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Neilal le Ṭuoni

Friday, June 22, 2018

/ Published by Simon L Infimate
The Sawrtui river was flowing slowly and smoothly with dazzling silvery moonlight in it. Willows and reeds on its bank were also tossing in the gentle night breeze. At that moment three friends - Neilal, the young raja of Sawrtuirakam, Sawrkung, bosom friend of Neilal and Tuozo, one of the most beautiful girls of Sawrtuirakam were descending with bamboo torches in their hands to collect water snails in the river. As they reached the river, Neilal was singing nonchalantly;

Blame me not, friends,
Remain I still unmarried
I know not what-
My mummy has in mind. 

Tuozo burst into a great laughter. Soon they started looking for water-snails. Whenever Tuozo came across oyster, she gave it to Neilal, saying, "My mummy told me that women must never eat an oyster." Meanwhile, Sawrkung was moving about his hand under water on the pretext of catching a snail near the foot of Tuozo and caused to pass his hand on Tuozo's thigh. Moving away, Tuozo said, "Oh! Sawrkung is trying to rob me of my chastity." After sometime they packed up their bags and went home.

As time passed by, each and every household of Sawrtui was ready for Sikpui* dance and the rice-beer (Zu) of each household had also become matured and sweet. As a prelude to dance, the young lads were singing the song of Buontlaw;**

The famous hero who had heads
From east and west;
Also took ten heads from south.
The famous thiek village remained unchallengeable; 

Never will it be destroyed. The villagers were then starting the Sikpui dance with the Khuongpu (drummer) and Khuongpuzailak (chanter) sitting in a middle on a flat stone especially erected for the occasion and the dancers making two rows old men against old women, married men against married women, young men against young women, small boys and small girls and then children in the last. Neilal and Touzo were facing each other and the song of Sikpui dance was started thus;

While we are preparing for the Sikpui feast,
The big red sea becomes divided.
As we are marching forward fighting our foes,
We are being led by a cloud during day;
And by pillar of fire during night.
Our enemies, Ye folk, are thick with fury,
Come out with your shields and spears.
Fighting our foes all day,
We march along as cloud fire goes afore.
The enemies we fight all day,
The big sea shallowed them like beast.
Collect the quails,
And fetch the water that springs out of the rock. 

After having celebrated the Sikpui festival for seven days happily, they arranged a big community feast on the eighth day. After the feast, they parted one another with tears in their eyes. Neilal and Sawrkung were very close friends, sharing sorrow and joy together. Sawrkung was infatuated by the beauty of Tuozo. One night Neilal and Sawrkung went to the house of Tuozo. In her heart of hearts, Tuozo preferred Neilal to Sawrkung. But Neilal tried his best to win over Tuozo for Sawrkung. Tuozo felt so disappointed. Neilal was one of the Rengtes (Rajas) under the overall suzerainty of Rengpui (Maharaja), Chawnhmang. Tuozo really loved Neilat but at the same time, she also thought that she would not be able to win the heart to Neilal for the latter really wanted her for his friend, Sawrkung.

After the celebration of Sikpui festival. Tuozo felt indisposed and was confined to bed for several days. Sawrkung whispered to Neilal, saying, "Tuozo has been at home these days alone because of her illness. It is the most opportune moment if you want to speak to her for me." Accordingly, Neilal went to the house of Tuozo. Sawrkung also followed him but hid himself along the outside upper wall of Tuozo's house to peep through the hole of the matted bamboo wall. As Neilal entered the house, Tuozo was so taken aback and got she up all of a sudden to give Neilal a wooden seat. Because of her prolonged illness, Tuozo felt very weak and was falling on Neilal's arms. Neilal helped her walk slowly and brought her on the bed. Sawrkung was watching all these scenes but as some people were passing by the house, he thought it quite unbecoming to remain there and went away offendedly. He thought to himself, "I thought, Neilal must have been speaking to her for me, but he might have been doing all this for himself."

Till the seventh year of his migration at Dapram (Tripura), Rengpui Chawnhmang still deputed the Vais (plainsmen) of his subjects to collect tributes from Sawrtui and other surrounding villages. Unwilling to pay tributes any-more, the women folk were shouting:

Vais are coming, Vais are coming,
Vais, the servants of Rengpui, are coming;
Their language is not pleasing to hear,
Let us strike them like a cloth. 

