Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Nohkalikai, Again*

The first in the series of three travel-poems

Goosebumps, turning skin into prickly mounds
And the mist, like white smoke
Settled on us, chilling the clouded noon.
Shaking ourselves, we laughed nervously
At our adult fear of ‘spooky’ tales
But the glass was a thin fence
Hardly holding off the wails of Ka Likai
That followed our slow tread.

Mist and shadows and clouds curled past
A lone woman walked by,
Her flailing arms, her trailing clothes
Her snaky sinuous hair
Her slow measured walk to the precipice.
Clutching the ends of red-blue fingers
And green betel-nut leaves.

No tears, no voice, we heard nothing,
Only a frenzied flicker of the tongue
Erasing the taste of incestuous flesh
Settled like rancid fat on the roof of her mouth,
And a gut that refused to spurn
What the soul could not digest.

She is the powerful fall
Of mighty waters
Crashing off edges
Forever leaping off into
The void below
Crossing in leaps and bounds
All the borders that flesh of her flesh
And a hungry stomach had blurred.

*Nohkalikai translates as the Fall of Ka Likai, also the name of a waterfall near Cherapunji in Meghalaya. The chilling tale that gives this fall its name was narrated one June afternoon by my excellent storyteller friend Isa while we drove to visit the place. Ka Likai loved her daughter a lot and this made her husband very jealous. One day, when Ka Likai is out, he kills the daughter and cooks her flesh. When Ka Likai comes home, she eats the tasty meal made by her husband, only to discover her daughter’s fingers in the betel nut basket. Mad with loss and disgust at what she had done, the tale ends like a Greek tragedy, with Ka Likai’s jump off the cliff.

1 comment:

Isa said...

This is haunting and beautiful, Sanju... You have given poetry to what was an unexceptional narration. The Greek-tragedy proportions of this tale have been lost to me, having heard it countless times since I was a child. This reminds me of Medea. :)
Also, Likai's husband was her second, and hence her daughter's step-father. Thought you may want to include that in the footnote :)

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