When you were little were you ever held spell-bound listening to stories told by master story-tellers?
Can you still recall how you awaited, eagerly with excitement, for your teller of tales – maybe a grandparent, a granduncle or aunt – to begin the tale so you can sail along with the story like on a river?
Well, we were fortunate to have had quite a few elders who excelled in telling us hundreds of stories of long ago, stories that refused to be erased from memory.
One favourite - and master - storyteller was Rad, our beloved grand-aunt. She had the knack of making us walk alongside the characters of her stories even as we huddled around the ‘shawla’ (charcoal fire), with herself silhouetted against the hurricane lamp, on many, many magical evenings.
Rad had a unique way of storytelling. She often interspersed notes of songs into her tales, in that soft, melodious voice of hers such as these lines that opened the poignant tale about Nohkalikai Falls:
“From the times of long ago, from the days that have gone by,
Listen, my little ones, I’ll tell you the tale about the Drop of Ka Likai.
Oh! Nohkalikai Falls, with spray so awesome
And foaming fury you plunge into the deep-green pool,
Stories about you will sail throughout the land!
Stories about you will sail throughout the land!”
Rad is long gone now but her tales stayed on and memories of her sweet voice remained as fresh as yesterday.
Let me tell you the bitter-sweet story of Nohkalikai Falls as our beloved Rad told us.
Gorgeous Nohkalikai Falls
There was once a village called Rangjyrteh, close to modern Sohra, that stood on the banks of the Umiong river. The village doesn’t exist now but in those days its inhabitants were known for their industry and resourcefulness.
While the Umiong originates a short distance away in Laitryngew and is mostly rain-fed, its many tributaries add to its width and water volume, increasing its flow strength as it courses along its southward journey over the plateau past what was once Rangjyrteh. When it reaches the plateau’s edge, the abrupt drop makes it spilt its load over a ledge, to cascade in a sheer, unhindered plunge, one thousand and one hundred feet down, into a deep-green pool below.
That waterfall was Umiong Falls then. Now it’s called Nohkalikai Falls.
So beautiful are the milky-white waters that visitors come from far and wide, especially during the rains, only to witness its awesome, roaring spray. The foams from the falling waters create clouds of mist that rise in upward drift from the deep-green pool and never cease to overwhelm spectators even today.
Gorgeous as Nohkalikai Falls is, it has a tragic tale to tell, a tale that rends the heart of anyone who hears it.
Ka Likai’s Poignant Story
In Rangjyrteh village lived a young couple who loved each other dearly. U Rang, the husband was a poor but well-mannered and honourable young man. His wife, Ka Likai was a sprightly lass, gentle and pleasing of disposition. Though poor, the couple lived a happy and contented life. Soon they had a baby girl, their bundle of joy.
Then Tragedy Struck
A strange sickness came over U Rang and he died, leaving a grief-stricken Ka Likai and their infant daughter behind. Time, of course, healed her grief but memories of her husband refused to fade as their daughter constantly reminded her of him.
She now scrounged for a living, doing odd jobs and working in people’s houses to earn enough to get two square meals a day for herself and her baby.
The months went by and the toddler grew in age and intelligence, delighting her mother with her baby talk and playfulness.
Ka Likai so wanted to give her daughter a better life but the doors remained shut. At the same time, she was reluctant to keep on availing of the village’s charity although people were always kind to her. Some neighbours suggested that she remarry. She was still young and healthy, they reasoned, and a husband would provide for the family while she took care of her baby and the household.
This idea of remarrying was abhorrent to Ka Likai, initially, but the more she thought about it, the more convinced she was of the neighbours’ logic. At last, she decided to remarry in the hope that she can give her baby a better life.
The villagers helped find a groom from another village who, they were told, was a fine young man with impeccable character. He was at first good and kind but a few months into the marriage, he bared his true colours. He turned out to be a complete good-for-nothing fellow, a time-waster and drunkard to boot who never worked but only lazed around the neighbourhood.
Life soon became unbearable for Ka Likai. Food was running scarce but her new husband wasn’t in the least concerned. She had hoped for a man who’d provide and support but the reverse happened. She was forced to take up work once more to become the breadwinner not only for her baby and herself but for the drunken sloth of a husband as well!
Hers was the old job of her child’s father that involved carrying iron materials on the ‘khoh’, a bamboo basket slung on the back with a ‘star’, a strap of woven bamboo strips. It was heavy and wearisome work and as she toiled from sunrise to sundown, her energy had drained completely by the time she got back home in the evenings. Yet even as she laboured to feed the family, her useless husband had nothing for her but torrents of harsh words spewing from his mouth and abuses of every kind.
