Fiery Witness

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Fiery Witness

Once there lived a monkey – Bandar. He was a very naughty monkey and always played tricks shooing away other monkeys and even birds and squirrels from the tree on which he lived.

Why was he so bad? You see, he was according to monkey standards, rather ugly with a broken jaw and bulging eyes. His mother Bandrima however adored him but was worried that one day something bad would happen to her son. She knew that the monkey-god Hanuman would punish Bandar for his naughty tricks and so she prayed and prayed to Hanuman to bring sense to her son.

Hanuman appeared to Bandrima one day and said “only a good lady-love will be able to tame your son.” So saying the god vanished. It was all so sudden that she was not sure whether it was a dream. She continued to pray but Bandar did not change his ways.

Tuna

One day a man, his wife with their baby and pet monkeys came to rest under Bandar’s tree. The man was a street performer. His pets were two monkeys – the old mother Tunnima and her daughter Tuna danced and did tricks on the road. Bandar immediately fell in love with young Tuna. He wanted to marry her. Planning to snatch Tuna, Bandar jumped down. A scuffle followed for Tuna’s mother Tunnima was alert. She had seen Bandar on the tree and read his mind. With his large round eyes, Bandar had kept looking and looking at Tuna. In the scramble, Bandar could not kidnap pretty Tuna but he ran off with the human baby to the top of the tree jabbering, chattering and grinning.

Immediately there was a hue and cry. When no demonstration of sticks and shouting prevailed upon Bandar who kept a tight grip on the baby, the man decided to set fire to the tree and started to light up dry sticks. But the woman was more wise. She said, “Oh husband, do not light the fire. The monkey will jump off to another tree with the baby and then on to another tree. All will be lost.”

While the humans were conferring, Tunnima-monkey, Tuna’s mother, started talking with the wicked Bandar. You see, Tunnima was full of gratitude to the humans. When she was injured by a speeding car on the road, they had saved her family. Now she wanted to repay the debt by saving their baby.

She spoke to Bandar.

“Oh, monkey on the tree! Give the humans back their baby.”

“Why should I?”

“I will give you whatever I can give.”

Bandar saw his chance. He demanded the hand of Tuna in marriage. The baby started crying and Tunnima had to quickly agree.

“I will let you marry my daughter Tuna. I give you my word.”

Excited Bandar began to chatter and scream. “How will I know that you will keep your promise?”

Meanwhile, Bandar’s mother Bandrima came up quietly behind him.

“Son, return them their baby. You do not know Man. I know. They will put the whole forest on fire. Can you not see the fire in the twigs already burning? Return the baby. You will get your bride; her mother gives the promise.”

“You promise?” said Bandar turning to Tunnima. “I will return the human baby. But you promise to give me your daughter Tuna as my wife? My name is Bandar.”

Tunnima replied gravely, “I promise in front of Fire – fire burning brightly in the twigs. Oh, Fire, be a witness to this promise. I will give my daughter in marriage to Bandar.”

The deal was clinched. Bandar came down with the baby. The human couple was so relieved that they did not wait another moment but dashed off leaving their belongings and also monkey pets behind.

But when Bandar with the broken jaw jumped down to claim his right – his promised bride Tuna, chaos broke out for suddenly a cry was heard in the distance. Tunnima holding her daughter Tuna became distracted. She turned towards from where the sound of the cry had come forth – her brows furrowed with anxiety and confusion. Whose cry was that? Could it be what she hoped?

Meanwhile, Tuna wriggled herself free from her mother and with the speed of lightning ran off down the bend of the road. Tunnima came back to reality and hastily followed her daughter throwing a word of hope at Bandar and his mother.

“I will keep my word Bandar.  Bandrima, I will persuade my daughter Tuna to be your son’s wife.”

But Tuna was nowhere to be seen.  Bandrima turned to the burning fire.

“Oh Fire! You were the witness – Fiery Witness. You have heard the promise made by Tunnima – the mother of my son’s lady-love Tuna. By this promise Tuna now lives in the heart of my son Bandar. Come Bandar, you and I will now find her. Come. We have no time to lose.”

A Quiet Bandar

So mother and son began the search for the lost bride-to-be. It was not easy. Monkey clans are very strict about not allowing outsiders into their territory. So they kept moving until the wise mother Bandrima decided that the temple of Hanuman on the fringes of the city, at the entry point to the forest, would be the best place to seek shelter. Bandar followed her quietly. He had changed ever since meeting Tuna. He thought about nothing but her. Bandar had become calm and was no longer restless.

The temple was the best place for them and other outcasts – the old, the sick and the lost monkeys. Humans brought offerings to the monkey-god Hanuman every day and at night the oldest monkey Tulsi distributed it among the inmates. She was wise and just. One day followed another with mother and son remaining constantly in prayer before the image of Hanuman. Bandrima was grateful to Hanuman for the change in her son Bandar. It seemed the god had kept his promise to her. Bandar was no longer the naughty prankster.

