Pagla Jhora – the Mad Falls

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The divine white crow Kaga crowed the fourth count of night. Dawn was breaking; his companion the holy bird, Pechu-owl, was settling down for a snooze when the gush of water from the waterfall woke her up. It had hardly been an hour since they had perched atop the banyan tree when the sound came out of nowhere; it was not there a minute ago! They took to the sky to see the majestic sight of the rocks coming alive with the rush of water in the midst of the thick forest.  But! But suddenly the flow stopped. The waterfall was crazy – flowing now but dry the next moment! This went on the whole day without any regular pattern. The breaks lasted either five minutes or sometimes a few hours. Crazy!

Their Guruji had told them to come to this area as reporters. Five miles away was the small township of Banke. The birds flew off and sat atop a temple at Banke – eyes and ears open. There were huge fort-like buildings meant to cure those that did not fit in with human society – the mad folks. A noisy crowd mobbed the gate – visitors and new patients.

Suddenly a saucy “Cheerr! Cheerr!” from a top branch distracted the two. It was Pujlu-squirrel. He too claimed to be sacred. Displaying the stripes on his back. He said, “Sri Rama had stroked me.  Why are you here?”

Kaga-crow cawed the answer and waited for Pujlu to speak. Pujlu cleaning his bushy tail felt very important.

“ You see, Man wanted to build a hospital for their mad-folks near the crazy waterfall. But Pagla-jhora grumbled and rumbled. Every time Man felt sure that the place was dry and laid a brick, Pagla-jhora came rushing tumbling down chuckling and gurgling. Sometimes the crazy falls would be silent for even a fortnight and then all hell would break loose – the water gushing down gleefully. So Man  – thanks to God – had to move away from Pagla-jhora; then how the wind played gleefully as leaves rustled and flowers spread their fragrance in joy. But Man has now disturbed our peace here at Banke town – full of Mad-hatters – bus-loads coming from across the world every week.”

Pujlu-squirrel spread his tail over his head and peeped down before continuing.

“However Pagla-jhora remains peaceful. You see, Pagla-jhora is a very holy place. For centuries people have come to this forest shelter from far and near for those with minds as crazy as the waterfall. There is a temple perched on a finger jutting out from the waterfall-hill. The stone – the goddess, listens to all the babbling of the mad-hatters. Such a patient listener! ”

Pechu-owl did not like Banke town. She said, “Let us go back to Pagla-jhora.”

Yamma – the Ancient One

The two birds spread their wings while Pujlu displayed gymnastic skills jumping from tree to tree. They had hardly settled down on the banyan tree near Pagla-jhora when Pujlu-squirrel told them to look down.

“See a man of importance has come with perhaps his mad son to meet Yamma. There! Yamma is coming out from behind the rocks.”

Pujlu-squirrel bowed his head from afar at the old lady wrinkled with age but standing straight and awesome – shaved head, deep lines on her face and twinkling large eyes. The visitor in rich robes and jewels bent down touching the feet of the ancient one.

“I have brought my son Kapal – he is different from others – tears his hair, cries and laughs for no reason and then …”

“Welcome Chief-Mukhiya!  Alright. I will see what the goddess can do but you must leave him here for twelve full moons. No, don’t give me money. What will I do with money? We have everything here. Pagla-jhora sees to all our needs. You must not come till the twelfth full moon has come and gone.”

The birds and the squirrel closely followed Kapal from day one. Life was tough for a rich man’s son. But there was a method in the madness – in the regime the fellow had to follow. He gave up his old clothes and wore loose robes baring his chest to the wind and the sun.

Before dawn Kapal bathed in the stream below, carefully negotiating the niches in the rocks step by step. At first, the sudden pouring of water alarmed him but later this shock worked wonders; he began to enjoy the challenge. In the evening he went down again to the temple near the stream and talked to the goddess –a black rock. In the beginning, Kapal was restless but slowly the vibrations of the place silenced his mind. He reached out to the black stone. To him, the stone became alive – his goddess! He talked and talked and talked. She did not scorn or shut him up. She never failed him – was always there for him. Sometimes the water fell in gushes but he remained happy to be trapped down below.

Kapal also enjoyed meeting Yamma and others under the banyan tree clapping and singing. He drank in the mood. Kapal felt good.  Every day Yamma brought a paste of clay and herbs. He smeared it all over. Initially, Kapal had tried to revolt but looking into the eyes of Yamma he melted inside and surrendered. Slowly the seed sleeping deep within Kapal began to awaken. First, it was the soil – the clay on his hands as he worked on the land – its smell and feel got under his skin making him tune in with the green earth.

Then came the kid –  the orphan baby goat. With a new feeling Kapal picked up the little one and since then never lost sight of it; neither did the little animal. It never left the boy, deftly jumping from rock to rock to gambol and play in the temple courtyard. If the kid lost sight of Kapal it bleated his heart out until he sighted Kapal and made a rush for his arms.  Kapal was overwhelmed – something snapped inside him. He felt wanted. He felt that this kid had nobody but him and him alone in the world.