For the sake of her precious little daughter, Ka Likai endured the tortures and physical and mental abuses silently. Her daughter was the balm that caressed away all cares and worries when she returned home from work. Her baby, her joy and pride, her reason for living was worth enduring any hardship that crossed her path.
So, Ka Likai always tended to her daughter needs first although she never neglected the needs of her husband. Despite his extreme cruelty, she was grateful that he looked after the baby while she was away. Such was her purity of heart.
But as days passed resentment and jealousy gnawed and grew at her husband’s heart. He begrudged the tender love and care Ka Likai showered on her daughter. Under his perceived notion that she neglected him, his sinister mind hatched an evil plan to kill his step-daughter.
Soon one day he carried out the heinous crime. While everyone had gone to work and the village was quiet, he strangled the poor baby. He cooked the fleshy parts into a meal and threw the head and bones in the thickets outside of the village to be eaten by wild animals. As dusk approached and people began returning from work, he latched the house and vanished.
Ka Likai arrived back home that fateful evening and found no one at home. She called out her daughter’s name and her husband’s but there was no answer. But she thought nothing of it because sometimes they would be at some neighbour’s house.
It was getting dark and she was hungry like never before as she had had a particularly gruelling day. In the dim light of the wick lamp, she spied the pots of rice and curry in the kitchen corner. Hungry that she was, she began to devour her meal and enjoyed it too. Her husband had prepared a very sumptuous meal that night, she mused and ate heartily.
After a meal, as the Khasis do, she looked for the ‘shang kwai’, the betel nut basket, to have a ‘shikyntien kwai’, a serving of betel leaf, areca nut and lime. As she groped among the shaved betel coats, she saw something like a baby’s finger. She brought it to the light of the lamp and saw, to her horror, that it was indeed a baby’s finger, her own baby’s finger.
A shaft like a cold knife pierced through her heart. A bolt of lightning went through her entire being when it dawned on her that, unwittingly, she had eaten her daughter’s own flesh. Cold sweat ran over her, dampening her hair and clothes. A feeling of helpless wretchedness swept over her as she also realised she had her knowingly trusted her innocent baby into the hands of a monster of a husband. Intense grief coupled with shame and anger gripped her and hung like a dark cloud pregnant with rain over her head.
Oh! How Ka Likai wailed and flailed! She picked the ‘wait-bnoh’, a bush cutting knife, plucked her hair and ran aimlessly about like a madwoman, calling her baby’s name over and over and over again.
“I’ve eaten the flesh of my own baby”, she repeated, “What is there for me to live in this world anymore?”
The curious neighbours rushed out and soon surmised the misfortune that had befallen Ka Likai. They tried to get hold of her to calm her down but the knife she wielded was too menacing and they dared not come too close but only helplessly followed her from a safe distance.
Towards The Drop of Ka Likai
Ka Likai kept calling out her daughter’s name time and again. The sound of her mournful cries rang across the plateau as she ran over the cragged boulders on the Umiong’s course towards the ledge. With her only daughter gone, life had lost its meaning and death was the only welcome option. In death at least she would be able to rejoin her daughter and her daughter’s father in the afterlife.
Ka Likai’s plaintive cries kept echoing in the darkening skies, slicing through the air, with the river’s roar in accompaniment. The slippery, pockmarked rocks that jutted on the waterscape were of no consequence to her as she plodded doggedly on, intense angst possessing her soul.
At last, she reached the cascade’s tipping edge.
There was no moon overhead, only the stars’ reflection shimmered in the waters of the pool below as if beckoning to her.
The villagers, dongmusa (torches) in hand, were drawing closer, shouting and pleading to her to turn back. But Ka Likai was deaf to their cries. The thunderous roar of white-water leaping two hundred fathoms down mesmerised her and she felt the cool mist, like her baby’s soft hands, caressing her face.
She stood there for a moment, whispered a prayer and without looking back let her body down to join with the flowing waters, bidding farewell to this cruel world forever.
When the villagers reached the ledge moments afterwards, Ka Likai had already plunged and disappeared into the deep-green pool below into another realm.
From that time onwards Umiong falls was rechristened Nohkalikai falls because the hapless Ka Likai had ‘noh’ or plunged from its ledge into the pool below.
Needless to say, the tragic story of Ka Likai left us with lumps in our throats and pangs in our hearts. Tears welled up in our eyes as we hugged our Rad, all of us wishing we’d never suffer the same fate as Ka Likai.
We hoped you enjoyed this story and when you go to Nohkalikai Falls and if you see a rainbow span the deep-green pool, maybe that’s Ka Likai and her family smiling at you!