Monday, February 28, 2011

The Flea and the Louse

-A Bhutanese version of “Slow and Steady Wins the Race”

“Add fuel to the lamp” reminded my mother as she spun thread out of marijuana barks. Our age old traditional lamp was hardly visible, as small flame on the last piece of pine chip flickered to total darkness. She’d just finished a fascinating story of “Lingshing Rongme – a legendary hunter.” We were so engrossed in her story that we forgot to add pine bits to our lamp. 

At that moment, she stretched out her right hand over a basket, grabbed a handful of pine chips and put over hot coal on the lamp. She craned her neck, pointing her withered lips towards the lamp and blew carefully to restore the lighting. As she dispelled the darkness, she warned, “If you want to hear more stories, someone better keep the lamp burning.” I pulled the basket in front of me and volunteered to take this task since I was closer to the lamp.
 “Would you like to hear another story?”  she continued. “Yes we do,” my cousins and I responded in unison. She looked at each one of us and said, “It’s an interesting one,’ she paused for a moment and said, ‘Alright, it’s about Kishig and Karshig[1] (A flea and a louse), now listen carefully,” she implored.

“Kishig and Karshig were good friends,” she started with her hands busy over those damp barks. ‘They lived together happily. They were like members of the same family and shared common understanding in managing their daily household chores. Kishig - the fast, impatient and active member of the family fetched food and firewood, while Karshig, slow and steady but a committed friend, remained home as householder cooking food and cleaning their home.’ 

Over the time, Kishig started to suspect his friend. As Karshig put on weight in last couple of months, Kishig was of the view that Karshig must be taking away extra share while he is away in the field. He wanted to find out the truth, but how? He thought and thought, but could not find a way to seek the truth. Finally, he thought, “May be we both go out in the field together and manage the household turn wise,” and went to sleep. The next morning, as they woke up Kishig proposed to Karshig not showing any signs of suspicion that has been brooding in his mind for last couple of days, “Aro![2] Since you are alone here in the house during day time you must be really feeling bored, in the field I also feel bored working all alone.” “Exactly! That’s what I wanted to share to you too,” responded Karshig without any second thought. Kishig was overwhelmed by the positive response he got from his friend and said, ‘So if that be the case with both of us, why don’t we both go together in the field and take up household chores turn wise.” “Hmm…that sounds great, but when should we begin this?” asked the Karshig. As their conversations went on, Karshig served hot delicious porridge for their breakfast. Kishig replied happily, ‘Let’s start from today itself.’ Karshig agreed to the proposal and said, ‘So we are going to collect firewood today, and remaining porridge would serve us lunch as well.’  ‘Then in that case, whosoever returns home first with the bundle of firewood shall have this leftover porridge,’ started Kishig hurriedly, ‘is it alright with you, my friend?’ ‘I’m fine,’ replied the Karshig.

While on their way to fetch firewood, Kishig’s mind was obsessed with cunning plans. Kishig was confident that he could easily defeat his friend. “A right moment to teach my friend a lesson,” thought Kishig. They got into thick forest and started collecting firewood. Kishig was fast indeed in gathering a bundle of firewood. Saying, “My friend you can come slowly,” Kishig hopped his way back. But to his dismay, every time he hopped and landed, his firewood bundle got loosened. Therefore, for every landing Kishig required to fix that bundle.
Meanwhile, Karshig was slowly approaching Kishig with his bundle of firewood securely held on his back. Karshig asked, “What happened to you? I thought you would have already reached home.” Kishig did not want to let his friend know about his weakness and said, “Oh! You have come. I was waiting for you so that we could go together.” Karshig saying, “Let’s go then,” maintained his constant pace. Now Kishig was increasingly getting anxious to defeat his friend and started jumping harder. But this has only given him more trouble.

Karshig reached home and stacked firewood by the side of their house. He waited for his friend to arrive, thinking that they could have leftover porridge together. Since his friend never came, he couldn’t wait any longer as he was hungry. So Karshig had all leftover porridge and fell asleep near the oven.

Finally, Kiishig came. His body fully drenched with excessive sweats, thoroughly tired and hungry. But there was nothing left for him to eat. Kishig got so furious that he caught hold of burning firewood from the oven and hit his friend hard on an abdomen leaving a permanent dark scar. “That’s why Karshigs have dark abdomen even today,” my mother ended the story.

[1] The flea is called Kishig and the louse, Karshig in Tsamangkha – a local dialect spoken predominantly in some areas of Monggar and Lhuentse districts.
[2] An expression used to address as friend in Tsamangkha (local dialect).

While I've my own version of this story already written, I landed up doing series of illustrations for my friend's version of this same story... It is now a published work:


  1. You really write well....Please keep up!

  2. Just trying out my luck. But for sure, I'll write down my mother's stories for my children to read. And for your son too, hahah.