(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha Editor: Suchitra)
(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)
Early morning, the next day.
Many were up before the birds. One of them picked up a log from a campfire and went to the hut where the cow had been kept. When he shouted for joy, the others rushed over. The cow was licking her calf that had just been born.
“The cow won’t run away now,” Grandmother said. “We just need to care for the calf.”
“Govindappa, the cow came with the goddess Lakshmi. The blessing it brought made the whole village overflow with cows. That’s how our village, Gopalla, earned its name.”
The calf, unlike his mother, became friendly with them.
The cow used to randomly run into mud walls. Her ears would perk up at a noise only she could hear. No one could approach her to feed her so grass was tossed in her direction from a distance.
The calf drank milk whenever he wanted and rapidly grew up before their eyes.
A young man named Nagayya was the only one to not give up on the cow and became her friend. The cow grew to like his scent. Until the end, he was the only one she never attacked.
The island was not as small as initially planned. With the greed for land typical for farmers, the island became quite big. The path around the island was wide as well. A steady, northern wind began blowing. It was time to start the fire.
Even if the wind was strong, they were confident the fire would not spread to the rest of the forest on the other side of the border.
They chose an auspicious day and planned to start the fire when the sun was at its zenith.
They had piled dry leaves and bushes in the southwest corner of the island. The children and old folk generously spread the wild castor and neem seeds they had collected on top of the pile. They brought over a lit stick from the fire pit.
Before the stick was tossed onto the pile, Grandmother prayed to the forest in a loud voice, “Gods of the forest and its spirits, please watch over us in what we are about to do. Do not allow anything bad to happen.”
Everyone tossed lit sticks onto the pile. The oil seeds began to burst. The fire crackled and spread quickly.
The sound was like the fire was chomping and grinding its teeth in anger. The smoke rose to the sky. The strong wind spurred the flames on. Agni, the God of Fire, began to eat.
The fire burned for three days and nights. Strange animals ran from the burning island, trying to escape.
A thick snake two yards long and the color of pure silver slithered out. They had never seen or heard of such a bright snake. They stared at it, wide-eyed and silent. Like lightning, it disappeared as fast it came.
They saw a huge mongoose. Its body was golden and its neck and belly were pure white. It had a long, jet black tail with soft, thick hair.
Fleeing porcupines growled when they saw humans and raised their spikes. Young boys threw stones at them, killing some while the lucky ones escaped.
The wails of birds were heart wrenching. Mother birds circled the smoking fire, unable to leave behind their newly-hatched chicks that couldn’t fly. While some flew away, others continued to fly around and around until they fell into the fire and burned.
A huge, grunting boar came out of the burning forest. They wanted to kill it but were afraid. Two horn-like teeth curled upwards like an elephant’s tusks. The boar returned to the forest upon being pelted by stones, disappearing like a fish into water. The men thought it would come back out sooner or later but it never did. Perhaps it preferred to burn to death instead of die by human hands.
Small, hidden fires continued to burn in areas after the large one stopped. A strange smell persisted for a long time.
They got to work, busy as ants. They were not able to quickly turn the island into farmable land. Hard stones, burnt tree stumps, and heavy roots were difficult obstacles. It was years before the lands were fully cultivable.