Don't we sometimes act in ways we regret later? If only we had known... we'd say, with remorse. But we can't turn the clock back, we discover.
There's always a price to pay for our actions, ancient Khasi storytellers say. They illustrate their point brilliantly in this ancient Khasi folklore about the slothful tortoise, Ka Panshandi Dem 'Lor Khah. The story explains how idleness, pride and ingratitude can take away one's fortunes and bring misery and penury instead.
There's Timeless Wisdom in the Tale That Goes Like This:
Long, long ago, when the waters of the earth were still clear and unpolluted, there was once a river that cascaded into a still and deep pool in mid-course. The scenic beauty around that pool was beautiful and idyllic. Smooth boulders, many water plants and grasses bounded the serene patch of water, making it a haven for many birds, insects and animals including fishes.
Because of its protected location, the air around the pool was always balmy. Clover, fern and other flowers that grew along the banks exuded subtle sweet scents that waft in the gentle breeze, making the surrounding atmosphere heady with a fragrant aroma.
The setting was so magical that even the celestial beings, the stars, would gather every night at the pool to bathe and groom, and care for their gorgeous bodies.
Ka Panshandi, the Young and Foolish Tortoise
In the same pool lived Ka Panshandi, a young tortoise.
The waters were hers to swim as she wished and there was as much food as she liked to eat. Sometimes she dove deep into the bottom and raked through the mud for succulent stems of every type of water plants.
But what she spent time most in was loll about and laze languidly on the khah (bulrushes) that grew aplenty on the gently flowing waters. Because of that, she earned the nick-name 'ka Panshandi dem lorkhah'.
Young and strong though she was Ka Panshandi was the laziest creature that ever existed. Work was the last thing on her mind, and she never went about here or there, or gave a thought about her future, or saved for it. When she moved, it was with slow, lazy and laboured steps. Time was never precious to her and all did day in and day out was idle away valuable moments.
As if that wasn't enough, she wasn't a sight to look at. Ugly and unsightly, her face was a hideous spectacle to behold. To top it all, she was grimy and oily. Layers upon layers of dirt from the mud and slime caked on her shell but Ka Panshandi was too lazy to ever clean or groom herself. It was no wonder that everyone found her repulsive and revolting!
Ka Panshandi in Love with the Stars
The nights when the moon was dark and the sky would glisten with the lights of a billion stars were nights that enchanted Ka Panshandi more than other nights. She spent whole hours, eyes fixed on the silvery celestial bodies, watching the lighted heavens on both sides of the Milky Way.
Her gaze constantly swept from the skies to the pool below where the stars' reflections seemed to lodge themselves in, casting spells like magic upon her.
Very often on nights such as those, Ka Panshandi slithered from her perch, skimmed the water's surface and watched with fascination the silvery, shimmering ripples. How she loved gazing at the swimming heavenly bodies, sometimes even forgetting to sleep!
So strong was her longing to join their company that she'd often dive into the pool's bottom, in the hope that she'd somehow encounter those mystic creatures.
Of course, that was not to be. They were only reflections.
U 'Lurmangkara Marries Ka Panshandi
But among the stars, there was one brightest of all: the evening star, U' Lurmangkara, which sparkled alone in the sky.
He often noticed Ka Panshandi's lone and tireless, nightly wonder-filled stargazing. Her steadfast dedication must have enthralled him because, after thus observing her for a long time, he decided to come down and make her his bride.
So he brought with him his wealth and fortune, his gold and silver and precious stones and married Ka Panshandi. The pool now became his home and the ugly and dirty Ka Panshandi his wife.
The great fortune that came upon her out of nowhere astonished as well as delighted Ka Panshandi. But instead of being humble at such a great honour, she swelled with pride. With gleeful abandon, her arrogance soared and her conceit grew. Why? It's because she and she alone from among all creatures was the chosen bride of the handsome U 'Lurmangkara! What destiny could more fulfilling than that!
Proud and Ungrateful Ka Panshandi
Such good fortune would have humbled anyone but not Ka Panshandi. She didn't learn to appreciate what U' Lurmangkara had done for her. Instead, she became more insolent instead, more ungrateful and more snobbish.
Moreover, now that she had wealth and fame, laziness became her top characteristic, more than before. She stopped moving about altogether, never anymore entered the waters even for a short swim, not to speak about work and bath! All she did was bask in the sun upon the khah!
U' Lurmangkara was aghast to see such attitude and tried everything to make her mend her ways. He talked to her and advised her, telling her to make herself the ideal wife she ought to be. But no amount of counselling worked on her. She took all advice in from the left ear only to bring everything out from the right ear!
U 'Lurmangkara Left Ka Panshandi
It wasn't long before U' Lurmangkara's patience ran out. He realised it was useless to try and make Ka Panshandi see reason and change her habits, which, in fact, had become worse after marriage. At last, he decided to leave the pool and go back to the heavens.
And so, gathering his belongings, his gold and silver and precious stones, he flew back to the skies. Till today we can see the brightest star of the night sky, the evening star, shining alone as if beckoning his Panshandi to change her ways.
The Price of Foolishness
Poor Ka Panshandi, when she realised what she had done, cried in worry and grief. She begged U' Lurmankara day in and out to return to her but he had turned his ears away.
And so, till today we find the tortoise, Ka Panshandi, sticking her head out and gazing at the skies, pleading and waiting anxiously for her beloved U 'Lurmangkara to return.
But it was too late.
Thus, Ka Panshandi still lays on the khah to this day, wearing a face so wrinkled with worry and sadness and so without joy or happiness, unlike her fellow creatures. She paid the high price of losing all that was given to her because of her own foolishness, arrogance and uncaring attitude.
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