Extract Books

Man and the first big boom: An extract from Easterine Kire’s ‘The Rain-Maiden and the Bear-Man and Other Stories’

An illustration from the book.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Reality is magic and magic is real in this collection of stories about Nagaland, its people, lores and folk beliefs. Some of the stories represent oral narratives, meant to be shared around a glowing hearth, to keep the darkness away. Some are based on folktales, like the one presented here. All of them are strikingly simple and all the more memorable for that. Coupled with stunning illustrations by graphic artist Sunandini Banerjee, the tales make Nagaland with its deep forests and sparkling skies come alive. The following story, based on a Konyak folktale, is titled ‘One Day’.

One day, when the time was right, God came down to earth. The quietness of that day was unlike any quiet that would ever be again. It was different from loneliness because you can’t be lonely if you’ve never known the presence of a human being, a shadow of yourself, a mirror of all the feelings that, some time or another, you have known. Like a great, deep aloneness was the voiceless vastness of the land that spread out in ranges of primeval mountains or the seas of water gravitating toward the smaller ball of light in the skies, its waters ebbing and flowing ceaselessly.

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‘It needs to be dominionated,’ God declared, and His mind flung together strong sinews and flame-thrower eyes into that brave terrible, the tiger.

Great feet pounded the earth and ivory-white tusks thrust at the air as the elephant burst into existence; and all around them the flap-flap of a thousand and more creatures of the air; and on the seas, water animals pirouetted the lengths of the waves. The other animals were already making their homes in the greenness and beginning to procreate.

An illustration from the book.

An illustration from the book.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

In the midst of all this, God took a small clod of clay in His big hands and breathed His breath into it and called it Man. Smaller than many of the animals, inept at swinging from trees, unskilled at flapping his arms and uninitiated in the world of waterways, this new creature called Man was mortally afraid of both the animals of land and the animals of water.

‘Oh creator God, please give me more strength than them,’ he begged every day. Walking alongside his latest creation, sometimes lifting him to his feet if he stumbled and fell in the undergrowth, God said, ‘I can’t give you more strength, because I made you last but I will give you something before I go back to heaven.’

Every day Man begged God to protect him, until, one day, he took out a long stick, that was pointed at one end, and gave it to the man. ‘This is is a firestick. It has great power, such great power that it will destroy all those you fire at, so, use it only in times of great danger.’ Then, as God got ready to go back, he told Man, ‘Mind, you don’t fire that stick until I have entered heaven.’

Once God was gone, the man forgot everything that God had told him. He was so happy with his firestick that he forgot all the warnings about its use. Impatient, he fired it. God was in the upper reaches of heaven when He heard the loud retort. He ran down to earth again. He found the firestick in the man’s hands, with smoke curling up from its pointed end.

An illustration from the book.

An illustration from the book.   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

‘Why did you fire?’ God asked.

‘I’m just trying it out,’ Man replied. But God did not like it at all. ‘The way you did it — mmhü, I don’t like it, no I don’t.’ And God took it away from Man.

‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ said Man, ‘please don’t take it away.’

‘I’ll send you another one,’ said God, and turned away from Man, climbed the last tall mountain, heaved Himself up onto the clouds and went back to heaven.

Every day, the animals walked past Man. They had their young with them, and female animals heavy with child fed on the fruits fallen on the forest floor. Man worried as they watched him languidly with mildly curious eyes.

Man and the first big boom: An extract from Easterine Kire’s ‘The Rain-Maiden and the Bear-Man and Other Stories’

‘Oh creator God, one of these days they shall surely be my death. Please keep your promise to me.’ Finally, God felt sorry for him: ‘My son, kill a chicken, remove the flesh and carefully examine the joints of its leg. You may fashion a firestick after it.’ So Man did as God told him, and fashioned a firestick like the leg joint of the chicken.

Then Man went out with the firestick, and Man knew no fear because he knew the power possessed by the stick. He walked up to the elephant. ‘Coming after me with a stick, are you?’ snorted the elephant, and tried to wrap his trunk around it. Man was ready — and he fired. And the sound was heard in heaven too. Fell to earth, the elephant did, in a flurry of dust and dead leaves — and there was such amazement in his eyes before they closed in death.

The she-bear saw it all. She ran back to the other animals, and said: ‘Don’t have anything to do with that creature — the one who calls himself Man. I was there when he raised this little stick and waved it at Elephant. And when Elephant was almost upon him, and I was thinking surely he would be killed, and God would have to make another thing called Man, he fired the stick at Elephant! And poor Elephant, he fell — fell to the dust and died there, you can still see his mouth hanging open from the shock of it all!’

Extracted from The Rain-Maiden and the Bear-Man and Other Stories published by Seagull Books.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2021 12:43:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/man-and-the-first-big-boom-an-extract-from-easterine-kires-the-rain-maiden-and-the-bear-man-and-other-stories/article34393056.ece

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