Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lingshing Rongme and His Tiger Son

A story of a hunter as narrated by Aum Sonam Wangchuk (my mother), Banjar, Tsamang, Monggar. 

“Meow…a a-ow…” an unusual sound along with cold breezes of early wintry morning alerts Lingshing Rongme, as he was about to swallow the last bite of his Khurra[1] along  with a gulp of water. At once he holds back his breath, with his last bite of Khurra tightly held up against palate by the tongue and with mouth half open, to ascertain the kind of noise and its location. He waits patiently for the next phase of signal.
Several days of combing thick temperate jungles with his quiver firmly held on his back, fully loaded with arrows laden with freshly processed aconite poisons, and holding a powerful bow in his left hand, his hunting spree was nearly going waste when suddenly, “Meow…a a-ow…” sound struck his eagerly sensitive ears once again.
Traversing thick forests of chirpines, oaks and other broadleaved species along the Kurichhu River, it took him to Yanglapang; the place where he is finally confronted with a promising noise to try out his luck. From there he could faintly see his hometown through thinly misty atmosphere, on the other side of the river.
Lingshing Rongme led a vagabond life although he occasionally lived at Tsamang[2] in his small cozy hut made of wooden shingles. Although no account exists on his birth and origin, he did spend most of his time in that area. Similarly not much is known about his family life and relatives, but one available account on his wife[3] suggests that he once had a family too. Whatever may be the case, he was known to have inclined himself more towards hunting life. Therefore it’s a no wonder; he was a sharp shooter and one of the most prudent and successful hunters of his time in the village.
The sound resembling that of a kitten came from a very close by. As he tip-toed towards the sound, he took out an arrow from his quiver. He had not opened it for last few days, so he checked if its poisons were intact on its tip. Positioning his bow and arrow, he carefully advanced forward. About few steps from his resting place he saw a huge rocky cliff, at the base of which was a deep cave with a small well-trodden path leading to it.
“Can it be Tiger’s den, or some other cats’,” he wasn’t sure, but the sound came from that cave only. By now he had approached very close. In order not to fall himself victim to that beast, his bow and arrow still positioned, he craned his neck to seek the clear view of the cave’s interior. “What is there in it?” he asked himself as he peeped through the branches and needles of young pine forests. There was a young male tiger cub in a playful mood. It chased a grasshopper from one end of the cave to the other often purring in between, like kitties normally do when they come across moving objects. Lingshing Rongme stood there for a while immensely fascinated by the cub’s play. There was no sign of Tigress in the cave; probably it must have gone out for a food. Lingshing Rongme observed around the cave properly and ensured himself that tigress wasn’t watching him. He put back his arrow in the quiver and slowly got in the cave.
As he got close to the cub, the grasshopper disappeared and the cub jumped to his feet scratching playfully. He knelt down and slowly started to caress on its head with his right hand. In a moment they became friends.
“You’ll be my son,” he said to the cub and lifted up with his right hand. Thereafter, Lingshing Rongme called his new found friend as “Bu” meaning a son. “Tigress might come in any time,” he thought and saying, “Come my Bu, let’s go with me,” they set off.
Lingshing Rongme as he walked back to his home, thought, “My last few days of struggle in these forests have been finally paid off with a son.” Yes indeed, there was an excitement as he got a son and a friend who would henceforth accompany him on such hunting expeditions. After about an hour long downhill walk followed by a stretch of uphill climb, they reached Takhambi – a small village. Except for the noise of cocks crowing and few dogs barking, village otherwise looked deserted. Winter in this part of the world is a lean season and people normally spend their time either doing indoor activities like carpentry or weaving, or, simply sit around the hearth gossiping.
As they were about to cross that village, “Grr…grr…rr” a loud and ferocious growl of a large cat was heard from a distant north. Lingshing Rongme knew it could be the tigress – the mother of his adopted son. He kept on walking, his mind preoccupied with thoughts of loss and pain that tigress must be undergoing, at that point of time. He thought to himself, “She must be undergoing same pain, grief and anger that I experienced some years ago, when my wife gave away our son’s life to that dark serpent.” Recollecting his past trauma, he is now filled with some sort of mixed feelings; “If I let off my son, he would be with his mother for another few months only and thereafter, he would be roaming this jungle all alone,” he murmured to himself, and “On the other hand, if I take him with me, two of us – father and son, would be always together, hunting in and around this area.”