Shouting like this, they hit at the Vais with their tliem* and the latter disappeared without collecting any tributes. Annoyed by the violent actions of the womenfolk, Rengpui Chawnhmang had employed the Takam Vais** to invade the recalcitrant villages. The invaders ruthlessly cut down the standing crops in the jhums and killed any persons they could lay their hands upon.

The most beautiful princess during those days was Tuonpui at the Khawkhawm village. Having heard that Sawrtui village was a bit secure and safe from the invading Vais, Tuoni and her parents were crossing Tuiphal river on their way to Sawrtui where they wanted to stay for sometime. As the river was slightly deep, Tuoni and her mother were lifting their petticoats almost upto their waist. Meanwhile, Neilal and Sawrkung were also fishing in the same river. Seeing the strangers crossing the river, Sawrkung was dumbstruck by the beauty of the girl and whispered his friend, "Look, the moon is rising up there!" Neilal looked up and exclaimed, "Oh! she is really a bright moon in day time." He could not believe his eyes and it was a love at first sight. After a brief introduction and exchange of pleasantries, they all sat down on the bank of the river and talked about the invasion of their land by the Takam Vais. After sometime, Neilal and Sawrkung left for home before them. Neilal wanted the Tuoni and her parents must put up in no other house than his. He then told Sawrkung that every house of the village must put fresh bunch of leaves on its door.*

According to Hmar tradition, putting fresh bunch of leaves on the door means that no stranger or even relatives from outside can enter the house because the house-owners observe some sacrificial rites. 

Tuonpui did not know that Neilal was the Rengte of Sawrtui village. After meeting him at the river, she also felt that something unusual had pulled her soul towards him and thought to herself if, by chance, they could put up in his house. As they reached the village, they frantically looked for house to put up in, for every house, except Rengte's house, placed bunch of leaves on its door. They hesitated to enter Rengte's house and ultimately put up at the blacksmiths' hut. As night came, Neilal and Sawrkung went to pay a visit to Tuoni. Seeing them coming towards her, Tuoni was singing:

Came the warriors from the west
Like a torrent water,
Threatening the Khawkhum village,
And causing heartbreak.
Came flying the hornbill from Khawkhum,
Following the Phaltui
And settled now she at Sawrtui.
Me! Tuonpui, no place to put my load,
At the smithy but put I my load.
Neilal replied Tuoni's song and sang thus:
Came flying the hornbill from Khawkhum,
Following the Phaltui river;
Like the bright rising moon.
Not allowing her to stay in other house,
Ordered I all houses to place leaves on doors,
Settled she now at the smithy hut. 

Not satisfied with what he had just chanted, Neilal apologically told Tuoni that he ordered all houses in the village to place bunch of leaves on their doors so that Tuoni and her parents would stay in his house.

The chief of Khawkhum was known for his wealth. Therefore, Tuoni put on different kinds of golden bracelets, necklaces and bangles. Being a stranger in Sawrtui village, she thought it improper to put on such costly ornaments. When she took them off, there were marks of white swelling spots on her wrists and neck.

One night Neilal courted Tuoni alone and had been with her till midnight. He told her that he wanted to marry her very much. To this Tuoni politely replied, "U Lal, let it not be finalised before hearing your parents' opinion first. If they like me, I am always ready." "If you insist on it, I shall do so tomorrow morning," replied Neilal. Pondering on how he was to initiate the matter to his parents, he became restless and could not sleep that night.

As soon as his mother got up, Neilal also came down from his bed. His heart beat faster. At last, he told his mother that he wanted to marry Tuoni. At that moment, Tuoni happened to pass by the house of Neilal on her way to the village pond. Overhearing her name being mentioned, she paused for a moment and listened to what they were talking about. Neilal's mother say, "Yes, Tuoni is indeed beautiful! But what about these white spots on her wrists and neck? Who knows, she may have been infected with leprosy!" His father also intervened and added, "Those white swelling spots around her neck and wrists could possibly be leprous! My son, do not share any comb with her." When Tuoni overheard all this, she was indeed disturbed and annoyed. Neilal's mother further proposed that her son should marry his own village girls. Broken-hearted Neilal murmured, "If I cannot marry Tuoni, I shall not marry at all." So saying, he went back to his bed with a heavy heart.

