My darling.”
Each person in the village shed tears.
“The spirits lured her in.”
“Because she cried for the piglet offered to the spirits.”
The crowd whisper among themselves.
“Otherwise, how would she find herself in that godforsaken place?”
Her friends are terrified. Holding their ears, they swear for two hundred times that they would never set foot in that terrifying place. In the annals of terrifying tales about the forest, another tale is added.
“The tale of Ka Sinsa.”
The villagers become more careful about the spirits’ anger and vengeance. At night, mothers start waking up in fear thinking about their young daughters.
The people are more foolish than they know.
Or more simple.
To complete the unfinished story and to correct the misunderstanding, Ka Sinsa doesn’t return. Only the virgin forest is the witness to her final hours. Hearing her cry all night, teardrops of dew fall from the leaves. For her.
Just before her death, she yelps in terrible pain. She feels thirsty. She cries out for her mother. The lower half of her dress is soaked in blood. Exhausted and satisfied after playing with her body, the cruel, unknown flutist leaves the way he had come. Before leaving, he drops another handful of white berry near her body.
She lies on her back. She keeps looking at the rocks kept upright by spilling human blood. Even in pain, she feels uncontrollable hunger. Crawling with all her might, she tries to reach a berry. As soon as she touches the fruit, exhaustion forces her eyes shut. In her half-awake dream, she sees her favourite fleshy piglet. She doesn’t open the eyes again, lest it’s gone again.
What if the piglet is lost again!
Art-work: Devi by Reetuparna Dey
Dibyajyoti Sarma, a writer, poet, translator, teacher, and journalist, has published two volumes of poetry (Glimpses of a Personal History, 2004; Pages from an Unfinished Autobiography, 2014), and co-edited an academic volume for Sage India (Whistling in the Dark, 2009), besides various writing credits in various journals.
For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.