The golden rays of the warm morning sun illuminated every dew drop captured by the leaves. The incessant flowing water of the riverlets glittered on being touched by the heavenly sunrays.
The music of the chirping of birds and the aroma of the wild flowers blended in the atmosphere to create a magical scene that one can only experience in heaven and in "itchoo", a remote village in Ladakh that is no less than a replication of heaven.
"Don't you need to wake up by now? The sun is already up in the sky!" shouted an aged woman from the front yard of a shabby small cottage.
She was grinding roasted barley for the preparation of tsmpa, selling which she would run her family.
On getting no response, the lady shouted again, "If you want to go to bed with an empty stomach tonight as well, you may choose to sleep for an extra hour!"
On hearing this, little Jigme finally woke up as the fear of going to bed hungry haunts him every night.
Jigme was a 7-year-old, hardworking orphan who lived with his grandma in Itchoo. They were living in the most comical state of poverty. The money that they earned by selling homemade tsmpa in the nearby village was their only source of income. However, it was not enough to buy even a handful of grain as they had to pay a monthly tax to the local zamindar. As a result, Jigme began gathering wood from the forest and selling it in the village market. This would serve as some additional income.
Jigme jumped out of his wobbly bed and grabbed his iron axe. He greeted his grandmother, who was focused on her work, and headed towards the forest.
The golden rays of the sun flickered through the canopies of the dense forest, which was an epitome of beauty in itself. Wild flowers grew everywhere. It was all green . A hardworking Jigme was busy collecting wood. After working for two hours at a stretch, he decided to take a small break. Suddenly, he was distracted by a beautiful white rabbit who was hopping around him. Despite the fact that circumstances had compelled him to begin working at a young age, he was still a child with a desire to explore life.
Jigme began to run after the bunny, leaving behind all the stresses and worries of life.
After some time, Jigme's eyes met with an unimaginable sight. There was a mystical violet glow coming out of the distance. When Jigme went closer, he was surprised to find a big hole emitting light from it in the middle of the forest. A curious Jigme peeped through the hole to find that it led to an underground staircase.
"An exploration awaits for me!" said Jigme to himself and stepped inside the mystical hole.
As he went down step by step, the surroundings grew darker and darker. At one point, all he could see was absolute darkness.
A few moments later, Jigme opened his tiny eyes and found himself in a new world.
The place was all filled with greenery and was surrounded by blue hills. It was a magnificent experience for the little boy.
At a distance, he could spot a lustrous castle that appeared hazy due to mist.
"I have grown up playing in the valley of Itchoo but I never knew that we had such a beautiful castle. I wonder who lives there?" Thought Jigme with his curious mind.
As he moved ahead, he saw colorful butterflies twirling in the air, the flowers had a glittery shine on them, and the water of the river was liquid silver. All these indicated that Jigme was now in the land of magic.
The castle looked extremely beautiful and mystical. It was made of blue glass and was decorated with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. An ordinary boy like Jigme had never seen such a castle, even in his dreams.
While the beauty of the castle left Jigme speechless, his ears heard someone sobbing in utter pain. It came from the castle.
Jigme mustered all his courage and went inside.
In a corner of the spacious hall, stood a graceful lady.
She had long and beautiful black hair, which spread over her fair face. She had a long nose and perfect red lips. Undoubtedly, she was a fairy.
After some time, Jigme noticed that the eyes of the fairy, which were as lustrous as emerald, were moist. Tears rolled down her soft cheeks. And surprisingly, after falling on the ground, those tears transformed into gems.
Jigme asked in a soft tone, "What makes you cry?"
The fairy ignored his question and continued to cry bitterly, and her tears crystallised into gems.
Jigme couldn't see her crying.
He said, "Do you know where frogs keep all their money?" …. in RIVER BANK
The fairy's lips curved into an involuntary smile at this joke, but she still continued to cry.
Then Jigme cracked one more joke for her, "Do you know why the scarecrows are so overrated?" … because they are OUTSTANDING in their FIELDS.."
This time, the fairy stopped crying and laughed aloud out of joy. I laughed after a long time.
"Thank you so much, dear," said the fairy in an enchanted voice. "That's my pleasure," replied little Jigme.
"Where are you from?" asked the fairy.
Then Jigme spoke briefly about his life and the state of poverty in which they were living.
