(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
They woke up with the birds in the forest and were just as happy and busy. As they had decided the day before, they got started on creating a forest island. Except for the pregnant, the elderly, people whose feet were wounded from the walk, the sick, and ladies on their period, everyone else got started on the deforestation.
They had to deal with nesting snakes, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, and other poisonous creatures. Beetles they didn’t recognize bit them, causing rashes and leaking pustules.
There were many iguanas. Iguanas were easily captured. When they saw a person, iguanas would duck into their hollows and hide most of their bodies, except for the tip of their face. If a stick was inserted into a hole, the iguana would bite it and hold on as the stick was pulled back. Evidently it thought it had caught an intruder.
When they killed a cheda – a large centipede – they would sever its head and bury the body in a marked spot. After a few days they would dig it up and pick out the yellow and black rings that were left behind after the flesh decomposed. The rings were strung up on black thread and worn around the hip by children as jewelry.
Rat snakes were killed and their fat was rendered into ghee for its medicinal properties.
The flesh of hedgehogs was cooked, salted, and fed to children. Its spiky skin was dried in the shade and saved to be used as whooping cough medicine. They were easy to catch since they moved slowly. Dirt was thrown onto them and the hedgehog would curl up like a ball whether the dirt touched them or not. After that, they were easy to pick up.
When they killed rabbits, women would let the blood soak up into old cloth. They believed that rubbing it into their hair would cause it to grow thick and healthy.
They foraged wild castor and neem seeds, powdered them with rocks, and boiled them in water. After a long time, the oil would separate and float on the surface. A feather was used to collect the oil that was then dripped into a different container. A little water would still come with it. This would be done until the new container was filled, and then that container would be boiled to evaporate the remaining water. This was strained through a cloth into clean containers. This is how they made castor oil and neem oil.
Not everyone was happy with this hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Many were homesick. The long journey had temporarily made them forget it. When they realized that this was their new home, old memories took hold of them.
Pothanna was one of those people; he would randomly cry like a child. He would gaze up at the sky during the day as though he was looking at a star that only he could see. Apparently the star would come down at night, because then he would be staring at the ground.
“Pothanna? Aren’t you going to sleep?” Grandmother would ask whenever she woke up.
“Sleep? You can all sleep.” He would sigh and grow silent.
They selected a dried up stream to serve as their northern border and began to widen it. It was easy work that re-energized them. They tossed the removed bushes and grass into the forest island.
As they were returning home, they heard the loud cheering of their children. They rushed over and were met with a surprise. A cow was struggling to escape the mud of the pond opposite the wellspring they got their water from. They were excited to see that it was pregnant. The cow was stuck quite deep, the mud well above its legs. Even then it snorted and bucked when they tried to touch it. It was a wild cow that had never been touched by a human since it was born.
They made a muzzle out of vines and put it on the cow’s snout.
Grandmother advised them from the side. “A muzzle won’t be enough. It’s a wild beast. Pierce its nose and put a rope through while it’s still stuck in the mud.”
The people watching murmured in agreement.
The cow bellowed as its cartilage was pierced with a knife and knocked everyone into the mud. The young men struggled with the cow until they were able to put a rope through the hole and pulled the cow free. The sight was similar to forty or five ants surrounding a worm and carrying it off no matter how much it twisted and turned.
“Careful! Don’t beat it. It’s pregnant and we want both!” The men shouted with joy.
By the time they got it to the temple, they were exhausted.
They hammered a peg into the ground and tied her. She pulled free and escaped. The young villagers once again risked their lives to capture and calm the beast enough to push it into a hut. They shut it with a strong door with cross bars. It was now completely dark.
Everyone from babies to old people danced around with happiness.
Pothanna cheered with them.