Saturday, July 22, 2023

Ka Miaw: Adaptation of a Khasi Folktale - Lalramengmawia Khenglawt


(Part I is an imaginative narrative of how humans and cats came to live together)

Have you ever wondered how we came to live with cats? The smallest ones at least? How did they become our pets? When hath their jungle abode they ceased?

I should wager, on whatever measly stores I have left – that cats came to live with us when we first discovered agriculture. Somewhere probably very long ago, people might have had no television and were bored; and having not yet invented a brick wall to stare at, would resort to the vast expanse around them. But with paint not yet concocted, they would watch others do things equivalent to the aforementioned drying.

One person might have chanced upon a grain seed sprouting. In between clubbing Gork down by the creek and hunting gazelles, he might have passed by this sproutling over and over, watching it grow till it ripened and even more grain-bunched about it. Having discovered fire already, he would have been able to cook this grain and while lying down after enjoying his rudimentary porridge, he might have pondered upon the pros and cons of the hunter-gatherer life. He might have thought that maybe, he had gotten a bit old, and perhaps it was time that humanity settled down. What is true of man is true of mankind. But how and where? Here was the where. He only needed to tame his surroundings. Finally, he might have thought to himself, “Hmm, I shall invent civilisation!”

And thus, the beast-slaying lance was bent and reshaped into a sickle; so that weeds may not hinder the year's yield. Man always changes things to suit him. He might have cut down some long trees and re-arranged them ever so carefully, so as to let neither prowling beast nor howling wind in. He would need a place to store his treasure of grain, of course. He would build it. And from somewhere deep deep in the jungle surrounding, he might have heard a faint meow. And closer it comes, all the while lowering in volume. Suddenly, a squeak! Man's storehouse brought along with it an infestation of vermin, which brought along with it a peculiar apex predator.

Mouth to ear, sound to mind. And then, eye to eye.

Cautious as its kind, the man takes to the cover of darkness. The cat sees all in the darkness. The cat is timid – as if acknowledging that it is intruding. The man has not been used to the idea of home as of yet. This was the first time he tried living the territorial life. That very night, having secured his food for the foreseeable future, and having a basic shelter to keep him from all that wants to harm him, and having a warm body to snuggle with, he might have thought that he had all that he needed in life. And he would be right.


(Part II is the actual adaption of the Khasi story)

Ka Miaw lived in the jungle with her brother, the tiger. Her brother was the king of the jungle. And unlike some other 'king of the jungle', he actually lives in the jungle. The tiger was boastful and vain. He was also mighty and skilled in battle. With agility unbecoming of his massive girth, he would dash through the thicket and bring a swift end to whatever poor thing that may catch his eye that day. A tiger in a jungle is indeed a marvellous sight! All striped up and camped atop a boulder or a tree, he would greedily gobble up all his gatherings; leaving nothing for his kith and kin.

Like every good housekeeper, Ka Miaw would daily check the pantry for food stores. Deplored was she when she saw that all was empty! She felt it was upon her to keep up the good name of the family and so, thought to herself to go hunting. Nightly, she would venture, so as to hide the shame of her family's poverty from daylight's mockery.

Ka Miaw was formidable in her own right and within her own weight class. While her brother was loud of mouth, she always listened carefully. In the thicket, she would keep an ear out for crickets or whatever vermin she may make mincemeat of. Thus, flanked by the moonlight and only needing it, she kept up the dignity of the house.

Now it so happened once, that the tiger should catch a wandering illness. A great distress! The jungle folks came in regularly to pay a visit to their ailing chief. According to custom, it was the duty of the eldest daughter to start the hookah for the guests. But due to his haste and lack of civility, the unruly tiger roared at his sister to prepare a smoke immediately. Ashamed and abashed, Ka Miaw lied that there was no fire in the house. Incensed, the tiger ordered her to set out for the abode of humans to fetch fire.

If might makes right in the jungle, Ka Miaw could only hope that the settlement ahead would have different standards. The humans were very tall, so much so that she forgot the greatness of her lineage and crept like a thief in the night. There was so much movement about and mirth floating around that Ka Miaw felt alienated at first. But like all cats, she was taken in by curiousity. She had many lives to spare, after all.

The source of the great crescendo proved to be a bunch of children entrenched in their frolicking. They seemed to be playing. Something instinctive in Ka Miaw told her so. Play is so very vital for a thing to grow up and live as much as could be lived. It is a wonder that it is as of yet to be considered a thing to be pursued and had. When the children caught a glimpse of the bedazzled Ka Miaw, they took her before her instincts kicked in and told her to run for the hills! They stroked her fur gently and they said many things in tolerable tones that made her purr endlessly. What she would give to know what they were saying!

Then a booming roar from the jungle reminded her of her task. Her brother had always been harsh of hand and his uncomfortable disposition did not prevent him from seeking out his sister in anger. Taking a whiff from the king's hookah was considered to be a very high honour and all the guests were eagerly anticipating for the opportunity to indulge in such a luxury. After waiting patiently for a long time, they had become impatient and left. This set the tiger off on a mighty rage.

Ka Miaw quickly snatched a piece of ember and set out for home. Her brother met her on the way. When they finally came across one another, the tiger met her with one harsh slap after another. Thus was the first recorded case of domestic violence in animal history! Ka Miaw dropped the ember at her brother's feet, which distracted him for the tiny bit of moment that she needed to escape. She quickly made her way back to the human settlement where she found the children fractically looking for her. As she was showered with pettings, she resolved to being their pet in exchange for clearing their settlement of vermin. She happily accepted to do the thing she had always been doing; only now for people who loved her wholeheartedly.

Lalramengmawia Khenglawt who came up with this exquisitely written piece finished his MA in English Literature from Mizoram University and was leader of the Literature Club in his time there. He is an art journalist at Web Studio 8, a website he started up with a good friend. He also does translation works occasionally and worked as an editor at In Lehkha (a local publishing house) for a while. He presently teaches English Literature at Noah's Foundation School in Aizawl.

We may also safely assume he's quite a cat person.