They just crossed Nyartse, another village downstream Kurichhu River, when suddenly, “Grr…rrrr! Grr…rrrr!” the tigress growled from Takhambi. The tigress was following her cub’s scent. Lingshing Rongme with the cub held firmly with his right hand and the bow hung over his left shoulder runs for his life, knowing the dangers of an angry beast. While he ran, he could not help thinking, “A hunter being hunted” and often laughed at himself along the way. Until now, with his bow and arrow as only weapon, he was a stalker of many innocent beasts and many had been hunted down, but today it is otherwise. He is frantically running for his life as the tigress kept narrowing the gap between them.
The tigress roared again from Nyartse as they reached Chali village. Tigress followed her cub desperately, and the whole region reverberated with its continuous roars. But Lingshing Rongme was a hunter, who knew how to keep his calm. He panted heavily and sweated profusely, not because of fear but because he is running to avoid any confrontation with the tigress. From Chali, he could see his hut very close on the other side of the river but he has to walk down to Kurizampa to cross this fast-flowing river.
Lingshing Rongme had just stepped in the cantilever bridge of Kurizampa when suddenly, “Thump…thump” and a loud ferocious growl followed. The tigress was jumping and hoping behind him with a hope to get back her son. While he stood in the middle of the bridge, at once not knowing what to do, the tigress jumped in the river. The tigress wanted to cross the river first and claim her cub from the other end of the bridge and started swimming.
“There’s no point trying to cross this bridge now, in any case she is going to pounce upon me and snatch away her son from me,” he thought. “I’ve come thus far and I must not let this happen to me,” so he immediately placed the cub on the floor, pulled out an arrow, positioned and aimed, drew his bowstring and released it without any second thought. When the tigress could make its half way through the river, his poisoned arrow struck just behind her left shoulder.  The old bridge served him a nice platform for such an attack. His freshly prepared aconite poisons played its part very fast as she managed only few strokes by her right arm. She looked up once, probably to catch final glimpse of her son, but unbearable pain within her body forced her mouth open gulping in waters excessively and drowned. In few seconds, she fell into the tune of roaring waves of the river and got washed away helplessly.
There was a moment of silence as he watched over the corpse of a once ferocious creature disappear at a distant downstream meanders. The cub was still in its playful mood not knowing that his mother just bid farewell. An unconditional love of his mother has just been washed away, never to return in his life.
Lingshing Rongme felt an unusual remorse for having killed the mother of an innocent cub. Not because he wanted to. But for the love of this beautiful cub and for his own safety, that was the only option he had. The poor tigress, for the love of her son ends her life in the waters. Such an end wasn’t anticipated at all.
The setting sun had already cast the shadows of western hills over the villages of Nyartse and Chali sending in the signs of dusk. Lingshing Rongme had another couple of hours to make before he finally settles down for his much desired rest in his hut. With his bow placed over his left shoulder, and mounting the cub on his right he set off to his village. With the mother of the cub dead, Lingshing Rongme now had an extra responsibility to shoulder. “Alright, I’ll be your mother, father and everything,” assured Lingshing Rongme kissing the cub on its nose.
True to his words, Lingshing Rongme brought up the cub like his own son. He was fed milk of a cow when still an infant, and gradually introduced meat as he grew up. While Lingshing Rongme went out on his regular hunting expeditions, his son followed him. It was during such expeditions that Lingshing Rongme taught and perfected his son with all hunting skills. This routine went on for days and weeks that counted up to months until finally his son was a fully grown tiger.
As the time went by, Lingshing Rongme increasingly prospered with his son faithfully assisting him in his endeavor. Similarly, the presence of his son had brought in huge prosperity to the whole village, as people doubled their harvests from the day his son joined them. Otherwise people of this village survived on handful of harvests every year due to heavy wildlife encroachments in their fields. Now that, they have a tiger – a king of jungle in the village and no other wilds dared to approach their village farms. Hence the people experienced bountiful harvests every year. As a gesture of gratitude, the people of this village would offer some portion of their harvests to Lingshing Rongme at the end of every harvest season. The father and son led a happy and fruitful life together.
One morning, father and son were out in the sun, Lingshing Rongme checking his arrows of any wear and tear while his son stood intently gazing these daily chores of his father.
“Dhir…Dhir” and rustles of leaves on the path followed. Someone in great difficulty trying to catch his breath was approaching their hut. Lingshing Rongme turned his head to get a glance of that visitor. A familiar face appeared.