As usual Neilal went again to court Tuoni at night. Seeing Neilal coming, Tuoni was singing:

Go I there to fetch water
At Sawrtui's pond;
Lean I against the wall
To listen to the conversation
Of Neilal's parents.
My neck where I wear my necklaces,
My wrists where I wear my bangles
Are as white as cotton.
It is not a leprous,
Nor do I belong to spirit-possessed clan
Am I not a princess? 

Tuoni's father took it as a great humiliation and asked tauntingly, "Baby, they said that you were infected with leprosy." Tuoni replied: "Neilal's parents said: 'That I am a leprous", I suffer not from leprosy, They are the marks of my bead Necklaces and bangles."

The following day Neilal went out for hunting before dawn. Tuoni put on her Zakuolaisen* and puonlaisen** with her golden necklaces and bangles. She went to the house of Neilal to return suthlam.*** Neilal's parents were really charmed by Tuoni's beauty and manners. Neilal's mother asked, "Have you made full use of it ? Why do you return it so soon?" Tuoni replied by singing :

Go back I must to my father's village,
The village called Khawkhum ;
Go back I must to Khawkhum.
The seat of mighty rule,
Where the messenger made proclamations
With shield in hand. 

Neilal's mother followed her to the smithy hut, earnestly requesting Tuoni's parents to stay back at least for some days more. She felt sorry that Tuoni should leave for her village on the very day when her son was away for hunting. But Tuoni did not feel free to ask the whereabout of Neilal. Despite Neilal's mother's repeated requests, set Tuoni's parents out for their journey back to their village. Tuoni thought that when Neilal came to know of their departure, he would surely run after them. So on the pretext of having a stomach pain, she walked at snail's space far behind her parents.

Meanwhile, Neilal also returned with a deer on his back, thinking all the time how he should celebrate it with Tuoni and his friends. But alas ! Tuoni was  no more ! Neilal's mother could read the mind of her son and said, "Baby, your hornbill has flown away. If you really love her, run after her !" Putting off his bag and gun on the floor, he ran out without even caring to eat his food.

Tuoni and her parents went on slowly. When they reached a place called Khumzawl, Tuoni abruptly put down her basket and rolled on the ground yelling," It is so painful, so painful indeed." They had to take rest there till the sun was nearing the western horizon.

Neilal kept on running after them in full speed. When he reached Tuiphal river, he was completely exhausted. His mouth got dried. His legs could no  longer carry him further and he collapsed on the ground, muttering, "Tuo  Tuonpui !" When he regained his consciousness, he gobbled water. He curled his lips. He mustered once again all his strength and resumed his journey. After sometime, Tuoni's mother saw Neilal running towards them from a distance and shouted, "There, Neilal is coming !" In a twinkling of an eye, Tuoni got up and was standing to embrace Neilal. Fatigued, tired and profusely sweated, Neilal fell flat at the foot of Tuoni.

When Neilal came to his senses, Tuoni's father apologically asked, "Have we committed any serious offence to you ? Why are you running after us ?" "No, never, daddy ! When I returned from hunting, my mummy said, 'Your hornbill has flown away. If you really love her, go fly' ! So I am here now. I pray you with all my heart to permit me to go back with Tuonpui !" Turning towards his wife, Tuoni's father said, "Despite his status as Rengte, he came running after us. Shall we allow him to take her back ?" Tuoni's mother also tended to agree to her husband's proposal, not out of favour, but out of respect for Neilal. But she could not forget all those humiliating remarks on her daughter. Tuoni could read the mind of her parents. Nor did she dare to take decision by herself. After sometime, she whispered her small sister, "Baby, let me go back to Sawrtui village." The small girl did not approve of her older sister's request. But Neilal was determined to follow them.

The sun was about to set. They decided to spend the night at Khumzawl. Tuoni rested Neilal's head on her lap and caressed him till midnight. Human weakness got the better of them and on that crucial night, the two lovers lost their chastity. As dawn came, Tuoni sang this song to Neilal :

The richness of your birth is unfathomable
As the deep sea ;
Whereas my birthplace is as shallow
As the outerland. 

