Ondaa - a folk tale of Tea-tribes of Assam
In a village there was a very poor man called Ondaa. Every morning he woke up early and went places to beg. He would return home as soon as dusk broke. Whatever alms he earned had to support a family of many children.
Once he went begging very far. While returning home it was quite dark. That night happened to be Amavasya. On his way he had to cross past a funeral ground. There was no other route to reach home but that .Ondaa was utterly scared. For a moment he would think not to return but the thought of his kids made him walk further.
As it was night time and a deserted place the ghosts were merrymaking all around. The ghost named Chirkun kindled a fire with his one mouth and chewed a human limb with the other in immense happiness. Another ghost Kanadh lit the two eyes of his chest and chewed a leg. The other ghost called Maakad took his long slender tongue out and began licking a corpse. The Jokh made a bed out of his one ear and used the other ear as blanket while singing through his nose. The Khora-Noka ghost took out his terribly long teeth and chewed some bones in crackling sound. The baby ghosts played around hopping over a nearby tree chasing each other as if they would break the whole tree. The other ghosts Olot-chokwa, Dighol-dotiya, Khot-khotiya, Munda Teliya, Pingla, Mahisha, Bhoinsa, Lengra, Baankad Jugni- each one of them lit a fire while tearing apart corpses and relishing them in great bustle. The Mudmudiya-Gudgudiya ghost without arms and legs was simply rolling over the ground. The Chordewa on the other side was seen collecting bones in a basket from here and there with his sharp black hair open. Thus all the ghosts were having fun!
When Ondaa saw the red and blue lights from afar, he thought someone must have died. Hence people came to the funeral ground with all lamps. He was somewhat relieved at the thought that at least he would have some company to head home. And as he proceeded, the ghosts saw him and started screaming in hustle “We’ll suck your blood...we’ll feast on your heart...Your tongue...and entrails” with flaring nostrils. Ondaa now realized they were none but many ghosts. He nearly wet his pants in fear. Then he thought either way he would have to die, so why not determine his mind? He held the stick in his hand tightly and hurriedly went to the ghosts and screeched:
“Who all are you? Get lost!
Muk juui taapate de!! (Let me sit near the fire)”-saying that he started shaking the stick in his hand in frenzy.
At such act of Ondaa all the ghosts got extremely terrified. For them, the situation came to a halt. As Ondaa uttered “taapate de” the ghost named Taapa felt perplexed: “Oh no! The human is calling my name”. Frightened he answered to Ondaa in his nasal voice: Yeee…yes, my name is Ondaa. What do you want, Sir?” Hearing that Ondaa felt more confident and courageous and he said: “So Taapa, it is you then! I’ve been searching you for the last twelve years. You have to repay me the loan as much as seven pitchers of money together with interest. I warn if you fail to do that I will treat you so bad you will get to see your parents’ wedding. Then he started beating the ground with his stick fanatically. Seeing him act so, the other ghosts became awfully frightened too. Taapa swallowing his spittle in fear said somehow: “But I don’t remember taking any loan from you, sir.”
“So what? Your brother and farher took itfrom me”,said Ondaa, “Tell me now,son, you are going to repay me or not?”
As he was about to move his stick again, the other ghosts begged Ondaa then that they could manage the money to repay, seven pitchers that is. Ondaa now said, “Okay I listen to what you said. I’m letting Ondaa go at thecondition that I’ll get my money back. I’ll put some seven pitchers up hanging from my roof. Your duty will be to fill them up all. If I don’t find you doing that you better be prepared to see something much worse.”
Saying so he gave the address of his home and he himself took the home-bound walk.
As per his plan, he put up some seven pitchers having pierced their holes at their bottom hanging from the roof so he could hear the sound of pouring money and kept quiet inside. As soon as the ghosts started pouring money it fell to the ground of his house. Ondaa could clearly listen to the tinkling sound of many coins. The silly ghosts thought that the pitchers were not filled in properly so they went on bringing and pouring there more and more until the inside of Ondaa’s house became fully stuffed with money all around.
As dawn was about to break, the ghosts felt their eyes dimming due to light.
“We gave what all we had. Please forgive us”, begged the ghosts to Ondaa.
“This is only the capital, but I do exempt you from giving the interest. Now you may leave.” said Ondaa.
Hearing that all of them started screaming out loud in relief, “we’re saved”…”we’re saved”.
After he got all the money from the ghosts Ondaa soon became a rich man and lived happily with his family.
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)
Translation from Assamese – Daisy Barman
(Daisy Barman is a scribbler and translator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )
Tea-tribes or tea-garden communities are a cluster of people belonging to several tribes and communities who were brought to Assam by British, from different states of India including Jharkhand, West Bengal, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh to work in tea-gardens of the state during 19th Century . Dewram Tasa, a famous Assamese writer, who himself belonged to Tea- tribe community, has written brief account of 75 different communities belonging to Tea-tribe. They have their own distinctive culture, language and religious practices. They have also rich tradition of oral literature. This folk-tale has been taken from Dewram Tasa Rachanavali, pubished by Asam Sahitya Sabha.
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Drawn by Ishan Kalita, Class IV, Simlitola English School
Drawn by Jyotish Kalita, Class VIII, Simlitola High School