Oie…Aro![4]” he was his friend and a hunting partner from Chali. He came purposely to seek help of Lingshing Rongme’s son. In the last couple of years, his Aro never experienced good harvests from his otherwise fertile fields. Constant encroachments by wild boars had his granary go empty and increasingly faced difficulty to meet even a single season. Lingshing Rongme on the other hand was now enjoying the luxuries of having his son with him. He wouldn’t mind sparing his son for one season considering the close friendship they shared and the pains that his friend suffered.
Aro, take my son. He’ll help you,” said Lingshing Rongme patting his son on the head.
“Can you come in for a while?” They got in the hut.
“But before you take him; there are certain things that you should know.”
“What are they?”
“You know, I brought him up as my Bu. I always call him my Bu and he is used to it.” His Aro nodded.
“Please call him only Bu and nothing else,” Lingshing Rongme pleaded.
“One more thing,” he continued.
“When he makes a kill, let him eat first. Do not disturb him midway,” saying this, he packed a bag of maize grains for his friend and then seen off from the door of his hut.
The moon was just breaking the hill top of Chali village. It was a full moon night. Lingshing Rongme’s Aro and son went out to make a round of his paddy fields. As usual boars were making their way to the fields, gnashing their teeth for a feast in the moonlit night, not knowing these fields are now guarded by lord of the jungle.
On hearing the noise of approaching boars, the tiger tip-toed and crawled towards them. After reaching certain point, the tiger waited in his position ready for an attack. The group approached lead by a large boar in the forefront. Suddenly the tiger pounced over the one in the front, caught hold of its neck firmly by its sharp canines. He shook it several times, banged it on the ground and in few seconds it was declared dead.
The tiger looked at his friend once, as if to say, “First let me have,” and then started feeding himself. Aro, sitting on a boulder nearby watched the tiger feed voraciously on his recent kill. Brooding over the warnings that his friend gave him, he was increasingly getting impatient as the tiger wouldn’t stop himself from feeding.
Just as the tiger embarked on last leg of the flash, “Shh..oi Khe![5]” shouted Aro trying to stop the tiger, with his greed overpowering his friend’s warnings. Hearing this, tiger got irritated and immediately jumped on him, bit off his head. The tiger, with the head of Aro clamped in between his jaws, went back to his father’s place.
The next day when the day light broke in, Lingshing Rongme was surprised to see his son hesitantly standing at the door. When they caught the glimpse of each other, the tiger released head of his Aro and shyly backed off from his father. His son committed a grave mistake.
“Come my Bu, you need not feel shy,” he pleaded, but the tiger could not face him, instead it turned towards the north. Lingshing Rongme knew that his son has now realized that he can no longer get along with humans and have decided to seek his own solitary life. So he finally murmured prayers, “May you find better solace in the jungles than with humans here” and thus bid farewell in a silent and emotional way. The tiger growled thrice before he left and then headed north to discover solace in the thick jungles of Kurtoe[6].

[1] Khurra in Kurmedkha is a pancake prepared from buckwheat or barley. It is also known as Khuli in other parts of Bhutan.
[2] Tsamang, a village under Monggar District situated opposite to Nyartse village of Tsakaling block. It is believed that the hut of Lingshing Rongme was situated near the Goenpa Lhakhang where a hole in the stone made to tether his Tiger son could still be seen.
[3] It is said that his wife (name not known), had gone to steal wheat from the fields of other people leaving her baby son in his sleep at Sangjaling Brahu (a cave situated on the way to Banjar from Rotpashong road head) and when she returned she was shocked to see a huge dark serpent in the mouth of her child. She pulled out the serpent, but the serpent pulled out the heart of the child and the child died.
[4] Oie is an expression used to describe surprise while Aro means an intimate friend or simply a friend.
[5] Shh..oi, is expression used to shoo away and Khe is dog.
[6] Kurtoe is another name for Lhuntse district particularly referred to by the people of Monggar region. It is believed that the Tiger appeared at Ney village wherein Ney Ashi knowing that Lingshing Rongme’s son has been released had prepared a large Thro (a brass container) filled to the brim with cattle milk to welcome him. As he arrived, he had some milk from the Thro and disappeared himself in the jungle. Ney Ashi then distributed leftover milk to all her cattle. Due to this, it is said that the cattle of Ney Ashi is never attacked by the tiger.

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