Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Secret of the Tap-taa*

It was another cold, rainy night in the month of Wakching. The winter rain was relentless as it battered on the eaves of the thatch cottage roof. Inside the cottage, a five year old boy was crying while his mother tried in vain to console him. It had been a tiring day for her and the last thing she wanted was to spend all night coaxing a tantrum-throwing 5 year old to have his dinner and go to bed. She'd already exhausted herself narrating all his favorite stories and was now getting to the point of trying to scare him, hoping that he'd eat something and not go to bed hungry.

"Have your food, or the fox will get you!"

The boy cocked his head to one side for a moment, and paused a bit and then resumed his wailing again.

"Stop crying now, or the bear will take you away!"

This didn't have any effect on the boy.

"Look, if you don't stop crying, the tiger will come!"

She said this in the scariest sounding voice she could muster up. At that moment, outside the cottage, a tiger was lurking in the shadows of the cowshed, hoping to snatch away some unfortunate cattle for his dinner. And he overheard the mother take his name and smirked that his name struck fear in the hearts of mothers and their children. Lo! but what was this? The boy didn't stop crying for even an instant! How in  Taibangpan was this possible? The tiger contemplated roaring to scare the nitwit child, but also thought better of it, for that would attract the attention of the villagers and thus spoil his chances of getting easy dinner. He fumed inside the cowshed and tarried a little longer to see what the mother would do next.

Inside the cottage, the hassled mother was at almost at her wit's end. She just drew back and then kept very quiet pondering her next move. Suddenly, inspired by the rhythmic tip-tap of the raindrops outside, she shrieked out saying, "Emaa! Tap-taa has come!"

Hearing the word "Tap-taa"  for the first time, the boy stopped crying. Relieved, the mother coaxed him to finish his dinner quietly.

The tiger, who overheard the goings on was stunned that a mere child wasn't scared of him, the tiger, the most powerful of all animals in Taibangpan.  But what is this Tap-taa that such a child kept quiet on the mere mention of his name? Surely, it must be a more powerful being than him. He shuddered at the thought, and crept among the cows in fear. "I hope Tap-taa does not come inside the cowshed..."

Just then, a thief, taking advantage of the rainy night, came inside the cowshed and started groping in the darkness for the fattest cow he could steal. His hands touched the frightened tiger's flank.

"Aha! what a fat cow! I will steal this one!"

He dragged the tiger out by the ears and climbed onto the back of the terrified animal.

The tiger thought, "Merciful Taibang Mapu! Did you have to make Tap-taa catch me when all these cows were around? What can I do now? I better go along quietly so he doesn't kill me." So he allowed the thief to harness him and went along quietly.

By this time, the torrential Wakching rain had become a mere drizzle. The thief, smirking at his easy catch and thanking his lucky stars stroked the terrified tiger's head. "Oh, what a fat one I got this time! Let me inspect the animal better." He touched the tiger's ears and thought, "Oh, its ears are so short--maybe it got torn in a fight...I hope it's tail is in place. He groped behind and wondered, "What a strange cow! no tuft at the end of its tail..." Just then, the full moon burst out in all its glory from behind the clouds.

The thief looked looked down. "Strange, this cow has such an unusual pattern--stripes!" He looked down again for a closer look and suddenly became aware that the cow didn't have horns for its size. His brain, suddenly spurred into action and put all the pieces of information together: "Holy Taibang Mapu! I'm astride a tiger, not a cow!" At that thought, he shrieked in horror, "Aaaaaaargh! Aaaaaaaaaaargh!"

The terrified tiger bolted at this horrific sound and leaped high in the air. The thief fell down in a thud on the mud. Without looking back, the tiger skirted to freedom  and the safety of the forest ahead.  He ran and ran, only stopping when he reached the water hole. "Whew! what a narrow escape! I nearly died tonight!" and he vowed to stay away from the village, so the Tap-taa could not catch him again.

Meanwhile, the thief had managed to get up. No bones broken. He was still shaken but relieved and he muttered under his breath, "Whew! what a narrow escape! I nearly died tonight!" He trudged home, vowing not to steal again--"Oh Taibang Mapu, thank you for your mercy! I will not steal again--it's too dangerous!"