Royal Wedding

One day there was great excitement in the Hanuman temple yard. Tulsi said, “The son of our great monkey king Subahu is getting married. His majesty has invited us all to attend the grand wedding. Those who can and who want to go, be ready to follow me at dawn tomorrow.”

Bandrima and Bandar joined the group and under the deft guidance of Tulsi, they jumped from tree to tree and even crossed rivers on cargo boats as they moved south. The boatmen revered monkeys and were glad to give them rides. But the strain was too much for Bandrima. She was at peace with herself. The love for Tuna had indeed changed her son. Her prayers to Hanuman had indeed borne fruits. One day she left her body by the banks of the river Godavari and went to the heaven of the monkeys.

Life moved on. After crossing some high hills the travellers reached the court of the monkey-king Subahu. They were just in time.

A huge fire had been lit. The flames were leaping up. Hanuman was officiating the wedding ceremony while the king and queen looked on. The bride and groom stood on the dais ready to garland each other.

Suddenly seeing the bride Bandar cried out.

“Stop!”

There was pin drop silence at this interruption. Stunned, the courtiers and the audience turned to look at this newcomer – dusty and travel-weary.

Meanwhile, Bandar roared, “The bride is mine! She is Tuna. She had been promised to me by her mother. Fire was the witness! Fire was the witness! How can she be given in marriage to another?”

The royal soldiers stepped forward and would have tried to overpower the intruder when Hanuman raised his hand with authority and came forward.

“Oh Fire! Is it true? You were a witness when Tunnima promised her daughter Tuna to this monkey named Bandar?”

The flames no longer leapt. Fire kept his head down and said, “Yes”.

Tunimma too came forward and stood silently.

Hanuman could hardly control his rage.

“Oh Fire! You have done wrong. I curse you. From today you will gobble everything in your path – stale or fresh, live or dead…”

Fire gave a jump and began to plead and argue his case.

“I have not lied, my lord. It is true Tunnima had promised to give her daughter Tuna to Bandar, but the young girl without saying anything had run away. She ran away! Unless both partners agree how can there be a marriage? I was witness only to what the mother had said – to what the mother had promised! I was witness only to words.”

Hanuman was now in a fix. First, he had to give justice to Fire and then to turn to the aggrieved love-lost Bandar.

“Fire! You are right. But I cannot take back my curse – however, I can give you a boon – a favour. I now bless you that whatever you touch will become pure and no ritual – no ritual whatsoever can take place without you being there.”

Hanuman then turned to the rejected lover and whispered something in his left ear. Bandar remained calm but breathing heavily. He stood up and showed his bare breast to all in the gathering. They saw stamped on his heart the name of Tuna. He thumped his chest with both hands and said, “I will wait, oh Hanuman. You have promised her to me. I will wait. I will wait.”

Without another word, Bandar moved away from the court making for the deep jungles. But as soon as he left the ceremony hall someone stood in front of him with a garland. It was none other than his own Tuna sparkling and smiling. A miracle!

Confused Bandar looked back. There on the dais was the marriage proceeding as usual with much pomp and fanfare. Bandar rubbed his eyes. Was he really seeing what he was seeing? Bandar did not know what to do when he felt the garland around his neck. The fragrance of the fresh flowers overpowered him. He looked in front. There was King Subahu standing beside a bride – his old lady-love Tuna!

Subahu continued to speak, “Bandar! I give you Tuna in marriage to be your wife. Do you accept her?”

Bandar could hardly move but the king placed the bride’s hand on the groom’s palm.

“This is Tuna. The bride you see on the dais marrying my son is her twin sister Unta. You see, Tunnima and her two daughters got lost and Hanuman brought them to me for safekeeping.”
Bandar interrupted, “Daughters? Daughters? But she had only one …”

“Let me talk son. Just listen. Tuna’s twin sister is Unta. Unta was lost after the road accident took place. The humans saved only one daughter with the mother. Unta had managed to run off just when the car hit them. She hid in the nearby zoo not knowing the fate of her family. That particular day the ruckus with Bandar seeking the hand of Tuna had drawn her attention and Unta from atop a tree inside the nearby zoo, was overjoyed to see her mother and sister; she had cried out in sheer happiness. Tunnima the mother was drawn to the cry but she could not think straight and was confused. However, Tuna recognized the voice of her lost sister. Instantly – in a flash she had run off to the owner of that lost voice – her twin sister Unta. Tunnima followed. Now do you understand?”

Bandar understood – he understood with his heart. Here was Tuna his bride. Right here in front of him! Bandar gave his long-forgotten war cry, swept up the bride in his powerful arms and jumped to the safety of high trees moving deeper into the safety of the green forest.

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- Total nr. of readings: 361 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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