The sun was up in the eastern horizon. They set out on their onward journey again. Neilal was still following them. As they reached a certain place called Vaibekawn (the valley of Vaibe*), they decided to have their morning meal. After meal, Tuoni sat near Neilal who was lying on a flat smooth rock and lifted up Neilal's head and put it on her lap. Then she sang a very heart reaking and soothing song, so as to make Neilal sleepy. Neilal was yawning dreamily and soon went into a deep sleep. Afraid of offending her parents, Tuoni slowly lifted up Neilal's head, pulled her legs out and put a dark-blue shawl under Neilal's head. With tears rolling down her cheeks, she picked up her basket and followed her parents, leaving behind Neilal still sleeping in the valley. When Neilal was awake, he found nobody except the dark-blue shawl under his head. At the top of voice, he cried, "Oh, Tuonpui...." There was pindrop silence every-where. Even the birds of the deep valley perhaps shared Neilal's mental agony and sorrow ! He ran to and fro, knowing not where to go. At last, he saw their footprints and ran after them again with all his strength. He reached a place where there were two by-paths, one going along the Changpui river and the other going up the steep hill-lock which is a shorter route. Assuming that Tuoni's family might have taken the longer route, Neilal went on the shorter route.

Tuoni's parents were indeed happy because Tuoni could leave Neilal behind. But Tuoni's mind was full of remorse and sense of guilt. Tuoni's mother went ahead with the small girl on her back. Tuoni's father followed her and Tuoni was behind them. After sometime, they came to the Changpui river and walked into the river and Tuoni lifted her petticoat almost upto her waist. As she was standing right in the middle of the river, one black object was floating down and wound round her thigh. When she looked at the black object intensely, it happened to be the same shawl which she put under Neilal's head. Unable to control her feelings, she then wept bitterly thinking that Neilal must have been killed by enemies. As soon as they crossed the river, Tuoni abruptly put down her basket and squeezed the shawl and used it for wiping her tears and for covering her head, still sobbing bitterly. Her mother tried to comfort her but of no avail. She then uncontrollably cried out, "U Lal, you have run after us against many heavy odds ! I left you while you are still asleep secretly. Now you have fallen into the cruel hands of your enemies ! Oh ! How I wish I meet you at least in paradise !"

As they resumed their journey up the hill-lock, Tuoni walked behind them, stooping down her head. At the path on the spur of the hill, Neilal was relaxing. Tuoni's father saw him from a distance, saying, "There, he is sitting ! What to talk of his death !" As Tuoni noticed him, she virtually flew and fell into the arms of Neilal. The two lovers embraced each other rolling on the ground, letting their lips to express their unfathomable love. Feeling awkward, Tuoni's parents turned them their backs. Neilal lifted Tuoni's head and put it on his lap, wiping her tears with the dark-blue shawl. After sometime they continued their journey up and at last reached the village of Tuoni.

Neilal spent the night at the house of Tuoni. The next morning as they were having meal together, Neilal again requested Tuoni's parents that he and Tuoni be permitted to go back to Sawrtui village. Before her parents spoke, Tuoni immediately intervened and said, "U Lal, let me not come now, I pray. I shall weave more clothes. I shall also meet my friends.

whom I have not been seeing for such a long time. They will blame me if I leave them so soon again. Please do come again when the Dipui* is in full bloom." So saying, Tuoni also solemnly promised that she would not comb her hair from that day onward. Neilal also thought it reasonable and left for Sawrtui village alone.

Days and months passed by. No young men in the Khawkhum village wooed Tuoni for she stopped oiling and combing her hair. Tuoni used to go to a nearby meadow almost every day to see whether the Dipui plant was flowering.

One day, Tuoni's father arranged sacrificial feast by killing two full-grown mithuns. It was a very happy occasion. Every one, particularly young men and young women of the village, enjoyed the feast. Half-drunk, Hrilchung, who was the talk of the village for his strength and who also coveted the hand of Tuoni for marriage, went to Tuoni, saying disdain-fully:" The Dipui flower has already faded. What a pity ! You have stopped oiling and combing your hair! You are too good to be let down like this !" Tuoni was really shocked. She thought to herself that Neilal must have forgotten her. Just to see whether Hrilchung's remark was correct Tuoni went to the nearby meadow. To her utter surprise, she saw the thatch plants (very similar to sungrass), were already flowered and fading. Her sorrows knew no bounds. She cursed herself and wept bitterly.