And  inside the cottage, the woman went to sleep in peace, unaware that her brilliant inspiration of Tap-taa had saved the villagers a lot of bother, unaware that the tiger and the thief wouldn't bother any of them anymore.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Demoness with the Long Hands--Lai Khutsangbi

Do you know why the Ee-ka leaves are tinged with red? That's because Lai Khutsangbi, the demoness with the long hands, stained the leaves with her blood as she ran between the clumps of Ee grass...Here's what happened.

Long ago in Meitrabak, the land of the Meiteis, Lai Khutsangbi was a much feared name. The demoness was so named because she had the ability to elongate her hands at will. She used to prowl around the villages of Meitrabak and then catch unsuspecting livestock and even children. But Lai Khutsangbi managed to get away as she only targeted homes where the menfolk were away. Chaoba's home was one such home...his Dad, Chao-paa was away on a hunt and only Chaoba and his mom, Chao-maa were at home.

Chaoba was hungry and he wanted his mom to give him some attention. He started crying. His mom tried to console him and quieten him, but to no avail.

"Mom, I want to eat fish, when will you finish cooking?"

"Soon, my son, stop crying now, dinner will be ready soon."

"No, I want my food right now"

Suddenly they heard a knock on the door. Both of them became very quiet.

"Chao-maa, Chao-maa..." called Lai Khutsangbi.

"Who is it?" asked Chao-maa.

"Oh, it is me--is Chao-paa at home?"

Chao-maa noticed that Lai Khutsangbi didn't mention her name, and she guessed that it must be Lai Khutsangbi or some other evil spirit up to no good. So she lied,  "Yes, Chao-paa is at home." Hearing this, Lai Khutsangbi didn't tarry there and ran away to the fields, among the Ee-ka bushes.

The next night, Lai Khutsangbi was lurking around Chaoba's home again, hoping that Chao-paa would be away. Her intention was to snatch Chaoba away for her meal. She salivated at the thought of devouring the plump Chaoba. Mustering up courage, she knocked on Chaoba's door again and asked, "Chao-maa, Chao-paa at home?"

Now, Chao-paa was still on the hunt and hadn't returned, and Chao-maa lied again, "Yes, he is home."

Lai Khutsang-bi  ran away hearing this

The next morning,  Chao-paa and the men on the hunt returned. Chao-maa was overjoyed and relieved to see her husband home. She told him of Lai Khutsangbi's visit the past two nights and how she'd managed to keep her away. Chao-paa said, "Enough of this menace, we must teach her a lesson!" And then, the couple made a plan.

It was dusk. Lai Khutsangbi was back, lurking in the shadows. She was ravenous as she didn't get any prey the past two nights. She'd not slept a wink as hunger tormented her and she'd been watching the well-fed Chaoba play near his cottage with his friends. At one point, Chaoba nearly ran towards the bush she was hiding in, and she was about to elongate her long arms. Just then, Chao-maa called Chaoba in as the sun was about to set. Chao-maa said, "Chaoba, Chaoba, come home soon, it's almost night!" Chaoba ran home without wasting a moment.

Lai Khutsangbi cursed her luck. She decided that she'd try and catch Chaoba that very night, come what may. As soon as it was dark enough, she knocked on the door. And she asked, "Chao-maa, Chao-maa, is Chao-paa at home?"

"No, he's away, who is it?" said Chao-maa, signalling to her husband to keep his long sword, his thaangsang ready.

Lai Khutsangbi was overcome with glee. She peered around and saw what she was  looking for--a gap in the mud wall. She peeped into the cottage, but couldn't see anything except the phungga, the fireplace. She enlarged the gap so she could fit both her hands into it, and then, smiling, elongated her hands, and started groping around. Chaoba and Chao-maa were safely out of her way, having climbed onto the strong kitchen shelves. In a flash, Chao-paa chopped off Lai Khutsangbi's hands with his thaangsang, already sharpened from the hunt. The two hands lay bleeding on the floor after writhing in pain.

"Aah!" yelped Lai Khutsangbi. She looked down at the painful spot where her hands had been chopped off and saw she'd lost her hands. She cried in agony, "Chao-maa you lied to me, you said your husband wasn't at home, you said Chao-paa wasn't at home, oh, you lied to me!" Crying thus, she fled from the village into the Ee-ka bushes, and her blood dripped on to the Ee-ka leaves and stained them red. After that night, Lai Khutsangbi never troubled the people of Meitrabak, and no-one knows what became of her. However, the Eeka-leaves are tinged with red streaks even to this day, and Meitei mothers still tell their children not to cry lest Lai Khutsangbi comes to take crying children away.