‘Thambi, I am too tired to tell the story. Can you do the honours?’, Raji requested. At her bid, I relate to you the story of how I learnt to keep my head firmly on my shoulders.
Raji loved me like the little brother she never had. I was a suckling kid when her father gifted me to her. She named me Karupan, the black one, after the village’s protective deity.
I never missed my mother or my sibling, thanks to her, and she spoiled me with her love. Once, when I fell sick she refused to budge from my side until I was better.
One day, she bought me a bell and tied it around my neck. I was elated by the gift and bleated with joy but it was short lived.
She had a strange game to play. She splashed water on my face. When I shook my head to free the water droplets clinging to my face, the bell tingled.
That’s when the first whack landed. She hit me on the thigh with a long cane.
I crouched down in pain and expected her to hug me. But the ordeal continued, though I sensed she was not enjoying it.
A Splash of water on the face, tingle, and whack!
Splash, tingle, and whack!
Every day, the game was repeated for many weeks.
One time, I was so resigned when she threw water on me, that I did not even bother to shake the water free.
That was the revelation. She hugged me, cried with joy and fed me a treat of my favourite raisins. After a few misses, I understood, it was the tingling of the bell that irritated her. As long as I did not shake my head when she sprinkled water on me, I was spared. In fact, I was given a treat each time, I resisted the temptation.
Soon the month of February arrived and the mood was festive in our village. Our protective deity was to be appeased with the sacrificial blood. I was taken with fanfare to the temple courtyard. The village priest, in his gala headgear, flowing hair and beard and Kohl, came near me with a large axe and splashed water on my face. As conditioned, I refused to shake my head and let the water dribble. I even continued to chew my food in perfect nonchalance. Then more sprinkling and splashing, with no desired result.
‘Why are you refusing to give a nod!’, The ‘possessed’ priest bawled at me with a guttural sound.
Suddenly, the deity ‘possessed’ Raji too. She shook and shivered and danced. She took the bowl of water from the priest’s hand and threw it on his drunken face.
When he shuddered and shook his head, Raji screamed, ‘I will have to settle for this head then!’.
I did not know whether the kohl-eyed priest saved his head, but I sure kept mine and lived to tell the tale by not letting the bell tingle.
Cover Credits to: Shankar Hosagoudar