While The birds were busy keeping track suddenly things happened. It was dusk. Four men came forward and began to reconnoitre the area, ignoring Yamma – the ancient one. Then unexpectedly out of the darkness a young girl came and quietly stood behind her old grandmother Yamma – her Nani.  The birds hid behind a bush hearing rough words being bandied to and fro. When the men had gone they – the birds and the squirrel suddenly found themselves close to Yamma. She began stroking them. Pechu got excited.

“Kaga she can understand us.”

Kaga nodded his head “And we can understand her.”

Yamma seemed to be talking to herself indulging the animals on her lap and shoulders while the girl came close.

“There are two branches of my family. One is the Stone-brahmin branch and the other – the Clay-brahmin. For generations, the knowledge of the stone and the clay is passed on through the daughters. The men follow her guidance.”

Pechu-owl ruffled her feathers. “Oh Ancient One. I know everything but never heard of Stone and Clay brahmins.”

The old woman sighed. “It’s a secret. But now that the men are planning to sell the land I have to talk. There are three types of stone – male, female and neuter. The neuter stones are for building the steps, pillars and floors of temples. The other two are for making the images. Only those well trained can distinguish between the three.”

Kaga cawed “but if the rule is not followed…”

“Any mistake will bring down the temple today or tomorrow. But if done properly it will stand for years and years and years! The stone – the image inside the temple listens carefully to the ranting of the sufferer and by quietly listening … well the ailment gradually eases.

The Clay-brahmin has also a role. He has detailed knowledge of mud, clay, leaves and roots that made into paste is remedial. There is no one single medicine for all – only the Clay-brahmin knows what combination will help whom.”

Pechu-owl hungry for knowledge asked, “then why do the patients have to stay for three full moons, in the forest …?”

“Time is important – including the sunlight, moonlight and the stars; animals too  – rubbing shoulders with them …”

“How does that cure madness?”

“I don’t know. But I know it cures; perhaps because there is no madness among animals. ” She sighed. “But what is the use? The men will develop the land. This land will become a city.”

Suddenly another man appeared  – raging and fuming. The girl rushed to him – her father.  He shouted, “I will not sell my land.”

The girl was distraught. “They will force you to sell. Uncle-chacha has brought goons. They will kill you. They will force you.”

“Will they?” The man laughed and rushed towards a rock beneath the falls. Picking up a sharp stone he began to chisel words on it shouting out each word. The falls listened quietly without stirring.

‘This is my Will. I leave my land to my children …”

Hardly had he finished when with a roar the water cascaded down with extra fury pulling down the man. The rock stood still.

Suddenly ruffians with stones and sticks rushed in. They looked around fiercely but saw nothing but the waterfall. The ancient one Yamma and the girl had vanished. The attackers led by the uncle were dragging his teenage son behind him.

“Find your granny – your Nani. Find Didi your elder sister. Your uncle must have drowned. But we must find the women – they…”.

None answered except the crickets.

The birds flew down to the tilted temple to dip their feathers in a pool. Pujlu-squirrel kept a safe distance from the wet birds.

The Search

And so few years passed. The birds sent news to Guruji by cloud-mail.

“Guruji pronams. The forest here at Pagla-jhora is the same as before – perhaps more dense. No. Man could not develop this place –for many reasons. They fought amongst themselves, and finally, death and disease had the last say. Snakes set up colonies and the big animals moved in. A new set of men came. They found the rock with the etched Will – now the place is safe.”

The birds then flew off to Banke to find total chaos. There were too many cooped in the forts. Many more were coming in. The treatment was not working. Then one day they saw a man – a known face, and his young son. He was one of Yamma’s brood – the uncle. Uncle was in the best city clothes – his behaviour was raw and crude. He hurled abuses at the asylum making angry gestures. The son kept laughing and pulling at his coat pockets repeating the same words.

“Daddy! Baba! Give me the money you got for our land. Daddy! Baba! Give …”

A crowd gathered, enjoying the drama. The man kept pointing at the hospital gates, sometimes charging at the office only to be restrained by the laughing guards.

“You took my money. You said you would cure my mad son. You tortured him with electricity. Pumped drugs inside him. Needled him. But he is in a worse state – as mad as Pagla-jhora.”

One swanky guard strode forth.

“Then take him to Pagla-jhora – your ancient hakim”.

Suddenly the Uncle stopped in his tracks. He took the hands of his son and started running away shouting with a new kind of force. “I will. I will. Pagla-Jhora will take care of him. Nani-Yamma will take care of him.”

The birds twittered.

“But where is Nani? Where is Yamma and her granddaughter?”

None knew. The birds flew off on another search tweeting “Yamma! Yamma!”

The End

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