Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chepahakhata

Translated by Dr. Margaret L. Pachuau

Chepahakhata was a very ugly young man. So ugly was he that no one wanted to marry him and so he remained a bachelor for many years. At long last he found someone who was willing to marry him. However, it turned out that she was actually a witch and after they were married she turned the entire foliage of wild plantains where they lived into a marvelous town. Much to his fortune, his wife also belonged to royal lineage and so Chepahakhata lived in great comfort.

After some time a daughter was born to them and so the three of them lived together happily. One day, Chepahakhata went out for a stroll. The people of the town treated him with great respect and they even slaughtered an animal for him. He enjoyed himself thoroughly and very soon he forgot all about the time. A great deal of time ensued and by then his little daughter had grown into a young lady. Her mother told her, “My dear, your father is still not back from his jaunt, do go and ask him to come home.” So his daughter called out to him, “Father, do come home. Mother has asked me to call you home.” He replied, “Alright. I shall be on my way shortly.”

However he did not go home even after a long while and his wife became very angry. She told her daughter, “Dear, go and call your father yet again.” Her daughter went once more to do as she was told, “Father, do come home right away for mother is very angry.” He replied, “Alright! I shall come home directly.” Yet he did not do so.

His wife was greatly enraged by then and she told her daughter, “Dear, go and ask your father to come home once more and tell him that if he does not do so, we will go away from this place.” So his daughter implored once again, “Father do come home, or else mother and I will go away from here.” Chepahakhata replied, “Alright, I promise you that I shall be home right away.” Alas! he had no intentions of returning home. His wife was livid with fury and so she turned the entire town back into a foliage of wild plantains. Then she took her daughter up to the heavens and went to dwell with Pu Vana¹.

At that time Chepahakhata was fast asleep. When he awoke from his slumber he realized that he was surrounded by the wild foliage. “Ah…is this all a dream?” he wondered.

Yet it was all too real. He wandered aimlessly without food for several days. His daughter saw her father from the heavens in his hapless state and felt very sorry for him. She pleaded with her mother, “Mother, I can see my father wandering about in search of food.”

Her mother replied, “If you are feeling sorry for him you may send down the bottomless pot for him.” His daughter did so and soon he had enough food to eat every time he was hungry.

One day he went into the village of a vai² chieftain, and the chief took a strong aversion to him since he was very ugly. He challenged Chepahakhata, “Let us compete with one another. We will both dole out rice from a pot and you must dole out more rice than me from the pot, or else you shall be put to death.”
They both began doling out great mounds of rice and soon the chief exhausted his share. As Chepahakhata was doling out the rice from his bottomless pot, it was impossible for him to exhaust his share. The chief was enraged and he declared, “Break his pot into pieces!”
The attendants did so and after that they tied Chepahakhata atop a banyan tree.

At that time within the banyan tree, the hill mynahs and the drongos were gathered together. The hill mynahs were on the side of the vais, while the drongos were on the side of the Mizos. The debate that was underway was, “Who are more clever? The Mizos or the vais?” To this the hill mynahs replied, “The vais of course. Very soon a mother and daughter duo will appear on the scene and the Mizos will not be able to distinguish the difference between the pair.”

The drongos replied, “That is easy, just give them a few lashes and the mother will cry out, “Ah, my dear daughter!” while the daughter will exclaim,
“Alas! Mother!”

The hill mynahs retorted, “Mizos will not be able to denote the difference between the two ends of a cow.”
Yet the drongos said, “That is easy.They will merely chase the cow and observe the direction in which it runs. As such, they will be able to make out the head of the cow very easily.”

The hill mynahs challenged once more, “The Mizos will not be able to make out the difference between the top and bottom of a thul³.”
The drongos defended, “That will also be an easy task, they will just have to upturn the thul and the lid will fall off.”

The entire debate was overheard by Chepahakhata and he listened with great attention. After a time the birds flew away. Later, the Mizos and the vais gathered together in a bid to test their wisdom. Everything that had been debated upon earlier by the birds took place. Chepahakhata then put all that he had overheard from the birds to good use. He outwitted all the contestants each time. Thus, the villagers marveled at his wisdom and very soon they no longer strapped him astride the tree!




¹ The God of the heavens
² Foreigner
³ A large basket with a close fitting conical lid or cover

2 comments:

mesjay said...

i like the understated humour of the ending 'they no longer strapped him...' abt the translation - is 'bottomless pot' the best one for 'belte phai thei lo'? i don't have an alternative, but it may be worth re-thinking.

maggie said...

Mesjay,

Thank you for following the blog so closely ...your comments are always well appreciated by me.The query that you raised with regards to 'belte phai thei lo',however deserves coherent response.
The term 'bottomless pot' has been purposely used by me in this narrative because the concept is common to many other cultures as well.I am sure that,(well read as you sound),you have come across and are familiar with nuances that are either familiar or akin to the 'belte phai thei lo'.I attempt ,in my translations a reading as close to the text as possible, yet that does not demand that I render a literal translation.Rather, I follow aspects that would interweave both the literal as well as the metaphorical sensibilities that render meaning in both form and content.Critical research made me use the term 'bottomless pot'.
Of course,your query remains interesting and I hope new insights will continue not merely in terms of a linguistic deduction but into other significant parameters as well.

Sincerely,
Dr Margaret L.Pachuau