At Sawrtui village, Neilal also passed his days all the time thinking about Tuoni. Even if the young men of his village asked him to join Lawmpui*, he declined. Whenever he and Sawrkung were away, the subject-matter of their tete-a-tete was all the time Tuoni. Every day, he went to see Dipui whether it put forth a flower. As time passed by, they finished weeding jhums and the real Dipui also put forth flowers. Neilal set out on his journey to Khawkhum to take Tuoni as his bride. As he was nearing the village he washed his face at the village pond and then entered the village. Neilal was well-known for his handsomeness even outside his chiefdom. It was said that before Neilal reached the chief's (Tuoni's father's) house, all the young women of the village were already lined up just to have a look at Neilal. As Tuoni had started oiling and combing her hair again, their house was packed with many hopeful suitors. When Rengte Neilal entered the house, nobody dared to make any noise for every one respected him very much. Sitting near the wall above the hearth, Neilal asked, "Where goes Tuoni ?" Tuoni's father replied, "To fetch water !" Neilal then said, "Let nobody unload her when she comes."

In the meantime, Tuoni had arrived carrying seven bamboo tubes filled with water in her basket. Standing at the door, she shouted, "Come and unload me." There was no response. At this, Tuoni was so angry that she burst out, saying, "Why are you so proud ? Do you consider yourselves as Sawrtui-rakam Neilal ? Jumping out of the hearth, Neilal said, "I, Sawrtuirakam Neilal, am here ...." So saying, he unloaded all the bamboo tubes at a time along with her basket. Tuoni felt so ashamed that she immediately untied the knots of her hair and went straight to one corner of the house. After a long pause, she asked with a trembling voice, "U Lal, Wh When did you arrive?" Neilal replied, "Just a while ago." All the young men stealthily went out of Tuoni's house one by one.

"You have promised me that when the Dipui plant is in full bloom, you would come and take me as your bride. See all the flowers of Dipui plant have already faded r Retorted Tuoni with tears in her eyes. "No, Tuonpui ! Don't you see that the real Dipui plant is yet to bloom ! How do you say that it has already faded away ? Go and see yourself the real Dipui plants at the valley of Changpui !" replied Neilal. At this Tuoni's mother interrupted and said, "Children ! your marriage proposal is not what our forefathers called Pathien sam suih* !" Realising that Tuoni's mother's word was a final verdict, Neilal then rose and left Khawkhum with a heavy heart and Tuoni, standing on their open porch with tears rolling down her cheeks, was looking on till she could not see Neilal's headgear amidst valleys and hills.
*Sikpui dance is one of the oldest dances of Hmars. Sikpui has two meanings : First; it means community sharing of rice-beer and meat collected from each household; Secondly, Sikpui also means winter and since this festival falls in winter, it is also called winter festival. 
**Buontlaw: It is a folk song sung by young children as a prelude to Sikpui dance.
* Tliem is a flat polished bar which is used in a loom for running home the threads of the woof after each passage of the shuttle. 
** Takam Vais means the Chakmas. 
* Zakuolaisen is a white blouse with broad red bands on the arms, back and front, worn by young women on important occasion. 
** Puonlaisen is a white shawl with red decorative strips in the middle. 
*** Suthlam is a cotton winding instrument. It is a revolving contrivance for holding a skein of cotton while it is being wound into a ball.
* Vaibe is the name of a flowering tree. Its 'botanical name is Bauhinia Varleorata. It usually flowers in the month of February and March of the year. 
*Dipui is something like a sungrass. Its botaincal name is Imperata arundinacca. 
* Lawmpui is something like a corporate work in which young men and young women help one another in weeding jhum rotationally in exchange for similar assistance received or to be received. 
* Pathien sam suih literally means tying of two lovers' hair together by God. It is believed that if any proposed marriage of lovers is not sanctioned or ordained by God, their hair cannot be tied together. 

Source: Prof.(Dr.) Lal Dena, Hmar Folk Tales, Scholar Publishing House, New Delhi, 1995.
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