Dighal Thengia, the Long-legged one
(An Assamese Folktale)
Once upon a time there was an old woman. She eked out a living by selling the milk from the cows she kept. Her bed-room was quite old. The roof over it used to leak because the thatch it was made of had worn out.
It was a cloudy evening. The old woman took her meal and then arranged to go to bed. “Oh, Lord, protect me from Dighal Thengia”, she prayed and got into bed.
One thief was hiding that night near the cowshed with his secret plan to lift one of the cows of the old woman. He anxiously waited for her to fall asleep. With intent to eat a cow a tiger too came there in secret, groping in the darkness. He hid amid the cows under the shed and waited eagerly for the old woman to go off. Both the tiger and the thief heard what the old woman had uttered, but unable to make out what she was saying, they began to wonder, “Dighal thengia, the long-legged one? What on earth is it?
As the old woman was falling asleep the thief entered the cowshed to lift a cow. He thought, “It’s so dark in here, how do I know which is healthy, which is not? Well, the one that will jump up when I touch its rump must be the healthiest and the best.” With this conclusion he began to stroke the rumps of the cows until his hand fell upon the rump of the tiger. The tiger jumped up. This is indeed very smart - I cannot afford to lose it, thought the thief and twisted his tail to drive it home. The tiger jumped up once again, thinking it must be what the old woman called “Dighal Thengia, the long-legged thing.”
"This is not an ordinary cow; I don’t think I can manage it without being on its back, thought the thief and jumped onto the back of the tiger." Convinced that he was now in full grip of Dighal Thengia, the tiger lost no time to leave the cowshed and began to frantically run.
On the other hand, the thief had concluded from the strange behaviour of the tiger –“It cannot be a cow; it’s rather a Dighal Thengia. Dighal Thengia seems to have got the better of me.” Thus, they mistook each other for Dighal Thengia and were terrified.
As the frantically running tiger with the thief on its back was about to enter the forest, the thief had made a desperate attempt to twist the neck of the tiger.
“Oh, it’s seems to be a neck-twister rather than Dighal Thengia,” concluded the terrified tiger and began to run faster than ever. But the thief failed to control the tiger even by twisting his neck; rather the tiger’s speed shot up when the thief’s hand fell on its tail. Thanks to the tiger’s frantic run the thief could no longer keep his balance and fell off the tiger. But he held the tail of the tiger in his hands so tight that it remained in them, and the tiger got rid of the thief.
When he reached the heart of the forest, the tiger stopped to get his breath back and thought it was a pepa-karha, a tail-snatcher, rather than a neck-twister that tried to overpower him. On the hand, the thief, after a thorough examination of the tail, became sure that it was a tail of a tiger, not of any other animal. This time he really got frightened. It was rather late at night. So, he climbed up a tall mango tree in order that he could spend the rest of the time there.
Meanwhile, the tiger met his friends in the jungle and narrated before them how he was in the grip of Pepa-Karha. On hearing the story, they all came to the conclusion that that was indeed very shameful. They are Kings of the jungle. So, how can they tolerate a King, a comrade of theirs, being humiliated by Pepa-Karha? The tiger who was in the grip of Pepa-Karha has lost only his tail, but if they do not take any action against it they will lose everything to command even an iota of respect; besides if Pepa-Karha proves himself to be stronger than them, they will immediately be degraded from the royal rank to the rank of wood-cutters and water-carriers. So, all the tigers hurriedly met to discuss the matter, and came to the conclusion that they should immediately go out to fight against Mr Papa-Karha.
Nearly two scores of tigers had searched for Pepa karha high and low, but he was not to be seen. Finally, one of the tiger’s eyes fell on the top of the mango tree, and he saw Pepa karha sitting there. There! Pepa karha is up there! - as he shouted to point out to him, all the tigers roared their anger.
After a moment of reflection they arrived at a plan. They mounted on each other so that they could reach the thief sitting on the top of the tree.
It is all over with me now, the thief thought. But immediately an idea came to his mind. He noticed that the tiger at the bottom was none other than the one that got into the grip of Pepa karha. He called out to the clipped-tailed tiger, “Be careful, Mr Clipped-tailed, be careful!”
“It seems Pepa karha is targeting only at me out of we all,” -terrified and nervous, the tiger with a clipped tail frantically ran into the jungle. As a result, all the other tigers who had mounted on his back to form a ladder began to fall on the ground one after another.
The thief spent the night there. Next morning he got down and left for home. And he swore that he would not steal any more.
 Dighal ‘long’; thengia ‘relating to legs’. Hence, Dighal thengia is one that has long legs. The old woman coined the term to mean rain.
Translated from Assamese by Madan Sarma and Gautam Kumar Borah
( Madan Sarma is Professor, Dept of English and Foreign Languages, Tezpur University. He can be reached at - firstname.lastname@example.org
Gautam K. Borah is Professor, Dept of English and Foreign Languages, Tezpur University. )
Illustrations - Utpal Talukdar.
(Utpal Talukdar is an illustrator and a cartoonist. He has completed several projects of children literature with National Book Trust of India. He is a reciepient of Parag Kumar Das Journalism Award)
This tale has been taken from "Burhi Aair Sadhu"- a collection of Assamee folktales, collected by Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa and published in 1911.