The fairy was touched by his story. She picked up a lustrous gem that had crystallised from her tears and offered it to Jigme, saying,
"You have done something which no one could ever do. You put a smile on my face. Please accept this as a gift from my side!!"
Jigme took the gem in his hand. He had never touched such a precious stone before. They had a good time, Jigme cracked a few more jokes for the fairy, and it was time to go back. He bade a goodbye to his new friend and returned back to his own world through the same hole he had used to come here.
When he reached his home, he hugged his grandma tightly. "Close your eyes, granny, I have a surprise for you!" said an excited Jigme.
When the grandma opened her eyes, Jigme unfolded his little fist and showed her the lustrous and mystical gem. Their dark house was lit by the glow of the gem.
"Where did you get this from?" asked his surprised grandma.
Jigme informed everyone about what was going on. Grandma looked a little tense. She said to her loving grandchild, "We are poor people."
Such an expensive gem is of no use to us. Being able to manage a single meal in an entire day is our greatest achievement. Instead, trade this gem with the Zamindar for some food instead.
Jigme didn't utter a word in protest and agreed.
The next morning, the usual routine continued. Grandma was busy grinding barley, and Jigme prepared himself to face the Zamindar.
The Zamindar was a greedy and self centred man. He was the reason behind the pain of the villagers.
As Jigme approached the Zamindar, his heartbeat grew faster. He showed the gem to the Zamindar and asked in a trembling voice.
"Sir, can you give me some grains at the cost of this gem?"
The greedy man's eyes grew large on seeing such a precious stone in the hands of a poor boy.
He snatched it away and shouted aloud, "Where did you get this from?"
Jigme was shaken by fear "speak up, stupid!" exclaimed the man.
Then Jigme told him about the previous day's events in detail.
Whatever it is, if you don't bring me more such gems everyday, I shall show no mercy in throwing you and your grandma out of this village!
I warned the terrible man. Jigme begged for mercy, but his prayers didn't work before the Zamindar's ego.
Jigme returned to the magical land with a heavy heart. He cried before the fairy and begged for help.
"Don't worry my friend, I shall do everything that I can to save you" comforted the fairy.
She began to cry, and Jigme collected her tear-shed gems. Then he would go and submit them to the Zamindar. This continued for many days.
However, one day, the fairies' eyes turned red due to continuous crying. She couldn't force herself to cry anymore. No tears meant no more gems.
"The Zamindar will throw us out of the village for sure," said Jigme, with a broken heart.
The fairy smiled and went inside her room and came out with a metal box in her hand.
"It is a magical box. All my spirituality is intact in it. As long as you remain in contact with this box, nobody can harm you."
said the fairy.
Jigme trusted the fairy's words and returned to his world with the box in his hand.
He mustered all his courage to face the Zamindar.
"Sorry sir, but I couldn't find any gems today." said Jigme.
"You useless fellow!"
"How dare you say that to me?" shouted the Zamindar.
He ordered one of his servants to bring his whip.
The ruthless man struck the whip on Jigme with all his strength. However, to everybody's surprise, Jigme was unaffected as if he was made of steel. The Zamindar continued to beat him and Jigme continued to laugh as he was unharmed each time.
After some time, the Zamindar was exhausted. He said in fear, "You... must be some sort of... magician."
Jigme smiled and opened the metal box, and the entire area was filled with fog.
Seven terrible and ferocious beasts emerged from the box. They beat the Zamindar black and blue and killed him ruthlessly. Then the seven beasts knelt before their little master, Jigme, and went back into the box.
"Poor Zamindar, his greed became the reason of his own downfall," said Jigme.
The land of Itchoo was now free from the cruel hands of the Zamindar and it was a pleasant outcome of Jigme and the fairy's true friendship.
From now on, Jigme and his grandma didn't have to pay any extra money to the Zamindar, so they could enjoy having 3 proper meals every day with the money they made. They worked hard and lived happily.
Whenever Jigme gets time, he visits the magical world and spends time with the fairies, talking and playing together.
MORAL: Greed in the end, fails even the greedy.
Disclaimer: Sanchayeeta has revised an original folktale for this storyline.
(This is a fictitious depiction of an indigenous folk tale from Ladakh. It has been passed down over generations to generations orally by indigenous communities of the mystical land of Ladakh. This story has different versions among different tribes viz Changpa,Balti , Beda ,Shin and Gara.)
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