Thursday, April 10, 2008

Two Sky-Women and Two Earth-Men

A folktale retold by Malsawmi Jacob

Two lovely girls, Lasiri and Lasari, lived in their sky house. They were sisters. Many young men courted them, but they gave their hearts to Thangsira and Thangzaia, two brothers living on earth, who visited them frequently. Just after sunset when the sky was lit up with many colours, the young men would stand on a spot under their house and sing—

Lasiri and Lasari, let down your twined rope
For Thangsira to swing up, for Thangzaia to swing up.

On hearing this, the two young women would drop down a rope and haul them up. They would sit together on the smooth, well-polished crushed bamboo floor and chat, laugh and sing together happily. Then when roosters crowed before midnight announcing the time for visitors to go, the young men would leave by sliding down the rope.

Now Bakvawmtepu (Bear-man), an ugly, lonely person, had heard about the two beautiful girls in the sky and fallen in love with both of them though he had never seen them. He made up his mind to marry one of them, never mind which! When he came to know that Thangsira and Thangzaia were courting the two sisters, he started spying on their movements. He would hide behind a tree and listen to their song, watch them swing up the rope, and wait around until they came down again. In this way, he learned the song and how to reach the house of the sky-women. One night, soon after the young men had returned from their visit, Bakvawmtepu went to the same spot and sang the same song. But his voice was so hoarse and out of tune, and the time was so wrong, that Lasiri and Lasari at once knew that it was the voice of an impostor and they refused to let the rope down.

Bakvawmtepu understood his mistake. He diligently started training singing. He would get up early every morning, stand neck-deep in the sih stream and sing, till he sounded like Thangsira and Thangzaia. So when he went under their house and sang again, Lasiri and Lasari let down the rope and heaved him up. He was so heavy that the two girls said to each other “What’s the matter with them today? Why have they become so heavy?” And when he finally landed at their door, they were shocked and repulsed to see him. But custom demands that all visitors are to be welcomed, whether you like them or not. So they invited him to take a seat and talked to him politely.

Bakvawmtepu refused to go home even when the roosters announced the visitors-going-home time. And as young women are taught to be always courteous even to people who behave rudely, they could not directly tell him to go. To give him a hint, the younger sister, Lasari said “The roosters are crowing already! I was feeling sleepy without knowing it was so late!” “I’m feeling quite sleepy too”, Lasari responded. “Goodnight, Bakvawmtepu, do visit us again.”

But Bakvawmtepu merely replied “I am not going yet.” What could the poor girls do? Lasari lay down on the floor and pretended to sleep. As he still did not take the hint, Lasiri also lay down next to her sister. And then Bakvawmtepu shamelessly lay down too and fell asleep. To get rid of him, Lasari woke him with a song —

Move, move a little Bakvawmtepu,
My sister needs more space to lie.

At this, Bakvawmtepu woke up, moved a bit and went back to sleep. After a little while Lasiri sang the song again. Again Bakvawmtepu moved a little. She kept on singing the same song every now and then through the night. Bakvawmtepu kept moving little by little, closer to the open door on the floor. He finally fell down through the hole.

After this incident, the two sisters became very afraid of another visit by Bakvawmtepu. They decided to be very careful. When Thangsira and Thangzaia next came and sang their song, they did not let down the rope but wanted to verify their identity and asked in song –

Are you truly Thangsira? Are you truly Thangzaia?
Bakvawmtepu is not welcome here.

On hearing this, the young men were sorely offended. How could their sweethearts suspect them to be Bakvawmtepu with his ugly hoarse voice? Then and there, they decided to go away and never return. They bid them goodbye singing

Bakvawmtepu we are not,
We turn around and go away.

When Lasiri and Lasari realised that Thangsira and Thangzaia were gone, they set out in pursuit. They hurriedly came down from their sky house and followed the road the young men took. They walked so fast that they were soon about to catch up with them. Thangzaia turned back and saw the girls at a short distance behind them, and said “What shall we do, brother? I cannot walk any faster, and they will soon reach us at this rate.”
“Let’s disguise ourselves,” said Thangsira.
“Let’s turn into hair-combs. If they pick us, we will be re-united with them. If not …”
So the two brothers bent down and hid themselves, and turned into hair-combs and lay on the path.

When the girls reached the spot, they were surprised to see two hair combs in the middle of the path. Lasari wanted to pick them and sang to her elder sister –

See my sister, what good combs,
Let’s pick them up for our hair.

But Lasiri was in a hurry to go on, so she said brusquely “No, let’s go on fast.”

After they left, the young men returned to their natural shapes. They took a short cut that the girls did not know of and overtook them. Both parties walked on as fast as they could. After some time, the men heard footsteps behind them. When they looked, they saw that it was the two women coming close. “What shall we do now?” Thangzaia asked his brother.
“Let’s change ourselves into glass bangles. If they pick us, good. If not…” Thangsira replied.
So they turned into pretty glass bangles and lay on the path. When Lasari saw the bangles, she longed to take them and sang to Lasiri —
See, my sister, pretty bangles,
Let’s wear them on our arms.

But Lasiri was in a hurry and told her sister “No, we can’t stop. Let’s go on.”

After they left, the two young men again changed back into their true selves, found another shortcut and overtook the girls again. All the four had walked a long way by this time and they were all tired. The young women were spurred on by their fear of losing the two young men, who in their turn did not really want to get away but were too proud to make up with them.

The road led to a plain. By then, the sun was high in the sky and it became very hot. There were few trees to give them shade, and all were thirsty. “My brother, I can’t go on any more. I don’t mind letting them catch us”, Thangzaia panted.
“That will be a shame. We are men and they are only women”, Thangsira responded. Then he had an idea. “As soon as we turn that bend on the road, before they come close enough to see us, I will turn into a river and you turn into a bridge across me. If they can cross safely, we will show ourselves to them. If not…”

So as soon as they reached the next bend, Thangsira turned into a river cutting off the road. And Thangzaia turned into a bridge over it. When the two girls reached the point, they were dismayed to see the road stopped by a big, swirling river. Lasari wanted to walk on the bridge and sang —

See my sister, a good strong bridge,
Come, let’s walk across it.

But Lasiri was afraid and looked all around for some other way. But there was none. The river cut right across the road, and the road led straight to the bridge. There was no escape.

Lasari led the way and went on the bridge. But as soon as Lasiri stepped on it, the bridge began to sway and the wood started cracking. She screamed in fear and ran back. Lasari said, “Watch me cross it, then you can come after.” And without any problem, she walked across and stood on the far side. But whenever Lasiri stepped on it, the bridge started swaying and creaking. Finally, Lasari said, “Don’t be afraid, I will carry you.” So Lasari carried Lasiri piggy-back, and they moved on. But when they reached the middle of the river, the bridge suddenly broke and the sisters fell into the water and drowned.

After their death, the brothers changed back to human form and grieved for the loss of their loved ones. They said, “There is no more reason to live as humans. Let’s change into something else.” So they thought of what to change into. “Let’s turn into cows and graze together”, Thangzaia suggested. “No, cows grow old or die”, his brother protested, “let’s turn into roosters and crow together.” “No”, Thangsira argued. “Roosters get killed and eaten.” They thought of many creatures to turn into, but could not agree. Finally, Thangzaia said,

You turn into Fartruah tree,
I’ll turn into Vaube tree,
And let’s bloom together every year.

His brother agreed. So Thangsira turned into a Fartruah tree, and Thangzaia turned into a Vaube tree. The two trees bring out their beautiful flowers at the start of summer every year till now.